Premier League Predictions: Gameweek 23

Louis Van Gaal

Louis Van Gaal

In the Premier League, Manchester United look to bounce back from Friday’s humiliating 0-0 draw with Cambridge, they face a Leicester team who have won 4 of their last 6 games. Arsenal are in search of a 5th consecutive win when they play Aston Villa, a side who have won just twice in the league since mid-September.

Man Utd v Leicester

Manchester United were incredibly poor against Cambridge last week. Louis Van Gaal might actually be quite thankful that the following day’s games produced 2 more extraordinary FA Cup shocks, which pushed some of the media attention onto Chelsea and Man City, rather than his own team. The question is though: when have Manchester United played noticeably well this season?

The only obvious answer would be when they hosted QPR back in September, and to this day, QPR have lost every single away game. Beyond that, you would be struggling to find any more examples. That is mind-blowing, given that Manchester United won the league title by 11 points in May 2013, and in the 20 months since then, they have spent £216 million towards improving the squad.

United fans have suggested that the squad needs a complete overhaul, but in truth, it needs some stability. Louis Van Gaal has tinkered with the team too much, and in some ways, he has too many players to manage and get the best out of. The last thing Manchester United want to do next summer is make 10 new signings, because footballers operate at their best when they feel valued and trusted. United might be spending at a significantly higher rate than they did under Ferguson, but in terms of the way they go about their transfer business, they have lost that sense of calmness and control. There is a climate of panic around Old Trafford at the moment.

When looking for stability, look no further than Leicester City. Foreign owners are widely criticized in football, and often rightly so, but Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha certainly bucks the trend. He stuck with manager Nigel Pearson after the team’s play-off semi-final defeat to Watford in 2013, and was rewarded, as Leicester won the title the following season. And, this season, his patience may have been rewarded once again.

The Foxes went on a 13 game winless run between September and December, however, they have shown genuine signs of life in the last few weeks. Pearson’s men have won 4 out of a possible 6 games since Boxing Day, in all competitions, and they came from 2-0 down to get a valuable point at Anfield too. There is a renewed sense of vigour and energy about Leicester’s performances, with wide man Jeffrey Schlupp standing out. The way Leicester are playing, and indeed, the way Manchester United are playing, this blog would not be too surprised to see the visitors pick up a point.

Arsenal v Aston Villa

We all remember this fixture last season. An excellent performance from Christian Benteke saw Aston Villa come from 1-0 down to win 3-1 on the opening day. That match was followed by many supporters venting their anger on the YouTube channel, Arsenal Fan TV, and elsewhere, there was constant talk of crisis at Arsenal. Not many people that evening would have guessed that Arsenal would be about to win their next 10 consecutive games.

The common criticism of Arsene Wenger is that his team do not know how to function when they are out of possession. Over the last decade, Wenger has flooded his team with creative playmakers, who are perfectly well equipped at controlling the ball and passing it, but do not know how to fulfil their defensive responsibilities. However, if there is to be a change in mentality at Arsenal, we saw the first signs of it at the Etihad on Sunday, when Arsenal were uncharacteristically disciplined. Their defensive shape was excellent, and every player seemed to fully understand what their job was when Manchester City had the ball. Francis Coquelin had an excellent game, and he could be the holding midfielder Arsenal have been crying out for since Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva left, if he can maintain that performance level. Santi Cazorla was rightly named man of the match. He showed a willingness to track back like everyone else, but he also he had a 92% pass completion ratio, which was made more impressive by the fact that most of his passes were played forward.

Aston Villa’s problem this season is the opposite of what Arsenal’s problem has been. Villa are always well-organized without the ball, but when they get it in the opposition half, there is nobody that can provide a moment of magic. Jack Grealish looks a very talented player but does not seem to be favoured by Paul Lambert, who prefers more defensively disciplined midfielders.

There is a sense that Aston Villa supporters are growing more and more disillusioned with the dull, slow tempo football on display, and many of them want change. If Paul Lambert wants to win back the support of Villa fans, he may need to be prepared to compromise some aspects of his team’s defensive solidity, in search of more attacking flair. The recent signing of Carles Gil represents a positive start, because he scored an excellent goal against Bournemouth in the FA Cup last week.

However, Arsenal are on a high at the moment after 4 straight wins, and this blog will back them to record a comfortable victory.

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