Sitting atop the Premier League pile as 2015 comes to a close, Arsenal stand a great chance to quench their thirst for a league title this season. The Gunners perhaps fortuitously end the year first, following Leicester City’s two dropped points at home to Manchester City on Monday.
The Premier League title race is shaping up for an exciting finish come mid-2016, with only four points separating the top four. And as symbolic as it may sound, the balance of power has seemingly shifted to north London this season, as the current top four is bookended by local rivals Arsenal in first and Tottenham Hotspur in fourth.
With one half of a topsy turvy campaign already over, there are murky designs as to who will reign supreme at the end of the season. But one thing is clear, Chelsea won’t defend their title unless the whole of the league goes into a meltdown and literally hand the Blues the title.
Here we analyse the title chances of the current top four and also factor in the underperforming Manchester United and Liverpool and where they could finish the season realistically. And we also take a look at Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea, who are yet to lose since Jose Mourinho was shown the door.
Arsenal (Predicted finish: 2nd): Arsene Wenger is one of the only two managers among the current 20 to have tasted what it is like to win the Premier League title, and Arsenal finishing first to end 2015 on a high must have been a much-needed impetus ahead of the new year. The Gunners have a weak and inconsistent chasing pack behind them, and should they not land the title come May, Wenger should reconsider his position at the club.
Despite a spate of injuries plaguing the club in the first half of the season, Arsenal find themselves atop the league, a proof of the Premier League’s unpredictable nature and why the current season is the Gunners’ best chance to win the title they last won in 2004.
Strengths: They have arguably the best player in the league in Mesut Ozil and a goalkeeper of Petr Cech’s calibre who now has the highest number of clean sheets in Premier League history. And despite their struggles throughout the season, Wenger has managed the season pretty well, winning important games amid humiliating losses that now sees the club in first.
Weaknesses: A long and crippling injury list and the absence of a proven goalscorer might prove costly if they don’t address those issues in January. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott have scored plenty goals, along with Alexis Sanchez, but they can also go hiding when most needed.
X Factor: A fit and firing Ozil
Leicester City (Predicted finish: 6th): Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes have taken the Premier League by storm this season and the greatest proof has been their rise of 19 places in the space of a year. At the same stage last season, they were bottom of the league and now they are second and well embroiled in a title fight.
Ranieri has repeatedly played down his side’s title chances, but after having lost the least number of matches this season, their title challenge is now being taken more seriously. However, they must maintain their momentum in the second half of the season to upset the established order.
Strengths: A close-knit unit with players working their socks off for one another, and the presence of three of the Premier League’s top performers in N’Golo Kante, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. No European commitments can also be Leicester’s advantage over their other title rivals, and the King Power Stadium’s infectious atmosphere is certainly one of their strengths.
Weaknesses: A close-knit unit generally comes with the risk of malfunctioning when one of its parts becomes less functional and any injury to Leicester’s key players could become their undoing this season. Also, the Foxes have away games at Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester City in 2016 which could determine where they finish the season.
X Factor: No pressure to deliver
Manchester City (Predicted finish: 1st): The Sky Blues have blown hot and cold all season and with the most expensively assembled squad in the whole of England, one expects them to be better than Leicester at least. But, as it stands, City are third in the table and three points behind league leaders Arsenal.
Manuel Pellegrini’s City have been beset by injuries to key personnel throughout the season, and despite the big money arrivals of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Nicolas Otamendi over the summer, it seems the team have lacked a consistent spine to help the new arrivals shine.
Strengths: City’s obvious strength is the amount of star quality in their side, and their favourable set of fixtures in the second half of the campaign. They have home games against their title rivals Arsenal, Spurs and Leicester in 2016 which could have a massive say on where the title ends up this season.
Weaknesses: Like Arsenal, City’s main concern will be the fitness of their key players. Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Vincent Kompany have missed a sizeable chunk of action already this season, and with Champions League exertions to deal with in 2016, things could get tighter for the Citizens. They are fancied to advance the furthest in the Champions League among the English clubs, and they also have to travel to Ukraine in February.
X Factor: Game-changing attacking quality
Tottenham Hospur (Predicted finish: 3rd): Spurs have been uncharacteristically disciplined this season which sees them in striking distance of the top of the table and has given them a sniff of the title. Unlikely as it would seem, a Spurs title win wouldn’t go down too badly with the neutrals, given the way Mauricio Pochettino has moulded the side with youngsters leading the way.
However, Spurs are prone to the odd bad result and their record against fellow big clubs has not improved considerably, which could prove to be the difference between a title win and a top four finish. They are well on course to qualify for the Champions League though, but we have seen Spurs bottling it in the second half of seasons, haven’t we?
Strengths: Spurs are extremely hard working and their good form and results are testament to Pocchetino’s impact on his players. A group of exciting young players, Spurs have all the energy and spirit to land the title, and defence that has leaked the least goals this season. Like Arsenal, they have a goalkeeper who oozes class, and who could just be the difference between a title win and finishing among the chasing pack.
Weaknesses: It is not everyday that you find a Spurs side with no obvious deficiencies. However, they have a tough Europa League round of 32 clash against Italian title challengers Fiorentina to contend with, and the fact they have often been found to be mentally wanting in the past are the biggest hindrances to their title hopes.
X Factor: Energy to outlast others
Manchester United (Predicted finish: 5th): Louis van Gaal’s Red Devils have looked lost in recent weeks and a Champions League-qualifying fourth placed finish might just elude them with rivals Liverpool slowly finding their feet after an up and down start to life under new manager Jurgen Klopp. United have faded as a defensive force as the season has worn on, which could be a big factor in their fortunes this season, as they are definitely not the most free-scoring side in the division.
Liverpool (Predicted finish: 4th): Klopp’s Liverpool ended the season with back-to-back 1-0 wins and should they continue in a similar narrative, it is difficult not to see them overtake Manchester United and the other clubs ahead of them to sneak into fourth place. Like United, Liverpool don’t score goals aplenty, but unlike their rivals, the Merseysiders are on the positive end of momentum, which could see them just nip ahead of United in the top four race.
Chelsea (Predicted finish: mid table): Hiddink’s Chelsea have a different look about them than Mourinho’s Chelsea, but the teething problems remain. Eden Hazard is yet to score this season, and defensive mistakes resurface every now and again. With 20 points from 19 games, Chelsea look set to settle for a mid table finish, which could also be their lowest finish under Roman Abramovich.