You have got to hand it to Arsenal. Apparently there is a mysterious aspect of humanity that watches on in awe and wonder at a tragedy taking place. Like how you stare at a vehicle crash both as it happens and afterwards. Arsenal are presenting that right before the watching public. If only someone had pointed out that they were heading in that direction …
There were other Premier League matches that took place over the weekend. I took the time to predict those scores so let’s see how I did. There are points at stake here, you know. Three points for a spot on prediction, one point for just the right outcome and zero points for getting it wrong.
Tottenham 3-1 Watford (1 point – actual score 4-0)
Man City 3-0 Hull City (1 point – actual score 3-1)
Middlesbrough 2-1 Burnley (0 points – actual score 0-0)
Stoke City 1-2 Liverpool (3 points)
West Brom 1-1 Southampton (0 points – actual score 0-1)
West Ham 1-2 Swansea (0 points – actual score 1-0)
Bournemouth 1-3 Chelsea (3 points)
Sunderland 1-2 Man Utd (1 point – actual score 0-3)
Everton 2-1 Leicester (1 point – actual score 4-2)
Crystal Palace 1-2 Arsenal (0 points – actual score 3-0)
On the one hand getting a 60% correct outcomes stat is only just above the average. On the other hand I finally hit the double figure! Happy with that. Especially getting two scores spot on. That’s a lot more like it.
So on that positive note let’s see if I can turn this into a run with the set of fixtures ahead.
Tottenham 3-1 Bournemouth: Jack Wilshere. Interesting player who is on loan at Bournemouth because Arsenal didn’t think he was good enough for their first team on a regular basis. In as much as Arsenal are dreadful, they were still right not to retain Wilshere, because although in fits and starts he has shown why he was highly rated by some, he has struggled overall to establish himself even at a club like Bournemouth. Now, however, he’s up against a club he has expressed partisan animosity towards. If there is ever a game he wants to show up and show off his abilities, this is it. He could contribute to putting a dent in Spurs’ aspirations. He could … but he won’t. Spurs are relentless at the moment, absolutely relentless. Arguably more relentless than champions elect Chelsea. They don’t mess around, they don’t treat teams lightly, they evidently train well and their teamwork ethos is outstanding. Bournemouth for all their pluck and effort won’t have enough to stop this machine. While the question marks will remain over the point of Jack Wilshere.
Crystal Palace 2-1 Leicester: Big Sam will be laughing to himself. Palace completely overwhelmed Arsenal on Monday. They dispatched them with ease. That performance and result in a stretch of overall positive results will make the former England manager very happy indeed. It gets better, though, because they come across a Leicester side who will be keen to be ready for the second leg of the Champions League quarter final against Atletico Madrid. Leicester are in a safer position than Crystal Palace and the home side will be keen to exploit any weaknesses in the visitors to strengthen their claim to retain their status in the top flight. This is why it’s difficult to see the away side coming away with anything other than a bad memory of the trip to the capital city.
Everton 3-0 Burnley: Sean Dyche has not built a side of pushovers. The Lancashire side can be relied on to make matters very difficult for any opponents they come across. That spirit is a large reason for their remarkable season which sees them virtually assured another season in the Premier League. That is an achievement worthy of applause. However, that has also been purely down to the points they picked up at home. Their travels have largely been abysmal where the results are concerned. They are a pain against teams who are better than them, but not enough of a pain to get much from their visits. They come across Everton at a time when the Toffees have genuine hopes of a top six finish. Koeman has not done what his predecessor did in his first season. As in he hasn’t wowed observers with a compelling brand of football, but what he has done is built an approach to the game that is more concerned with stability and balance. In Lukaku and Barkley they have two players on form who have it in them to boss around lesser teams. Burnley is a lesser team. Those turning up to Goodison Park should do so expecting the three points.
Stoke City 2-1 Hull City: Hull are playing better football than Stoke at the moment. Primarily because they are fighting for survival in the Premier League. Their team are tighter, better organised and capable of punching a little above his weight. They will need that in spades on their trips away to pick up the points necessary to give them hope. They face a Stoke side who aren’t doing well at the moment. Not poorly enough for any relegation concerns, but certainly underwhelming in comparison to where they have a reasonable expectation to be. When you finish in a position consistently it slowly raises the expectations. At present Stoke are not living up to that. For his own sake, Hughes has got to motivate this side to put in enough to pick up some points. This could be the game for that to begin to turn around.
Sunderland 1-2 West Ham: I wonder what it’s like to be a Sunderland fan. To turn up at the Stadium of Light and to see no light at all from your home team. To be managed by a guy who already set their stall out for a relegation scrap from the first few games of the season and whose manner has been so pessimistic it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To see abject performance after pathetic performance with dismal result after awful result. Has their been any glimmer of hope this season? Has there been any indication that Sunderland have shoots of growth and positivity? If there has been, it has to be applauded for its invisibility. West Ham have not had a great season either, but in Sunderland even they can be relieved to know it could have been worse. If they can carry that relief into the right approach in this away fixture they could further establish Sunderland’s impending trip to the Championship.
Watford 1-1 Swansea City: The Swans have found this to be a very difficult season in the Premier League. Maybe their hardest. The managerial changes, the ownership change, the serious dips in form, the disappointing transfer activity, the underwhelming performances, the over reliance on Sigurdsson and the fans feeling a sense of betrayal at not being as involved as they hoped to be in the direction of their beloved club. Despite the best efforts of Clement there is a gnawing feeling that maybe Swansea just don’t have it in them to beat the drop. Watford have nothing to play for. They won’t get relegated, they won’t finish in the top half of the table, there’s no pride to play for outside the issue of winning a game of football. To be fair, though, they won’t roll over at home to any side. They don’t have a fortress, but they know Swansea are beneath them and should have enough in them to make sure the Welsh side stay there.
Southampton 2-3 Man City: A lot of attention has gone to the first season of Guardiola at City, but Puel’s first season at Southampton has escaped a great deal of scrutiny. He did well to guide the team to a cup final, but following good seasons under Koeman and Pochettino in the league Southampton are in a slightly worse position in the league. Maybe this is Southampton’s level, maybe the good run of league finishes really was overachieving. Maybe Puel is showing us the level Southampton really play at. This should be good news for the visitors. Not because a trip to St. Mary’s will be a breeze, but because if City turn up in the right frame of mind and impose their superior quality they should leave the coast with the three points. Southampton know, however, that City don’t always show up with the right frame of mind. Southampton should certainly know that they can disrupt their opponents and so frustrate the Citizens. That could make matters very intriguing. Yet this game should see Southampton knowing their place.
West Brom 1-1 Liverpool: Pulis will not be happy with the recent results. Beating Arsenal? Everyone beats Arsenal these days. Other than that, the Baggies have not really been putting in the performances and getting the results that would be satisfactory for him. That’s a good place for West Brom to be in, to be that disappointed. Now they face a Liverpool side who are notoriously suspect against inferior sides. Pulis would have seen the first half of Liverpool at Stoke and be encouraged. He will know how to knock them off their stride. He will know how to be disciplined and organised against the attacking threat of the Reds. He also knows that his side can put it about with set pieces against a Liverpool defence that appears to be contractually obliged not to keep a clean sheet. So Klopp’s side will show up at the Hawthorns and definitely have to up their game if they want to maintain their position in the top four.
Man Utd 2-1 Chelsea: Here is my wacky prediction of the fixtures this week. Chelsea will come to Old Trafford knowing the pressure is all on the home team. Pressure to compete for a top four finish. Pressure to deal with a difficult set of fixtures. Pressure to score goals. Pressure to finish off teams. Pressure from a moaning manager. Pressure all over the place. Compared to relative serenity from the team about to win the Premier League. Conte is not the type to take things for granted. His approach to each game has been immaculate even in the occasional defeat. He has maintained a first team that knows what is expected of them and can work together effectively both as a defensive unit and as an attacking threat. Chelsea don’t have European commitments and can fully focus on this game. They beat United at home and know they can beat them away. This should be a tight game and if anyone is likely to win it should definitely be the Champions elect. So United will win.
Middlesbrough 0-3 Arsenal: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Arsenal. Hmmmmmmm. This has been a poor season for them. They have not done well. In anything. All season long. Here, however, they should finally do something they have rarely done in the league lately – win. Arsenal are poor and pathetic in not dismissing their incumbent manager (by the way respect for Wenger does not exempt him from calling it as it is and it pathetic). Despite that they are playing Middlesbrough. Arsenal’s last win was against an awful West Ham side. Middlesbrough are worse than West Ham. However poor Arsenal are, they cannot leave this game with anything less than three points. This Boro side only have one side to look at who is worse than them and that side is Sunderland. Other than that, Boro cannot score enough goals at all and do not have the defence to prevent an average strike force piercing through. Don’t get me wrong, for entertainment purposes nothing would please me more than to see this pathetically run football club from North London fail to get the three points. I would be delighted. But this isn’t Crystal Palace, this is Middlesbrough. This is a win for Arsenal.
No doubt the match of the weekend is Mourinho hosting his old side before a crucial quarter final second leg. That match is one I am very interested to see. Otherwise, the car crash that is Arsenal’s season should experience some respite at one of the worst teams in the league. They should, but this is Arsenal … As ever …
Let’s see how it goes.
C. L. J. Dryden