Premier League challengers emerge

I know I’ve said it before, but I would have thought by this time in the season a team or two would have got in a groove. Instead, each week we’re seeing different teams — good teams — dropping points. It’s great for the fan because it is very compelling entertainment, but I imagine it isn’t very good for the sleep of the managers!

I will say this: Now we are seeing the top three who will fight for the title this season. Sorry, Tottenham fans, but I think you’re out and while there’s no shame in a 2-2 draw to Manchester United, this Spurs side has underachieved and are a long way yet from turning that around.

The leaders, rightfully, are across North London. You feel the belief at Arsenal, who were very professional again in Cardiff. It was great to see the reception Aaron Ramsey got from the home fans — that was truly classy — and great to see him keep on scoring great goals. He’s been rejuvenated by the arrival of Mesut Ozil, and the Gunners now have a steel about them that was lacking at times last year. They deserve to be where they are, and while they have a difficult stretch ahead of them, they are confident, and they should be.

If I’m Arsene Wenger, my worry now is Jose Mourinho. He’s got Chelsea grinding out wins — we saw them dispatch a very tricky Southampton side on Sunday despite not playing very well. Wenger can handle David Moyes, he can handle Manuel Pellegrini — but the mind games Mourinho will start playing may be a factor. And the fact is, at just four points clear, Chelsea are breathing down Arsenal’s neck. Chelsea are a good, tough team. Don’t be surprised if they muscle in.

And Manchester City of course looked very slick at home, as they have done all season long. Samir Nasri looks like a new player this year, and you do get the sense the Sky Blues are starting to gel. They have a lot of depth, and if they can replicate that home form on the road, they will be very difficult.

We saw a couple shocks as well this weekend: Liverpool got a double dose with the news that Daniel Sturridge is out for six to eight weeks. That’s a big blow, and we saw how that affected them right away with a bad loss to Hull. Sturridge and Luis Suarez have been so important to that team, and psychologically, it’s a hit. Now Brendan Rodgers has to go out in the window and pick up a reinforcement.

Another surprise was that Martin Jol got sacked on Sunday – because I was shocked they didn’t let him go on Saturday night. We all know how this game is, and when you lose games like that to West Ham, and your club is clearly in a spiral, then managers lose their jobs. After speaking with Brian McBride about this, Fulham will have their choice of talent to put in there. They are a great club, with some big ambitions, and I would not be surprised to see a couple big names connected with them very shortly.

But let’s get back to Spurs. There’s no shame in a 2-2 draw with Manchester United, but I do worry about Tottenham under Andre Villas-Boas. There’s been a lot of talk about the pressure he’s under of late, going so far apparently as to get a fan in Norway chucked out of their Europa League game — but he’s brought it on himself. We all make mistakes, but the trick is learning from them, and from what I am hearing, AVB is repeating some of the same errors he made at Chelsea.

Fact is, Spurs have spent a lot of money on players, and he chose them. And yet, he’s not playing them consistently, or in a system that favors them. Roberto Soldado’s being called a flop by everyone — but I look at Tottenham’s games and I see striker who is getting no service. Spurs are at their best when they get a bit of width, and yet AVB has them playing a very congested style. I hear that he’s freezing senior players out, and piling on some very complex and confusing instructions. It’s unnecessary.

It’s easy to point to the loss of Gareth Bale. Fair enough — as far as that goes. A Carlo Ancelotti or a Wenger, or a Mourinho brought into that squad would get a lot more out of them, and that’s on AVB. It’s no wonder that Tottenham’s board are asking some questions.

I love chatting with you guys, so do take a moment to follow me on Twitter at @WarrenBarton2. It’s a lot of fun to be able to banter with you guys all week. And don’t forget, you can always ask questions to us at @FOXSoccer or @FOXSoccerDaily. And I do want to close with a big thumbs up to my lads at Newcastle. It’s great to see the Toon climbing up the table!