Thursday, February 11, 2010

Who Will Win The EPL? Analysis of Every Remaining Fixture For Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United

Is the title race back on for Arsenal? Do Chelsea have the bottle to hold on to first? Is Manchester United's ominous form an indicator of where they'll eventually finish? Here we look at the three pretenders remaining fixtures.

Wednesday's midweek English Premier League matches produced the biggest set of shocks in a long time. From title chasing teams to relegation fodder to the battle for fourth, there was all kinds of results that left football experts scratching their heads and reaching for calculators...

After being written off in November following a humiliating 3-0 reversal to Chelsea and then clawing their way back into contention, to actually lead the Premier League on January 20th. Arsenal were well and truly written off following their defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea.

Before last nights match against Liverpool, the Gunners found themselves nine points behind the Pensioners and involved in a battle for third as the improving Reds charged up from behind.

90 minutes later, an Abou Diaby goal, a foe vanquished and exposed for what they are, and Chelsea and United dropping points means that Arsenal are very much in with a shout of lifting the title.

I do not rate this Arsenal team, but one cannot deny that they can expose the poore relations in the Premier League, and this season everything outside third is pretty poor.

Looking at their remaining fixtures they have a real chance of claiming the title, especially if Chelsea's poor away form continues and if Manchester United continue to drop points.

Between now and May, Arsenal have 12 matches remaining. Realistically, on paper, they only have two tough fixtures, away to Spurs and home to Manchester City.

First they take on (Feb) Sunderland (h), Stoke (a), (March) Burnley (h), Hull (a), West Ham (h), Birmingham (a), (April) Wolves (h), Spurs (a), Wigan (a), Man City (h), (May) Blackburn (a), Fulham (h)

What makes Arsenal's run on the title hard is that they will be playing teams with something to play for. At least eight of the remaining 12 games will be against teams battling against relegation, while both Spurs and City will both be chasing Europe.

With all that said, it is hard to see the Gunners lose between now and May, and it would come as no surprise to see them take around 30pts from the 36pts available, meaning they should finish the season on around 80 to 82 points.

The Pensioners are pretty much unbeatable at Stamford Bridge and have only dropped two points in 13 games this season. Their problems stem from their erratic away form.

At home Chelsea's win rate is 97 percent, away from home it id 46 percent. That alone tells it's own story. The Pensioners, and Ancellotti must share the blame, are set up differently away from the Bridge.
To win the league, that record must simply improve.

Chelsea's remaining fixtures look like this. (Feb) Wolves (a), Man City (h), (March) Portsmouth (a), West Ham (h), Blackburn (a), Aston Villa (h), (April) Man Utd (a) Bolton (h), Spurs (a), Stoke (h) (May) Liverpool (a), Wigan (h)

At a quick glance these games do not make good reading for Carlo Ancellotti and the rest of his Chelsea squad. There are a number of tough fixtures ahead of the Blues if they wish to win the title.

Relegation wise they will have to play six teams, if not seven, still involved in avoiding the drop. Europe wise they will have to take on Spurs, City, and Liverpool, while there is the onerous task of having to travel to Old Trafford at the start of April.

When all is said and done, only the trip to United offers anything that looks like a defeat in the final 12 games. With that in mind the Pensioners should take around 29 points from the 36 on offer, leaving Chelsea with around 85 to 88 points.

Manchester United
As has become tradition with any Alex Ferguson team, United only seem to be moving into title mode now. Up until the 1-1 draw away to Aston Villa, United's form was ominous. They seemed to be steam rolling teams with Wayne Rooney as chief orchestrator.

While this United team are no match for previous sides, particularly the '99 team, they can only play the hand they are dealt, and very much like Arsenal, have got into the title hunt through sheer bravery. And we all know who luck favours.

Their remaining two fixtures this month are (Feb) Everton (a) and West Ham (h),  (March) Wolves (a), Liverpool (h), Fulham (a), Bolton (a), (April) Chelsea (h), Blackburn (a), Man City (a), Spurs (h) (May) Sunderland (a), Stoke (h)

Right from analyzing these fixtures April stands out as the make or break month. Games against Chelsea, a Manchester Derby, and Spurs mark this as title time, with a tricky trip to Ewood Park in between.

Again, relegation and Europe will dominate the title challenger's fixtures. Five to Six matches against teams battling the drop should not provide too much of a challenge to the Red Devils but the teams chasing Europe will ask different questions of Alex Ferguson's team.

Everton are a real outside bet to make Europe but they have improved immensely since the turn of the year and will be no push overs as Chelsea recently found out.

Again, Spurs will come into the mix, but having not beaten a "top-four" team away in 65 matches few would give them any chance of taking full points in this crucial game either, meaning that their own tilt at finishing in fourth should be over by Aprils' end.

Taking Chelsea on at home will be huge for United. The last place you want to go at this stage of the season is away to a rival so the match being at Old Trafford will have a real cup final feel to it. As will the games against Liverpool and Manchester City, meaning that United will have a huge say in shaping the top four.

While United's fixtures are probably the hardest to call, I would not be surprised to see them go unbeaten until the end of the season. The biggest threat to that unbeaten run will be the home game to Chelsea and the away trip to the Eastlands against a top four chasing Manchester City.

United should take around 31 points from the 36 on show leaving them with 85 to 88 points. Meaning that the title race is really only between the Red Devils and the Blues.

For Arsenal to win the league they will need both rivals to drop at least 12 to 14 points while almost going unbeaten themselves, which is practically impossible to happen at this late stage.

Of course the UEFA Champions League will have a huge say in the matter of who win win the EPL title too. The further one gets in the competition the bigger the want to rest players, and taking the wrong option or losing momentum could have catastrophic effects. Just ask Arsene Wenger after his momentum halting team change for the FA Cup match at Stoke.

I think Arsenal have left themselves too much to do. Even if they win every match and gain an unexpected 36 points, they will still need both Chelsea and United to lose at least three games each, which you can't really see both sides doing, never mind one of them.

That leaves the league as a straight up shoot out between the Red Devils and the Pensioners. It's almost too hard to call but I feel that United's fixtures are slightly tougher than Chelsea's, and as I tipped Chelsea at the start of the season, I'm having serious doubts, I guess I'll have to stick with them.

Winners- Chelsea (85 to 88)
Second- Manchester United (85 to 88)
Third- Arsenal (80 to 82)