As we head into the international break, let’s take some time to reminisce on another fantastic weekend of action from the English top flight.
1. Sometimes I Get It Wrong
It greatly pains me to even suggest that I could ever be wrong. That’s why I don’t like pointing out that I may be wrong about my predictions. Remember last week when I was dumping on Burnley, said they were such a bad team they hadn’t even gotten a win yet and that they would probably get relegated? Guess who went out and got three points this weekend. Sure, that win was against Hull City (who aren’t that much better than Burnley) and they’re still bottom of the table, but the battle to avoid the drop zone is tight, not to mention the fact that we still have 28 games to go. I still think Burnley will get relegated, but just remember that even someone as omniscient as me sometimes gets them wrong.
2. Arsenal Better Get it Together Soon
The Gunners have every right to be extremely frustrated with their form this season. Going into this past weekend, they had managed back-to-back wins for the first time all season with their win against Burnley on matchday 10. It looked like they were about to get another win against Swansea City, with Alexis Sanchez continuing his electric form by scoring 15 minutes after the break. But Swansea mounted the pressure on and Arsenal started looking shaky. An absolutely sublime free kick from Gylfi Sigurdsson in the 75th minute put them back on level terms. The Gunners’ collapse was complete when Bafetimbi Gomis rose above everyone else in the box to power home a header from a lovely lofted cross.
This loss from Arsenal comes off the back of another defensive collapse earlier this week, where they conceded three goals to Anderlecht in the second half of their Champions League group match. Their collapse in Wales is not an aberration this season; rather, it is part of a worrying trend for Arsenal. Arsenal have not had a great deal of trouble scoring this season, but while they frequently go up, they too easily succumb to pressure from their opponents. This inability to close games has seen them fall 11 points behind league leaders Chelsea. With such heavy competition this season for the European qualifying spots, Arsenal need to get it together soon, or may not be enjoying European nights next season.
3. Gylfi Sigurdsson is Putting the Team on His Back
Swansea City are currently fifth in the League. Yes, you read that correctly. Fifth. This is a team that was in the mix for relegation and at one point went eight matches without a win last season. However, this season’s story is pretty different. They have two big scalps this season: a win at Old Trafford on the opening day of the season and their win against Arsenal this past weekend. However, they aren’t quite Southampton. So how are they ahead of teams like Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham? The Swans have been riding the performances of Gylfi Sigurdsson. The 25 year old from Iceland broke out onto the scene during his loan spell at Swansea two years ago. Spurs purchased him that summer, but he couldn’t seem to replicate the form that electrified the League back in the spring of 2012. Swansea worked out a swap deal with Spurs, sending Ben Davies to London and receiving Sigurdsson in return. What a deal it was. Sigurdsson is a classic number 10, taking up the space behind Wilfried Bony to devastating effect. He knows exactly how to exploit the hole behind the striker, and is an accurate passer with deadly finishing from both set pieces and distance. He is the type of dynamic player that every team pines for, and his performances have been lighting up the English top flight once again.
4. Manchester United Fans Should Be Optimistic. Or Pessimistic. I Don’t Know Anymore.
It has been a tough two years for Manchester United fans. The Premier League champions of the 2012-13 season finished outside of the top three for the first time in well over twenty years last season. With David Moyes gone and Louis van Gaal, fresh off his fairly successful World Cup campaign with the Netherlands, the new boss at Old Trafford, there was a sense of renewal, belief and hope in Manchester. Some excellent outings during preseason buoyed all of that positivity. LVG ripped out the deadwood in United’s squad and brought in new signings that excited the fans, particularly Angel Di Maria.
But it all seemed to go south on opening day. A shocking 2-1 loss to Swansea City at home shocked the psyche. Fans hoping that it was just opening day jitters would be disappointed not once, but twice over the next two games, with United drawing to Premier League sad sacks Sunderland and Burnley, and the memes started rolling in. United’s drubbing of QPR seemed to restore some faith in the team, but an atrocious defensive display saw them lose 5-3 against Leicester City the following week. Their loss against Manchester City ended a four game undefeated streak. Though they managed to notch a win against Crystal Palace this past weekend, questions still remain.
United have looked all over the place this season. For one, the attack does not seem to be clicking consistently, as shown in their performance this past weekend. United had 71% of possession and took 23 shots, but they looked toothless for much of the game and could not break down Crystal Palace. The other reason this top-heavy strategy is not viable is that teams can very easily nick the ball away from United and score on the counter, as Palace nearly did on Saturday. This weekend’s win provided some hope and happiness for a Manchester United side that has been maddeningly inconsistent. So, should United fans be optimistic or pessimistic? On the one hand, their squad is packed with talent, and LVG is undoubtedly a great tactician and has an uncanny ability to develop and bring out his players’ skills. On the other hand, United have not yet shown that they have the consistent form to challenge for a top four spot.
Photo: European Pressphoto Agency