Consider this a ‘half season review’, but with one game added on. After a terrible start, followed by an excellent run, followed by a topsy turvy Christmas period, I feel we now have a good idea of how the season is going to go.
When we beat QPR and Chelsea lost at home to Villa, we leapfrogged them into 4th place. Just a couple of days later and we’d swapped again, with Chelsea winning at Wolves while we imploded at Fulham. Expect more of this, with Liverpool perhaps getting involved too. I don’t see us catching Spurs in 3rd, so 4th is mostly between us and Chelsea.
A lot depends on how January goes. Right now we both have major problems. Chelsea are suffering from an ageing squad and from mostly still being Mourinho’s team, or, if you like, Abrhamovic’s team, with the Russian owner trying to have too much control over first-team affairs. They also perhaps suffer from having a young manager who went for the big time of the Premier League too soon, believing his own hype after a very good first season with Porto.
Meanwhile we suffer from the usual problems – an over-reliance on one exceptional player surrounded by talented, but inconsistent individuals who in their own way will make errors that cost us games; whether it’s Gervinho or Walcott taking too long on the ball, missing great chances, or the likes of Squillaci and Djourou doing something stupid at the back and gifting teams goals that their performances don’t really merit.
The advantage Chelsea have, as ever, is money. They can change their team around this month with some big names. Some will be Torres and Luiz-like flops, but some will be a younger and fresher improvement on the likes of Lampard and Drogba. They are already looking to improve their defence with Gary Cahill, who despite being part of a poor Bolton side, would be a top signing.
Of course, even if they do bring in good players, they all need time to settle, and if Andre Villas-Boas does try to rebuild the Chelsea side this January then their season will continue as one of transition. Top four is the best they can hope for, but spending that bit extra can make the difference at crucial moments and I fancy they’ll be favourites to do it.
Arsenal are arguably in more need of signings. Our injury record is unbelievably bad and the backup just isn’t at all good enough. Our first choice eleven is pretty good, but the bench never looks promising, so if van Persie has an off-day we’re in real trouble. Sadly, unlike Chelsea, we don’t have the money to make all the signings we need, and Wenger, stubborn as he is, will probably kid himself that the likes of Chamakh and Squillaci will come good eventually.
We’ll see how January goes, and if we’re lucky in the transfer market and Wenger can rediscover his art for finding gems on the cheap, maybe we’ll be good enough to put together a run to cement 4th place and maybe even challenge Spurs for 3rd, but as things are now, it’s very much touch and go. Like Chelsea, we can win one week, lose the next, over-perform and under-perform, and in the end it will just come down to who messes up the least. Hopefully it’ll be us.
For more of my thoughts on Arsenal and football in general, follow me on Twitter @markbrus