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Battle of London

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Battle of London

With Manchester United’s seemingly easy canter to their 20th league title, the power struggle of the ‘Big 3’ in London is the most fascinating aspect to the end of the season and beyond.

Chelsea’s recent position of the capital’s number one team and Arsenal’s forever ending qualification to the Champions League is under threat from the boys from the Lane- Tottenham Hotspur.

So who is better equipped going forward to not only come out on top but to also challenge the two Manchester clubs at the top?

Chelsea, still Champions of Europe don’t forget, have stuttered this season. Roman Abramovic sacked fan favourite Roberto Di Matteo and brought in ex-Liverpool manager, and then sworn enemy, Rafael Benitez as “interim” manager. So along with metatarsal and abductor, a ‘new’ word was introduced to the game. Metatarsal used to be a sore foot in my younger days, abductor was a groin strain and now caretaker has been replaced by interim.

Di Matteo had to deal with the departure of Didier Drogba in the summer but that blow was softened by his Russian boss investing yet more roubles on Eden Hazard (£32m) and another £25m on the Brazilian youngster Oscar.  However, when results never went their way which ended in a disastrous 3-0 away defeat to Juventus in the Champions League, the Italian was given the push. His replacement Benitez was on a hiding to nothing from day one…

Protests by the fans have surrounded Benitez’s appointment and have no doubt hampered Chelsea’s chase for a Champions League place. Rumours of internal unrest have been plentiful, usually on the lines of Benitez vs Terry, with the manager leaving the former England captain out of his starting line-up even when fit.

Rafa Out

Protest such as this one have become a common occurrence at Stamford Bridge [Photo: metro.co.uk]

So where does this leave Chelsea going forward? A Champions League place is a must to attract the high profile manager required to replace the ‘interim one’ in the summer. With trips to both Liverpool and Manchester United to come and a crucial home game to rivals Spurs, a Champions League place finish is far from guaranteed. This coupled with a very difficult trip to Old Trafford for a FA Cup quarter final class, Chelsea may yet finish the season trophyless just 12 months after their greatest night in their history.

It might end up being just one of them seasons when nothing goes right and they’ll need the summer to re-group. With the owners money far from running out yet Chelsea’s future is bright. A new ground is a necessity in the next few years to increase their match day turnover and allow them to play within UEFA’s financial rules. Expect new faces added to their squad in the summer and with the right choice of manager they’ll be a threat again next season.

Over at The Emirates even bigger storm clouds have gathered. With eight blank seasons now on his CV, Arsene Wenger is wide open to more criticism than ever and he’s taken it with both barrels from all parties.

The previously ‘Trust in Arsene’ brigade have been split down the middle in their support of the manager. The Gunners fans are now showing open revolt at the results and performances on the pitch. Recent figures released that Arsenal have a small fortune in cash reserves will not have fanned the flames down.

Arsene Wenger

Is Wenger’s time at Arsenal up? [Photo: eurosport.net]

Since the move to The Emirates, which should have been the next step on creating a major world power, they have become a selling club and haven’t (in general) bought very well in replacing these outgoing stars. With the likes of Cesc Fabregas being lured back to the Camp Nou and the huge (but unavoidable) error in selling Robin Van Persie to help United probably romp the title, Arsenal have been left short in the quality department.

However, all is not as gloomy as it first seems in North London. Firstly, Jack Wilshere’s return to fitness has been a beacon of light to both Arsenal and also to England as their qualification for Brazil comes to a head. Wilshere has carried the fight almost single handed in the recent months and has amazed the staff at The Emirates with his level of fitness following a long lay-off. In Santi Cazorla they have real quality alongside Wilshere, coupled with the likes of Arteta, Monreal, Podolski and Walcott they hardly have a squad devoid of talent.

It’s a big few months ahead for the club. Firstly, the battle for a vital Champions League spot which is proving difficult, is vital in attracting the sort of talent they require to catch back up with the Manchester boys ahead of them or even regaining top spot in London. Secondly, the summer transfer window now looks like being the most vital of Wenger’s reign, providing he stays of course and is not lured away to Madrid or Paris. If they don’t get the transfer window right I expect Arsenal to slip further behind and the likes of Liverpool will start breathing down their neck.

The newer recent player in this power struggle is Tottenham Hotspur. Despite finishing fourth in the league last season they missed out on Champions League football due to Chelsea’s remarkable triumph in Munich last May. Andre Villas Boas has arrived despite many Spurs fans doubts due to his ‘failed’ time at Chelsea but has won the doubters over (especially in the league) with a blend of football synonymous with White Hart Lane. Their most recent success was a North London derby win over Arsenal.

Gareth Bale has been in the form of his life and it seems like every time I watch Match of the Day or one of the Sky football highlights programme he scores a screamer. I just hope nobody has the audacity to call him the Welsh Ronaldo but I guess we’ll leave Brendan Rodgers to come out with these far fetched analogies. However, it’s not just about Bale but he has a fine supporting cast in the likes of  Aaron Lennon, Scott Parker, Kyle Walker and the revitalised Michael Dawson. Dawson’s turnaround is nothing short of remarkable. Seemingly on his way out of the club, he is now a regular in AVB’s side and captains the team.

Bale & AVB Month Award

Both player and manager won the Premier League’s February award [Photo: totaltottenham.com]

Lewis Holtby joined the club in the last transfer window from the Bundesliga and has proved an astute acquisition. Again, to progress to the next level really depends on three factors. Firstly and probably most importantly the club just have to keep hold of Bale. Daniel Levy needs to switch his phone off come the summer and disappear to a remote tropical island.

Secondly, they need at least three high quality players coming in during this next transfer window, with a striker to take the weight off Jermaine Defoe a top priority. Of course it will be no easy task to attract the type and quality required but Champions League football will help.

Finally, the proposed new ground plans need to get off the ground. With Spurs having a relatively small ground, capacity wise, for a bigger club, match day revenue has been limited and could hold them back in the long term. A new ground would give them new opportunities, sponsor and hospitality wise, and would give world class players a platform to play on. This is where they can learn from Arsenal’s relative failure in their move from Highbury across to The Emirates.

So who will win this power struggle? I’ve just looked into my crystal ball and the answers I see are the following.

Chelsea will bounce back with Roman’s billions and will (planning permission pending) move to a new ground. This I expect will keep Chelsea as number one in the capital but maybe not this season.

Spurs will not let them do that without a fight but my fear is that Bale will be sacrificed if the right size cheque drops on Levy’s doormat. Still, I expect Spurs to clinch third place this season if they continue their impressive form.

Arsenal are my biggest worry and I’m not sure how their immediate future will pen out. I expect they will miss out on Champions League football next season and this could be the start of turbulent times for the Gunners. I could be proven wrong but isn’t that what football is all about…

Nick Harman

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