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Premier League title race: Arsenal slip up to give Man City & Liverpool advantage

Premier League title race: Arsenal slip up to give Man City & Liverpool advantage

The Premier League title race has taken another twist.

In October, Tottenham came flying out of the traps to top the table under new manager Ange Postecoglou.

Then, in November, Manchester City were threatening to run away with it before finding themselves in a mini crisis after just one win in six.

And now, after Arsenal’s defeat by West Ham prevented the Gunners from returning to the top, it seems as though nobody is capable of really taking control at the summit.

Liverpool lead the way with 42 points, while fifth-placed Tottenham, who were comprehensively beaten 4-2 at Brighton on Thursday, are still just six points off top spot.

Only twice in Premier League history – in 1992-92 and 1996-97 – has the gap between first and fifth place been smaller on 28 December – so are we set for a classic title race?

Such is the unpredictability of the league this season, when asked about who would lift the trophy in May, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry simply replied: “Talk to me in February.”

“When we [Arsenal] are top of the table by Christmas we usually lose the league so I am happy we are not,” he told Amazon Prime. “I normally make my prediction after the festive period.”

Deja vu for Arsenal as VAR at a loss

To use the words of former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer, it was a case of deja vu for Arsenal when Tomas Soucek gave West Ham an early lead at Emirates Stadium, converting Jarrod Bowen’s cutback in the 13th minute.

The goal was subject to a lengthy video assistant referee review as the officials poured over the limited footage to check whether the ball had gone out of play before Bowen pulled it back.

However, the VAR could not find the definitive answer needed to overturn Michael Oliver’s on-field decision.

“There’s no conclusive evidence, I don’t think, to say that should be disallowed,” Shearer said.

Jarrod Bowen
Did Jarrod Bowen manage to keep the ball in play in the build-up to West Ham’s opening goal at Arsenal?

It was a familiar story for Arsenal.

Just last month, the Gunners suffered a 1-0 defeat by Newcastle after Anthony Gordon’s similarly controversial winner in a feisty encounter at St James’ Park.

That led to an outburst by manager Mikel Arteta, who called the VAR decision to allow the goal “embarrassing” and a “disgrace”.

After the loss to West Ham, Arteta was more pragmatic, saying: “It is what it is. The technology we have at the moment is not clear enough if the ball is out.”

However, Premier League titles are defined by small margins and perhaps that heightens frustration.

Arsenal finished five points behind champions Manchester City last season and these tight VAR calls have already contributed to six points dropped this campaign.

“That’s the second time [that’s happened] after Newcastle away,” said ex-Arsenal striker Henry.

“If you want to help the referees to have the right angle to know the ball is out, you have to be above the ball. We’re in 2023, nearly 2024, and we still don’t have a camera that shows above. It’s too many times… it’s just impossible to see.”

Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenberg, who agreed the officials were correct in allowing the goal to stand, also suggested on Amazon Prime that the league should use a chip in the ball to track its movement – as they do at major tournaments.

‘We have to improve in front of goal’

But Arsenal can have little to complain about as they had numerous chances to score against West Ham which they didn’t take.

They did not convert any of their 30 shots, while they had 77 touches in the opposition box – the most on record (since 2008-09) in a Premier League match for a team who failed to score.

Arteta’s men have scored fewer goals so far this season than title rivals Liverpool, Aston Villa and Manchester City and their top scorer is Bukayo Saka with just five.

In contrast, Manchester City’s Erling Haaland already has 14 and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has 12, while Bowen has scored more goals (11) than the combined total of the three Arsenal attackers who lined up against West Ham.

“We dominated for 100 minutes. When we had big situations, we had players inside the box totally free,” said Arteta.

Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard added: “It was one of those nights. We had a lot of chances and did enough to score some goals, but in the box we were not good enough.

“Its not about some players [not scoring]. We have to improve in front of the goal and it’s down to the whole team to do that.”

‘This has to be a big wake-up call’

While Spurs remain just six points off top spot – and one point off the Champions League places – two months ago they were flying with 26 points from their opening 10 matches.

Fast forward nine games and they have only picked up 10 more points and have fallen away significantly.

Injuries to playmaker James Maddison and centre-back Micky van de Ven have proved decisive, as have suspensions to Yves Bissouma, Cristian Romero and Destiny Udogie.

“It is fair to say we looked like a tired team today,” Postecoglou told BBC Match of the Day after the loss to Brighton.

“It is demanding to play the football we ask and they are doing it week in week out. It’s not for a lack of effort.”

However, forward Son Heung-min, who is set to join South Korea in January for the Asian Cup, was more disappointed, telling Premier League Productions: “This performance was nowhere near the level we want to play at.

“This has to be a big wake-up call. The first half was not our game and not us. We have to take a big, big lesson.”

Former Brighton and Crystal Palace striker Glenn Murray was working for Amazon Prime on the game and he believes the injuries, and a lack of squad depth, have stopped Spurs being closer.

“They are in and around the conversation of where they want to be,” said Murray. “There are circumstances around the club with the two centre-backs being out and James Maddison was a revelation when he was playing.

“I do believe that if players had stayed fit they’d be around the top now.”

Man City still overwhelming favourites – what the stats say

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola lifts the Premier League title after winning the 2022-23 league
Manchester City have won five of the past six Premier League titles under Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are looking to becoming the first side to win four Premier League titles on the bounce.

They have a track record of coming on strong in the second half of the season and according to Opta, despite them currently sitting fourth, they are favourites to win the title at 55.3%.

Liverpool are next at 26.7% and then Arsenal, who did hold an eight-point lead at one stage last season, at 15.4%.

Opta give Aston Villa a 2.2% chance and Tottenham just 0.3%.

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