Week 25 of the English Premier League season saw a shakeup at the top, with Chelsea overtaking Arsenal at the top. The Gunners took a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of feisty Liverpool and return to the Emirates licking their wounds ahead of a match against Manchester United. Here is how the week's events impacted the standings:
With so many tightly packed areas in the standings, the table is surely going to flip multiple times before the end of the season. So what changes should Premier League fans expect a week from now?
Here are a few Week 26 predictions that could once again shift the table.
Arsenal 2, Manchester United 1
Arsenal's stunning loss was bad, but their opponent has been reeling even worse all season. Manchester United dropped more points in a stunning 2-2 draw to lowly Fulham, painfully conceding a 94th-minute goal. Embattled boss David Moyes looks as though he is crumbling under the adversity, again lamenting his team's effort after the unexpected draw:
United continue to look slow in the back end, as departing captain Nemanja Vidic was a culprit on the equalizer and often victimized by the Cottagers' Kieran Richardson throughout the match. Moreover, the offense continues to rely on crosses to a paralyzing degree, even after Juan Mata's acquisition.
Arsenal are certainly not perfect either, despite clinging on to the top spot for much of the season. Mesut Ozil and Olivier Giroud have worn down without adequate backup plans to provide relief, an indictment of the Gunners' lack of top-tier depth.
Fatigue leads to mental errors, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was clearly frustrated after the Liverpool debacle with his team's effort. Per FoxSports.com, Wenger had little explanation for his team's showing:
On the concentration level, on pace, on defensive stability, it was very poor and we always looked vulnerable.
If you concede two early goals from set-pieces then you are in a position where you always have to come out.
I just think the whole team have failed to turn up with the right performance. We know that you need to be better focused at this kind of level.
Thus, the Emirates will host two reeling teams, albeit with Arsenal still holding very realistic championship hopes and a top-four spot looking more likely than not. With a tighter defensive effort from the central tandem of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, look for the Gunners to rebound with a critical win to stay in the championship hunt and add to the misery at Old Trafford.
Newcastle 0, Tottenham 1
Despite an even goal differential, Tottenham continue to hang around the Champions League qualification race. The Spurs sit fifth, just three points behind fourth-place Liverpool.
And yet, the results do not quite match the form. Though Emmanuel Adebayor pounced in the 65th minute to propel Tottenham to a 1-0 victory over Everton, the Blues controlled the game and deserved better. After the win, manager Tim Sherwood expressed belief that Tottenham cannot continue to skate by with lethargic starts:
Sherwood frustrated by slow start: Head coach Tim Sherwood was unhappy to see Tottenham Hotspur make another s... http://t.co/krjwMrcWNJ— Barclays PL News™ (@BarclaysLeague) February 9, 2014
Then again, Newcastle would be thrilled with such results in spite of shaky form. Newcastle have lost consecutive 3-0 decisions to Fulham and Chelsea and are now ensconced in the middle class of the table.
Perhaps the on-field product has been affected by recent organizational turmoil. Joe Kinnear resigned after selling Yohan Cabaye and inexplicably failing to replace him, and reserve team manager Willie Donachie quit after being suspended for allegedly hitting a player.
Tottenham may not be impressive on a weekly basis, but they should have enough juice to squeeze by a reeling Newcastle club in need of a clearer direction.
Stoke 1, Swansea 1
The lower middle class of the Premier League will hold numerous matches in Week 26. Besides this matchup, contests like Hull-Southampton, West Ham-Norwich and Cardiff-Aston Villa will attempt to bring some clarity to the convoluted middle.
Swansea have played three consecutive games against the dregs of the league, and wins against Fulham and Cardiff have boosted the Swans up to 10th in the standings. Of course, that only leaves them four points clear of the relegation zone, but as ESPNFC.com's Max Hicks notes, Swansea have turned their season around since the sacking of erstwhile manager Michael Laudrup:
Sacking Laudrup -- a legend of world football and the biggest name ever associated with the side -- was probably Jenkins' bravest decision to date, but was apparently exactly what was needed. I admit that I had serious reservations.
From outside the dressing room, it is impossible to say how much the players had to do with the decision, or how those players felt once the decision was made. However, on the evidence of the Swans' performance on Saturday -- one in which the side showed focus, energy and desire for the first time in weeks -- it looks like the squad is very much united around new boss Garry Monk.
Conversely, Stoke have just begun to right a previously unsteady ship. The Potters have just one Premier League victory in their past nine matches, though they have taken four points in their past two matches. Sitting in a tie for 13th, manager Mark Hughes asserts his side's fortunes are turning around:
Hughes: Our luck is changing: Stoke manager Mark Hughes hopes his side's impressive win over Manchester United... http://t.co/e4FtVaBSIH— Barclays PL News™ (@BarclaysLeague) February 7, 2014
Neither side holds a clear edge in this matchup, and with both sides likely to accept a point rather than risk receiving none, it seems likely that Stoke-Swansea, as well as the other matchups of the lower half, will only further muddle the relegation picture.