Premier League review and team of the week, 14
00:32, 04 Dec 2012
After almost a decade of the ‘big four’ and then the Champions League six, it seems we might be genuinely entering a newly open era in the English top division beyond the top two. Even accounting for the fact it is still too early in the season to drawn any firm conclusions about sides, the exact unpredictability of this campaign has been staggering. Quite simply, beyond the Manchester clubs, there are no guarantees.
The most worrying thing for Arsenal, after all, was that the defeat to Swansea was not the first time they’ve been so meek. They seem to provide this kind of display every two weeks. Spurs, by contrast, seem to oscillate between promising runs of victories and poor sequences of defeat.
Chelsea, well, we can all see what’s happening there.
The suspicion remains, of course, that it will be two of those three that will eventually secure the final two Champions League places. The very fact that you now can’t say any of three with anything like confidence, though, illustrates how much has changed.
Perhaps what might save them, though is that, for all the praise the likes of West Brom, Everton - and, last season, Newcastle United - receive, they don’t have the experience or knowledge of staying so high in the table for so long.
West Brom’s form is perhaps starting to regress to the mean while Everton, despite only losing two games, have lost sense of momentum. To a certain degree, they’ve returned to being merely difficult as opposed to dynamic.
For once, though, there is certainly an awful lot of mobility around that end of the table.
At present, Robin van Persie’s goals have been directly responsible for 12 of Manchester United’s points, in terms of equalisers and proper match-winners. That translates to 0.8 points a game. Last season, he managed 0.71 - the third highest in Premier League history after Alan Shearer (0.73) in 1993-94 and Cristiano Ronaldo (0.72) in 2007-08. There are a couple of points from this. First of all, although it remains something of a gamble from Alex Ferguson that he concentrated on his attack rather than his open defence in the summer, it is one that makes a certain amount of sense. Secondly, there’s the effect on Arsenal. This, of course, is hardly a new theme but it’s possible we’re only starting to see the full consequences now. Given the amount of points Van Persie secured last season, and the amount that Arsenal are dropping now, it is possible that his goals gave them something of a false position. Look at this campaign. Had Arsenal retained Van Persie and enjoyed the benefit of those 12 points (and assuming United stayed constant), they’d be in third.
Much has been made, lately, about whether Arsene Wenger is a man slightly out of time and whether the rest of the game has caught up with some of his original qualities - such as sports science and scouting - the same could perhaps be said of Martin O’Neill. First of all, it should never be forgotten that the Sunderland manager has a highly respectable CV. It is possible that the elements which created it - ‘simple’ motivation, organisation and relatively unsophisticated tactics - are sightly out of step with a number of bright young managers who have taken such things on a level. Again, it is still early in the season. One point, however, stands out: this is essentially the first time that O’Neill has seen any kind of significant drop in form and position at any of his clubs since joining Leicester City.
Team of the week
1. Brad Guzan (Aston Villa)
2. Angel Rangel (Swansea City)
3. Leighton Baines (Everton)
4. Dan Agger (Liverpool)
5. Sebastien Bassong (Norwich City)
6. Mohamed Diame (West Ham United)
7. Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
8. Steven N’Zonzi (Stoke City)
9. Demba Ba (Newcastle United)
10. Michu (Swansea City)
11. Anthony Pilkington (Norwich City)
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