Ian Darke's quarter-season Prem review

Posted by Ian Darke

Wise old football managers always told us "Never take any notice of the league table until November."

Well, that time has arrived. We are about one-quarter of the way through the season, long enough to show us who's hot and who's not in the English Premier League.

Some clubs might find a rich vein of form and a few others may nosedive as the season goes on, but here's my club-by-club verdict so far.

AllsportNo one expected the Gunners -- led by Aaron Ramsey, center, and Kieran Gibbs, right -- to be this strong. Yet they're leading the Prem.

ARSENAL: Nobody's tip for the title, but five points clear with a new sense of belief and boasting the player of the season so far in Aaron Ramsey. There's no reason the stylish Gunners can not last the course, but an injury to Olivier Giroud or Laurent Koscielny might be costly.

ASTON VILLA: Scored shock wins over Arsenal and Manchester City yet are currently on a run of four games without scoring a single goal. Will be all right once Christian Benteke starts finding the net again, and he will.

CARDIFF CITY: A steady start undermined by the turmoil created by owner Vincent Tan and uncertainty over the future of excellent young boss Malky Mackay. Scoring is a problem, but pulled off a transfer coup by getting defender Steven Caulker from Spurs and might just have enough to survive.

CHELSEA: The Blues looked to be hitting ominously hot form until the mysterious no-show at Newcastle. But the squad is dripping with talent and the feeling persists that Jose Mourinho will get it right. Only one away win and a lack of goals from his strikers, though, will be a worry.

CRYSTAL PALACE: No top-flight team since Charlton in 1958 have lost seven successive games by at least two goals. Palace have. Whoever is the new manager will need to be able to turn water into wine.

EVERTON: The players are enjoying the coaching of new manager Roberto Martinez and it shows. Top six is possible if they keep Leighton Baines away from Manchester United in January. Youngster Ross Barkley should make England's World Cup plane.

FULHAM: Martin Jol has been walking a tightrope, and his unbalanced side do him few favours. They look a soft touch and might even have to consider the unthinkable -- dropping the gifted but lazy and erratic Dimitar Berbatov and going for a stronger work ethic.

HULL CITY: A minor revelation. Steve Bruce pulled off a masterstroke in prising high-quality midfielders Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore from Spurs. They don't score many, but six clean sheets in all competitions tell you they are tough to beat and should stay up.

LIVERPOOL: The "SAS" strike force of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge can win any match. But the bubble burst in a flat display at Arsenal. How the Reds respond to that setback in the next few games might shape their season. A three-man defence might not work in the bigger games.

MAN CITY: Took the right decision to take keeper Joe Hart out of the firing line and the team is currently in lethal form. If Sergio Aguero keeps scoring, all things are possible. But City also have a careless side and cannot afford too many more slips.

PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty ImagesSergio Aguero has title contenders Man City humming at a high tempo but questions remain on defense.

MAN UNITED: The players and David Moyes are getting to know each other better. But this is a transitional year and outside of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, is the defence and midfield really good enough to mount a title charge? Expect at least one major signing in January.

NEWCASTLE UNITED: An erratic team capable of causing a shock when in the mood, as Chelsea discovered. No Englishman has scored for them since last December -- note: Paul Dummett is officially Welsh -- but the French internationals led by the classy Yohan Cabaye and Loic Remy give them easily enough quality to finish above halfway.

NORWICH CITY: The summer splash on new strikers has not come off so far with Ricky van Wolfswinkel, Johan Elmander and Gary Hooper struggling for goals. Might be a close-run thing for the Canaries.

SOUTHAMPTON: Their lofty position is no fluke. Even the top teams have struggled to cope with their high pressing game. Players like Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez and Nathaniel Clyne could soon be knocking on the England door.

STOKE CITY: Have gone eight games without a win as the team adapt from Tony Pulis' direct style and try to play a passing game for Mark Hughes. Better than results suggest but powder puff in attack.

SUNDERLAND: The volatile Paulo Di Canio had to go, but new boss Gus Poyet is left with 14 new signings he probably does not want. Simply do not look good enough despite a memorable derby win over Newcastle.

SWANSEA CITY: Signs that a hectic European schedule is hitting their league form, as witnessed by a meek effort in a massive game against local rivals Cardiff. Could be surprise strugglers despite the pleasing football.

TOTTENHAM: Handily placed with a hugely impressive defensive record, but six goals scored in open play in 10 matches is an alarming statistic. Can Andre Villas-Boas give some demanding fans style as well as substance?

WEST BROMWICH ALBION: Recovered from a sticky start to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and hold Arsenal to a draw. Decent mix of silk and steel and will finish somewhere in mid-table.

WEST HAM: Need to get Andy Carroll back fit. Without him, the Hammers are often firing paper darts and playing without a recognised striker. Some resilient displays on the road are keeping heads above water.


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