Just when a leader was getting settled in at the top of the Premier League table, Matchday 16 resulted in the standings tightening for the top few clubs and left many storylines to follow for Week 17.
Arsenal entered the weekend five points clear atop the league with a chance to extend their lead, but they couldn't keep up their defensive prowess, as they fell, 6-3, at Manchester City. Having given up just 11 goals on the season prior to the contest, the Gunners posted by far their worst defensive performance of the season.
Chelsea and Liverpool were both able to put the pressure on Arsenal by each gaining three points. The Blues and Reds are tied for second place with 33 points.
Behind those three leaders, things are just as tight, as only 10 total points separate first and eighth place. More than half the table has plenty to play for, as all of the top four spots are still well within many clubs' grasps.
Here's a look at the updated table heading into Week 17, as well as predictions for the upcoming slate.
|Manchester United||4-1||West Ham|
|Stoke City||0-0||Aston Villa|
|West Brom||1-1||Hull City|
Liverpool 3, Cardiff City 0
Any questions of whether the losses of both Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge would thwart Liverpool's offense were convincingly answered at White Hart Lane on Matchday 16.
Thanks to Luis Suarez's emergence as one of the world's best players as of late, the Reds are scoring at will—as told by their five-goal explosion against Tottenham on Sunday, Dec. 15.
After seeing Suarez post an insane 17 goals in 11 matches, Tony Barnett from The Times in Liverpool noted simply retaining him has been the Reds' best move of the year:
Liverpool's biggest result of the season wasn't today, it was in the summer when they saw off Arsenal's interest in Luis Suarez.— Tony Barrett (@TonyBarretTimes) December 15, 2013
Cardiff have been one of the surprise clubs of the season in pulling out a number of impressive victories, but they've been a shell of themselves on the road. They only have four goals in eight road matches, having been shut out in their last four away from home.
Combine that with Liverpool's shutdown defense and the fact that they've beaten their last three foes by a combined 14-2, and this one is an easy victory for Brendan Rodgers at Anfield.
Manchester United 4, West Ham 1
The reigning title winners were able to snap a two-game losing streak with a decisive 3-0 victory on the road against Aston Villa. But don't color David Moyes excited.
Per United's official site, he was encouraged by the victory but expects more offense from his team despite hanging three goals on the opposition:
It was a good job done. The players played well. The only thing I'd be critical of is that we didn't score more goals. For the first five or six minutes we didn’t quite come out on the front foot, but after that we took control and played well.
I think we'll play much better than that. I've told the players that that is the least we can do, we've got to keep going and keep winning more games.
With his club down 10 points to table-leading Arsenal and dwelling in eighth place, the fact that Moyes is unsettled is far from surprising. But it does bode well for the club's tendencies moving forward.
West Ham have given up 22 goals in 16 matches, which isn't bad, but they have given up three goals or more in each of their last three defeats—all of which have come since the start of November. United's misfortune at home can't last forever, and I like their chances against a struggling opponent.
With Wayne Rooney clicking as the offensive creator and guys like Danny Welbeck starting to show good form, United should cruise to another big win at home.
Arsenal 2, Chelsea 1
Things don't get easy for Arsenal by any means after a lopsided defeat at Manchester City last week, but they do get a good bit easier as Chelsea come strolling into town.
Of course, the Gunners were gashed for six goals by City. But that stat says a lot more about Manuel Pellegrini's potent offense than Arsenal's defense.
City have scored at least three goals in all but one of their home matches. They're averaging more than five per match in their last four home contests. That's absurd.
Meanwhile, Arsenal had only given up 11 goals all season prior to the six-goal outburst from their foe.
On the other end, Chelsea are confident after Week 16, having moved into a tie for second place. But their offense has evaded them lately, as has consistency.
One loss won't deter Arsenal's top-notch confidence as they use motivation of staying on top of the table to get back into the win column.