The first few weeks of the Premier League season haven’t really taught us too much that we didn’t already know. Manchester City and Liverpool look the best equipped to battle for the title, Huddersfield and Cardiff look the least equipped to score goals and Wolves already have a side that should finish in the top ten. These weeks have been no more revealing when it comes to the scramble for a top-four finish, with Arsenal and Manchester United among the contenders as most fans had anticipated.
Perhaps the biggest surprise thus far has been the early success of Watford, a side whose rare summer of stability has yielded strong team chemistry on the pitch. Javi Gracia’s side are blessed with some real talent, particularly in the dominating central midfield duo of Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure. However, despite Gracia’s confidence, Watford are unlikely to emulate Leicester’s successful season.
If Watford do fall away, Manchester United and Arsenal will be launched into a three-way tussle for fourth place with Spurs. There hasn’t been much to separate these sides early on. The similarities between the sides are reflected in betting markets, with Moplay offering odds of 2.20 and 2.80 for Manchester United and Arsenal respectively to finish in the top four. The closeness in price reveals punters’ doubts over which side has been most impressive so far. Whichever side resolves their pressing issues first may well be the side that ultimately seals Champions League qualification.
Appropriately enough, Arsenal’s pressing issue is actually a pressing issue. Unai Emery’s pressing demands are more onerous than Arsene Wenger’s, with the players still taking time to adapt to his tactical requirements. Striking options of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are strong, but Emery is struggling to find a way to slot them into the same side without compromising either’s ability.
The Guardian are among those suggesting the two must play together, but it is so far easier said than done. With Mesut Ozil keen to play as a classic number 10, something will have to give. Early signs of promise have been all too fleeting from Emery’s Arsenal so far but he will be given time to fully embed his ethos into the club.
Let's go over some early #EPL numbers, starting with Expected Goals per match.
Already, we see City are in a league of their own.
Liverpool are a firm second, and then we see… Wolves.
Arsenal and Manchester United are in obscure mediocrity here. pic.twitter.com/k6uMyrntUM
— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) October 1, 2018
Jose Mourinho will be seeking a more immediate upturn in fortunes. As CNN reported, the defeat to Derby County in the League Cup is the latest blow in a disappointing start to the season. Mourinho’s pedigree as a manager is hugely impressive, but he has so far been unable to maximise the talents of Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez this season. If he can bring out their best, then Manchester United have a side that should be keeping pace with the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool. For now, the Premier League title looks out of reach for Arsenal and United.
A shaky start in the Champions League may see United join Arsenal in the Europa League, which could prove crucial in shaping domestic competition. Another Europa League title will not satisfy an ambitious Mourinho or Old Trafford crowd, but, for Emery, a European trophy will be the perfect way to round off his first year in London. This may cause Arsenal to prioritise Europe while United can neglect its demands.
A squad featuring Pogba, Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and David De Gea should be nailed on for a top-four finish. With a manager who knows how to win Premier League titles, Manchester United may have the edge when it comes to Champions League qualification.