25th October 2015: Thoughts on our title challenge + Ox’s flummoxing form

Sunday salutations fellow top-of-the-leaguers. Yes, I know we’re now ‘officially second’, after Manchester United and Manchester City today played out the most mundane, nil-nil draw featuring two ‘big’ teams you could ever be unfortunate enough to sit through, but we’re level on points with City at the summit, and at this stage of the season, goal difference can go swivel. We’re joint top in my eyes.

As I subtly suggest above, the Manc derby this afternoon was manky, so much so, that it will have left researchers into the theory of nominative determinism very excited indeed. For all the billions spent building their squad, City without Sergio Aguero and David Silva are a bit sh*t, and United, well, let’s just say Anthony Martial is the only outfield player I’m slightly jealous they can call their own.

With Chelsea doing their best to break the record for the worst title defence in history, and their special manager Jose Mourinho seemingly incapable of arresting their decline, plus the fact City and United look far from frightening at the moment, it’s really hard not to start wondering whether this could finally, at long, long last, after years of shedding star players and suffering through the Marouane Chamakh years, be the season we’re crowned champions of England once again.

As always, time will tell but after losing our opening league game of the season at home to West Ham and then dropping another two points in our next game at Emirates stadium against Liverpool, we really couldn’t have done much better than we have in the first quarter of the league campaign. In fact, after taking just four points from the first nine available, we’ve won six of our last seven Premier League games now, with a Mike Dean-inspired win for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge the only blot on our copybook.

And looking ahead at our next six fixtures in the league; Swansea (a), Tottenham (h), West Brom (a), Norwich (a), Sunderland (h) and Aston Villa (a), it’s not inconceivable we take maximum points before we host title rivals City four days before Christmas.

A lot will depend on keeping our core of regular starters fit between now and then but if we can do that, and then welcome back the likes of Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky just after the festive period, perhaps even strengthening the squad with a Gabriel-like quality signing in the winter window, we’d be superbly positioned for the last five months of the season.

If you were to ask Arsene right now about such a scenario unfolding, he’d no doubt politely inform you he was only looking as far ahead as Wednesday’s game against Wednesday, but deep down, I bet he’s slowly getting reacquainted with that magical old feeling of being genuine competitors for the crown.

But to break from the day-dream for a minute, one player I feel who really has to improve on his performances so far this season if we’re to keep our current run of wins going, is the bewilderingly bereft-of-form Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, especially now that Aaron Ramsey has been ruled out for a number of weeks with a hamstring tear.

On the eve of the season, if I had to pick one player to have a good season based purely on pre-season performances, it would have been the Ox and he duly spanked home our winner against Chelsea at Wembley to win us our second Community Shield in succession.

Yet, barring a lively first half on the opening weekend against the Hammers and some decent moments at White Hart Lane in the Capital One Cup, he’s been very, very poor in my opinion.

His lack of form is obviously playing on his mind too, because Arsene recently spoke about the Ox needing to trust in his own ability more and not be too self-critical, yet when he was subbed off against Everton yesterday after another pretty ineffectual display, he was shaking his head and his disappointment at his personal display was obvious for all to see.

My hope is that an extended run in the starting-line-up with Ramsey injured will help him to rediscover his mojo, and I think the boss may offer him the same advice Ramsey revealed he’d received during his own struggles for form in previous seasons – simplify your game, take the easy option more often and stop trying to force things.

Perhaps then we’ll start to see the Oxlade-Chamberlain who looked so impressive during the close season and Ramsey will return from injury facing a real battle on his hands to win back his place.

See you next week.

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