If the 2014/15 Premier League season taught us anything, it’s that a hot start in August and September can absolutely translate to a league title. A year ago, Chelsea started the season on a tear, jumping out to an early lead in the tables behind a scorching stretch of play from Diego Costa. Months later, while the Blues’ play tapered off somewhat, the lead that the club built in the autumn was enough to withstand strong play from Manchester City and a second-half charge from Arsenal.
It’s too early to tell if anyone can start the season at the same level Chelsea played at in 2014/15, but one thing we do know is that both Chelsea and Arsenal have struggled out of the gate. While Man City seems to have picked up right where it left off with a 3-0-0 start to top the tables, London’s leading clubs appear to be on unsteady footing in the early going. Whether or not they can get back on track before giving up too much ground is fast becoming one of the most interesting stories of the early season.
For its part, Chelsea may have begun to turn things around with a win at West Brom in week three. As BBC Sports’ match report indicated, it was recent signing Pedro that really seemed to get things going. Debuting with Chelsea after signing from Barcelona earlier in the same week, Pedro scored a goal just 20 minutes in and soon after assisted on a Diego Costa finish. The Blues faithful may not be pleased that their side still had to claw out a one-goal win after securing a two-to-nothing advantage away from home, but as they say, a win is a win.
The key for Chelsea will be taking some momentum from the Pedro debut into a week four matchup with Crystal Palace in London. Coming off a 2-1 win over Aston Villa, Crystal Palace is off to a surprisingly strong start. However, as was noted in a tactical analysis of the coming matches in Betfair’s Premier League coverage, the counter-attacking system favoured by Palace coach Alan Pardew could result in a lot of opportunities for Chelsea scorers, particularly the creative Pedro. It’s unlikely Crystal Palace will be able to keep up with Chelsea playing its typical style, but even if the Blues secure another three points, the early going remains difficult. The matches immediately following the clash with Crystal Palace are at Everton and home against Arsenal.
As for Arsenal, things have already been remarkably up-and-down. The Gunners opened the year with a disastrous 0-2 home loss to West Ham that caused a Mirror recap to label the club “not title material.” Arsenal rebounded effectively with a win against feisty Crystal Palace away from home in week two, but then returned home only to draw with Liverpool. It was a respectable result, but certainly not what the supporters in London were hoping for.
The next few weeks offer a great deal of opportunity for Arsenal, however. In weeks four and five they’ll travel to Newcastle United and host Stoke City, with both opponents situated in the EPL’s bottom five in the early going. Gaining some strength through those two matches would give the Gunners strong momentum heading into the aforementioned week six trip to cross-town rival Chelsea.
None of this is to suggest that the next few weeks will decide whether or not these top teams will contend for the EPL title. But a slow start can be damning, and if Chelsea and Arsenal are going to reverse their fortunes, they’d be better off getting started as soon as possible.