Skip to content

Premier League Playback: Arsenal’s strength in-depth, festive madness, Liverpool’s reality check

Dec 30, 2013, 7:36 AM EST

Lukas Podolski AP

THE GUNNERS DON’T NEED TO SPLASH THE CASH IN JANUARY…

Some of you will read that sub-header with a smirk on your face, but honestly, Arsene Wenger may be able to keep his pennies in his purse in January and still lead Arsenal towards the Premier League title.

Over the Christmas period two new attackers finally arrived, as Theo Walcott scored twice and Lukas Podolski bagged a goal on his return from injury in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham on Boxing Day.

Those two hold the key to Arsenal’s success in the second half of the season, as both have been missing for lengthy spells and feel like brand new signings for the Gunners faithful.

“Podolski has been out for four months, he has not played one game. I try to get him slowly back to competitiveness and he has shown he can have a huge impact because he can score and make goals – he can give assists. On the pitch at the end we had Podolski and Walcott and Giroud and Ozil and Cazorla.” – Arsene Wenger on Arsenal’s attacking options

Following their win at Upton Park, the Gunners then relied on their leading front man Olivier Giroud to score the only goal of the game as they beat Newcastle on Sunday and went top of the PL standings. But the resurgence of Walcott and Podolski (who admittedly are both used on the wing but can easily be deployed in central roles) is cause for hope for any Arsenal fans fretting about which strikers will arrive at the Emirates in the next month or so.

Wenger doesn’t need to dip his toes into the murky waters of the January transfer window. He’s done that before and failed miserably. Look at the panic buy of Jose Antonio Reyes to name just one example, Wenger could do without wasting another $30 million on a player who won’t help him grab some silverware for the first time in eight years.

(MORE: Latest Premier League Standings)

So if Giroud gets hurt, he could do a lot worse than playing Walcott or Podolski centrally. Both are top internationals for England and Germany respectively, know how to finish and will cause problems for opposition defenses. A few months ago the attacking options at Wenger’s disposal were looking threadbare. The greatest gift Arsenal’s French manager got this Christmas was two top attacking players back to full fitness and his forward line bolstered in the process. And then there’s the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry waiting in the wings for the second half of the season, too.

Who said Arsenal don’t have enough strength in-depth?

Premier League Schedule – Week 18, Boxing Day

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 0-1 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Cardiff 0-3 Southampton Recap and watch here
Chelsea 1-0 Swansea Recap and watch here
Everton 0-1 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Hull 2-3 Man United Recap and watch here
Man City 2-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Newcastle 5-1 Stoke Recap and watch here
Norwich 1-2 Fulham Recap and watch here
Tottenham 1-1 West Brom Recap and watch here
West Ham 1-3 Arsenal Recap and watch here

FESTIVE FEAST DELIVERS

Boxing Day and Week 19 provided two match days of distinction around the holidays. It’s hard to sum it all up in this column, but the incidents, goals and drama we saw epitomized what the festive schedule is all about: unpredictability. Before the Boxing Day madness (the first time in five years that all 20 PL teams have played on the same day, excluding the final day of the campaign) I picked out three things we should watch and here they are.

GOALS -59 balls hit the back of the net in the 20 games that have taken place since Boxing Day, that’s an average of 2.95 goals per game. Not bad at all, plus there were some crazy 5-1, 6-0 and 3-3 score lines to go with it.

RED CARDS –There were four red cards alone on Boxing Day, as Stoke City imploded with two reds in two minutes vs. Newcastle, Antonio Valencia was sent off needlessly and poor Tim Howard was put in an impossible position and got a straight red.

THE UNEXPECTED – Hull City cruising after leading Man United 2-0 after the first 12 minutes on Boxing Day… then losing 3-2. Cardiff City 2-0 up against Sunderland on the 28th… then blowing it by letting in two goals in the final seven minutes. Plus Liverpool lead at Man City and Chelsea but blew it twice to lost back-to-back in three days.

LIVERPOOL REALIZATION: TOP FOUR AT BEST

A spoonful of sugar wasn’t dished out around Anfield during the festive season, just a bitter dose of reality.

The Reds always knew the past few days would have a big say in how seriously we could consider them as title contenders and heck, the way the PL is going this year they still have a great chance. But spirited back-to-back 2-1 defeats away at Manchester City and Chelsea proved that they can’t cut it with the big boys. Not just yet anyway.

Brendan Rodgers’ side looked sharp and dominated large spells against City and Chelsea but they lacked a cutting edge as Luis Suarez’ one-man band was locked down by two or three defenders marking him at a time. That allowed the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling to get more chances in on goal but they simply weren’t clinical enough when it mattered. I can’t help but think that if Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard would’ve been around and not injured, then Liverpool could be sitting top of the standings heading into 2014… instead they’re in fifth. That shows the small margins were dealing with this campaign.

Premier League Schedule – Week 19

Result Recap & Highlights
Aston Villa 1-1 Swansea Recap and watch here
Cardiff 2-2 Sunderland Recap and watch here
Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool Recap and watch here
Everton 2-1 Southampton Recap and watch here
Hull 6-0 Fulham Recap and watch here
Man City 1-0 Crystal Palace Recap and watch here
Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal Recap and watch here
Norwich 0-1 Man United Recap and watch here
Tottenham 3-0 Stoke Recap and watch here
West Ham 3-3 West Brom Recap and watch here

RELEGATION BATTLE JUST AS TIGHT

So, this is the time of the season where the title race intensifies and the top five or six sort themselves out and pull away from the few hopefuls dragging on their coattails in the top half of the standings.

But let your eyes wander down a little… yeah, that’s right. There’s an almighty scrap about to take place at the bottom as a relegation battle.

Below is a snapshot of the bottom seven, as Sunderland somehow clawed themselves right back into things with a win at Everton on Boxing Day, followed by a marvelous two goal salvo in the final seven minutes to break Cardiff City’s hearts and drag the Bluebirds deep into the mire. Around them West Brom and West Ham scrapped it out in a fantastic 3-3 draw at Upton Park, while the likes of Norwich and Crystal Palace put up valiant efforts against the Manchester giants. Get ready folks, these small teams fighting it out at the bottom will be going hell for leather every single week in the second half of the season as they best form of defense is attack for these chaps.

In previous years there’s always been one side that’s been utterly doomed and never looked like staying up. Last season it was QPR and Reading, before that it was Wolves. But at the halfway point in 2013/14, only five points separates Sunderland in last place with Norwich in 14th, while just ahead of them Swansea, Stoke and Aston Villa are looking worriedly over their shoulders.

source:

Click to enlarge: The bottom seven are clustered tightly as we usher in 2014.

Who’ll be safe will only become more apparent as the winter months leave us behind and the relentless rain of an early English spring help the negative vibes soak into fans of teams embroiled in yet another relegation battle. This is unlikely to be sorted out before the final weekend of the season. That’s the beauty of it, this season nobody knows what will happen.

HUDDLESTONE HAS A HAIRCUT… AS HULL LEAD PROMOTED SIDES

After 54 games without a goal, Tom Huddlestone’s hair has become more of a feature than his vast spectrum of passes and impressively destructive displays in the middle of the pitch. But following his strike in Hull’s 6-0 shellacking of Fulham on Saturday, which also happened to be his 27th birthday, Huddlestone raced to the bench and grabbed a pair of scissors as his entangled locks were lopped away mercifully.

Sadly, a lonesome pair of shears has sat on the bench for quite some time now, as the former Tottenham midfielders strike was his first goal since April 2011. Since then he’s had a long-standing wager that he won’t cut his hair until he scored… he possesses a rasping right foot and I’d hazard a guess that he didn’t think it would take almost two and a half years to get his barnet trimmed.

Huddlestone was carrying on with his “no haircut ‘til I score” stance as charities were benefiting from the donations people sent in from all over the world. It was a bit of good fun that was for a good cause and sealed an utterly superb end to 2013 for Hull City AFC. Now Huddlestone can get back to the important things in life… speaking to his barber again and choosing a new hairstyle.

And just a word on Hull’s remarkable season so far, out of the three promoted teams many expected them to flounder the most with their heavy-handed, route one approach not the way modern PL sides are set up… how wrong those doubters were. Steve Bruce has built a robust squad that’s hard to beat at home and can cause plenty of problems with a direct style of play. While their fellow newly-promoted friends Cardiff City and Crystal Palace are embroiled in a relegation battle, Hull sit in 10th spot with 23 points from their first 19 games. Hats off to the Tigers.

EVERTON AND SOUTHAMPTON SEND US OUT IN STYLE

Two of the seasons surprise packages put on a show at Goodison Park to see out 2013, as Everton beat the Saints 2-1 in an end-to-end clash that warmed the hearts of soccer purists. Intricate one-two’s, fast flowing counter attacks and possession built from the back ruled the day. Sprinkle into the mix a whole host of English talents and there’s hope for the English national side in Brazil this summer, at least if some of these players on show make the plane. Leighton Baines, Ross Barkley and even Leon Osman were superb, while Southampton’s Adam Lallana (who got married on Christmas Eve to avoid a clash with the World Cup), Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert all put in a good showing. Three fantastic goals were scored as Everton closed out the year by moving into the top four and above their arch-rivals Liverpool. The Saints finish 2013 in ninth, as you get the feeling that we’re only at the start of Mauricio Pochettino’s revolution at St. Mary’s. Two great teams who play soccer intelligently and are easy on the eye, it was hard not to drool watching some of that match.

This was also a glimpse into the future of the PL, as young English talent is being directed by young foreign managers (Roberto Martinez and Pochettino) who’ve got a track record of getting the best out of youngsters. Expect the Toffees and Saints’ model to be copied by many PL sides in the coming years.

Watch all the action from week 19 below, as we’ve reached the halfway point of the PL season. Here’s to hoping the second half of the campaign is just as dramatic as the first. Happy New Year to you all out there and don’t forget to celebrate New Year’s Day in the best way possible, a full slate of PL games live on NBC Sports!

Premier League Playback takes an alternative look at all the weekends actions from the PL, it comes out every week.

Latest Posts
  1. John Carver: Only the result mattered in Newcastle United’s victory over Aston Villa

    Feb 28, 2015, 8:55 PM EST

    John Carver, Newcastle United FC John Carver, Newcastle United FC

    Forget the performance, all John Carver cares about is the three points. Sometimes that’s how it is.

  2. FA chairman Greg Dyke wants more technology in soccer, but no one’s listening to him

    Feb 28, 2015, 7:45 PM EST

    Newcastle United v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    Dyke’s frustrated at the resistance to even explore and experiment with technological aids, and he’s 100% right to be.

  3. Promotion Watch: Leaders Derby, Middlesbrough fighting Watford, Bournemouth for PL places

    Feb 28, 2015, 6:27 PM EST

    Watford FC Getty Images

    The top of the Championship is as tight as it’s ever been. With only three spots to come up, who’ll be in the Premier League next year?

  4. La Liga & Serie A roundup: Barcelona bounce back; More struggles for AC Milan

    Feb 28, 2015, 6:04 PM EST

    Luis Suarez & Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona Luis Suarez & Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona

    Barcelona keep Spain’s title race close, while AC Milan just hope to finish inside Italy’s top-half.

  5. VIDEO: Sherwood is “ramping up the pressure” on relegation-threatened Aston Villa

    Feb 28, 2015, 4:43 PM EST

    Newcastle United v Aston Villa - Premier League Getty Images

    Can Sherwood do the trick, or will his loud ways alienate a club hoping to avoid its first ever trip into the Championship?

  6. WATCH: Alberto Bueno scores four goals in Rayo rout of Levante

    Feb 28, 2015, 4:33 PM EST

    FBL-ESP-LIGA-RAYO-ATLETICO Getty Images

    The Real Madrid outcast scored his ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th goals of the season in pushing Rayo Vallecano into 10th place.

  7. WATCH: Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco combine for Jozy Altidore’s first Toronto FC goal

    Feb 28, 2015, 4:18 PM EST

    Joze Altidore, Toronto FC Joze Altidore, Toronto FC

    It’s goal No. 1 of many for TFC’s $30-million man. Credit to TFC’s other $35-million and $25-million men for the fancy build-up.

  8. Premier League Sunday preview: Big boys tangle ahead of League Cup final

    Feb 28, 2015, 3:45 PM EST

    Howard rushed off his line to great effect in the first half to thwart Arsenal's offense. Getty Images

    Both sides of Merseyside are in action against a pair of Top Three contenders as the Premier League sends up two great appetizers.

  9. Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund and Bayern flying high with big goal performances

    Feb 28, 2015, 3:11 PM EST

    Germany Soccer Bundesliga AP

    Bayern made 577 more passes than its opponents. That’s bonkers.

  10. Has Southampton’s bubble burst? Top four challenge takes yet another hit

    Feb 28, 2015, 2:20 PM EST

    Koeman’s Saints have scored just once in their last five matches. Can they recover and remain in the top six?

  11. Report: England U-20/Man City U-21 defender loaned to New York City FC

    Feb 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    http://www.mcfc.com/ http://www.mcfc.com/

    Facey, 20, was the captain of Man City’s highly-touted Elite Development Squad and had been on trial with NYCFC since early January.

  12. In-form Luis Suarez leads Barcelona to 3-1 win at Granada; La Liga, UCL beware? (video)

    Feb 28, 2015, 12:52 PM EST

    Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi AP

    With an edge on Man City in the UCL and second place to Real Madrid in La Liga, Barca has a chance to do big things if it continues to click.

  13. Manchester United’s two-goal hero Wayne Rooney hails “deserved win.” Should he stay up front?

    Feb 28, 2015, 12:33 PM EST

    With RVP out injured and Falcao firing blanks, surely Rooney should remain up front…

  14. Stoke City 1-0 Hull City: Super sub Crouch stays hot, nabs Potters point (video)

    Feb 28, 2015, 12:10 PM EST

    b0f8e07f8546f054f178b35c8325c107 Getty Images

    The giant Englishman scored less than a minute after subbing on for Mame Diouf, and Stoke stayed in the top half.

  15. Burnley 0-1 Swansea City: Own goal, Fabianski foil Clarets at Turf Moor (video)

    Feb 28, 2015, 12:03 PM EST

    Burnley v Swansea City - Premier League Getty Images

    The three points moved Swansea ahead of West Ham for eight in the Premier League table.

  16. Manchester United 2-0 Sunderland: Rooney nets double to seal easy win (video)

    Feb 28, 2015, 11:57 AM EST

    Manchester United v Sunderland - Premier League Manchester United v Sunderland - Premier League

    Rooney’s double sees off a stubborn Sunderland side to cement United’s spot in the top four.

  17. Newcastle United 1-0 Aston Villa: Cisse’s goal keeps Sherwood’s Villans in the drop zone (video)

    Feb 28, 2015, 11:55 AM EST

    cd5e63930af01b2ae5ebb9355e08734b Getty Images

    Villa’s 22 points are even with Burnley and QPR, but their goal differential is the worst of the three.