Can you see beyond Manchester United for the second half of the season?
Manchester United head into the 2011 half of the Premier League season unbeaten and joint top with rivals Manchester City, but with 2 games in hand. They are evens favourites to win the Premier League.
3 points at West Brom was a big victory for Manchester United in the first Premier League game of the new year. It’s a good sign to win a game you didn’t deserve to win and that can certainly be said about Manchester United. Gary Neville was fortunate not be sent off and concede penalty in the first half, while Manchester United were thankful for Peter Odemwingie scuffing a penalty wide in the second half at 1-1.
Credit must go to Sir Alex Ferguson who substituted Gabriel Obertan after a shocking first half, putting Wayne Rooney out on the left hand side where he became a big influence and put in a man of the match performance before finishing the game limping around after a strong challenge from Chris Brunt. It was substitute Javier Hernandez who headed in Manchester United’s winner for Rooney’s corner.
Gary Neville was being tortured at right back before being substituted for Fabio. West Brom were unlucky not to find the net for a second time after a flurry of chances. Nemanja Vidic in particular made a match winning block on the line. The long ball game had been particularly successful for a West Brom side who are on poor form. They’ve failed to put away the large number of chances they created recently and cannot afford to let their heads drop at this point; now only 3 points above the relegation zone. They have a big game at Craven Cottage tomorrow evening.
But for a trip to Spurs in mid-January, Manchester United are capable of picking up maximum points in their games before they host Manchester City on February 12th and the Champions League restarts shortly after. In contract, before their trip to Old Trafford, Manchester City go to Arsenal and Birmingham. Later in the season they must travel to Stamford Bridge and Anfield. But for Tottenham, they’ve hosted the top teams in the first half of the season, beating Chelsea, drawing with Manchester united and losing 3-0 at home to Arsenal. Manchester City also play in the Europa League, although don’t always field their strongest team.
Arsenal, who’s Champions League campaign isn’t expected to go past the second round this year have a nice run of league fixtures after their home game with Manchester City this Wednesday. West Ham, Wigan, Everton, Newcastle, Wolves and Stoke will be their following games before travelling to Tottenham at the end of February. Arsenal have the better run in of these 3 teams, and should they drop out of European competition earlier than their competitors I can start to understand why people are backing Arsenal for the league. Arsenal are currently 7/2 second favourites to win the Premier League.
However, can Arsenal win the league with the problems they have at the back and in goal? Every goalkeeper Arsene Wenger fields seems to be a liability. Sebastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny aren’t a strong centre back partnership either. However, Johan Djourou has had time in the first team recently and Thomas Vermaelen is due to return in a few weeks. Arsenal have kept 5 clean sheets in 20 league games this season; 2 when the opposition was reduced to 10 men in the first half (Blackpool and Manchester City). Ultimately, results similar to those at home to West Brom and at Wigan may be their achilles heel. Although their have been more consistent this season than in the past couple.