Early days, I know, but could it be that we are seeing the signs of a north to south shift in the Premier League balance of power? And could it be that Arsene Wenger, in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement now the grand old man of English football management, is presiding over the second coming of his beloved Arsenal, the club he has managed for 17 years and led to three league titles, four FA Cups and 16 consecutive qualifications for the Champions League. As I ponder the latest set of results – and performances – that is the inevitable conclusion, as Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea occupy the top three places, with Manchester City slipping out of the top four – and Manchester United nowhere, the two northern giants having lost two and three times respectively.
You won’t find many football people who don’t admire the way Wenger’s teams play, irrespective of the fact that Arsenal have gone eight years since winning a major trophy. Regular readers of this column know that I am a confirmed fan, a long-time admirer, of the Gunners teams Wenger has produced. And the current side is shaping up to become a team that not only plays fabulous football but, also, one which has the capability to take silverware to The Emirates. After all of the close-season concerns about lack of transfer activity, and the premature furore that followed the first-day home defeat to Aston Villa, Arsenal have emerged as the stand-out team in the Premier League, executing their impressive, short-passing game with equal ease at home or away. Wenger produced a master-stroke when he signed Ozil from Real Madrid on transfer deadline day, having already secured the return of Flamini. These quality players were added to the midfield ranks that also include Wilshere, Cazorla, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, the rejuvenated Ramsey and Arteta. What variety. So many options. Only big-spending Manchester City have such strength in depth in midfield, but they compounded their away defeat to promoted Cardiff by losing yesterday at Villa. Such inconsistency – City had thrashed derby rivals United and, then, Wigan in the Capital One Cup, last week – must be addressed if their immense potential is to be realised.
United gave manager David Moyes more cause for concern by losing to West Brom at fortress Old Trafford, where the normally impregnable walls were torn down amidst a shambolic defensive display. Moyes is a cool, determined customer who will remain calm and address his problems on the training pitch. Worryingly, though, United already appear to be patching up, trying to plug holes. I’ll say it again, the problems that were bubbling under the surface last season are popping up and giving Moyes a lot to consider. The stark fact is that he needs striker Robin Van Persie back to give him an extra goals threat and to complement Wayne Rooney, who is playing out of his skin. With such an alarming shortage of midfield creativity, Rooney looks the one player capable of making something happen. And happen it must if the title United won last season is not to slip from their grasp early in the race, for it is statistically proven that the big prize rarely is won by a team that has lost six matches. Ferguson, who amassed 13 titles, always stressed that five defeats was the limit if you had Championship aspirations. Three down and two to go – and only six games played!
Spurs and Chelsea fought a 1-1 draw at lunchtime, with Arsenal winning at Swansea in the evening kick-off, results that leave the three London clubs setting the pace and leaving the two Manchester big-hitters floundering a little. How heart-warming to see Southampton, currently sporting the most successul Academy in the top flight, sitting in fourth place. They also play a passing game that is easy on the eye. A nod in the direction, too, of Steve Bruce, whose promoted – and unfancied – Hull City have had a wonderful start, creeping into seventh place yesterday. We now look forward to an intriguing Monday night clash of contrasting styles when unbeaten Everton, who play possession football under Roberto Martinez, entertain Newcastle, who hit more long balls last season than any other team. It should be fascinating.