Skip to content

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

Dec 30, 2013, 7:36 AM EDT

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. The 2 Robbies podcast: Can Arsenal challenge for the title? Relegation chat and more

    Apr 28, 2015, 2:37 PM EDT

    The 2 Robbies

    in the latest podcast from Earle and Mustoe the lads discuss Arsenal’s progress, United’s failings and dissect the relegation picture.

  2. Watch Live: Hull City vs Liverpool (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Apr 28, 2015, 1:52 PM EDT

    BruceRodgers Getty Images

    Teams gunning for Premier League positions at opposite ends of the table both need victories to progress towards their respective goals.

  3. Montreal Impact get helping hand, sign goalkeeper from NASL’s Indy Eleven

    Apr 28, 2015, 12:10 PM EDT

    Energie Cottbus v Karlsruher SC - 2. Bundesliga Getty Images

    Ahead of the second leg of their CCL final, the Impact has finally figured out its goalkeeping dilemma.

  4. International Champions Cup: Schedule revealed as Chelsea, Manchester United take on MLS sides

    Apr 28, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    With six massive teams from Europe in action, plus three MLS sides, here’s where you can see them this summer.

  5. Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez calls Real Madrid “best team in the world”

    Apr 28, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT

    Javier Hernandez, Real Madrid CF Javier Hernandez, Real Madrid CF

    The Mexican international is enjoying life in Spain’s capital. How much longer will he be around?

  6. Premier League Preview: Hull City vs. Liverpool

    Apr 28, 2015, 8:20 AM EDT

    Hull City v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    Can the Tigers grab a big win vs. Liverpool to ease their relegation fears? Watch live on NBCSN, Tuesday, 2:45 p.m. ET.

  7. Transfer gossip: Real Madrid want to swap Gareth Bale for Chelsea’s Eden Hazard

    Apr 28, 2015, 7:30 AM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-TOTTENHAM FBL-ENG-PR-CHELSEA-TOTTENHAM

    If this happened, and it’s a big if, it would surely be the biggest swap deal in soccer history.

  8. VIDEO: Brazilian team concedes 5th goal, starts throwing haymakers at each other

    Apr 27, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT

    Placido de Castro players fight

    Sometimes words can’t be used to express emotions, so this team resorted to throwing wild haymakers instead.

  9. Pablo Zabaleta says Pellegrini deserves more respect after last year’s trophies

    Apr 27, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT

    Pablo Zabaleta & Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City FC Getty Images

    A friendly reminder that we’re all entirely too knee-jerk with our reactions these days.

  10. WATCH: USMNT’s Bobby Wood scores golazo after mazy run through midfield

    Apr 27, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT

    Bobby Wood, Erzgebirge Aue Getty Images

    This one is an absolute beauty from Bobby Wood, who’s doing his part to keep Erzgebirge Aue from being relegated out of 2. Bundesliga.

  11. How’s Freddy Adu doing in Finland? Watch this every-touch video to find out

    Apr 27, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    Freddy Adu, KuPS Freddy Adu, KuPS

    Freddy made his second appearance for KuPS last week, and dare we say it, he looked pretty good. See for yourself.

  12. Bournemouth beat Bolton, all but officially seal promotion to the Premier League

    Apr 27, 2015, 4:55 PM EDT

    Matt Richie, AFC Bournemouth Getty Images

    Only an all-time historic meltdown of epic proportions can keep Bournemouth out of the Premier League now.

  13. MLS Player of the Week — Week 8: Columbus Crew SC’s Ethan Finlay

    Apr 27, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT

    Ethan Finlay, Columbus Crew SC Getty Images

    Maybe the best player in MLS that you don’t know about, it’s time to recognize Ethan Finlay.

  14. MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 8

    Apr 27, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC

    28 goals in 9 games means choices aplenty for this week’s MLS Team of the Week.

  15. St. Mirren captain accidentally spears teammate in the thigh in “daft prank” gone awry

    Apr 27, 2015, 3:11 PM EDT

    St Mirren v Hearts - Scottish Communities League Cup Final Getty Images

    Now 21-year-old midfielder John McGinn is set for three weeks on the sidelines, though he also has a heck of a story.

  16. The stingiest squad gets stronger: Vermaelen returns to Barca’s top La Liga D

    Apr 27, 2015, 2:18 PM EDT

    Thomas Vermaelen AP

    The 29-year-old Belgian center back joins a unit which has conceded just 19 goals in La Liga play, the best total in the league by six goals.

  17. Eden Hazard joins “freestyle” video, calls rabona off crossbar, walks away in victory (video)

    Apr 27, 2015, 1:35 PM EDT

    Hazard AP

    Hazard is now the PFA’s reigning Player of the Year. We doubt very much this video will make his peers think they voted incorrectly.

  18. Not even allowed an appeal: CONCACAF confirms Bush suspension for Champions League final

    Apr 27, 2015, 1:16 PM EDT

    America v Montreal Impact - CONCACAF Champions League Getty Images

    Backup keeper Erik Kronberg is ineligible for the competition since he was a part of Sporting KC earlier in the tournament.

Featured video

Should Chelsea be more entertaining?