Something weird is happening in the English Premier League this season. There are 20 teams total in the league and 11 of them are within 3 points of relegation. Three points, 55% of the league. Number 12, 13 and 14 are only 4 (or 5) points out of relegation. The only real separation comes from the sixth place team, Hull, tied with Aston Villa, both of which are 8 points out of relegation. Keep in mind we're a quarter of the way through the season.
Ignoring Fulham, who has played one less game, the 10 other teams, a fluke goal or a bad call away from joining the likes of Wolverhampton, Ipswich and Swansea, include some fairly big names:
Manchester City (!!!)
And just so you know, two out the three promoted teams seem to be enjoying their deluxe apartment in the sky. Stoke and Hull, top table teams, got there by beating the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Man City and of course, others. Although, who hasn't beaten Arsenal lately (zing!).
Aside - Allow me to elaborate on Jim's pessimism (and Jake's subsequent optimism/sarcasm). For the record, I share Jim's sentiment, if not feel more strongly about Arsenal's demise in the EPL. The reason, as discussed by Jim and I after beating United, is because the Gunners still have games at United and home and homes with Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester Citeh. That's 4 games away that pretty much must result in 3 points. Lets say we lose 2 of those games, win out the rest at home, and win out the remaining 19 games. That leaves Arsenal with 5 losses and allows for 4 more draws (in 23 games) to finish top of the table - ala Man Utd last year.
Hmmm, that doesn't exactly paint the bleakness of the picture per sae. Allow me to put it another way. Last year, the much dreaded NIT, Uefa Cup, or Ac Milan's bastard child of 2007 tournament of embarassing memories (it has several names), qualifed with 65 points. Projecting our current pace, leaves us at 73 points. Considering we still have 7 games against the rest of the big 4 and the Saudi's Super Sweet 16 (Citeh), it's possible. Finishing 5th would all but kill me. There is nothing worse than playing in the Uefa. I wouldn't watch any of those games, and I'd root for us to lose. Juventus' absense from the CL last year was weird, remiss at times, but never an obligatory slap in the face. It has to feel like child support payments after the girl lied about birth control. I can't even think about Arsenal beating FC Coppenhagen in the Uefa Cup finals without also then thinking about stumbling in on 2 girls 1 cup in my living room.
I think that last analogy just about sums up how I feel about Arsenal finishing 5th. I posed this question to Jim the other day - Would you take a guaranteed 5th place in the league for a finals birth in the Champions. I kinda wish I hadn't posed it because it very well could happen.
I know I'm being overly dramatic but don't confuse my Virginia Wolf impression to lack any positive outlooks. I think Arsenal will win the Champions League this year. And if no other english sides are faced past the sweet 16, it won't be close. Arsene Wenger built this team for Europe - it's become painstakingly clear. Our worst game, a draw against Fenerbahce, saw 14 goal scoring chances go wayward. I can watch that game and argue at the same time why Arsenal will win the CL this year... and not flinch.
Does anyone else realize how hard Bendtner is trying to resemble Senderos? This won't be the first time I write this - ship him the hell out of London. Do it now. Give him up for 50 pounds and a shot of Montezuma Blue. While we're at it, trade away Van Persie too. Every time he chokes another goal away with a 90mph shank job when a simple slot home will do just fine I mute the game, stare at a lightbulb and listen to Scarborough Fair. How did Arsene end up with the worst of all the Dutch attackers? Van Persie and Bendtner the hell out of here, Adebayor for Guiza, and Arshavin in the transfer window is all I ask. That's all it takes to be unstoppable. Well... maybe Gallas for Cannavaro but that's definitely it.
The much overdo, Juventus coverage...
Juventus is surprisingly similar to Arsenal this year except less extreme in both successes and failures. I read earlier today that Del Piero is arguably the best striker in Europe right now and at least in the last 3 games I'd say there isn't much of an argument. If you haven't seen That Fire do his thing recently, allow me to describe it. Shooting for Alessandro reminds me of watching Kobe Bryant. Every goal has shocked me in one way or another but when you really think about it, he's done it before. Take Chievo Verona for example. That Fire has a free-kick 10 yards outside the box, on the equivalent of the left hash, and he buries it top left corner. The same top left corner he always buries it in. Without fail, Del Piero bends it over the wall, right into the corner. Yet even the greatest keeper in the world (since the greatest got hurt), Iker Cassillas was even surprised by it. I know it's coming, Ranieri knows its coming, it's not exactly a well kept secret. Whatever, I don't mind, like Kobe's fall away, it's a thing of beauty to watch and hell, it may just be unstoppable and unfair.
The reason for Juve's early struggles, unlike Arsenal, I can explain concisely. Amauri has been great, but relying on him has been the problem. Amauri reminds me of Allen Iverson (gosh, really, two NBA allusions?!?. I apologize.) He plays with a ton of intensity, gets his looks, but can't actually carry a team to be ultimately successful. Juve strikers, Iaquinta, Del Piero, whoever else, don't play well with him because he makes every run. It's not being selfish either. Amauri just makes every run, takes every open shot, goes for every header, and it makes his teammates a little more complacent and a little less energetic. It's the reason why Alessandro's resurgence is that much more important. Amauri can't be the leader on this team. He needs to be the guy to ice teams when we're only up 1-nil or bring us back to life when we're down 2-0.
Another worry about Juventus, besides the noticeable lack of star power, is Tiago. Ranieri is giving Tiago his chance to reach the high potential once thought of him. So far it's not really panning out. Tiago is soft and "fake" creative. What I mean is that Tiago makes the creative pass that cannot actually be executed. I'm sure Cesc would love to be able to split 2 defenders and chip the third in the middle of the pitch but it doesn't work. I know the comparison is tough, but Tiago hasn't proven he can make the simple play yet before he tries the complicated one.
I promised myself I wouldn't go the entire post without mentioning something positive about the win over United so here goes:
It was pleasing to see Rooney act like the thug he is and for Gary Neville to screw up yet again for United.