If plaudits were trophies…
Arsenal emerged from their last Premier League match with credit. A gutsy draw at Tottenham with ten-men for 40-odd minutes showed character.
They emerged from the Barcelona defeat with credit. Their quality and verve had Barca on the rack in spells.
But they will emerge from this season trophyless. Unless of course they pull off a comeback even less feasible than their midweek mission.
Mission Impossible II starts at Everton…
12.45pm Everton v Arsenal
The 11pt gap between Leicester and themselves, means Arsenal have probably got to win eight of their remaining nine matches. The single win in their last eight (all comps) suggests, nay, insists that it’s not going to happen. Everton’s form is impressive at first glance, but they have managed just one home win from 12 v teams outside the Bottom Four. Two easy-on-the-eye but underachieving teams.
Score Prediction: An easy-on-the-eye but underachieving 2-2
MVP: Romelu Lukaku v Arsenal’s centre-backs looks a mismatch.
3pm Chelsea v West Ham
After being dumped out of both cup competitions in their last two, the nine-match run-in could be a laborious one for Chelsea. The surge for a Top Six, or even Top Four place the some are expecting will be hampered by the state of flux off the pitch. We know Guus Hiddink is leaving, we think Antonio Conte is coming. But what of John Terry, Eden Hazard to name just two is anyone’s guess. Plus, all the form in the PL is above them. West Ham, for one, have rarely been so pumped up.
Score Prediction: Power shifting in the capital. 1-2
MVP: Dmitri Payet is an obvious one. But let’s have a little word for Michail Antonio.
3pm Crystal Palace v Leicester
Leicester are going to do it, y’know. Their season will be remembered for their swashbuckling ‘you score two, we’ll get three’ swagger from the first half of the season. But three scruffy 1-0 wins in their last four demonstrate that they understand more about this PL winning lark than they are letting on. 12 of their 18 wins have been by the odd goal. Four of Palace’s last six in the PL have been defeats by the same margin.
Score Prediction: 0-1 written all over it.
MVP: Jamie Vardy has been a little quiet of late.
3pm Watford v Stoke
The incentive of a possible Cup Final appearance might give Watford a little boost for the run-in. Not that they are in any great panic. The current 14th is their lowest ebb for four months, but there is a gulf of points (and quality) between them and the bun fight below. Stoke would’ve loved a Cup Final appearance to punctuate their solid season. But will take ninth place all day long.
Score Prediction: Perhaps a hint of cruise control on show here. 1-1
MVP: Odion Ighalo needs to remind everyone who is was pre-Christmas.
3pm West Brom v Norwich
Norwich have the chance to make up a bit of ground with their relegation rivals Newcastle and Sunderland duking it out on Sunday. But anything less than a win and they will be staring down the barrel of a return to the Championship. The bad news is West Brom are in their best spell of the season. Three wins and a draw (at Leicester, no less) in their last five in all comps suggests they will fancy this.
Score Prediction: Bye bye Norwich. 2-0
MVP: Jose Salomon Rondon is two in two and four in eight.
5.30pm Swansea v Aston Villa
One more win should put enough distance between Swansea and the madness below. They So Villa will be more than welcome. It’s five defeats on the spin now, with just two goals in response to 17 coming the other way. Swansea have been pretty efficient v Bottom Half teams, especially at home – losing just once in eight.
Score Prediction: Straight foward enough. 2-0
MVP: One way or another Gylfi Sigurdsson would’ve stayed in the PL.
1.30pm Newcastle v Sunderland
Rafa Benitez’s arrival prompted a promising response from Newcastle in his opener at Leicester. They need more of the same over the next nine if they are to keep their PL status – and Rafa – next season. But we all know what happens in the North-east derby. Sunderland have won the last six, without even conceding in the last five. They have the better form too – tossing away two points in the final moments last time out will still sting. This derby has never mattered more.
Score Prediction: Don’t be surprised if there are more Red Cards than goals. 1-1
MVP: Jonjo Shelvey will fancy this.
1.30pm Southampton v Liverpool
Jurgen Klopp’s are starting to take shape, looking more like a Klopp team every time they take the field. The full complement of attacking options makes a huge difference of course – 18 goals in their last six compared to five in their previous six demonstrates the benefits of having Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Firminio sharing a pitch. Southampton currently sit one place above their visitors but are a funny bunch. Expect a flip-flop.
Score Prediction: Liverpool on the up. 0-1
MVP: Philippe Coutinho is a class apart.
4pm Man City v Man United
LVG’s decision to replace both full-backs and a sitting midfielder when chasing goals in the Europa League tie v Liverpool says everything about the current Man United. Rudderless and confused. The quick feet of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial promise much, but it’s the hair-trigger reactions and impossible elasticity of David De Gea that carries United’s hopes. City haven’t scored for 180 minutes, but they will fancy this.
Score Prediction: City putting the boot in. 2-1
4pm Tottenham v Bournemouth
Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to sacrifice the Europa League suggests that he fancies his chances of reeling in Leicester at the top of the PL. And I buy it. It might be the best chance Spurs ever have. They looked a little edgy at Villa, but got the job done. Bournemouth will provide a stiffer challenge – memories of the 5-1 humbling at home will still be vivid. Plus, three straight wins and a landmark 38pts on the board will give them a bit of a swagger.
Score Prediction: First of nine bog tests for Tottenham. 2-1
MVP: Harry Kane can play his way into the England team in the next month or so.
That’s how it looks from here…
Until next time.
Matt Nesbitt’s short, unspectacular but joyful playing career has given way to a much longer, more successful but immeasurably more rubbish one writing about football and providing betting advice. Email: Matt Nesbitt