“Arsenal don’t have the experience or mental strength to lift the Premier League title.”
That has been the damning verdict of critics about Arsenal since 04/05, as Chelsea and then Manchester United stamped their authority on the league and turned it into a Big Two race. Every year you’ll see Chelsea and Manchester United being mentioned as the serious title contenders, while the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal shine brightly for half a season before being pushed aside with ease by the two leaders.
This season Arsenal have the same chance Liverpool had last season to set the record straight, and it’s as much down to Manchester United’s injury crisis as it is to an across-the-board improvement in the league that has seen Chelsea and Manchester United and Liverpool drop so many points before Christmas.
Two wins this week – a tough game away to Burnley on Wednesday before hosting hapless Hull at the Emirates on Saturday – are necessary for Arsenal to keep up the pressure on Manchester United. The champions are 3 points ahead but with a slightly poorer goal difference and have played a game more – plus they host Wolves midweek (who won away to Tottenham on Saturday) and go away to Fulham on the weekend. A wobble by United will make it very easy for Arsenal to pull level going into the New Year.
Chelsea are a different animal – Arsenal will have to do more than dream about taking revenge at Stamford Bridge – they’d be desperately hoping that Chelsea keep dropping points away from home.
Arsenal are currently third-favourites to lift the Premier League title at 11/2 and are a shoe-in for a top-four finish, leaving Liverpool and Manchester City to slug it out as the most likely 4th placed finishers at 6/5.
Clearly reputation carries more weight than ability, although given Aston Villa’s self-destruction at the end of last season and Tottenham’s propensity for the ridiculous, Liverpool and City will feel that the battle for 4th place is in their own hands.
Arsenal on the other hand will need to rely on mistakes from their direct rivals – especially Chelsea – as they hope to create something out of nothing. A couple of summer signings – up front and in the middle of the park – should see them run the Big Two quite close come May 2010.
Arsenal are 11/2 to win the Premier League title and 1/8 to finish in the Top Four.
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