Abysmal Arsenal end hopes of a title race

Remember when this looked like being the tightest title race in Premier League history? Well, yeah, we might have been a bit silly about that one.

It could still be a corker, that’s for sure, but indifferent form of the chasing pack and Chelsea’s downright refusal to drop any points whatsoever is making this increasingly like another year of Blue joy. It’s now 11 matches since Antonio Conte’s side last dropped a point, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal are trailing in their wake.

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Its not over by a long stretch, but only two teams in the Premier League have failed to win the title having led the league by six points at this stage. Current point-per-game rates have Chelsea winning the league by a distance, with their rivals gazing upwards from the financial luxury of the Champions League places.

At the moment, the Blues are not just keeping clean sheets, they are not even giving their opponents chances. At the other end of the pitch, Diego Costa’s finishing will regress to somewhere close to his career average, but the title could be all but decided by then. Without the perils of European football, Chelsea’s greatest challenge is fitness from here on in.

Manchester City have returned to some form of late, however. Victory over Arsenal has sent the Gunners into a negative winter spiral once again. Arsene Wenger’s side suffered late defeat to Everton in midweek and the limp, lethargic performances make it hard not to reminisce about previous Gunners failings around this time of year.

Although it is only a minor two points separating the Gunners and their Sunday conquerors, their credentials took a battering in the pre-Christmas fixtures. For all the improvement they had shown this season in producing results when not performing at their fluent best, the body language and nature of their two defeats suggested it was all a mirage. Unable to take advantage of lacklustre periods for Manchester City and Everton, Arsenal’s defence and midfield were parted with ease. The loss of Shkodran Mustafi was always going to be hurtful, but a single injury cannot be blamed for the return to such a common trend.

Pep Guardiola can enjoy some respite from the press briefly after the victory and he shrewdly managed to readjust the expectation boundaries for Manchester City in his post-match comments. A New Year’s Eve clash with Liverpool at Anfield hovers over the title race’s festivities, mind, with Manchester City needing at least a point if they are to realistically push Chelsea in the second half of the campaign.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Each of the top six sides has the quality to go on a run as dominant as Chelsea’s of late, which always leaves a change at the top possible. The concern for Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal is that even then they need Chelsea to drop off considerably from their current standards. No other team has come close to the balance that the Blues have found, which is perhaps the most significant issue.

Chelsea were the real winners this weekend. Guardiola needed a positive result and performance, but defeat for Arsenal only decreased the chances of anyone pushing them away from the Premier League summit.

Conte’s Chelsea are still a tier above the chasing pack and have a clear, stress-free calendar for the rest of the season. Sunday’s result was almost perfect for the Blues.

An Arsenal victory would have seen a return to form for the Gunners – which is always dangerous for a team so reliant on momentum – it may have sparked a challenge from a team who had taken heart that this season would be different from all the other seasons. But two defeats in a row means Arsene Wenger should now be more concerned about Spurs below than Chelsea above.

There will be twists and turns for the next few months, we can at least rely on that. Unfortunately, though, the tight-fought title race we expected just a month or so ago now looks unlikely.


 


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