The Arsenal FC lost their chance to regain the lead in the Premier League standings when Monday’s match against Chelsea FC ended in a 0-0 draw. When Liverpool FC won on Saturday and moved ahead with 36 points, they took with them all hope of retaining the lead without a win. Liverpool had the advantage in goal difference, so even though the draw brought Arsenal to a total of 36 points, it did not put them back on top. Added to the loss of the lead, the draw extended the unbeaten streak to 10 for Jose Mourinho in matches against Arsene Wenger. In all, not a very good day for the Arsenal manager.
Even though it was a bad day, the prospects remained positive for Wenger’s beleaguered squad. Given the match-ups presented on Boxing Day, the return of Arsenal to the top spot was not exactly unexpected. Arsenal faced an anemic West Ham squad that looked initially like they might put up a fight, but disappeared soon after they scored the first goal of the match. The only way they could end Boxing Day with anything other than the lead was if Liverpool had found a way to defeat a Manchester City squad with the best home record in the Premier League. That did not happen.
Manchester City stayed true to their home form despite the fact that their leading scorer, Sergio Aguero, is still out injured. The timely return of defender Pablo Zabaleta from his own injuries made a real difference in preventing Luis Suarez from coming down and dominating the left side of the pitch, as is his custom. Zabaleta’s return, together with an inspired effort from goalkeeper Joe Hart, ensured that Liverpool’s time atop the standings was destined to be short.
Arsenal may have taken the opportunity to regain the lead on Boxing Day, but the club faces a challenge in just three days that may see them relinquish the top spot again as quickly as they took it. They will face a Newcastle United team on Sunday that will likely present a significant challenge for Wenger’s squad. The Arsenal midfielders will find Yohan Cabaye a very difficult pill to swallow.
Wenger, before the match against Chelsea, mentioned his concern for Mesut Ozil in the middle and his ability to hold up. He suggested that a rest for their expensive midfielder was needed. Ozil was pulled from the game on Boxing Day once it seemed clear that Arsenal would take the three points, but that is likely to be the most rest he gets. It is doubtful that the Arsenal manager will risk keeping him out against Newcastle with a threat like Cabaye in the match. Even with Ozil playing, Cabaye is likely to give Arsenal fits.
In second place, Manchester City faces what appears to be a much less difficult challenge on Saturday. Despite the short rest, they ought to be able to come away with three points against a Crystal Palace squad that only barely managed to climb out of the relegation zone at the bottom of the table with a Boxing Day victory. If Arsenal is unable to find a way to counter Cabaye and the Newcastle attack, the team will find itself losing the lead it was just able to to regain on Boxing Day.
By Jim Malone