Liverpool (a), Newcastle (h), Man u (a), Everton (a), Southampton (h), West Ham (h), Leeds (a), Norwich (a),
Is this really back in our sights?
8 matches to halfway and 24 points to be won so we are halfway to paradise and 44 points.
Regular readers will remember that I did a very early Where can we finish? After 3 games, all of which we lost. I was feeling bleak, and pointed out that Arteta has only one currency to trade in – wins. He needed a huge turnaround, but not just in results, in how we played. The defence, and particularly Leno, White and Holding were badly bullied by Brentford. We were outplayed by Chelsea and totally and utterly outplayed by Man City. On the back of that abject City display, I predicted that Arteta will face his marching cards from Kroenke sooner rather than later. The chinks of light were that our next matches were winnable and if we then beat the Spuds, Arteta would have breathing space.
Although we haven’t won all our matches since then, we haven’t been beaten, Arteta has answered his critics for now, and, as fans, we can dream again. Even of Champions league. From bottom of the table, that is a good height.
We brought in Mourinho’s bus
The biggest change has been in the defence. Tomisayu, Gabriel and especially Ramsdale are not there to be bullied and all 3 have been outstanding. Tavares has come in for Tierney and done a great job. If you remember previous blogs I said without Tierney, who gets injured, we probably lose. That is no longer true and while I rate Tierney higher than Tavares, particularly for attacking, there seems little between them. Well done to Edu and Arteta there.
A big part of our new defensive bus
I still hold to my assertion, though. Those 3 losses will be a sword hanging over Arteta’s head till the end of the season. He has to continue winning and notching up points or we could tumble again. Fans are very fickle, the Kroenke’s are not liked, not seen as part of us, and they have been a bigger target than Arteta, who is seen as one of us, and a good person with a lot of knowledge who has promoted our young players. So they will get the blast from the fans first and another bad run may see the end of Arteta.
A banana skin on an ice slide
And this run we have now till Christmas is exactly the type of run that could go very badly. But in some ways we are potentially facing teams at their worst time, so it could be good for us.
Don't look at him, boys
The first one up is the hardest - Liverpool away. Klopp’s demons give every team nightmares. But a draw against Brighton and a loss to West Ham, shows their vulnerabilities. I say we have a chance if our defence plays at their best, our midfield holds their own, as we will get chances that we will have to take. It is hard to see beyond a draw, though. I will go for 1-1 and a tight game but still with chances for both sides. I would love to see better than that but Klopp will be anxious to correct his slide.
Newcastle at home is a must win. Eddie Howe won’t have a transfer window to help him. They could be a different proposition in the second half of the season. So we must beat them now. Our players are better than them and we are at home. The new manager bounce might help them but I am going for 2-0 with the second goal coming late in a nervy match.
Give us another fine mess, Olly
Scratching your head won't help, Olly
Ah Solskjaer, let’s hope you are still there and Utd are still a shambles. This one we can win as long as we win the midfield. And we should. They don’t look like a coherent team and if we play to our best, outrun them and out tackle them, we will win. A rare win at Old Trafford. This is a match I was scheduled to go to but smashing my ankle a while ago made it difficult to commit so I forewent my ticket. I would have loved to be there especially if we win. I am going to say 2-1 for us but a bit easier than that scoreline looks.
Everton away. I like Everton as I have friends I grew up with in Ireland who are big fans. But I hope Benitez is still there and he hasn’t quite managed to correct their slide. It is a game we can win and we have a good record there. Another 2-1 but a more nervous one than against Man Utd.
Southampton at home. There is no question about it, these are the games we have to win. Yes, they are on an uptick but they are still Southampton. A clean sheet and a 2-0 which we get in the first half. We allow them to come back at us in the second but we hang on.
This could be our hardest
The next match I feel we have to hope for a West Ham slide by then as I feel they are set up to give us a hard time. Their defence and midfield give nothing away and they attack with speed. They don’t have a weakness although we have a better goalkeeper. We might need to be lucky. Honestly I would take a draw here particularly if they are still playing well. The last time I was at this match a couple of years ago at the Olympic stadium it was 0-0 and a terrible match. And may be again.
Leeds away? Bielsa’s team are always a difficult proposition. However they rarely play well for 90 minutes. We must capitalise on those times we are in the ascendancy and we have been a bit lucky against them in recent years as they have outplayed us for long periods but we managed to get results. This time I am going to say 1-1 but with our defence playing well. 2 draws in a row means we have to win our last match for halfway.
'Arry is the relegation specialist - hire him, Norwich
Norwich away? Surely there is no banana skin here? I don’t know who they will have appointed but surely not someone top drawer? Sam Allardyce maybe? Why does Harry Redknapp not make a comeback? I am going to say 5-0 with Norwich eating too many of Delia Smith’s pies over Christmas. The only true easy win of this period.
Surely we can see the top even if we can’t get there?
And where does that leave us? On 38 points and if we can repeat that we have 76 which is probably enough for second place and definitely Champions League. However it is an optimistic scenario with 5 wins and 3 draws and no defeats. Possibly too optimistic. But I hope I have shown you a fairly realistic portrait of the task ahead of us.
If we win all we have 44 points and double that to get 88 will probably win us the league. But nobody believes that. If we manage to do as well as I have shown here we have a good chance for Champions league. Be under no illusions, top 4 is going to be a big challenge, we need to win or draw matches we don’t deserve to, and win the ones we do.
I feel that the 3 losses, the young team, the African championship, and good runs in the League Cup and FA Cup will consign us to fighting for a Europa League place but that, I think, we will achieve, on a much better points total than last year.
Fighting for this one is realistic