Monday 1 December ~
What a difference a day makes. Arsenal's 2-1 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge yesterday has led to heavy criticism and even speculation over the future of Blues boss Luiz Felipe Scolari, despite the fact they are still top the Premier League – though that is likely to change tonight if Liverpool manage to beat West Ham at Anfield. Meanwhile, the gloom which had descended over the Emirates Stadium after a number of poor results and a thoroughly embarrassing public stripping of William Gallas’s captaincy seems to have lifted, for now at least, with a number of bookmakers slashing Arsenal's title odds in half.
Such overreactions, on the part of the media, the betting industry and football supporters in general are a sad byproduct of what is shaping up to be the closest and most interesting title race for some time. Anyone who is taking the fresh hype over Arsenal's title chances seriously would do well to remember how the Gunners have fared in the league since their victory over Manchester United at the start of last month. Beating Chelsea will, one suspects, represent just another false dawn for fans of Arsène Wenger's side. The fragile confidence of this young side, although undoubtedly boosted after yesterday's result, is likely to be shattered as soon as they fail to beat another supposedly weaker team (and, by the way, Arsenal fans, Aston Villa no longer fall into that category).
Similarly, the fact that Chelsea's wobbly European form has begun to affect their domestic performances should not overshadow the fact that, prior to their home defeat to Liverpool at the end of October, they had been far-and-away the most consistent and impressive team in this season's competition. Their league points total since that result? Thirteen from a possible 18. Hardly a capitulation of the scale that is being implied by some of this morning's newspapers.
Manchester United, meanwhile, still sit five points behind Chelsea (albeit with a game in hand) having closed in on the leaders after a derby-day victory over Manchester City at Eastlands yesterday. Sir Alex Ferguson has somehow managed to avoid the criticisms levelled at Scolari and Wenger, despite his side failing to live up to the standards they set themselves with last year's title-winning form. They have not beaten any of the top five in their matches against them this term, and almost gifted sixth-placed Hull City a point despite having been 4-1 up. With a bit of luck, people will restrain themselves a little when it comes to criticising the rest of the “top four” in future as they have done with Ferguson and begin to realise that such a close and competitive league is not necessarily an indication that standards are slipping, more a sign that we finally have a title race worthy of the name. Jim Lucas