With the 2013-14 Premier League season past the halfway stage, and with the title race and the battle to avoid relegation as tight as ever, it promises to be a memorable final four months.
At the summit, just two points separate leaders Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea in third, while six points is all that stands between 10th place and the foot of the table.
Each of the top flight’s 20 teams had their goals at the beginning of the campaign, and while some will be on course to achieve those aims, many are reevaluating their ambitions.
So with gameweek 22 just days away and some huge fixtures on the horizon, we take a close look at every club’s revised expectations from top to bottom.
Can Arsene Wenger end Arsenal's trophy drought this season?
Arsene Wenger’s goals at the start of this season were the same as they have been for the last eight years—to pick up a piece of silverware and challenge for, if not win, the Premier League title.
And this term, it seems a number of factors are working in the Gunners’ favour as they look to end a trophy drought that stretches back to the FA Cup final in May 2005.
The overriding element is Arsenal’s style—a typical mixture of passing and movement that has rendered many of their opponents dumbfounded so far this campaign.
With 21 games played, Wenger’s men hold the slenderest of advantages at the table’s summit, and there are crucial challenges ahead, such as a run of games in March that will see them face Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Manchester City.
Away from their top-flight campaign, the North Londoners face a daunting, two-legged tie with Bayern Munich in the Champions League which will make or break their European ambitions, while a convincing win over local rivals Spurs in the FA Cup suggests it is a competition they’re taking very seriously.
Revised Expectations: Win their first trophy since 2005
Much of Villa's success will depend on the goals of Christian Benteke
After a difficult 2012-13 campaign which saw Aston Villa escape the drop by just five points, their current league position of 11th would suggest a much-improved season.
But in this tightest of divisions, Paul Lambert’s men are still looking nervously over their collective shoulders despite a seemingly safe spot in the middle of the table.
Just one win in their last seven league games hasn’t helped, but if Christian Benteke can hit the goals trail once more and Lambert can bring in some reinforcements, Villa should have enough to avoid another relegation scrap.
Following the strife of last term, this may not be the kind of objective the Claret and Blue faithful were hoping for, but the nature of the Premier League table has sharpened their focus.
Revised expectations: Steer clear of the battle at the bottom
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to settle into the Cardiff job, and quickly
Off the pitch, Cardiff City have displayed all the attributes of a club in disarray this term, with a lengthy and somewhat humiliating episode at the end of 2013 leading to the sacking of manager—and fan favourite—Malky Mackay.
In his wisdom, owner Vincent Tan turned to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to replace the Scot and much will depend on how the new man settles in to his first job in England.
After just one league game in charge—Saturday’s home defeat to fellow strugglers West Ham United— Solskjaer’s potential influence at the South Wales club is impossible to predict.
Their loss at the weekend dropped the Bluebirds into the bottom three, but with 17 games left, it is hoped the former Manchester United forward will have enough time to make his mark and keep his new side in the top flight.
Revised expectations: Avoid the dreaded drop
Mourinho's Chelsea are in the thick of the title race
Expectations on the terraces at Stamford Bridge reached fever pitch last summer following the announcement that former boss Jose Mourinho was returning to the club where he won five trophies in three years.
And though Chelsea have gone about their business in a somewhat understated manner, they are right in the thick of the title race alongside Arsenal and Manchester City.
Progression in the Champions League hinges on a last-16 clash with Galatasaray, while the FA Cup could provide another avenue for the Blues to explore in their quest for silverware.
With the exception of a trip to Liverpool, their league run-in over the last seven games could not be kinder, and with Mourinho at the helm, a trophy of some description must be high on their agenda.
Revised expectations: Mark Mourinho’s return with silverware
Can the goals of Marouane Chamakh keep Palace up?
It’s never good to be propping up the table as Crystal Palace are, but given the clustered composition of the division, one win could propel the Eagles up some five places.
And it is this unusual congestion in the bottom half that is keeping the club’s fans and their recently appointed manager Tony Pulis optimistic despite their lowly league position.
Vital wins over West Ham United and Cardiff City in December proved that Palace have what it takes to scrap their way to victory, and they will need that battling mentality over the coming months.
But as far as Palace’s expectations are concerned, they are the same as they were before a ball had been kicked this season—at all costs, stay up.
Revised expectations: Avoid relegation at all costs
Romelu Lukaku has been a key figure for Everton this term
After a summer of upheaval at Goodison Park following David Moyes’ switch to Manchester United and the arrival of new boss Roberto Martinez, few Evertonians knew what to expect from their team in 2013-14.
But despite the disruption, the Toffees have continued to improve under the former Wigan manager and have lost just twice in their 21 fixtures so far this term.
With a defence as good as both Arsenal’s and Chelsea’s, only the amount of games drawn has counted them out of a full-blown assault on the Premier League title.
But as they have proved time and again, the Blues have what it takes to keep pressure on the teams above them and go all out for a Champions League spot—possibly at the expense of neighbours Liverpool.
Revised expectations: Keep the pressure on the top four until the final day
Fulham captain Scott Parker
This has not been an easy campaign for Fulham and as their league position suggests, much improvement is needed if they are to retain their top-flight status.
Despite exchanging Martin Jol for new boss Rene Meulensteen, the West London outfit have stuttered of late, conceding 20 times in their last six Premier League fixtures to leave them just a point clear of the drop zone.
A 4-1 home defeat to fellow strugglers Sunderland on Saturday set alarm bells ringing around Craven Cottage, despite Meulensteen fielding a side that included the likes of Scott Parker, Dimitar Berbatov and Clint Dempsey.
And whatever expectations were at the beginning of the season, their sole target over the next four months and 17 games must be to pick up as many points as possible and, ultimately, survive.
Revised expectations: Pull away from the bottom three, and quickly
Steve Bruce has enjoyed a successful season so far
All in all, Hull City can be pleased with their progress this term and, for the most part, they have enjoyed a comfortable-looking spot in the middle of the Premier League table.
Under former Sunderland and Wigan Athletic boss Steve Bruce, the Tigers sit in 10th and will point to victories over Liverpool and Newcastle United as their highlights so far.
But City have been here before and with just five points separating them from the bottom three, they will take nothing for granted during the second half of the season.
They are seven points adrift of Southampton directly above them, so a realistic goal must be to maintain their current position and dodge an edgy end to the current campaign.
Revised expectations: Retain their mid-table position
Luis Suarez has been in blistering form of late
With six points separating Liverpool in fourth and Arsenal at the top of the table, it seems the Scousers will have to wait a little longer to win their first league title since 1990.
But that shouldn’t stop the Reds from giving the second half of the season their all as they seek a timely return to the Champions League for the first time in five years.
The form of Luis Suarez has boosted Brendan Rodgers’ men, with the Uruguayan netting no fewer than 22 goals in just 16 league appearances since his return from a 10-match ban.
And if he can keep that form going, then coupled with the continued improvement of the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, a seat at Europe’s top table is within their grasp.
Revised expectations: Regain their Champions League status
Sergio Aguero has had a spectacular season with Manchester City
Not so long ago, Manchester City’s away record was threatening to derail their bid for a second top-flight title in two years, but such worries have all but disappeared.
Manuel Pellegrini’s men are the division’s form team at this moment in time, winning 10 of their last 12 league fixtures and maintaining a ruthless 100 per cent home record.
As the campaign wears on, it looks increasingly like the team that finishes above City will walk away with the Premier League crown, but that will not be an easy task.
Barring a sudden lapse in concentration, the Sky Blues seem certain to finish in the top three. And given their current run, few would bet against them making the top spot their own.
Revised expectations: Win a second Premier League title
David Moyes has had much to ponder in his first season at Old Trafford
The top four without Manchester United was somewhat unthinkable before the start of this season, but with 21 games gone, it seems the Red Devils have their work cut out if they’re to qualify for the Champions League once more.
New boss David Moyes faced an impossible job when asked to replace the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson and the role has tested his managerial credentials on a number of occasions.
A tendency to drop points at home has undone United this term, but with potential movement in this month’s transfer window, the Old Trafford faithful are hoping for improvement between now and May.
However, even if they do find a level of consistency more in keeping with the club’s reputation, they’ll have to get past Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Liverpool if they’re to secure a top-four spot.
Revised expectations: Push all the way for fourth place
The goals of Loic Remy have pushed Newcastle up to eighth
After 21 fixtures, Newcastle United, along with Southampton, find themselves in the Premier League’s equivalent of no-man’s land, with neither relegation nor Europe an issue.
Eight points adrift of the Europa League spot, but 15 points clear of the drop zone, the Magpies are also out of both domestic cup competitions and have little to play for despite it only being January.
If a run can be put together similar to the one that saw them lose just once in nine fixtures before Christmas, then the Geordies will begin to look upwards once more.
But realistically, given the Toon’s inconsistencies, if they could hang on to eighth place until the end of the campaign, that would have to be considered as progress.
Revised expectations: Secure a top-eight finish
The goals of Gary Hooper could help Norwich beat the drop
With just one win in their last eight league fixtures, it’s no surprise to see Norwich City struggling at the wrong end of the table and just two points outside the bottom three.
Seven defeats on the road, coupled with four at home, have derailed any hope of a comfortable ride for Chris Hughton’s men this term, and an unfortunate run of injuries hasn’t helped either.
The Canaries have moved to remedy the situation by bringing in Argentine international Jonas Gutierrez from Newcastle United and his experience could be vital.
In Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, they also possess the necessary firepower to steer away from trouble, and providing the £15 million duo can stay fit, the Norfolk side should have enough to stay up.
Revised expectations: Get as near to 40 points as possible
Rickie Lambert has made waves with Southampton and England this season
Southampton’s start to the 2013-14 season caught everyone by surprise, and thanks to their form in the opening few months of the campaign, the Saints have made themselves at home in mid-table.
Much like Newcastle United, who are one place ahead of them, Mauricio Pochettino’s men are not duly concerned with much at the moment, with a healthy gap to Hull City in 10th.
The emergence of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez on the England scene has been an obvious highlight, as have positive away results at Liverpool and Manchester United.
But with such a beneficial cushion between themselves and the bottom half, a top 10 spot looks assured as long as complacency is kept at bay as the weeks wear on.
Revised expectations: See the job through with a top-half finish
Can Mark Hughes lead Stoke City up the table?
Stoke City are currently at something of a crossroads with 21 games played in the Premier League and it’s hard to predict which direction their season will take next.
Seemingly sitting pretty in 12th spot, the Potters appear to be in no danger. But once again, the congested nature of the bottom half masks the reality of their situation.
Just four points separate Mark Hughes’ men from the dreaded drop zone and their next pair of league fixtures against Crystal Palace and Sunderland could prove pivotal.
Win those two and Stoke will be forgiven for breathing a huge sigh of relief. Better still, take six points out of six and the top half of the table won’t be too far out of their grasp.
Revised expectations: Make eyes at the top half
Gus Poyet has seen an upturn in fortunes at Sunderland recently
There is no masking Sunderland’s troubles during the first half of the Premier League season; just two wins in their opening 17 games speaks volumes about the Wearsiders’ plight.
In recent weeks, however, a corner of sorts has been turned, and away victories at Everton and Fulham have lifted Gus Poyet’s side off the foot of the table if not out of the bottom three.
The Capital One Cup has provided a welcome distraction, and with a 2-1 advantage over Manchester United ahead of the semi-final second leg, their fans could soon be dreaming of Wembley.
But there aren’t many inside the Stadium of Light who wouldn’t swap their cup run for top-flight survival and that surely has to be their priority over the next few months.
Revised expectations: To still be in the Premier League on May 11
Swansea striker Wilfried Bony is beginning to find his feet in the Premier League
For Swansea City, see Stoke City—a team to all intents and purposes sitting well clear of the bottom three but implicated none the less by the sheer density of the league this season.
Just three points separate Michael Laudrup’s men from the relegation places and, as yet, the Liberty Stadium faithful are yet to get a sniff of the team that finished ninth last term and won the Capital One Cup.
A typically congested Europa League campaign has proved something of a hindrance, the much-maligned competition fast becoming more trouble than it’s worth.
But it did throw up a 3-0 win at Valencia on a famous night for the club in September and it’s that kind of result that encourages Swans fans to look up the table rather than down.
Revised expectations: Move up the table to moderate safety
Tim Sherwood has steadied the ship at Tottenham
Tottenham Hotspur’s season seems to have come full circle, with the excitement of a host of new summer signings replaced by the anxiety of Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking and the apparent new-found stability under Tim Sherwood.
All in five months' work for Spurs.
Seven new faces arrived at White Hart Lane before the August deadline in a spending spree prompted by the multimillion pound sale of Welsh star Gareth Bale to Real Madrid.
But what followed was a series of disjointed displays that ended in Villas-Boas’ dismissal and the surprise appointment of former crowd favourite Sherwood.
The ex-midfielder has had a calming effect on proceedings and instilled belief on the terraces once more, overseeing four wins in his first five league games in charge.
A top six finish now looks something of a formality for the Londoners if they want it to be, and a place in Europe must remain their biggest aim come the end of the campaign.
Revised expectations: Keep battling for a European spot
New West Brom manager Pepe Mel
Another team sitting just below mid-table—and another team nowhere near safety—West Bromwich Albion have rolled the managerial dice by appointing Pepe Mel.
And they’ll be hoping the former Real Betis man can spark a change in fortunes at the Hawthorns and lead the Baggies towards the 40-point mark sooner rather than later.
Replacing the sacked Steve Clarke, who lost his job last month following four straight defeats in the league, the 50-year-old Spaniard hopes to have an immediate impact.
And with the likes of Nicolas Anelka and Saido Barahino to choose from, he’ll be aiming to lead West Brom up the table and away from any late scares when May comes around.
Revised expectations: Steer clear of any late scares
Andy Carroll's return is well timed for West Ham
In a campaign ravaged by injuries and suspensions, West Ham United find themselves in the thick of a relegation battle with 21 games played, but there are the slightest shoots of recovery.
Saturday’s victory at bottom-four rivals Cardiff City could yet turn out to be a monumental moment for the Hammers, who showed genuine battling qualities to win in Wales with 10 men.
Andy Carroll’s timely return from injury after an eight-month lay-off will give Sam Allardyce just the boost he needs, and with the transfer window open, a few new faces could accelerate their optimism.
The Irons have a long road ahead of them and will need every last ounce from the likes of Carroll and skipper Kevin Nolan if they are to hit their target of staying up.
Revised expectations: Beat relegation with games to spare