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Arsenal are making a contest of the Premier League title race. What looked like a one-horse thing five games into the season now has three clear contenders. While much of the blame must be apportioned to Manchester City for blowing away their early season form as they threatened to literally run away with the silver trophy, the manner in which both Arsenal and Manchester United have kept pace is laudable.
The Gunners started the season with a home loss to West Ham, an unlikely result considering the Hammers are not traditionally good travellers which almost put paid to Arsenal’s title chances this term, with the season having barely started. They have recovered well though, and clearly made an impression of serious title challengers earlier this month when they brilliantly took apart Manchester United.
For all Arsenal’s best efforts to force themselves into the reckoning for the title, they are almost always one match away from having a crisis of their own. Last night’s League Cup loss to Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough took out one silverware out of the equation for the Gunners, but the injuries sustained by key men Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are of greater concern than the result itself.
With already eight players in the treatment room, including long-term absentees Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck, and with only one fit striker in Olivier Giroud to take care of matters at hand, Arsenal suddenly look a lot weaker than they were in that win over Manchester United. London’s other supposed title contenders, Chelsea, are too far to even bother the rear-view mirrors of the teams at the top of the table.
Chelsea’s title challenge is as good as over. With more than a quarter of the season played, the Blues find themselves in uncharted territory in 15th place with only 11 points from their opening ten league games. Even a managerial reshuffle could be of little hope to rekindle their title challenge; their defence of the title seemingly over far quicker than anyone envisaged.
While Chelsea can’t get the troubled times off their back, Liverpool are also mired in struggles of their own. The atmosphere in and around Anfield has changed since Jurgen Klopp’s appointment, but the results have remained the same. And the more the Reds keep on producing unconvincing performances and results regardless of all the Klopp-talk, the further they fall behind in their pursuit of the teams at the top.
With Chelsea and Liverpool clearly out of the reckoning for the title judging by the events unfolding in the season thus far, we could be set for a three-way title challenge come the end of the campaign. While Arsenal will have a lot to overcome in the ensuing months to remain in contention come May 2016, the experience of recent title wins for the Manchester clubs will stand them in good stead.
Interestingly enough, Manuel Pellegrini’s City have already spent more days at the top of the table than the 11 they needed in 2013/14 to clinch the title. While they may have been on the wrong end of injury misfortunes of late, their overall quality of personnel should see them do better than Arsenal over the course of the season.
Similar thoughts go out in defense of Manchester United, despite their meek surrender to the Gunners earlier this month. What United lack in goals and attacking quality is made up for by their disciplined set-up and team cohesiveness. The Red Devils’ measured approach to big games, like the one witnessed in last weekend’s Manchester derby should at least keep them in touching distance of City.
While a sustained title challenge from Arsenal is difficult to predict given how they divide opinion following one bad result, and the poor starts to the season from both Liverpool and Chelsea, it is clear the Premier League title will go down as the battle between the two Manchester clubs. City look the odds-on favourites at the moment, but Louis van Gaal’s superior pedigree is an edge United hold over City.