A long, competitive, and exhaustingly busy Premier League festive period came to an end on Sunday, January 3rd, finally giving England's top football clubs a deserved break. The Premier League's teams will take the pitch again next week, on January 12th and 13th, but until then, we, at last, have a chance to let the dust settle and survey the current landscape of the league.
The big question in the wake of the busy festive period is whether or not 2016 might finally be Arsenal's year. The Gunners, of course, have been remarkably consistent throughout the entirety of Arsene Wenger's coaching tenure, finishing in the top five every year since 1996. However, not since 2004 have Arsenal actually topped the Premier League podium.
Over the festive period, though, Arsenal emerged as likely frontrunners to take the title in 2016. Heading into the busy three-week period, soccer pundits were skeptical about how the Gunners might perform, given their recent spate of injuries. However, even with key talents like Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, and Cazorla sidelined, Arsenal managed to win three of their four festive period fixtures.
Arsenal's victories-which included a pivotal December 21st win against Manchester City-put the football club at 42 points after 20 Premier League matches. Two points behind are Leicester City, still coasting off the remarkable early season run of striker Jamie Vardy, but seemingly losing momentum. Indeed, other than a 3-2 triumph over Everton on December 19th, the Foxes failed to win any of their festive fixtures, losing to Liverpool on Boxing Day and sputtering to scoreless draws with Manchester City and AFC Bournemouth the following week.
Speaking of Manchester City, the Sky Blues also experienced something of a mixed bag festive period. While the 2014 Premier League champs lost to Arsenal and drew with Leicester, they also scored a rousing 4-1 win against Sunderland and beat Watford 2-1 to start the New Year in the green. To be fair, though, the Watford game was nearly a disaster for Man City, with an own goal from defender Aleksander Kolarov leaving them down 0-1 at the 55-minute mark. Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero came to the rescue late in the match, scoring goals at 82 and 84 minutes, respectively. However, the game was certainly a nail biter.
Tottenham Hotspur could be potential dark horse contenders for a Premier League title, based on their festive period. The Spurs are at fourth in the standings with 36 points, three behind Manchester City and six behind Arsenal. However, Tottenham were also one of the only soccer clubs in the league to avoid a single loss during the festive period (and the only team to grab three wins). With victories against Southampton, Norwich City, and Watford-as well as a draw with Everton-the Spurs were maybe the biggest movers of the entire EPL over the holiday season.
The Rest of the Field
Manchester United continued to struggle over the holidays, losing their first two festive matches to Norwich and Stoke City before settling for a draw with Chelsea on Boxing Day. Wayne Rooney earned his center forward position back for the Chelsea game, a decision that paid off when the Red Devils won their first match of 2016, against Swansea City. The match saw goals from both Rooney and Anthony Martial, who has been less effective since taking over as the vanguard of Manchester's offense. Perhaps with Rooney back in the leadership position and some of the pressure lifted off Martial, the two players will be able to steer United back to a top-three slot.
Chelsea made some decent progress over the holidays, avoiding a single loss under the command of new manager Guus Hiddink. The Blues scored wins against Sunderland and Crystal Palace and drew with Man United and Watford. Those outcomes amount to eight points for the reigning English champions, moving Chelsea up to 14th on the league standings table.
Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool squad had a more split festive run, winning twice and losing twice to retain a spot at eighth place. Will Klopp be able to engineer some big signings for January, to help build a more consistent team?
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