For one, they have actual silverware. They won the League Cup. Arsenal got bounced in the third round [shakes fist at Brighton]. Advantage: Man U. They’re in the FA Cup final. Arsenal crashed out in the fourth round. Advantage: Man U. They made it to the Europa League quarterfinal. Arsenal failed to advance from the round of 16. They’ll have Champions League football next year…maybe. Arsenal have clinched a spot but bottled the Prem title to slump to second. By any objective measure available to us, there’s only one possible conclusion.
These devils are downright delusional. Yes, any silverware is preferable to no silverware, but let’s be honest: none of the big clubs takes the League Cup all that seriously. One need win just five matches—that’s not even a European group stage—to claim this one. If Man U had faced anyone more intimidating than Aston Villa, Burnley, Charton Athletic, or Nottingham Forest on their way to besting Newcastle, they might have more to thump their chests about.
Similarly, their path to the FA Cup final has hardly been treacherous. They’ve been at home most of the way (quelle surprise) against Everton, Reading, West Ham, and Fulham before finally having to make a trip to face Brighton, whom they did beat—something we know all too well is something of a feat. We lost to Man City in the fourth round. Should Man U defeat Man City to claim the FA Cup and also earn a Champions League spot, I’ll print this column and eat it and record myself doing so. Will I post it online? (That’s called a teaser, kids. Take notes).
The two clubs have spent similar sums since Arteta became manager. Man U have spent roughly £410m while Arsenal have spent around £390. It would be nitpicky at best to suggest that a difference of £20m represents any kind of significant difference, so let’s be generous and call it a draw.
Setting aside the statistics and the numbers, there’s something deeper at stake here, something that gets to the heart of each club’s self-perception. At one end, we have one of the titans of the last thirty years insisting that winning the League Cup, making an FA Cup Final, and possibly finishing as high as third but as low as as low as sixth counts as a high-water mark. On the other, we have another would-be titan about to finish second and feeling disappointed. Tell me which of the two is the more-ambitious. Tell me which of the two has gone toe-to-toe with one of the leviathans of our era and very nearly triumphed.
Of course, looming over all of this is the idea that Arsenal bottled it. We had a chance to win the Prem and let it slip. To that I’ll suggest that being in a position to deny Man City a fifth title in six seasons only to fall short hardly counts as “bottling”. Despite our wobbles, we’ve been claiming points at a pretty consistent rate, but Man City have been devouring the points like No-Face devours, well, food. Sorry. Kind of painted myself into a corner there. ‘Tis no club. ‘Tis a remorseless eatin’ machine. Arr.
While we’re mixing metaphors and idioms, let’s let the babies have their bottle. If they want to claim that they’ve had a better season, let them. Let them think we’ve bottled the Prem title. If it helps them sleep at night, fine. What’s the harm?