When the ''experts'' start throwing around their predictions as to where they think teams will finish in the Premier League table, these are often fairly accurate up until Christmas. It becomes reasonably clear who will be in the title race and who will be fighting to avoid relegation. For some reason, however, the post-Christmas period of the season can change everything and certain teams seem to bottle it as they approach the end of the campaign.
Arsenal are the most obvious example of this trend, falling from the dizzying heights at the top of the table to fourth in just a couple of months. The main reason for this is the lack of depth in their squad and injuries to a number of key players have been central to their downfall. Every season it seems that Arsenal have a great deal of potential, but something always seems to happen at this stage to knock them off their perch.
One of the contributing factors is the relegation battle and this can upset the teams at the top of the table. Arsenal have actually done very well against those in the bottom half and it has been the teams around them that they have struggled against. That being said, teams at the bottom who see each and every game as a must win match often cause a problem for those at the top - a draw against Swansea and a loss to Stoke have both been surprising and hugely detrimental to Arsenal's title hopes. These two sides aren't deep in a relegation scrap, but those with a stronger squad who want to confirm their status in the top flight can rise to the occasion against the bigger sides. Aston Villa are another team who have been looking to secure their safety and they managed to beat Chelsea just a few weeks ago, against all odds. Furthermore, managerial changes in the bottom half can give the team a new found feeling of belief and as we have seen at Crystal Palace this season, a change in management can make a huge difference. Tony Pulis's side beating Chelsea a few weeks ago and significantly denting their title hopes is proof enough of this.
Around this time of the season, every game is hugely important and the top sides have European football and the last rounds of the cup to deal with, so injuries are more likely to blight their squads. Of course, there are smaller teams in the cup as well, but even sides in the bottom half can plummet in the run in.
Whilst Chelsea are battling on two fronts, Liverpool have had a fantastic season and due to their absence in cup competitions at this stage, they have found winning form since the beginning of the year, failing to lose a single game. The Reds have an almost fully fit squad and are top of the Premier League table, looking increasingly likely to take home the trophy if they beat Manchester City this weekend.
West Ham United have also benefited from being knocked out of the League cup and FA cup early on as they have had a fantastic few months, winning six out of their last 10 games, lifting them from the relegation zone to 11th and are more or less safe from the drop. The return of key players has been vital and a series of wins against sides around them has helped them to finish the season very strongly.
At around this time every year, there are huge changes for certain sides at each end of the table and a consistent level of form is hard to come by. The need to win for bottom half sides combined with European football for the top sides, mean that the title can easily slip out of a team's grasp. Whilst Arsenal and Chelsea have had a poor couple of months, Crystal Palace and West Ham have improved drastically and every season there are a number of sides who do the same. Who can forget Wigan's great escape more or less every season until they went down? One thing is for sure, you can expect a whole lot more of surprises from now until May.
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