Arsene Wenger let down by Arsenal supporters and players
Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea keep winning while Arsenal continue downward spiral under Arsene Wenger. Iain Macintosh looks at this weekend's Heroes and Villains.
This is why Chelsea will win the title. Not because of the back three and not because Eden Hazard has suddenly remembered how to play football. Not because Antonio Conte has skilfully managed the John Terry issue and not because Victor Moses was finally allowed to shine. They will win the title because in almost every case this season, when a game gets away from them, when time is running out, when you think that this is the moment that the slip will come, they redouble their efforts and push even harder for victory. A late win away at Stoke City is just the sort of thing that typifies their season. They are peerless.
Though, given them their due, Tottenham Hotspur are doing their best to provide some sort of challenge, especially at White Hart Lane. Had their away form (just four wins all season) matched their home form (10 wins in a row and 13 in total), this would be a much closer title race. Sunday's victory over Southampton was not entirely comfortable, but it was enough to put them seven points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United and, perhaps more pertinently for the Spurs fans, nine clear of Arsenal. They may not win the title, but they are getting slightly better with each passing year.
Typically, there had to be drama; a fracas in the tunnel, a handshake conspicuous only by its absence. But behind the soap opera, look at the numbers. Manchester United's victory over Middlesbrough means that they are unbeaten in 18 league games, nearly half an entire season. With games in hand, albeit more games than Jose Mourinho would prefer, they have a very real chance of barging back into the top four after what feels like an eternity in sixth place. With a League Cup in the hand and a Europa League in the bush, that would represent a decent enough start for Mourinho.
Crystal Palace had one shot on target all afternoon and it was from Watford's Troy Deeney. Fortunately for them, it went in. Little wonder that Sam Allardyce sang "Glad All Over" along with the supporters at the end of the game. This is what he does better than anyone else. It was a rocky start and there were those who suggested that the England affair might have marked the end of Big Sam's relevance as a top flight football manager. Not so. Three wins on the bounce and 12 points from a possible 18 have lifted Palace four points above the relegation zone. He's back, baby. He's back.
As are Leicester City, apparently. For all the assertions that the players had no problems with Claudio Ranieri and they were all absolutely on the same page, pulling together for the greater good, it seems that, yes, Ranieri was almost certainly the problem. Since his departure, the Foxes have won four games on the bounce, including a spectacular win over Sevilla in Europe and this, their first win away from home all season. There's still more to do, and they'd do well not to forget it, but those fears that Leicester would be the first post-war Champions to get themselves immediately relegated do at least seem to be passing.
This week, Arsene Wenger will be the kid in school who knows full well that someone has stuck a "kick me" sign on his bum and simply cannot be bothered to remove it because it won't be long before someone sticks it back on again and what is life anyway but a meaningless slow trudge towards oblivion. We're saving our kicks for the Arsenal players, whose fecklessness, spinelessness and uselessness is becoming irritating even to those of us who don't support the club. Whether Wenger stays or goes, they must take responsibility for their own failings rather than just hoping that he'll take the lumps for them. He's done enough of that over the years.
This week, Leyton Orient face a winding up order and possible extinction. Their fans are currently rattling tins for a fighting fund that might, might, sustain them in non-league. They are not alone. Up and down football from grassroots level to the Championship, fans are crying out for money just to ensure that they have a team to watch on a Saturday. And what were a small section of Arsenal fans doing? Paying for light aircraft to trail competing hashtags above football stadiums. Lads, this is Arsenal Football Club, one of the proudest, most storied clubs in British football. You're making it look bad.
Is that it for Sunderland? It feels like that's it for Sunderland. If you can't get three points at home against a team that had only won twice away all season, that is surely it. The only element of doubt is derived from recent history. Worse Sunderland teams than this have executed stunning escapes from relegation. David Moyes' team isn't a complete write-off, there's another couple of wins in it yet. The problem is that another couple of wins won't save them. They're seven points adrift. They need a sudden burst of title-winning form to survive. And that, regardless of what has happened before, seems extremely unlikely.
If Sunderland are going to get out of this (they're really not), they need someone up there to slip up. Perhaps it will be Swansea City, The Welsh side have won five games since the appointment of Paul Clement, an haul that will have stunned anyone who watched them in the second half of 2016. But did the players think that was enough? They slipped up at Hull last weekend, their defeat the product of isolated mistakes. But they were poor everywhere against Bournemouth on Saturday night and they deserved to lose. From a position of strength, they find themselves just a single game away from dropping right back into the drop zone.
Speaking of not being quite safe yet, these are tense times for West Ham United fans. Two bursts of victories in December and January seemed to have secured their Premier League status, but Slaven Bilic's side have taken just two points from a possible 15 and there are rumblings of discontent in the boardroom. You would think that 36 points will be enough for survival this season and the Hammers have 33 with nine games to play. But they do not have a nice looking fixture list. With the exception of a trip to Stoke, hardly a simple prospect in itself, every game remaining is against a relegation candidate or a Champions League contender. Gulp.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.