Category Archives: 4th place

Sagna: Man of the Match. Elias, that is…

Careful, Elias. Marriner is reaching into his pocket…

We may have seen the last of Bacary Sagna at the Emirates after today’s 1-0 win over West Brom, which brought us to 76 points on the season, a mere 18-goal victory away from overtaking Chelsea for third place (assuming they lose to Cardiff next weekend), but who’s to say that’s the end of the Sagna-era itself? After all, during a post-match lap of appreciation that offered a bit more drama than the match itself, we saw some feisty play from Elias Sagna, who brushed off Gabriel Arteta before blasting the ball home to score. Not to be outdone, Arteta fils did the same, suggesting that our summer transfer-business might start and end closer to home than was originally thought. More seriously, though, although the sons did outscore the fathers, their fathers did outscore the Baggies, which was the whole point of assembling on the afternoon.

I’ll be honest. Sside from Giroud’s goal (his third in four appearances) and a brilliant pass from Vermaelen to Podolski that stayed in-bounds thanks only to the extra stiffness of the grass on the sideline, the match itself was a bit dull. West Brom knew that they were all but safe from relegation; with two games to play, they had three points and 18 goals between them and Norwich. We knew that fourth was sewn up and that third is Chelsea’s to lose. Somehow, I think they’ll find the same kind of defensive mettle that allowed them to stymie the vaunted Norwich attack so thoroughly. Mourinho’s a mastermind, after all (did that sound sarcastic? I practiced all evening). More’s the pity.

Back to the match itself. With the outcome not mattering a great deal to either club, at least as far as positions were concerned, there just wasn’t a whole lot in it. Giroud’s goal came from a nifty corner from Cazorla, and that’s all she wrote. Podolski rattled the woodwork just a bit, and West Brom had a few chances but nothing serious enough to cast any doubts. On the whole, then, it was a solid if not scintillating weekend. Everton’s Tim Howard conceded three, all but handing the Golden Glove to Szczesny, who now needs to keep one more clean sheet in order to surpass Petr Cech on the season. Tottenham lost. Man U Old Trafford. Heck, Chelsea eked out a draw with Norwich (thereby ensuring that West Brom are as far from relegation as we are from third place).

Archie didn’t quite bathe himself in glory to the same degree as Elias…

Even before the match had ended—in fact, for much of the match itself—a good deal of the commentary seemed to focus on what’s to happen with Sagna (Bacary, that is) and others ahead of the FA Cup, and whether winning it will encourage Sagna to stay or go. I’ve maintained for most of the season that this is a squad a season away from truly competing wire to wire, needing just a bit more seasoning, experience, and, yes, depth (read: signings) in order to go chin-to-chin with our rivals. When fit, after all, we held on to first place for the first half of the season. It became all too clear, however, that we’re too vulnerable to injuries, and losing certain players to freak-injuries (Diaby, Ox, Walcott…) and others to red-lining (Ramsey, Wilshere, Özil…) was too much to withstand. However, before we wade into a debate over how best to address that, let’s remember that we still have some unfinished business ahead of us. Norwich, for one. Hull, for another.

We’ve won five in a row; let’s make it seven and then turn to sorting our our options and needs. Golden Glove. FA Cup. Not quite the double we were imagining for in January, but one worth winning all the same.

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Does Arsenal dare to hope for an Everton win?

With fourth place hanging in the balance, Everton host title-chasing Manchester City on Saturday while Arsenal wait until Sunday to host relegation-resisting West Brom. At first glance, the desired outcome is all but self-evident: if Everton lose, then Arsenal claim fourth place. It won’t matter what we do on Sunday. However, perhaps it’s not quite that easy. Might we want Everton to win? Yes, it would keep the chase for third place open, at least until we face West Brom. On the other hand, it would also keep alive whatever slender hopes we might have of climbing to third.

The last time we finished third…

It’s far-fetched, I know. With their game in hand, Man City are already four points above us. If they win, that slams shut the door on any hope we have of overtaking them. They’d have 80 points with two matches left to play, and the highest we can get is 79. Done. Dusted. However, an Everton win ramps up the pressure just a little bit, perhaps enough to open a few cracks in the facade at the Etihad. It’s a pity that Chelsea beat Liverpool, as that result keeps alive the hope that they or Man City can still overtake Liverpool for the championshp, but so it goes. Keeping the focus on our end of the business, an Everton win, for as much as it might increase the pressure on us, need not provoke real anxiety. After all, the one or two points that we hoped Everton might drop have quickly become six that they’ve already dropped. On that math, we’re ahead of the game. Should they defeat Man City, we still have an inside track towards fourth place.The highest Everton can finish is 75 points. We’re at 73 with two to play. That’s enough to work with. Heck. if we win on Sunday, we finish fourth and nothing that happens at Goodison Park can change that.

The downside might pertain more to how it affects our readiness for the FA Cup. If we’re still chasing third place, we can’t rest players against Norwich quite as much. We’d have to win, no doubt about it, and we’d still have to hope that Man City find was to drop points against Aston Villa and West Ham, both of whom have to come to the Etihad. I think by now we’re all looking at the same slim window of opportunity. However, ‘slim’ is fatter than ‘none’, if only by the narrowest of margins, and so here we are. After all, we have to keep one eye on the summer. With the World Cup looming, finishing third could (should) coerce Arsène to move more aggressively in the transfer-window. Gone would be the excuse of needing to qualify for the Champions League; we’d know that we’re into the group-stage and can entice players earlier, rather than waiting to win a play-off and make a few last-minute signings afterwards. The flip-side to this, of course, is that finishing third might convince Arsène that the squad possesses enough quality to need only one or two modest signings instead of the two or three marquee signings so many of us pray for. I do think that, should the improbably happen and we somehow finish third, whether it’s Man City or Chelsea we overtake, the pressure to spruce up the squad will remain and intensify. Our needs are too many to ignore: a striker, a center-back, a defensive midfielder, perhaps a right-back and keeper.

If nothing else, I’d prefer that we earn our fourth place finish, much as we did with St. Totteringham’s Day. Instead of backing our way into it by hoping Everton lose, I want to claim fourth place. If we can do that and keep a finger-hold on third, so much the better.

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Between us and the FA Cup stands Newcastle…

As we prepare for today’s clash, it’s tempting to revisit some of the more-recent and significant encounters, but without slighting Newcastle too much, we have bigger fish to fry. With Everton having lost twice from three matches and still to face Man City, it’s getting to a point now that we can start to turn more attention to the FA Cup. What, then, would best whet our whistles? Would it be last year’s 0-1 win, which, thanks to Koscielny’s goal, not only defeated Newcastle, but also safeguarded fourth place and St. Totteringham’s Day? What about last season’s manic 7-3 win? No, neither of these does the job—not for me, at least. Not with the FA Cup beckoning from mere weeks into the future.

Instead, I’d invite you to revisit the 1998 FA Cup final, the one in which we defeated none other than Newcastle in a 2-0 classic. It splits the difference nicely, doesn’t it? We can continue to prepare for Newcastle while also preparing for the FA Cup. After all, Everton’s slip means that fourth is more securely in our hands, and a positive result today just about clinches it; we’d only need three more points (from what we win or Everton drop) to clinch it. Take a gander, then, at the 1998 FA Cup final below:

The win would mark Arsène’s first cup final and the club’s second double, and it also marked in many ways the beginning of that magnificent period, that scintillating first half of Arsène’s tenure. It’s perhaps fitting then that we look to win the FA Cup again, although whether some might see this as the beginning of a similar renaissance or an all-too-welcome bookend to the man’s career is another debate for another time.

For now, give yourself some time to revel in that 1998 cup-final. Think about how it might feel to claim similar success this May. After, a win over Newcastle today would go a long way towards securing fourth, but that brings with it none of the drama, pageantry, or ecstasy of the cup. Finish fourth, and what do we feel? Relief? Resignation? Regret? Perhaps of all of these and few more. Win the cup, though, and we not only have a monkey off our backs, we’ve reclaimed a page from history. It wasn’t so long ago that the FA Cup itself marked the pinnacle for English footballers. In the days before the Premier League, after all, it was the match televised live. Those from a generation younger than mine (I’m about to enter my fifth decade on this Earth) may scoff. After all, with the right resources, they can stream almost any match from any league, no matter how far-flung. Scarcity can create of the sacred, for what that’s worth.

Anyone who doubts that can look to the end of this match and to other FA Cups that Arsenal have won. Is there something in those celebrations to suggest that these were anything other than glorious moments? Was there anything ho-hum in the earning or the cheering of the trophy? I doubt it. Let’s go out and get after Newcastle today and then take care of the rest of our Prem business. After that, though, let’s make sure we go out and claim that cup!

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Newcastle’s fading fast. Let’s put this ’em to bed.

The weekend’s been a bit of a mixed bag, but one can’t get too greedy now, can we? Tottenham won, meaning we can earn St. Totteringham’s Day instead of them gifting it to us. That’s downright decent of them, I must say. Chelsea also won though, meaning that whatever slim chance we had of finishing above of them have all but disappeared. There is now a very real and very tight three-way race for first, which is sure to motivate all three of them, that’s good news for us. Speaking of good news, Everton lost for the second time in three matches, and we now have a good deal of breathing room going into Monday’s match. Whereas we once hoped that Everton would drop a point or two, they’ve now dropped six, and this is before they face Man City, who have to be chomping at the bit to get level with Liverpool, which is precisely where they’ll be if they defeat Everton. We live in interesting times.

With just three matches left, we now control firmly our destiny, at least as far as fourth is concerned, while Newcastle can ease the off the clutch and let it coast across the line. After all, they’re firmly ensconced mid-table, with nothing to venture, gain, or lose. Their recent form—five consecutive losses—suggests that they may have already taken the keys from the ignition, not that we should apply any handbrakes at our end.

 Whereas Newcastle will somewhere between 12th and 7th, we have much more at stake. Win out, and we could finish as high as 2nd (unlikely) or as low as 6th (possible if also unlikely). If the match were decided solely on motivation, well, we could just as well mail it in and receive our three points and that would be that. However, it’s rarely that simple. There are banana-peels to consider, and we simply can’t afford to slip up, not with the run-in we have and the low-lying fruit on offer. Whether it’s motivation or health, Newcastle just don’t look like they’re up for much of a fight. As to Newcastle, they might just best us in one key area: injury. While we’ll continue to go without Wilshere and Walcott, and Diaby has been again ruled out, here’s a quick run-down of who we won’t see, except perhaps on the bench: Obertan. Santon. Ameobi. Taylor. Sissoko. Cisse. Ben Arfa. It’s hard to feel like Newcastle will have the resources or the motivation to put up much of a fight. If we can take this match by the scruff, scoring early if not often, I don’t see us running up against too much opposition. They’ve been held scoreless in four of their last five, conceding 12 goals along the way. Even in the one match in which they showed some fight, scoring first against Swansea, a Bony brace, assisted by an untimely Tiote foul, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

 By contrast, we’re building momentum and finding reinforcements with each passing week. Diaby’s setback aside, Ramsey is back if not fully fit. Podolski is playing the best he’s played all season. Özil is back. For as much as we’d struggled in February and March, we’re rounding back into form just in time to stake a claim to fourth, perhaps third. To finish second is now clearly asking a bit much. The half-full glass is not a mug that overfloweth. That said, however, we can take one more massive step towards securing fourth while reaching for the next rung. The last time Newcastle came to the Emirates saw an epic, epic match in which we scored six goals in the second half to win it 7-3. I’m not sure we’ll see anything quite as, well, slap-dash from Newcastle (although they did find time enough to score those three), but it’s hard to see them summoning the will or the man-power to offer much in the way of resistance. Regardless of what has happened elsewhere, we simply must take care of business on Monday. Plain and simple. We have the momentum. We have the men. Let’s make no mistakes.

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Everton gift-wrap fourth for us, let’s not lose the gift-receipt.

Who’d have thunk it? Nearly three weeks ago, the post-mortems were all but written. Beaten thoroughly and embarrassingly at Everton, our fourth-place ‘trophy’ was gone, as much for the points at stake as for the manner of the mauling. Everton’s demolition of us was almost as thorough, but even more-damaging in many ways, than more-severe losses to Man City, Chelsea, or Liverpool. What the Everton loss lacked for scoreline it more than made up for in symbolism. We looked jaded, haggard, out-played, out-Arsenaled as the Toffees attacked with verve and style, leaving us to look like yesterday’s news and Everton the flavor the month. My, my, how times have changed.

After that loss, we all pulled out the slide-rule, the t-square, and the abacus and started calculating. Where and how many points would Everton have to drop while we’re winning everything in sight in order for us to finish fourth? Would we have to wait until they faced Man City? Dare we get reckless enough to hope that Moyes’s Man U would do us a favor? A gritty 0-1 win over Sunderland seemed to confirm that the season was breaking their way, as a late own-goal doomed the Black Cats and seemed to smile on the Toffees. Pick up the prayer-books, boys. Nope. First, Crystal Palace goes into Goodison Park and did their best smash-and-grab, and we were back in business. Fourth is back in our hands, innit? Not so fast, say Everton. A convincing win over Man U reminds us that, yes, Everton intend on seeing this thing out and making good on Martinez’s promise to deliver them to the Champions League.

However. Hoowwwww-ever. Hold the phone. Don’t count those chickens just yet [Insert another cliche of your choice here]. Southampton has gone and defeated Everton, handing them their second league loss in three outings, and it’s starting to look like Everton, sensing that they’d squandered their best chance when they lost to Crystal Palace, have succumbed to the pressure of defending a position rather than chasing it. Once they became the front-runners for fourth, so to speak, the realization that they just might qualify for the Champions League, finishing above Man U, Tottenham, and Arsenal in the process, something they’ve never done in the history of the Premier League. Maybe they got complacent, believing that that 3-0 victory over us had so demoralized us and invigorated them that (like many Gooners, myself among) figured fourth was theirs to lose.

And it was.

We went into this weekend figuring that we’d spend most of it in fourth place, with Everton playing Saturday and us having to wait until Monday. Now, however, thanks to Southampton’s plucky l’il win (courtesy of not one but two own-goals), we preside over fourth, a point ahead in the standings and with a game in hand. Win over Newcastle, and we’re four points clear, and this is before Everton have to face Man City, who are chasing Liverpool down to the wire. We can start talking about a magic number, that combination of points we claim and points Everton drop that confirm our place on the table. Six. That’s all. Six points combined will do it. We’re neck-and-neck on goal-differentials, so five may not quite cut it. If we can win on Monday, that number drops to just three, and we’ll have two other matches from which to find three more points on our own, and Everton will have two more matches at their end, from which they cannot afford to drop any. In fact, with us having three matches left to play, Everton hope that the best we do is to win once and draw twice, stranding us at 75 points and leaving the tie-break to decide it. That’s if Everton win their two remaining matches.

Stating the obvious, then, a win for us on Monday comes close to slamming shut the door on the entire debate. We’ll then see how Everton fare against City while we go on to face dogged West Brom (whom we’ve drawn against twice). I don’t see us backing into fourth place on the last day of the season, I’ll tell you that. It may be a far-cry less than what we were gunning for as recently as February, but it may have to do. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: bring me back to August 2013 and offer me fourth and the FA Cup, and I would’ve said, “yes, thank you.” Some might call that settling for mediocrity. Finishing behind only two of the wealthiest clubs in the world, and three of the most-profligate spenders (one of whom had no European commitments to weary them)? I’d call that pretty-darn good. Maybe not good enough, but then again, anything less than a double rarely is. Let’s take one more step towards confirming that “pretty darn good” finish by taking care of business on Monday.

Oh. One last thought. Tottenham managed to defeat Stoke, thanks in part to a sending-off of Shawcross. Not bad. Shawcross shoulders the blame. Stoke may still finish above Pulis. Tottenham keep alive their dreams of not celebrating St. Totteringham’s Day for a few more precious days before we print the invites on Monday.

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