The Premier League isn’t quite a two horse race just yet. Leicester are consolidating their position in some way, changing approach in order to stay closer to the top, and Spurs are looking like the most consistent team in the league.
That means that their game tonight is perhaps the most important one of the midweek fixtures.
But at least one of those sides will drop points, and Manchester City and Arsenal – if they hit form – will surely be able to capitalise on that. By the end of this evening, City and Arsenal could be the Premier League’s top two.
And in Europe, too, they will be carrying the flag for the Premier League. Arsenal’s heroics in Greece against a highly motivated Olympiakos were rewarded only with the toughest draw they could have faced, while City’s topping of their group for the first time has given them a kind draw on paper, though traveling to Dynamo Kiev is hardly the nicest task a football side could have. Just ask Everton, who fell there last season, and City themselves who lost 2-0 there in 2011. In fact, that was the game where Mario Balotelli discovered he was allergic to grass and had to be subbed off at half time. In the return home leg, Balotelli was then sent off for a terrible high tackle as City lost 2-1 on aggregate.
But with off-form Chelsea facing a very much on-form PSG, they still represent England’s best chance at Champions League silverware this season.
And with both teams through to the fourth round of the FA Cup in convincing style, is there a treble on for either of them?
The obvious answer is to discount Arsenal. Barcelona are just so strong, and Arsenal do seem to go out of their way to be knocked out in the last 16 stage. But they also seem to have rotten luck. This season injuries have played their part in Arsenal’s inconsistency, yet they’ve managed to keep it all together whereas in previous seasons they’ve crumbled. Losing Francis Coquelin seemed like a very dangerous thing for the Gunners, but they’re still at the top of the table.
Losing to Barcelona would be a blessing in disguise. The cliched ‘ability to now focus solely on the league’ applies here, given the depth of Arsenal’s squad compared with that of Manchester City’s, but perhaps the luck they are owed from the footballing universe will be paid in one lump sum in the form of victory over Barcelona.
But it’s Manchester City who could really do something special in Europe.
The reason why there are so many teams involved in a title race at the moment is because of the inconsistency of Arsenal and Manchester City, City especially. Vincent Kompany could be out for a few more months, whilst Sergio Aguero and David Silva are still finding form and Yaya Toure is being his usual languid but incomprehensibly effective self.
Should City come into some sort of form – and they are very much a form side who bulldoze all in front of them when they’re on it – then they could lay waste to the Premier League in the second half of the season. The problem for Manuel Pellegrini almost seems to be motivating his players to do it. Against Stoke City they just didn’t look up for the game on a blustery day against a team who pressed them with intensity. The same could be said for their defeats to Liverpool and Spurs.
But, if they can keep going, the same problem doesn’t quite seem to apply to them as it does to Arsenal. City’s squad seems to be so crammed full of powerful, stamina-ful players that fighting on three fronts won’t be their problem when it comes to winning a treble. Their problem will be ensuring that the City who can beat any Premier League team shows up week after week, and the problem in Europe will be ensuring that the side is tactically spot on when it comes to playing bigger teams.
A treble is not the sort of thing Arsenal should be aiming for. Focusing on the league should be their priority. The Champions League looks out of reach both because of their opposition and because of their squad size. The FA Cup they’ve won twice in a row, and maybe now is the time to aim a little higher than that. The Premier League, however, is up for grabs.
City have the squad, the firepower and now they have the know-how, too. In a season where Manchester United fans are bored to sleep in their own stadium, imagine City winning a treble – as Barcelona did last term – something only United can claim to have done in England – sorry, Liverpool!
Despite the title race being open for Spurs and Leicester, if City and Arsenal come into form, that door will be closed. And if City come into form, only the sky is the limit.