Half-term report: Barclays Premier League

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Arsenal: B-
Current position: 4th

Highlights: A run of one defeat in 14 games re-built a season that had worked as a hangover from a disappointing summer transfer window. The form of Robin Van Persie has seen them become the highest scoring Arsenal player in a calendar year and in turn one of the Premier League’s deadliest finishers. The return of Thierry Henry is likely to keep The Gunners in the hunt for the top four.

Lowlights: Despite their lengthy unbeaten run, results against the teams in and around them, bar their destruction of Chelsea, appears ominous for their final league position. Elsewhere, the signing of Henry may keep a section of the support on side, but in reality he’s unlikely to replicate the sort of form that can provide an able assistant to the over-relied on Van Persie.

Aston Villa: C
Current position: 10th

Highlights: After a season of being played out of position, Gabriel Agbonlahor is nearing the sort of form that could increase his international appearances. Stiliyan Petrov is constantly the source of creativity in the Villa midfield. Victory at Chelsea is a timely return to form for a side that have found goals hard to come by, just 22 in all.

Lowlights: Regardless of Alex McLeish’s previous, Villa fans are yet to take to the Scottish manager who appears insistent on a lethargic style of play, with players who have adopted an attacking approach during previous regimes. Charles N’Zogbia is yet to spark since his summer move, while Shay Given’s injury return can’t come soon enough.

Blackburn Rovers: D-
Current position: 19th

Highlights: The deadline day signing of Yakubu looks like a stroke of genius from Steve Kean, with the forward having scored twice against Arsenal and Manchester United and a hat-trick against Swansea City, goals which have kept Rovers in touch near the bottom.

Lowlights: Numerous calls from supporters and local media alike to see Kean removed as manager has resembled a witch hunt at times at Ewood Park. Kean’s insistence to blame injuries for defeats is meanwhile resulting in him sounding like a broken record. The club’s treatment of Michel Salgado leaves a sour taste as well.

Bolton Wanderers: E
Current position: 20th

Highlights: A crucial victory over fellow strugglers Blackburn could be the spark The Trotters require to inspire them to survival in the second half of the season. Midfielder Lee Cung-Yong, injured in pre-season, is close to a return.

Lowlights: An alarming amount of defeats gives Owen Coyle much to ponder in the second half of the season, as Bolton finished the year rock bottom. David N’Gog’s selection ahead of Kevin Davies has rarely paid off, while Coyle’s insistence on playing a regimented passing game appears naïve as defeats continue to come.

Chelsea: C-
Current position: 5th

Highlights: Juan Mata has slotted seamlessly into the Blues side while Oriol Romeu has been crucial in protecting an often-brittle back-four. Didier Drogba is still producing the goods at 33, while Ramires is finally showing his best form, breaking forward from midfield. The defensive days of Jose Mourinho appear a distant memory, with Andre Villas-Boas insistent on throwing caution to the wind.

Lowlights: Given that the club started as one of three seen as genuine contenders for the title, their Autumn slip has resulted in a turbulent first half of the season for the 34-year-old Villas-Boas. Fernando Torres has show few glimpses to start justifying his price tag, but more alarmingly the form of John Terry has led to Chelsea being badly exposed at the back.

Everton: B-
Current position: 9th

Highlights: Given the limited funds, David Moyes has yet again defied the odds in the Premier League. Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines regularly provide thrust from wide while Apostolos Vellios and Leon Osman have been the source of goals.

Lowlights: Supporters’ protests surrounding the club’s ambitions in the transfer market says plenty about the Moyes’ plight. Tim Cahill has been strangely out of sorts, having yet to score this season, and without his goals The Toffees are finding goals difficult to come by: with their tally of 19 among the lowest in the division.

Fulham: D
Current position: 14th

Highlights: Andrew Johnson’s form, particularly in Europe, has been impressive, as has that of Clint Dempsey, who is the club’s top scorer in the league. Manchester United are the only one of last season’s top four to defeat The Whites so far in the league this term, while victories over Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool have been the highlights of Martin Jol’s first season in charge.
Lowlights: Johnson appears no closer to signing a new deal with the club and could depart as early as January, but of most concern in Jol’s relationship with Bobby Zamora which is likely to see the England international leave Craven Cottage. Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer’s current back injury adds to Fulham’s woes.

Liverpool: B-
Current position: 6th

Highlights: The joint best defensive record, spearheaded by Martin Skrtel has laid the foundations for several fine away showings, which included an early season win at Arsenal. Luis Suarez’s form has continued to amaze, while Charlie Adam has shown he can make the step up from his days at Blackpool, with numerous assured displays. Steven Gerrard’s return from injury could be timely for a push at the top four.

Lowlights: Suarez’s eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra ruined an almost perfect season for the Uruguayan, and if an appeal isn’t forthcoming, replacements are few and far between. Dirk Kuyt is yet to score in the Premier League this season and Andy Carroll’s luck in front of goal doesn’t look like changing.

Manchester City: A
Current position: 1st

Highlights: City have added goals to last season’s defensive shrewdness and in David Silva have a player equipped to unlock any defence in the league. Sergio Aguero has at times looked unplayable with Eden Dzeko and Mario Balotelli in reserve if required. Vincent Kompany has looked mountainous at the back while Joe Hart is quickly becoming one of the finest stoppers in world football. City finished 2011 unbeaten at the Etihad Stadium.

Lowlights: Complacency in recent weeks has seen City’s five-point lead erased by rivals United before the New Year was out. Balotelli’s antics off the pitch have often worked as a distraction to on the field issues, while the dependence on Kompany makes his fitness crucial to City’s title chances.

Manchester United: B+
Current position: 2nd

Highlights: Wayne Rooney’s goal-laden start to the season was the catalyst for a breathtaking start from the reigning champions. Phil Jones’ adeptness on the ball is proving a hit at Old Trafford, Michael Carrick has found form in the middle and Dimitar Berbatov is beginning to find the net after being overlooked for much of the campaign. United’s away record is the best around.

Lowlights: Nemanja Vidic’s season ending injury is a major blow for Sir Alex Ferguson, as is the absence of Darren Fletcher, who is also unlikely to feature again this season. David De Gea’s rare appearances have often coincided with mistakes, but it’s the wafer thin squad at Ferguson’s disposal, with as many as nine first-team players out injured, that is of most concern.

Newcastle United: B+
Current position: 7th

Highlights: Unbeaten until November’s loss at Manchester City, The Toon have risen from the ashes of a difficult summer transfer window. Yohan Cabaye has been a revelation in midfield, Fabricio Coloccini reliable at the back and Jonas Guiterrez workmanlike on the left. Demba Ba steals all the headlines however, having scored 14 goals since his summer arrival.

Lowlights: Losing Steven Taylor of the rest of the season is a major blow to what is a Newcastle squad with little strength in depth, as shown as they went to pieces against Chelsea and Norwich City. Defeats to many of those top six sides means Europe could be beyond them in the New Year, but keeping hold of their prized assets in January is likely to be Alan Pardew’s biggest challenge.

Norwich City: B
Current position: 11th

Highlights: After a summer of understated signings, Paul Lambert has a group of players playing for the shirt at Carrow Road. With James Vaughan out injured, the onus has been on the power pair of Grant Holt and Steve Morison to produce the goals, while Wes Hoolahan has been often brilliant in midfield.

Lowlights: The only worry for Norwich in the New Year will be either injuries or if the Premier League’s elite come calling for their star men. For all their success a seven point gap from the bottom three is scant reward for their hard work and Lambert will insist their away form, which has seen them win just once, improves in the second half of the campaign.

Queens Park Rangers: D
Current position: 17th

Highlights: Amid injuries to their forward line, Heidur Helgusson, who netted against both Chelsea and Manchester City, has been crucial. Shaun Wright-Phillips has looked lively on both wings and Alejandro Faurlin has looked adept in midfield alongside Joey Barton.

Lowlights: Neil Warnock’s deadline day signings have on the whole been ineffectual at Loftus Road, and the club’s inability to win at home has seen them slip to within two points of the bottom three. Defensively, the likes of Daniel Gabbidon and Anton Ferdinand have looked powerless to stem the flow of goals.

Stoke City: B
Current position: 8th

Highlights: Stoke's summer additions have all contributed to the club's success this season. Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters have both scored six and the form of the likes of Ryan Shotton and Robert Huth will give Tony Pulis reason to believe their top half status can be sustained.

Lowlights: Defensive problems, particularly highlighted during defeats to Newcastle and QPR threatened to derail their season while the form of Jermaine Pennant has been worry. The distraction of the Europa League could eventually prove to be too much to bare.

Sunderland: D
Current position: 13th

Highlights: Victory in Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge over Blackburn, courtesy of Seb Larsson’s free-kick was the ideal start to the Northern Irishman’s tenure. The Swede’s contribution has been regular this season in a Black Cats side that have struggled to gel after a summer of change. The late win over Manchester City will reignite expectations of a top-eight finish.

Lowlights: The new faces have failed to unite as one this season. Reports of Craig Gardner’s unrest won’t have helped matters, and the form of another new face Nicklas Bendtner is also a concern for O’Neill. Asamoah Gyan is unlikely to be returning from his loan spell, meaning the addition of a forward is the priority in the January transfer window.

Swansea City: B-
Current position: 15th

Highlights: The Welsh based side have produced a passing game that can’t be matched in the Premier League, and with it a defensive resilience that makes them close to unbeatable at home. Scott Sinclair has impressed going forward, but Leon Britton and Joe Allen in midfield, Ashley Williams in defence and Michel Vorm have provided a stern spine to Brendan Rodgers’ stylish Swans.

Lowlights: For all their brilliance on the ball, goals have been something of a problem, with just 18 in all. Rodgers’ side are the only Premier League club not to have registered an away win this term and after following the trend of play-off final winners impressing during the first half of the season, will worry that only five points separates them from the drop zone.

Tottenham Hotspur: A-
Current position: 3rd

Highlights: Harry Redknapp has turned his Champions League contenders in title challengers this season, while retaining the panache their possessed from previous campaigns. The loan signing of Emmanuel Adebayor has been pivotal, with the Togolese forward’s ability on the ball allowing the likes of Gareth Bale to flourish. A six-week spell, where they face many of their top six rivals, will be the acid test of their title aspirations.

Lowlights: Rumours surrounding Luka Modric’s future continue to crop up, while you fear injury to Bale would end any title ambitions. The club may end up ruing their start to the season, which saw them lose to both Manchester clubs, which immediately lost them ground. Drawing with Swansea in their final game of the year leaves them with plenty to do.

West Bromwich Albion: C
Current position: 12th

Highlights: Following a difficult start, which included an inability to win at home, back-to-back derby wins including a draw with leaders Manchester City has helped turn the tide. Shane Long has been a constant threat up front, and his strike partner Peter Odemwingie is starting to find the net upon his return from injury.

Lowlights: Despite having Long and Odemwingie in their ranks, West Brom are among the lowest scorers in the league, having scored just seven at home in nine games. Zoltan Gera’s knee injury means he won’t play again this season.

Wigan Athletic: D
Current position: 18th

Highlights: Despite having, on paper, the weakest squad in the league at his disposal, Roberto Martinez is getting everything he can out of his Wigan squad. Away wins at Sunderland and West Brom have caught the eye, as have home draws with Chelsea and Liverpool. Victor Moses appears to be is finally realising his potential, with a string of fine performance of late.

Lowlights: The club might have as much fight and desire as anyone in the Premier League, but when it comes to quality, The Latics fall well short. Bar Moses, few will win the game on their own. Hugo Rodallega is likely to leave the club during the upcoming transfer window.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: D
Current position: 16th

Highlights: Steven Fletcher’s seven league goals has been the cornerstone of Wolves’ success this season, which while it only leaves them only two points from safety, has seen them produce some of their best football since their promotion under Mick McCarthy. Last week’s draw at Arsenal is so far the highlight, a game which saw Wayne Hennessey produce a succession of fine stops, a regular occurrence this season.

Lowlights: Support for Fletcher is in short supply, with no player having scored more than three goals for Wolves. The loss of Jamie O’Hara has been a blow, while the form of Fletcher is likely to spark interest from elsewhere in the Premier League, with Liverpool a potential destination.

Tottenham Hotspur
Norwich City
West Bromwich Albion
Stoke City
Manchester City
Blackburn Rovers
Bolton Wanderers
Premier League
Newcastle United
Manchester United
Queens Park Rangers
Wigan Athletic
Aston Villa
Wolverhampton Wanderers
Swansea City

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