United take on Arsenal this afternoon and, for the first time in a decade, approach the game as supposed underdogs. Ryan Giggs has disputed this title but the eight points between them and us suggests they have clearly been superior, even if they’ve yet to play many tough games.
Some fans and sections of the media have said that if United lose today, falling eleven points behind Arsenal, there is no way we can retain our title. The Gunners would have to lose four more games than us over the course of the season and the way they are playing right now, it’s hard to imagine that happening.
After ten games, United don’t look like they’re capable of winning the league and Arsenal look unstoppable. Fortunately for us, we’re only a quarter of the way through the season and history tells us that Arsenal won’t be the team for us to worry about.
The North London side have started other seasons strongly but then haven’t been able to carry their form across the entire year.
At the start of the 2007-2008 season, for example, they amassed 26 points after their first ten games (more than they have after ten games this season) but went on to finish 3rd, 4 points behind United. We lost more games than them that season but, crucially, we won more too.
Their recent League Cup defeat against Chelsea at the Emirates tells you a lot about the strength of their squad. Both sides made considerable changes to what they would regard their strongest XI for the Premier League, yet Chelsea easily beat them 2-0.
Arsenal may very well go on to win the title. They have some great players. What they are missing though is a striker. That’s why they were so keen to sign Wayne Rooney or Luis Suarez in the summer. What they have up front, like Chelsea, does not come close to matching the strength of the teams in Manchester. If their midfielders keep scoring as many goals as they are doing, then a lack of a world class striker won’t cost them, but it’s rare for midfielders to be able to maintain that goalscoring form for a whole season.
For me, the teams to beat are the teams we tipped as the strongest sides at the start of the season, Chelsea and City. The money they’ve spent is incredible, with both bringing in quality new managers to boost their chances. I’m far more concerned with the difference in points between us and them than I am Arsenal. At the end of the season, that may look foolish, but for now, I just don’t fancy them.
A defeat against Arsenal would put us 11 points behind them, but just 4 points behind Chelsea and potentially 5 points behind City (assuming they win today). In November, that’s nothing to worry about.
Of course, I’m going in to the game wanting a win. We have some quality players who are capable of really switching it on, so if they all manage to do that today, we’ll look good for the win. But having seen how we fell apart against City, it’s always a worry when we come up against a strong offensive team.
But for me, a defeat against Arsenal wouldn’t rule us out of the title race. Not just because we’re only a few games in and it’s foolish to judge the table at this stage. Does anyone seriously think Southampton will be playing Champions League football next season? As it stands, they’re better than Chelsea, City, Spurs and us. But also because I don’t think Arsenal are the team we’ll have to finish above to win the title this season.
Time will tell…