Simply up for grabs in the Premier League?
Ex-Arsenal legend Tony Adams isn’t known for his particularly scintillating punditry, but he certainly gave some food for thought in his observations during the weekend.
Adams, who won three league titles in three different decades with the Gunners, questioned both the belief of his former club as well as their transfer policy. But most interestingly, he also suggested that Arsene Wenger’s side would do well to finish within the top four.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, he said:
“If Wenger gets them into the top four, he’s done brilliantly.”
Quite whether you wholly agree with Adams sentiments or whether you feel he is being alarmist in his analysis of Wenger’s current crop of players, it certainly offers an interesting thought. Because when you look at pretenders to a seat on the top four throne, it’s difficult to predict whom could be clinical enough to pounce on the Gunners’ perceived issues, to prove Adams right.
Arsenal were always likely to face something of a soul searching weekend in light of their fixture with Manchester United and so it proved, with a desperately disappointing 2-1 defeat. As bad as the Gunners played in what was ultimately an extremely deceptive score line, it was the scolding reality check that Robin van Persie served, which really hit home.
Abusive chanting and vitriol aside, the Dutchman seemed to represent a haunting motif in the gulf of ambitions that separates the two clubs. On Saturday, it no longer felt as if Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had captured the prized asset of a title rival. A rival, of course, but not one that are competing on the same plateau of targeted glory. Not for this season, anyway.
But even if a title-tilt might not beckon for Arsenal this season, are they really in danger of dropping out of top four? Because although Adams made some very good points, it’s hard to judge whether the gloomiest of them all, might end up becoming a reality.
With so much football to be played in the Premier League this season, it feels extremely naïve to make any form of cast iron assumptions. But from what we have seen so far, a touted top three of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea (not necessarily in that order) represents perhaps the fairest and most sensible of predictions.
Although it’s past the top three, in which things get interesting – and far, far foggier, in terms of Premier League fortune telling.
Because as suspect as Arsenal may have currently looked in recent weeks, they are by no means alone. When you think of top four challengers, the white half of North London undoubtedly springs into mine. Tottenham have finished fourth twice in the last three years, but they themselves, are facing their fair share of teething issues.
The restructuring process under Andre Villas-Boas isn’t going quite as badly as some in Fleet Street might want to make out, but they’ve hardly blown the Gunners out the water in terms of form and performance in this league.
Spurs sit two points above seventh placed Arsenal in sixth and although they’ve suffered the loss of some key first teamers, it would be verging on the complimentary to describe their home form as mediocre. The Lilywhites should be up there in the mixer for fourth next term, but there won’t be any of the ‘Mind the Gap’ sentiments that came back haunt them next term.
Indeed, you could argue that David Moyes’ Everton have looked superior to both Tottenham and Arsenal this season. The Toffee’s have looked a genuinely dynamic outfit so far this term, attacking with both verve and pace through the likes of Leighton Baines, Kevin Mirallas and the superb Marouane Fellaini.
Yet despite finally addressing their legendary woeful start to the season, have Moyes’ side got what it takes to sustain their good early form? Everton yet again ended up succumbing to a draw – their fourth on the bounce – after surrendering to Martin Jol’s Fulham in their 2-2 draw during the weekend. Developing a defensive soft side seems uncharacteristic for a David Moyes’ side and they need to ensure that three points don’t evaporate into one any more often. But will they need to if the teams around them don’t improve?
It’s still not beyond the realm of possibility that Newcastle United try to repeat last season’s trick, if not look to go one further. They’ve held onto the talented group of players that fired them to a superb fifth placed finish last term and yet again, they’re going quietly about their own business. They’ve not enjoyed quite as scintillating start as last season, but why can’t Alan Pardew’s side go on to make an assault on the top four? A spine of Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Fabricio Coloccini and Tim Krul are as good as any you’ll find.
The Newcastle example of last season seems particularly poignant; because it did in some ways, blow the doors of this unassailable myth of strength that surrounds the Premier League’s top four. Having a crack at Champions League qualification isn’t the impossible beast it once was. Everton, like Newcastle, don’t have the resources of an Arsenal or to a lesser extent, Tottenham, but they do have a very strong, hard working and talented bunch of players. It sounds so beautifully simple, but that is in essence, all you do need.
It feels on face value that Tony Adams might be a little bit overzealous in his gloomy prophecy for Arsenal. But make no mistake about it, the race for Champions League football is closer than ever. And it’s by no means an impossibility that neither side of North London, will be tasting Champions League riches next term. The fight is on – and it’s fiercer than ever before.
Do you agree that the race for fourth is well and truly up in the air? Or are you a disgruntled Liverpool fan demanding to know why you’ve been left out the fun? Find me on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think.