Bacary Sagna, James Milner

Manchester City, Arsenal up for the fight but where will Premier League title go?


LONDON — With Manchester City close to their swashbuckling best in the first half, they looked to be head and shoulders above Arsenal on Saturday.

But then in the second period, their panache and swagger drained away as the Gunners fought back valiantly to seal a 1-1 draw. In those two halves, we saw reasons why both sides have been title contenders for the entire season. City with their wonderful array of attacking talents culminating in a fluid move that led to David Silva’s opener, then Arsenal’s new found grit and determination which has helped them grind out results time and time again. But despite City’s obvious advantage of being two points behind current Premier League leaders Chelsea with two games in hand, we are no closer to finding out who the PL champions are.

That’s just the way we like it.

“We have to fight until he end of the season because everybody can beat everybody,” Wenger warned. “Chelsea lost today at Crystal Palace, that means all of us have to be careful and all of us have to be consistent.”

This enthralling match between two title contenders under the lights at the Emirates summed up how this PL season has gone. Just when we thought we knew the script, the plot twists. Manchester City knew before their late kick off against Arsenal that a win would see them top of the PL standings with two games in hand over everyone else. Speaking to the press afterwards, Manuel Pellegrini felt that factor gave both teams an extra edge but he still believes the title race is wide-open, as we head into the final few weeks of the season.

“I think all four teams have the chance to win the title in the future, but all four teams will drop points between now and the end of the season,” Pellegrini said. “It is very difficult at the end of the season, because there are a lot of teams fighting relegation. Ask Chelsea today, look at what happened to them away at Crystal Palace. I think we must continue to just think about the next game.”

(MORE: Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City – Gunners fight back thwarts City’s title charge)

City had the chance to cement themselves at the top of the table, but let their early promise slip by the wayside against Arsenal after a sloppy second half display. Credit must go to the home side for stepping things up, getting stuck in and Mathieu Flamini’s equalizer was reward for his superb display which cajoled his teammates into life.

The scenario at the top of the PL standings seems to be changing game by game, as  the topsy-turvy situation at the top makes it hard to predict which team will lift the crown on May 11. Chelsea have led the way for the last few months, and with their win away at Manchester City earlier this year and a 6-0 demolition of Arsenal last weekend, they looked to be clicking into top gear ominously.

source: Getty Images
Both Arsenal and City showcased why they can win the PL title, but will this season take yet another unexpected turn?

But away day defeats at Aston Villa and now Palace have curtailed the Blues, just as slip ups in the middle of the season cost Manchester City and Arsenal after their stunning start to the campaign. Then you throw Liverpool into the mix, and with a win against Tottenham on Sunday, the Reds can go top of the table on 71 points with six games to go and both City and Chelsea still to play at Anfield.

(MORE: Latest Premier League standings)

Wenger, known as the professor, and Pellegrini, known as the engineer, both pointed to an academic field we’ll all become more familiar in the final few weeks of the season: mathematics. At this time of the season, number crunching is the name of the game.

“In football, if the mathematics allow you to win, then you have the chance to do it,” Pellegrini said. “I think in this moment, we will see what happens tomorrow with Liverpool. Arsenal are only four points behind the leader, it’s not too much.”

After seeing his side held by Arsenal, Pellegrini believes the Gunners are still  title contenders. What about Wenger? He’s not so sure, but he’s still got his calculator by his side, just in case others continue to slip up.

“Mathematically we are still in there, but it is not in our hands,” Wenger said. “We have to look above us and behind us. Because behind us they are coming too.”

That’s the beauty of it, even though Arsenal are still, mathematically, in the title race, Everton are seven points behind Arsenal in fifth place, but have two games in hand and they host Arsenal next weekend. The race for the top four, and the title, has yet to be decided with just over a month of the season remaining.

Manchester City and Arsenal both showed why they are top class teams on Saturday, City in the first half, and the Gunners in the second. But who can claw themselves over the line in the race for the Premier League title? Arsenal? Manchester City? Liverpool? Chelsea?

With a handful of games to go, nobody knows. City are the favorites, but you can’t help but feel there’s another twist in the tale as they have to visit Liverpool and Everton before the season is over. This campaign, the Premier League really has delivered its claim as the world’s most exciting league.

Plus, there’s still plenty of drama ahead.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.