Does anybody want to win this season’s Premier League title? Given the topsy-turvy nature of the campaign to date, you could make a case for any of the top four to get the job done.
But Manchester City keep dropping points and looked far from convincing in victory over Swansea, their Manchester rivals were humbled at Bournemouth as the pressure mounts on Louis Van Gaal, Arsenal keep soldiering on despite their growing injury list and Leicester still need to convince many that they aren’t simply a flash in the pan.
So who is in the driving seat in the title race?
Arsenal are currently top, and given their extensive list of injuries that is a quantifiable achievement. Victories over Sunderland and Aston Villa – while expected – have got the Gunners back on track following a run of three games without a win, and they can now go into their game with Manchester City on December 21 full of confidence.
The importance of that fixture cannot be underestimated. Victory for either side will put them in the driving set heading into the second half of the season, while a draw will keep both in contention. Man City’s relative frailty on the road – they are tenth in the ‘away’ table – gives Arsene Wenger’s side the edge.
They follow that fixture with a trip to Southampton before hosting Bournemouth and Newcastle. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that they will be top of the pile heading back into 2016.
Man City (13/10)
Despite sneaking past Swansea with what Joe Hart described as an ‘awful display’, Manchester City have to make do with a place in second after slipping behind the Gunners in the pecking order.
Again, that date with Arsenal next Monday is pivotal, and realistically Manuel Pellegrini’s side will need to improve drastically on the road to come away from the Emirates Stadium with even a solitary point.
Much will depend on the fitness of Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero through the busy festive period – City look a poor outfit without them – and while a Boxing Day engagement with Sunderland on home soil seems reasonable enough, subsequent trips to Leicester and Watford look far tougher assignments.
City have the quality, and as recent Premier League winners they won’t bottle the big moments, but the fragility that has seen them lose four games already cannot be overlooked.
Leicester City (20/1)
In truth, no punter or pundit – no matter how wizened – can really predict how Leicester City will finish this term, although it is clear that for a team that has lost just once in 16 outings their price is ludicrously long.
Much has been made of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez this term, and quite rightly too, but this far more than a two-man team. Marc Albrighton and Danny Drinkwater can’t be a million miles away from England call ups, with the signing of N’Golo Kante a mini masterstroke.
Yet here’s the rub. Leicester’s next three fixtures read Everton (Away), Liverpool (away) and Man City (home). The Foxes won’t have any fear of facing that quartet – why should they – but it is fair to say that this is a season-defining spell upcoming for Claudio Ranieri’s trailblazers.
Manchester United (9/1)
That defeat at Bournemouth may of come as something of a surprise to Louis Van Gaal, who has overseen a rather pragmatic United evolution. By creating a side that is tough to beat, the theory is that the Red Devils can scrap and scramble their way to title contention.
But two losses in a week have poured cold water on that theory, and now games with Norwich and Chelsea (both at home) and Stoke away over the Yuletide period have an air of ‘must wins’ about them.
They may boast the best defensive record in the division, but a return of 1.31 goals scored per game is unlikely to get the job done when the dust settles on the 2015/16 campaign.