How will the Premier League look at the end of the season?

by John-James Grice

Arsene WengerWith just over half of the games played in the Premier League, we’re no nearer to knowing what will happen at either end of the table, but it’s become a little clearer to see who will be challenging for what.

At the top of the league, any of eight or nine clubs could at least expect to qualify for Europe, while most of the teams in the bottom half could easily succumb to relegation.

We look at the major players in the battle for the title and the race to avoid the dreaded drop into the Championship and assess their chances and what they can do.

The title race

At present, Arsenal are the surprise table-toppers, although they only have a one-point lead over a free-scoring Manchester City in second, with a steady if unspectacular Chelsea just a further point behind in third. The Gunners, despite only adding record signing Mesut Ozil and former ace Mathieu Flamini to their ranks in the summer, have done well but need further reinforcements.

Up front is where Arsene Wenger’s side are at their weakest. Although Olivier Giroud has been prolific, the remaining options are either injury prone, lack quality or fall into both camps. As a result, Wenger has been linked with moves including a shock bid for Fulham veteran Dimitar Berbatov. However, he will hope that Aaron Ramsey will come back from injury and plug that gap.

As for City, their away form is all that has prevented them from usurping Arsenal, although the signs are that they have worked out how to translate their excellent displays at home on the road. City may need another centre-back to ease any injury problems, although they’re strong in almost every other department.

Chelsea, perhaps even more so than Arsenal, need another striker. Apparently prepared to spend heavily this January, the Blues have already been knocked back by Napoli after bidding £50m for Gonzalo Higuain. Other strikers linked with a move to Stamford Bridge include Monaco’s Radamel Falcao and Colombia teammate Jackson Martinez, currently of FC Porto.

Champions League

The race for Champions League qualification looks like being just as intense. Liverpool currently occupy fourth place, thanks in no small part to the form of Luis Suarez. However, injury problems have left Brendan Rodgers with a threadbare squad which is in need of replenishment. Fortunately, the likes of Daniel Sturridge and club legend Steven Gerrard are coming back from injury soon. Gerrard’s injury hasn’t had that much of an impact as it would have done in previous seasons, but his return is nonetheless welcome.

As for the rest, Manchester United look in grave danger of not even making the Europa League spots. A lack of creativity in midfield is their undoing, hence why they have been linked with moves for the likes of Arturo Vidal of Juventus and Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan, both of whom might be tempted to stay where they are.

United also have aging centre-backs holding them back, although their forward line may help to save David Moyes’ skin, injury pending. Moyes’ former club Everton could yet surprise a few people, as could Tottenham if they can capitalise on the surprise return to form of forgotten man Emmanuel Adebayor. Newcastle United could be dark horses too if they make additions in the right places.

Relegation race

Sunderland, despite playing a little better under new boss Gus Poyet, are still firm favourites for the drop. However, it’s less clear which teams will join them, as there are a number of equally-flawed teams near the basement. Fulham, having sacked Martin Jol earlier this season, don’t look much better under Rene Meulensteen, while West Ham look equally stagnant.

Cardiff City, having controversially sacked Malky Mackay, look just as unstable, although new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have money to spend. Crystal Palace, also expected to spend this January, look more solid under Tony Pulis, although they look more likely to fall through the trap door. It looks likely that Palace, Fulham and Sunderland will get relegated.

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