Tag Archives: 4th place

NLD Preview: A deep, deep block of lasagna…

So. It all comes down to this, possibly the most-important North London Derby in decades. If we lose, fourth place is still up for grabs. If we draw, we still have an inside track on it. Win—well, win, and it’s all over. Fourth is ours. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Tottenham would never let us achieve anything of significance at their home ground. That would be truly humiliating. As I write, I’m feeling a bit peckish, with a hankering for some lasagna…but I should abstain. I have to watch my figure, and all those carbs could make me go pear-shaped. I should draw on past experience to guide me…

I allude, of course, to two previous encounters when the stakes were high. May 2006, matchday 38: all Tottenham had to do in their match against West Ham was match or better Arsenal’s result against Wigan, and they’d qualify for the Champions League at our expense. Lasagna apparently had other plans. No fewer than ten Spurs players, including Michael Carrick, Robbie Keane, and Jermaine Jenas, were too ill to play to their usual levels. Even manager Martin Jol was affected Long story short, they blamed the lasagna for their 2-1 loss to West Ham while we ran away from Wigan 4-2. So there’s that.

On another, more-memorable occasion, one with perhaps more-direct connections, we went into White Hart Lane on 25 April 2004 needing at least a draw in order to take one more step towards an invincible season and win the Prem. We carried a 1-2 lead deep into stoppage time only to see Tottenham score from the spot and then celebrate with the kind of ecstasy that would, I’m sure, send Wolves into conniptions…even though the result meant that we did win the Prem at White Hart Lane. For a second time, for those keeping track.

And so we go into Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Thursday. As one wag put it, “dates and names change. People don’t.” Does that mean we can count on Tottenham to be Tottenham? Not necessarily. They may need some help, some encouragement, and it’s with that entirely selfless and magnamimous goal in mind that I propose the following: we sit back and defend deep, pressing only here and there, and dare Tottenham to try to break us down. Their own manager has admitted that they struggle against sides that stay compact and that they’re better against those that try to attack, allowing Spurs to hit on the counter. Son is especially dangerous, and we therefore have two reasons to sit back and dare them to try to break our lines: one, it will play to their weaknesses, and two, it will frustrate their supporters. The longer it takes them to find a goal, the quieter that crowd will get, the more-reckless the players will get, and the more we’ll be able to hit them oun a counter or two.

With Saka, Martinelli, and Nketiah, we have more than enough craft and pace to press just a little bit but also to get in behind a high line as Tottenham struggle to break us down. They need a win. We can live with a draw. In fact, a draw might warm the proverbial cockles of our hearts, harkening back to that 2004 draw that saw us win the Prem on their ground. I might even go so far as to suggest that I’d be willing to carry a 1-2 lead into stoppage time only for Kane to convert a penalty to level it…achieving nothing, really. 

It’s all going to be more than a bit nervy. Which factor will play a larger role? Arsenal’s youth, or Spurs’ Spursiness?  The pressure is arguably on Tottenham. No one expected Arsenal to be here. The hiring of Conte raised expectations that he’s struggled to match. Anything less than a win for them drives numerous nails into that squad’s coffin: Conte might leave. Kane might push even harder than last summer for a transfer. I’m not out here saying that I want that squad to implode under the burden of expectations, but I don’t know how else to end this sentence. I’ve kind of painted myself into a corner here…similar in some ways to the situation Tottenham find themselves in. 

As always, weigh in. I’ll shamelessly insist that you upvote, re-share, comment, subscribe, and all the rest. Maybe, just maybe, doing so will build enough cosmic goodwill to propel us to victory. I’m not promising anything, of course.

Dammit, Liverpool. C'mon.

I should’ve known. Like Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football, I should have known. Saturday was full of harbingers and omens and divinations. After Man City’s shock loss to Real Madrid sent them reeling into a tailspin that should almost certainly carry over into the Prem, opening the door to Liverpool getting closer to an unprecedented quadruple, we saw Chelsea concede an equaliser in the extra minute of stoppage time added to the preceding six minutes of stoppage time and Man U get absolutely humiliated by Brighton. The stars, it seemed, were all aligning for us. All that was left was for Liverpool to do what everyone expected Liverpool to do. Alas and alack and all that folderol, here we are.

Let’s first of all clear up any misconceptions, misgivings, or other misbegotten mysteries. I don’t want Liverpool winning a quadruple. Hell, I don’t want their u18s winning a friendly against my local Sunday league side. Having cleared that up, I thought we were all on the same page with this weekend’s proceedings, with Liverpool pursuing the categorical imperative. If you haven’t read Kant’s 1785 treatise Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, I have pertinent questions as to why you are even here or why you are investing any of your emotional or pyschological wellbeing in the antics of a score of professional athletes whom you will likely never meet and who certainly do not take said wellbeing into consideration…but I digress.

Here’s the dime-store version: beating Tottenham is in and of itself fully aligned with the notion that you should “act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at all times, will that it should become a universal law.” For those in the cheap seats who can’t afford the dime store version, it comes down to this: defeating Tottenham is a good thing regardless of who benefits from it. Let us not cheapen it by considering such cynical and self-serving ends as “winning a quadruple” or “finishing fourth”. Defeating Tottenham is essentially the trolley dilemma writ large: you return the trolley after shopping not because you benefit but because it’s the right thing to do. Corollary to that, you beat Tottenahm not because you take three points but because—say it along with me now—it’s the right thing to do.

Those pondering how this result affects Liverpool’s chance at winning the Prem on their way to winning that quadruple should hang their heads in shame. Such tawdry, cheap, and (dare I say) lurid notions are why schoolboys once wore trousers without pockets (lad, balls and pockets are only suitable for billiards). Those pondering how this result affects Arsenal’s chances at finishing fourth should similarly question their moral rectitude. Still, while I have my mind in the firmament, my feet are planted firmly on, uh, firmer stuff. I understand full-well that not all of us can have minds brimming with the stuff of life, and I must therefore sully my hands with baser considersations, so here we go.

Liverpool screwed the pooch. Sh*t the bed. Lost their bottle. Got Spursy. A win would have ratcheted up the pressure on Man City, whose fragile psyche lay shattered in a million little pieces after their Bernabeu battering. More important, it would have knocked Spurs back off their pursuit of fourth. Instead, all three of Liverpool, Tottenham, and Arsenal end up with a dissatisfying result. For Liverpool and Arsenal, the dissatisfaction is self-evident. Yes, for Tottenham, one point is better than none, but it still leaves them with their hopes pinned to us dropping points both in the NLD and elsewhere. 

Speaking of elsewhere, beating Leeds is now somewhat more pressing, categorical imperatives aside. Restoring a four-point cushion over Tottenham would go a long way to restoring a sense of order in the Prem. For too long, it’s felt all out of sorts, what with Tottenham finishing above us and us failing to qualify for Champions League play. Hm. Maybe we’re not setting categorical imperatives aside after all. Achieving these ends have nothing to do with what benefits us, after all; it only has to do with setting things right in the grander scheme of things.

West Ham preview: possibly the best outcome we could have hoped for…

What appears to be our toughest remaining fixture may have just gotten ever so slightly less tough. West Ham went into their semi-final first leg against Eintracht Frankfurt eager and optimistic only to see the wheels come off inside the very first minute,  scoring from a swift counterattack that saw just about everyone in a Hammers kit seem like they were running in quicksand—and there would still be 89 minutes to play. The hosts did find an equaliser quickly, but a second Frankfurt goal early in the second half meant that the Hammers would have to expend maximum effort for the full 90 plus stoppage time. It’s a good thing that Moyes managed his subsitutions well by—oh. I’m told he made only one substitution. Hm. This would suggest—and bear with me here, we’re through the looking-glass—that key players logged heavy minutes and covered a lot of ground to chase that first European trophy since 1965. 

Stalwarts like Cresswell, Soucek, Rice, Zouma, Bowen, Fornals, and Antonio played the full match, with only Lanzini being replaced by Benrahma in the 66th minute. With that Europa League final still dangling tantalizingly out of reach, it’s likely that most of them will be rested for the weekend. The flipside to this is that most of the reserves will be fresh as daisies. We may see a backline of Cresswell, Zouma, and Johnson, each of whom played the full 90 but also acquitted themselves very well in West Ham’s trip to Stamford Bridge, which they only lost due to Dawson’s red card and a last-gasp goal from Pulisic. It’s likely that we’ll see a 3-4-2-1 with Coufal, Soucek, Noble, and Masuaku trying to clog up the midfield, soak up pressure, and just get through the match so as to conserve energy for that second leg four days after Sunday’s derby.
The bad news then is that we may very well be in for a dull, dour match such as we might face against an overmatched squad struggling to stave off relegation rather than a side fighting for a top-five finish. Should West Ham get to the Europa League final and win, they’ll qualify for next season’s Champions League campaign. The good news is that this should really only benefit us; fourth place still qualifies for the same. A West Ham side fully focused on that Europa League trophy is far less likely to fight for a distant, ever-fading chance at finishing fourth in the Prem. To do so, they’d have to win all of their remaining four matches while we fail to take five points from our remaining five, Tottenham fail to take seven points from their remaining five matches, and Man U fail to take ten points from their remaining three. In other words, it’s Europa League or bust for West Ham.

At our end, we’ve found some semblance of form, having seen off Chelsea and Man U by a combined 7-3 scoreline in the span of four days, and it seems that our young squad is up for it. It might be a bit much to say that we’re resurgent, but we’ve bounced back from our worst stretch since the opening weeks. I suspect we’ll see the same lineup that we saw against Man U, with Nketiah again leading the line after a strong performance against Chelsea and a decent one against Man U. Smith-Rowe, Ødegaard, and Saka form one of the Prem’s most-scintillating midfields, supported by the usually reliable and rarely reckless Elneny paired with Xhaka, and about as strong a backline as we can field given injuries. Oh yeah, Ramsdale’s between the sticks, but that’s no surprise.
Prediction: West Ham 0-2 Arsenal (Nketiah and Saka to score).
MOTM: Elneny.
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Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United—Vote for Player Ratings & MOTM!

A well-fought match saw Arsenal overtake Man U to climb to within one point of Tottenham, hotting up a top-four race that felt unimaginable a few weeks ago. A viciously swerving shot from Granit Xhaka sent David de Gea the wrong way in the 12th minute, and Alexandre Lacazette earned a penalty in the 69th minute. He deferred to Aubameyang, who also sent de Gea the wrong way to atone for his fluffed line against Tottenham last weekend. Bernd Leno delivered a strong performance as we kept a clean sheet for the second time in five Prem outings (hey, that’s progress!). Not even Jon Moss could stop us on this day. Right. Let’s get down to the poll to rate the lads!

Game on: Man City proves that it's not just Arsenal who can bottle things…

Well, well, well. Turns out that rumours of Arsenal’s demise were greatly exaggerated…at least for a few more days, at least. Manchester City went into St. James’s Park on Tuesday with a chance to secure third place all to themselves. The perennial relegation-fodder that is Newcastle would surely offer little resistance against the Leviathan that loomed before them. After all, Man City arrived in the midst of a purple-patch of sorts, having defeated PSG in the Champions League and having scored nine goals in their previous three Prem matches. Game, set, and match to the Citizens, yes? In a word, no. Like us, they found a way to drop points from a winning position against an overmatched opponent.

City’s goal was more than a bit dodgy, what with Agüero being about a kilometre offside, give or take, but the goal stood. Would that Arsenal could benefit from such liberal application of the rules. Surely, City were off and running, were they not? Justice, unlike revenge, is a dish best-served piping hot, and Newcastle served up that dish on the half-hour with a legitimate goal. There would be a few more chances for either side, perhaps none more gilt-edged than Wijnaldum’s effort for the hosts which Joe Hart parried away rather desperately.

After our own draw at home against Crystal Palace, your correspondent might have been a bit hasty in penning a post-mortem. It was, after all, the second straight matchday in which we seized a lead only to be dragged back down into a draw. Throw in Leicester’s draw against West Ham, one so jammy that you could start a company selling preserves and confits labeled “Leicester 2-2 West Ham” and retire on the proceeds, add in Tottenham’s thrashing of Stoke, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for disaster.

Still, too many chefs, as the saying goes, spoil the broth. Just as we were fretting our hour upon the stage, Man City came along and threw their hat in (bear with me as we mix metaphors). We had slumped to that infamous and all-too-familiar fourth place. Making matters worse, we had to get out an abacus and a slide-rule to calculate the permutations should Liverpool win the Europa League and Man City win the Champions League. Then, in the midst of those mad-cap calculations, City bottled it. Yes, it’s true that Newcastle are struggling bravely to stave off relegation, and they’ve looked a bit steelier under Rafa “do remember I won the Champions League once upon a time” Benítez. However, City squandered a golden opportunity to make like well and truly uncomfortable for Arsenal.

Remember when we all circled the eighth of May as a day that might affect the title-chase? Adorable, those days now seem. Instead, that day might very well decide who finishes third. Man City have a tougher road to hoe—two legs against Real Madrid plus strips to St. Mary’s Stadium and the Stadium of Light. Let’s toss in this weekend’s visit by the Orcs for good measure. At our end, we host West Brom before visiting Sunderland and hosting Norwich (could we repay the favour we owe to Newcastle?) and end the season hosting Aston Villa.

Much as I hate to engage in a science as dismal as this, we could go into the Etihad not needing a win to secure third place. That’s a far cry from the halcyon days of wondering whether we’d need a win to crown ourselves as champions of the Prem, but it’s perhaps just enough to hang our hats on. For now.