Packed holiday schedule leaves top teams stumbling

By Hilton Yip Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-4 23:43:01

The holiday crunch has come and gone, and all the top clubs seem to be huffing and puffing a bit.

Arsenal needed a little luck to overcome mighty Newcastle, while Manchester City had to produce some late-game heroics to beat Watford Saturday. Plucky Leicester, who led the league up until last week, drew 0-0 with Bournemouth for their third game without a goal.

The spotlight is now on Arsenal, who lead the league, but only by two points over Leicester. The Gunners had a shocker in their Boxing Day 4-0 destruction by Southampton but then won two straight games to reach the top. Those wins were over less illustrious opponents - Bournemouth and Newcastle - and accomplished with considerably more effort than would have normally been expected. At times, Newcastle, who languish in the first relegation place, dominated Arsenal and were unlucky themselves to not have scored.

This might be a little concerning, but there is room for optimism.

The league is extremely competitive, and almost all the major clubs have been inconsistent. For example, Liverpool beat Leicester on Boxing Day to give the then-league ­leaders only their second defeat of the season, but had lost 3-0 to Watford the week before. Manchester City, who are the title favorites despite Arsenal being on top for now, can be imperious in some games and meek in others, with their win over Watford their first away league victory since September.

The famous saying "any team can beat any other team," often used to describe the US' NFL, would also make a fitting description of this season's ­Premier League.

Leicester are in danger of running out of steam, having failed to score in three games after scoring in every single league game up to that point. This has coincided with star striker Jamie Vardy going through a mini slump since December 14.

But yet it is how one gets through the tough games that defines a championship team. No team can win pretty all the time, unless it is Barcelona, who have the three best forwards in the world. Manchester United and Chelsea were masters at grinding out victories in games in which they were outplayed.

Arsenal should feel a little glad at winning three of their last four league games in the packed holiday schedule while coping with the losses of key men Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin, just to name a couple.

But the Gunners will face an even mightier task starting next week, when they face Liver­pool, Stoke and Chelsea in succession. They will do well to get reinforcements during the ­winter transfer window.

The author is a Beijing-based writer.

Posted in: Extra Time

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