Thankfully, the Premier League is back. That means reflecting upon Chelsea’s inconsistencies, West Brom’s lack of any skill and frankly, Man City’s dominance, can become part of our life again.
Europe’s greatest league according to Englishmen was finally back last weekend, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. That’s if what you were looking for was some really bad games, covered up by an impressive scoreline. I think it’s appropriate to start with the primary offender – Arsenal’s ‘game’ against Stoke at the Emirates, on Sunday afternoon.
The first half passed without incident. All eyes were drawn to the empty seats in the stands, as some Arsenal fans have started industrial action to remove Wenger from the manager’s seat. Some just couldn’t bear the thought of spending their Sunday watching Danny Welbeck chase a football around as if he were a dog chasing a tennis ball, on ice. At half-time, the score was 0-0, and on Twitter, the amount of tweets about the vacant stadium outnumbered match analysis by 40 to 1. As the second half started, the game was dribbling towards a 0-0 conclusion, until Stoke used the tactic of fouling an Arsenal player in their own penalty area. Of course, a penalty was awarded, and Aubameyang duly converted. Arsene Wenger’s men had saved themselves from another humiliation. In the 86th minute, Aubameyang added another to his tally with a volley of genuine skill – the only time that word could be mentioned in the same breath as this match. As Arsenal got another penalty one minute from time, it was assumed Aubameyang would step up for his hat-trick, but he unselfishly let Lacazette have a goal – as, like most of us, he could see it wasn’t going to happen any other way.
Arguably, the most crucial game of the weekend was West Ham’s relegation showdown with Southampton at the London Stadium. A final score of 3-0 to West Ham makes it sound like the Hammers put in the performance of their lives under David Moyes, but if we look at the underlying statistics, it paints a pretty dull game. A total of 5 shots on target, all of them to West Ham, gives an air of unentertaining dominance. West Ham had 48% possession, all of which was spent making dull passes in the middle third of the pitch, and ballooning shots over the bar. Southampton had 52% possession, all of which was spent hoofing the ball back to West Ham’s defenders, or taking goal kicks too slowly. To make things worse, only one offside in the whole game suggests a crushing lack of adventure.
Onto the ‘myth of the week’ we go then. After mentioning Arsenal’s army of angry fans, I considered Chelsea, who are pretty much in a very similar situation to Arsenal. Both sets of fans believe that their teams should be having much more success, both sets of fans frequently bemoan the players purchased by the board, and both clubs are managed by European gentlemen who look just too confused to be managing a Premier League team. But why, then, is there a popular belief that Arsenal are in a far worse state than Chelsea? Perhaps it is because Chelsea often win the league on the odd occasion they aren’t being a bad football team, but Arsenal never reach those heights. At least fans of the Gunners are used to the position they’re in?
For sure, there is a group of very angry Chelsea fans who are unhappy with Antonio Conte, and make it well-known. They make the point that it is unacceptable for the champions of England to try and defend their title by signing an unproven striker in Alvaro Morata, and Tiemoue Bakayoko, who played fairly decent football in the French league. Arsenal’s summer signing, Alexandre Lacazette, has been so ineffective that Wenger was reduced to literally signing the exact same player in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and the generally even more ineffective Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Manchester United.
This transfer policy combined with results such as losing to Brighton, Ostersund, and getting thrashed by Manchester City in a cup final, has conveyed Arsenal in a very bad light. Chelsea, though, are only 5 points above Arsenal in the table. Both sides will likely fail to qualify for the Champions League, continue to have frustratingly poor strike forces, and managers who refuse to change their ways for the better.