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Happy (New Year) days for Arsenal, Leicester and Tottenham

The English Premier League season has a long way to go but it is clear which teams have momentum going into 2016

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 January, 2016, 1:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 January, 2016, 1:04am

Happy New Year everyone. Some – such as Arsenal, Leicester, Tottenham and Watford fans – will be feeling pretty happy already; others – Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, Manchester United and Chelsea fans in general – less so.

The football season has a long way to go, of course, but it is clear which teams go into 2016 with momentum and are well placed to challenge for trophies, and which have a lot of work to do.

Three of the most improved teams – Leicester, Tottenham and Stoke – rate the best bets on the first Premier League programme of 2016.

Over the course of 2015 every Premier League team (apart from those relegated and promoted at the end of last season) played 38 matches – the equivalent of a full season – and a table created from those games shows Arsenal accumulated a league-leading total of 81 points. That gives a good idea of where they might end up this season and suggests their title rivals have some catching up to do.

Manchester City were next best in 2015 with 72 points, nine behind Arsenal. Although they trail by only three at the halfway point of this season, City benefited from a flying start when they took a perfect 15 points from the first five games and cracks in their form have appeared since then. After their opening salvo, City have ranked only eighth in the Premier League over the last 14 games and they will need to improve in the second half of the season if they are to overhaul Arsenal.

Based on points gained in 2015, the other Champions League places would be filled by Tottenham (third with 68 points) and Leicester (67). It is noteworthy that they are the two teams near the top of the table who have improved this season – judged by comparing the points taken in the last 19 games of last season and the first 19 of the current campaign.

Several teams – including Arsenal and City – achieved similar totals in those two halves of the 38 games in 2015, which can be taken as a sign of consistency, but none moved forward as impressively as Tottenham and Leicester. Both look capable of top-four finishes, although more improvement will probably be necessary if they are to challenge for the title.

In the virtual 2015 table, Manchester United (64) are fifth, followed by Crystal Palace (63), Chelsea and Liverpool (both 61). The top half is completed by Stoke (58) and Everton (52), although newcomers Watford are on course for 58 points based on their impressive first half of the season and a seasonal total in that area would almost certainly secure a top-half finish.

The worst three performers in the Premier League in 2015 will come as no surprise. Aston Villa were bottom on 25 points, with Newcastle and Sunderland not much better on 30 points. The next worst was West Ham (45), who have gone forward this season under new manager Slaven Bilic, and the sizeable gap suggests Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland will be relying on beating one of the promoted strugglers – Norwich and Bournemouth – in order to escape the drop.

Three of the most improved teams – Leicester, Tottenham and Stoke – rate the best bets on the first Premier League programme of 2016.

Amid all the hype about Jamie Vardy’s goal-scoring exploits, Leicester have quietly compiled a remarkable sequence as a team – nine straight wins at home to teams outside the Premier League’s big six – and that suggests they are good value tonight against Bournemouth.

This has been a testing week for Claudio Ranieri’s team, with two blanks in a 1-0 defeat at Liverpool and a goalless draw at home to Manchester City, but Bournemouth are a significant step down in class despite their recent improvement. The King Power has turned into the Premier League’s most raucous stadium and Leicester’s only dropped points there this season have been against current top-six sides.

Tottenham, unbeaten in eight away games since their 1-0 opening-day defeat at Manchester United, look good on the handicap at Everton. The hosts are probably better than their league position of 11th suggests, but they have let seven points slip from winning positions in their last six matches.

Mauricio Pochettino’s impressive Spurs side have not lost in their last 12 away games when scoring, a run stretching back almost a year, and Everton look likely to give them plenty of chances.

Stoke were the latest to benefit from Everton’s generosity with their memorable 4-3 win at Goodison Park on Monday and look capable of their sixth win in nine games away to West Brom. The hosts are over-reliant on keeping a clean sheet and will be in trouble if Stoke score.