Mischa Wilmers’ Sunday Column – Arsenal cement position as title contenders with thrashing of Wolves

So far this season, nobody can complain that the Premier League hasn’t been entertaining to watch. And with 23 goals scored across yesterday’s five games, the trend was continued in emphatic style. Three of the ‘big four’ teams were absent meaning that Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City took centre stage on a day packed full of drama.

Manchester City took on Burnley in a hotly anticipated fixture. Given that the Clarets had yet to win a point away from home this season, City fans were expecting a straight-forward victory in this match. Nevertheless, after leading for much of an action-packed second half, Kevin McDonald arrived in the box to poke in an 87th minute equaliser for Burnley. City boss Mark Hughes will be disappointed with a 3-3 draw and it seems that despite all the money that has been poured into his side, many of their defensive shortcomings of old still remain. It was a match marked by inconsistency – on the one hand City looked comfortable going forward with Craig Bellamy and Shaun Wright-Phillips providing City with goals and chances, while on the other hand, time and again they were exposed at the back and Owen Coyle’s side were able to capitalise. If Hughes wants to push for a Champions League place this season, defensively his team will need to improve. They now lie in sixth place – ahead of Liverpool but behind Aston Villa and rivals Tottenham, who are now in fourth place after their fortunate 2-0 win against Sunderland.

Elsewhere, Wolverhampton took on Arsenal at the Molineux Stadium in a match which manager Arsene Wenger hoped would see his team leapfrog Manchester United to take second spot behind Chelsea. The Frenchman’s prayers were duly answered as his team thrashed Wolves 4-1. Although Wolves’ shaky defence was largely to blame for the goals, it was a display which highlighted Arsenal’s attacking prowess and cemented their position as title challengers this season. Goals from Eduardo, Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas followed by an exquisite late strike by Andrey Arshavin sent out a strong warning to United and Chelsea that Arsenal must surely be considered a genuine threat this season. The accusation once levelled at Wenger that his team plays pretty football with little end product no longer applies. And having now scored 36 goals in the league, Arsenal fans are justifiably beginning to believe that this could be their season.

Whilst the Sunday papers are full of praise for Arsenal’s convincing victory, City are less fortunate. The Sunday Times headline reads “Kevin McDonald pegs Manchester City back once more” and Jonathan Northcroft writes “This could have been a game from any point in City’s history: the points were lost, won back, and then lost again in a performance of ludicrous inconsistency.” Manchester City’s recent failure to deliver in spite of their considerable riches is a major talking point in most of the papers and in The Telegraph Mark Ogden writes “Mark Hughes will doubtless be a little sheepish about his expensively assembled team’s run of five straight draws, a run of results that meant they slipped out of the top four.” Meanwhile in The Observer Joe Lovejoy poses the question “…how come his expensively acquired cast of multi-millionaires cannot get the better of Aston Villa, Fulham, Wigan, Birmingham and now Burnley, who had previously lost every away match?” It is a question which Mark Hughes can only satisfactorily answer by guiding his team out of their recent slump and back up the Premier League ladder. Anything other than a Champions League place will surely be deemed a failure not only by City fans, but also by club owner Sheik Mansour.

Arsenal meanwhile, find themselves in a rather more enviable position. The headline in The Sunday Times reads “Cesc Fabregas and Andrey Arshavin round off comfortable win” and Roy Collins writes “Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he has never been blessed with such attacking potential and a remarkable 36 goals from 11 games suggests he, for once, cannot be accused of overstating the talents of his young players.” The talent at Arsene Wenger’s disposal has never been in doubt, yet it is only this season that this has been converted into consistent goalscoring. The Sun’s match report aptly points out that “Unbeaten in 13 matches in all competitions, Wenger’s side are a real threat to pacesetters Chelsea and current champions Manchester United.” With many of their top players performing to the best of their ability, Arsenal finally appear to have found some much needed confidence and after four years without a trophy, it is looking increasingly like this could be the year the Gunners break their duck.

In other news, The Telegraph reports that Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez and England manager Fabio Capello are set to clash over the availability of Steven Gerrard for England’s forthcoming fixture against Brazil. Gerrard, who is currently out with a groin injury may be on the bench for Liverpool’s match against Birmingham City on Monday but Mark Ogden writes that: “Ben

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