It’s been a difficult past couple of weeks for Arsenal and their manager, Arsene Wenger. Defeats to Man Utd and Swansea, plus a draw with Spurs, have eradicated the momentum they might have gained from beating Leicester. A reprieve, in the form of thrashing Hull in their FA Cup replay, offered some form of optimism, but that too has now been dashed, with Watford putting the Gunners out of the competition with a 2-1 win at the Emirates.
I didn’t watch the game, so I can’t pass comment on whether Arsenal were unlucky, or lacked a killer edge, but with their title campaign in serious trouble and their Champions League campaign likely to come to an inglorious end this week, Arsenal needed something to give them cause for hope, and that has now been dashed. Even worse for them, Spurs won 2-0 against Aston Villa to move six points clear of the Gunners.
Arsenal have a game in hand, so the gap may shrink pretty quickly, but Wenger’s record of having Arsenal finish ahead of Spurs every season he’s been in charge has never looked more in jeopardy, and this may hurt his reputation among the fans more than anything else.
Speaking of Spurs, Kane and Ali were the conspirators in both Tottenham’s goals against an almost certainly doomed Villa. Roy Hodgson, if you’re reading this, those two need to be on the plane to France. Again, I didn’t see the game, but given Villa’s woeful performances this season, it’s not difficult to imagine Spurs having a relatively straightforward night. The only certainty I can say about this season is that Villa will be relegated – the only question is when.
Van Gaal Under Fire
Elsewhere, Man Utd were held to a draw at home against West Ham in their FA Cup tie, meaning a replay at the home of the Hammers, who have been impressive this season – they will fancy their chances! For Utd, it’s the latest in a string of underwhelming performances.
With speculation around Van Gaal’s future refusing to go away, I for one am struggling to work out what his plan is. Utd are not lacking in attacking talent, yet LVG routinely plays key men out of position and seems to discourage the sort of fast-paced, attacking football that Utd built so many title challenges upon. Only by the grace of David De Gea, their ‘keeper, have Man Utd avoided having a much worse season than they’re already having – if Real Madrid (who have been sniffing around) should poach him, Utd will struggle, even if they get Mourinho in to replace LVG.
Is Pellegrini Gone Already?!
Pellegrini may not be literally out the door until the end of the season (indeed, his future is ironically secure – he is definitely leaving), but it would seem he may be gone in spirit. Manchester City’s title chances took yet another blow with a draw away against relegation-threatened Norwich, leaving them 12 points off the pace. It’s hard to figure out why City are playing so poorly – if nothing else, the players should be looking to impress their incoming manager, Pep Guardiola, as he will be aware of who is (and who isn’t) playing well, and will be making plans accordingly. The lack of fight and spirit for a side that was a few years ago winning titles has to be a worry to Guardiola, and if the players have any sense, they’ll start fighting.
Leicester March On
I watched most of Leicester’s game against Newcastle and it would be fair to say that Leicester were not at their fluent best. Newcastle were perhaps buoyed by the arrival of their new manager, Rafa Benitez, and actually played reasonably well, but a moment of magic from Okazaki (a brilliant, opportunistic overhead kick in the first half) was enough to separate the two sides, and move Leicester back to being five points clear of Spurs with eight games to go. It seemed that at times Leicester were trying to be too intricate with their play, and maybe nerves were also beginning to show, but the home side held on to claim a vital three points.
For Arsenal and Man City, they now must win their game in hand if they are to consider a title challenge even remotely possible. For Newcastle, their relegation worries have only deepened, but Benitez will be encouraged by his side’s improved performance. For everyone else, there is still a lot to play for.