It is an incredible statistic given their general dominance over opponents during the past decade, but Arsenal really don’t like playing Stoke City at their Britannia Stadium home. That’s just one win in eight there for Arsene Wenger’s side now, and another slip-up (if we can call a 0-0 draw against an improving side as such) offered Man City the opportunity to close the gap at the top and Leicester City the chance to extend their lead.
The Mancunians kept up their end of the bargain, and in the process emerged – perhaps – as title favourites. There are two main reasons for this: the return to form of Sergio Aguero (the Argentine bagged a brace in the 4-0 thumping of Crystal Palace), and the dispelling of the myth that they can’t defend in the absence of Vincent Kompany; City have conceded just two goals in the last five games that the Belgian has missed. Accordingly, they now have one of the best defensive records in the division.
Leicester City fluffed their lines at Aston Villa however, and in truth it was the hosts that were the better sides for large swathes of this encounter. In Libor Kozak they have a giant frontman that could help to propel them to some points, and we all know what points make. The Foxes looked laboured, and their trademark swift counter attacking football looked rather sluggish. If the rumours of Jamie Vardy struggling with a chronic hamstring problem are true, then Claudio Ranieri’s slide may slowly drift out of the title picture.
And that would leave a two-horse race for the title then, and given the Gunners’ propensity for crumbling when the spotlight is at its brightest it’s the smart play to back Man City to recapture the Premier League crown. Looking at their attacking triumvirate of Aguero, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne you get the impression that they haven’t even reached their peak yet. They are justifiably favourites with the bookies at 11/10 at the moment.
What struck many observers during Aston Villa’s 1-1 draw with Leicester is just how confident they looked in possession. They had more of the ball than their opponents and more shots, and if Remi Garde is willing to pair Kozak with Rudi Gestede up front and adopt a more direct approach, there is hope for the Villains yet.
Sunderland’s good recent run came to an end with a crushing 1-4 defeat at Spurs, while Bournemouth – for whom Eddie Howe surely deserves recognition from the LMA during their annual Manager of the Year Awards – continued their march in the right direction with a 3-0 win over relegation-rivals Norwich City.
And that leaves two sides that are flapping their wings furiously in fear for their Premier League lives: the Canaries and the Swans. Norwich have taken just eight points from a possible 36 on the road, which puts huge pressure on them to flourish at Carrow Road. Their next three home games are against Liverpool, Spurs and West Ham, and you would think they need at least four points from those to keep their heads above water.
But it is Swansea who look most perilous. They handed the manager’s job to Alan Curtis until the end of the season – an odd decision in itself given that he has overseen just one win in six – and yet it appears that Huw Jenkins has already admitted his mistake by bringing in the largely unknown Francesco Guidolin as head coach. What difference he makes remains to be seen.
The Swans have an agreeable run of fixtures coming up – in context that is – because after entertaining Watford tonight they travel to Everton and West Brom before back-to-back home dates with Crystal Palace and Southampton. The next five weeks or so will determine Swansea’s chances of avoiding the drop, but at odds against with most bookies to be relegated – 6/4 is the best price at the time of writing – punters are advised to get on now if they believe the club’s near decade-long tenure in the top flight s coming to an end.