Is The Title United’s To Lose?

by Sam Wheatley

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
 

Manchester United’s season marches on unbeaten despite not playing particularly well, five points ahead of Arsenal, nine ahead of Manchester City and ten in front of Chelsea. Wayne Rooney has come out to say Chelsea can push his team for the title with the signing of Fernando Torres, but has failed to mention either the Gunners or cross-town rivals City in his assessment of the title race. Is it that Rooney doesn’t consider either side a threat, or have Chelsea’s deadline day dealings captured the imagination of the football world?

There is always an imposing shadow cast by deadline day over the other transfers during the window. City quickly wrapped up a deal for former Wolfsburg striker Edin Džeko for £27 million, which was eclipsed by the transfers of Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres. City have got themselves a proven goal scorer though – it may take some time for the Bosnian to properly find his feet, but he will score goals, and make no mistake. With City’s striking potential, is Rooney focusing on the wrong threat?

Mancini’s much-maligned tactics that saw Emmanuel Adebayor switch to Real Madrid, according to Pablo Zabaleta, now have the spearhead that was always required. Adebayor is probably within his rights to feel hard done by, but the truth is that for Adebayor’s talents, the Togolese striker has been culpable for a fluff or two – something much more scarcely seen from Džeko. Mancini rarely gets the credit for fusing together the seven summer signings (plus two in January) and creating a unit from seemingly nothing. Sitting third in the Premier League is more, at this rate, than the board had hoped for despite laying out those huge sums on players over the past couple of seasons.

Manchester City may not realistically challenge for the title this season, but the addition of Džeko stands the club in good stead for the future. No longer are they over-reliant on Carlos Tevez to come up with goals on his own, nor on Mario Balotelli and his explosive temperament that sometimes negates his undoubted talent. The Eastlands club may finish in the top four this term, but they’ll be fighting for more next season as they are bound to augment their side with more quality names over the summer.

Arsenal, who currently lie second, had a bit of a scare at Everton last night where Louis Saha opened the scoring with a goal that appeared to be a good four or five yards offside. Rather than crumbling like over-dipped rich tea biscuits, usually so symptomatic of Arsenal sides of the past, they produced a fight-back to win the game 2-1. We also saw a return to form for Andrei Arshavin, heavily criticised in recent weeks for lethargy and nonchalance. His well-taken goal from Fabregas’ deflected through-ball was the first of two well-taken if not spectacular goals; the second was, perhaps most remarkably of all, another header from a corner from defender Laurent Koscielny.

Wenger was impressed by the spirit the side showed, and went to pains to very deliberately point out the ‘mental strength’ that the media has been quick to point out has been lacking from recent Arsenal trophy pursuits.  Koscielny’s remarkable goal scoring run (which stands at a mighty two in three games) also shows an ability to score from set plays, long since missing from Arsenal’s armoury. However, there are still times that Arsenal do look like losing – there is a fragility that is not apparent with Manchester United that is hard to place, but is palpable in its existence.

The Premier League title may be a bridge too far for Arsenal this season, as they are still fighting on four fronts. Reaching the Carling Cup final has proved to some extent to increase the belief in Arsenal’s trophy-starved youngsters, but should they win that cup, they may have to wait until next season to build on that success – depending on just how accurate Rooney is.

So we must discuss Chelsea, fresh from a £71 million spending spree that got them highly-rated Brazilian defender David Luiz and Fernando Torres. Presumably, Rooney is contemplating a Chelsea side that was enjoying a resurgence without their two most recent acquisitions going from strength to strength to put some pressure on the current league leaders. Chelsea must still play Liverpool and Manchester City once each and Manchester United twice – should Cheslea win all of those games they may only serve to propel Arsenal or Manchester City to the top of the league, should that mental strength that Wenger was so keen promote prevail.

Having glanced over the fixtures for the remainder of the season, Chelsea have a tough run-in, whilst Manchester United may have the most difficult of all, facing all of the top four (including Chelsea twice) and a game against rivals Liverpool. City must face Chelsea, United, Liverpool and Tottenham, whereas Arsenal face Liverpool and United at home and Tottenham away. Had Rooney looked at the fixtures, he may not have been so quick to jump on the Chelsea bandwagon. But it is difficult to truly know how each side will respond in fixtures against inferior opposition – famously, Arsenal seem to react worst.

Of course, this is speculative even with the fixture list under such intense scrutiny and with the transfer window signings; Manchester United can’t really lose the title…can they?

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