Let The Sprint For The Title Begin
A decade has passed since the untimely death of David Rocastle. Everyone has their own memories of him as a player and a man, some excellent ones are online. A player from a different era who had enough talent to have thrived in this one. Like Anders Limpar, you feel that a great player would have gone onto a higher level.
Perhaps the best tribute to him is on She Wore A Yellow Ribbon where there are details of an online auction or simply a charitable donation. Please support it if you can.
The Premier League restarts this weekend, relegation and title issues will be swayed bv the outcomes. The race for top spot is between three teams. Chelsea are being dismissed in some quarters but their run-in is the ‘easiest’ of the top three, a fixture list which ought to see them win a high proportion. The way that this season has gone, it means that they cannot be ruled out.
Arsenal and United both have fixtures where I would expect them to drop points, this Saturday may not be as straightforward a trip to Upton Park as the Mancunians have had in the past. Equally, Arsenal will probably be happy with a point at White Hart Lane.
Other fixtures that have potential banana skins for both sides are trips to Newcastle / Blackburn for the leaders, their inability to win a bigger number of away games a key reason for the tightness of this season’s title race whilst Arsenal travel to Bolton and Stoke, nemesis from previous campaigns but stadia which have been happy hunting grounds in recent times.
The key period is going to be the visit of Manchester United to Arsenal followed by their home encounter with Chelsea. It is not hard to see them taking one point from the two games. If they take more, it will be a tight finish.
Much will depend on the outcome of the Champions League tie between United and Chelsea. To be honest, I would quite happily see United win, it means that they would play twice a week for most of the rest of the season, particularly around a time when key domestic fixtures are scheduled.
The spread of points in the Premier League is also crucial. As it stands, 8 points separate 7th and 18th places. Realistically, that is too big a gap for Bolton and 8th placed Everton to be relegated but enough to ensure that their seasons are not yet comfortable.
10th place downwards – Stoke are five points off the relegation places – looks at this moment to be the place where very nervous glances are cast at results. It means that all of the sides need a result at the moment. Some will rest easier over the coming weeks than others.
Fatigue and injury will be key. United’s squad does not have the depth that has been seen in the past; Arsenal are getting key players back to fitness at the right time.
That may not be as much of an issue as defensive concentration although the flak that has been flying around since The Hawthorns debacle should ensure focus and concentration is paramount. Almunia does tend to learn quickly, rarely making mistakes in consecutive games. That does not preclude a repetition in the future though.
Much is made of mental toughness, how United and Chelsea are stronger for the experience of having won titles and why this will not be Arsenal’s season. Equally as important is the knowledge of what losing feels like, motivating the players not to repeat the emptiness or sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs.
A challenging two months remains of the season. Hard work and a little luck might be enough to see the title return to Arsenal. My own view is that this will happen with between 1 and 3 points the gap to second place.