Why do we watch football? Is it vicariously live through the players and teams we support, to experience the incredible high that comes from scoring goals, winning games and lifting trophies?
Or is it just schadenfreude and we love nothing more than enjoying the misery of others?
In a sport where only one team wins and the rest lose, there’s a lot more misery than you’d care for. But even then, looking back at 2023, you have to wonder – how did Arsenal lose TWO league titles in a single calendar year?
Arsenal were seven points clear of Manchester City in 2022/23 after Matchday 18 – 16 games played, 43 points won.
The next 22 games saw them win 41 points – a decent return but not good enough as City won the title by five points, picking up 53 points in their 22 games.
Man City won that title more than Arsenal bottled it, but the general feeling was that Arsenal hit a brick wall mentally and couldn’t win when they needed to.
Fast forward to 2023/24 – Arsenal were top after Matchday 13, having stuck around in the top four throughout the start of the season.
They were still top after Matchday 18, and a three-way title race between Arsenal, Liverpool and Man City looked to be on the cards. Aston Villa could feasibly make it a four-way battle.
Two defeats later, it’s December 31, and Arsenal currently sit in fourth place. Liverpool and City have a game in hand but, more importantly, Man City’s mid-season blip seems to be over and Arsenal have squandered a great chance to head into the new year top of the pile.
Liverpool’s return to title contention form (fueled by a rejuvenated midfield and the real MVP of 2023, Mohamed Salah – more on him later) and City being City, Arsenal look third-best – at best.
There is no reason to expect Unai Emery’s Aston Villa – the second-best Premier League side in 2023 – to let up the pace.
Arsenal may have outlasted Tottenham Hotspur this season, but not their own fallibility. League titles aren’t won in the first half of the season, but you can easily lose them, and Arsenal seem to have bottled it twice in 2023.
Mohamed Salah is 2023’s real MVP
Lionel Messi may have won the 2023 Ballon d’Or, and Erling Braut Haaland and Jude Bellingham get all the deserved praise as being the two best footballers on the planet, but only one player was in the top five for most assists AND most goals scored in 2023 – Liverpool and Egypt’s Mohamed Salah.
He is also greatly responsible for Liverpool’s turnaround in the second half of last season and their surge of form this season that’s seen them end 2023 at the top of the table and the betting favourites to challenge City this season.
This – after he was close to leaving Liverpool last summer. He will in all likelihood stay next season as well with Liverpool guaranteed to return to the Champions League.
And if Liverpool win the league title this season, he will be a good shout for the Ballon d’Or as well, although Bellingham might be the favourite, injuries permitting.
Manchester United’s relegation-level goalscoring needs an urgent fix
Manchester United have scored fewer Premier League goals than Luton Town and Brentford. If the league table was ranked by goals scored, United would be joint 17th, tied with Crystal Palace and just above Burnley. They’ve also just lost to Nottingham Forest, a team that was bottom of the form table going into the weekend.
United’s 2023 hasn’t been catastrophic – they have the fifth-highest Premier League points for the year – but it has been a series of abject disappointments and bad decisions since the League Cup final win.
Losing out in Europe was difficult, tailing off the league wasn’t great and losing to a treble-winning City was genuine pain, but an inexplicably boneheaded series of decisions have weakened the squad and made it more useless than last season.
Whatever goodwill Erik ten Hag built up in his first season, he’s lost it already. January starts with the manager having to prove himself all over again – albeit this time without the panicked transfer spends of August 2022.
United need goals, and they need a much better midfield to give the team stability. Unless they take risks in the transfer window, things are only going to get worse.
Football Fixtures Today
Liverpool vs Newcastle United is the only Premier League fixture today (kick-off 8.00 pm GMT, broadcast live on Sky Sports), with matchdays in full swing in the Championship, League One, League Two and the National League.
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