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Premier League titans show off soft side

Anything could happen in Arsenal's clash with Chelsea in a season in which all the title runners have been vulnerable.

Last updated: 21 Dec 2013 13:00
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Questions have hung over Mourinho and Wenger's teams despite their lofty league positions [GALLO/GETTY]

One of the things that is making this such a good Premier League season is the endearing fragility of the teams battling for the title – and the fact that the word "teams" now applies to a number higher than two.

Unusually, the top five all look like they could be capable of being crowned champions at the end of 2013/14, while eighth-placed Manchester United cannot be written off just yet, despite their wheezing start to life under David Moyes.

Liverpool are having one of their best seasons of the past 20 years, and on Monday they signed Luis Suarez to a contract extension up to 2018, making him their highest-paid player in history on $326,000 a week.

We have a good solidarity level and a good togetherness in the squad, and I don't see any sign of that dropping.

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager

Manchester City were a point behind them in fourth going into Saturday's fixtures, and are apparently putting the frighteners on Barcelona ahead of their Champions League knockout in February. This from a team that couldn't win away and had to drop Joe Hart earlier in the season.

And Everton just keep on surprising in fifth position – four points off the top – in what should be a reminder to chairmen that you cannot always judge a manager on whether his previous club got relegated or not. Take a bow, Roberto Martinez.

Arsenal's top-of-the-table-clash against Chelsea on Monday is all the more exciting because of the loveable fallibility of the two teams.

Both have been, in their own fashion, brilliant this season, but both are capable of stuffing up in charming ways.

Arsenal fans should be ecstatic after years of underachievement. The one-time "invincibles" have not won a major trophy since the 2005 FA Cup (making their title drought eight years longer than second-division Wigan Athletic's).

Thrashing

And yet Gunners fans have been peering fearfully down from their position at the top of the table after weaknesses were brutally capitalised on by Manchester City in a 6-3 thrashing on Monday.

But if supporters fear a repeat of previous capitulations that have seen some of them lose faith with Arsene Wenger, then the Premier League's longest-serving manager has no such doubts.

Suarez scored in Liverpool's 5-0 win over Spurs last week and has signed a new contract at Anfield [AP]

"We have made good results until now because we have a good solidarity level and a good togetherness in the squad, and I don't see any sign of that dropping," Wenger told Arsenal's website.

"I think even more that the players are focused to respond on Monday night. It can happen in a season when sometimes you have a bit of a weaker period. How you respond to this kind of problem is what matters."

From coverage of Chelsea's season, you might think that Jose Mourinho was losing his magic touch with the club he returned to in the summer after six years away.

It's true that they exited the League Cup to Sunderland in midweek and suffered defeats to Basel in the Champions League and Stoke City in the Premier League this month. But the Blues are just two points behind Arsenal, joint second with Liverpool ahead of the latter's early kickoff against Cardiff on Saturday.

Striker Fernando Torres, who has rarely convinced for Chelsea despite his performances in helping them win the Champions League in 2012 and the Europa League last season, believes it's up to the players to adapt to Mourinho's methods if they are to win the domestic title for the first time since 2010.

"We are in this process but it's not easy. Sometimes you need two months for things to settle, sometimes you need three years," the world and European champion, who signed from Liverpool for $81 million in 2011, told Sky Sports.

"But in football these days you have no time to do that and we need to hurry up. Everyone needs to adapt to what the manager wants."

A win would underline either team's title credentials, while a defeat is certainly not the end of the road. They can at least take comfort that it isn't possible for both teams to lose this week.

Paul Rhys is a freelance sports reporter and presenter writing for Al Jazeera from Paris. Follow him on @PaulRhys_Sport or go to paulrhys.com.

Al Jazeera is not responsible for the content of external websites.

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