It was only a few days ago that Man U “legend” Rio Ferdinand predicted that Man U will have had a better season than Arsenal by virtue of having won the Carabao Cup and finishing third (below, it must be mentioned, the Arsenal). At the time, Man U were, it must be admitted, pursuing a long-shot treble, hoping to add the Europa League and FA Cup to their tally for the season. Hm.Continue reading
Tag Archives: Prem Title
Rivals’ Roundup—The wind that shakes the barley…
Okay, so I was going to go with a reference to Peaky Blinders. Sorry. No hits. Deep tracks only. The bigger problem with a Peaky reference is that we’re hardly a plucky upstart from northwest of London stepping on the big city folks’ toes, so let’s set the whole analogy aside. It’s business time. Conditions are perfect. That’s what I’m trying to say.Continue reading
Yes, Arsenal's risen to third—but are they good enough to stay there?
Like us, Man U emerged from the weekend with two victories, one a bit less confident than the other. After comfortably dealing with Sunderland 2-0, they needed a late, late¸winner at St. James’s Park to see off Newcastle. The absence of van Persie seems not have slowed them much and, as alluded last time, it may actually liberate Man U’s attack. We’ll find out soon enough when we arrive at Old Trafford on Monday. There is open debate about which trip to Old Trafford matters more to Arsenal, this one or the one on 16 May as if it’s an either-or proposition. Somehow, I doubt they’re seeing it that way. The race for a top-four spot has got to be first and foremost on Man U’s minds after a season out of Champions League play, but winning the FA Cup only depends on winning just three more matches.
For the first time in what feels like ages, we have a top five that resembles what people might expect—the biggest clubs, those with the most resources, have for now displaced various up-starts and wannabes to their “proper” places. More to the point, though, Liverpool has emerged as the hottest club in the Prem, going undefeated in their last eight domestic matches with only a second leg loss to Besiktas marring their streak (and dumping them from the Europa League, adding further concerns for their rivals). They’re no flat-track bullies as shown by the weekend-win over Man City. They might a easier time of things in their FA Cup clash on Sunday against Blackburn (even for as much as our own history might suggest otherwise). The return of Sturridge has given them a much-more diverse and potent attack, and their dramatic rise should serve notice to the clubs just above them that they mean business.
Liverpool exposes the myth of European entanglements
First, though, the match. Liverpool had gone up 0-3 by the 55th minute thanks in no small part to Steven Gerrard’s two assists. Game over, right? In fact, many watchers might have predicted another five- or six-goal explosion from the league’s most-prolific offense. However, it wasn’t to be, as Liverpool’s offense stagnated, perhaps complacent in the idea that victory was at hand. Instead, Palace roared back to life to score three times in under ten minutes to level the score. Madness. The league’s lowest-scoring side (tied, actually with Norwich) bags three goals? Three? They had 28 goals all season. Put another way, almost 11% of Crystal Palace’s goals came on Monday (10.7% for the sticklers). On the other hand, it’s not as if Palace hadn’t already signaled the threat they could pose, having beaten Chelsea and Everton in recent weeks. Be that as it may, the real story here is how the result cripples Liverpool. Their fate now lies in the hands of Man City, who host Aston Villa and West Ham to close the season. Thus endeth, perhaps, Liverpool’s assault on the top of the table. They may yet finish second, but this might only rub salt in the wounds. I don’t mind the impact on one Luis Suarez, having made no secret of my disdain for the man, but I do regret the possibility that Steven Gerrard might have missed his last best chance at a title.
Enough of that, however. I’m not here to examine the ramifications of Liverpool’s failure to defend. I’m here to explore what their apparent implosion suggests for us, now that we’re into the Champions League for a 17th straight season (anyone who doesn’t admit that for the achievement it represents is missing something). There were times when our position in the Prem looked shaky. It looked as if we might stumble so much as to allow Everton to finish in fourth. There was a time, however brief, when it was mathematically possible for Spurs or Man U to overtake us as well. There was even a time when some Gooners suggested that qualifying for European competition might not matter all that much. that maybe missing out on Champions League or Europa League play might actually benefit the club as it would clear the deck of a slate of difficult matches and allow us to focus exclusively on the Prem. Look at Liverpool, we’ve said to ourselves. With no such European commitments, they’re free to beat up on wearier rivals who have to travel to Turkey or Germany or Russia. Where, after all, might we be without the two qualifiers against Fener, the six group-stage matches, or knockout-stage matches with Bayern? Fresher legs and fewer injuries might have seen us keep and claim just a few more points, no small consideration in a season when we might finish no more than five from the top of the table.
That was the script up until Monday when Liverpool watched Crystal Palace tear it to pieces (I supposed I should insert some kind of reference to beaks and talons and whatnot). Without claiming Liverpool’s collapse as incontrovertible proof, it does suggest that freeing oneself from continental entanglements is not as rewarding as it may seem. Despite their less-cluttered schedule, Liverpool look to have failed in winning the Prem, the one competition on which they seemed to have truly focused since the season began. Be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes. If we had missed out on Champions League play, we might have been fresher and more-focused. As Liverpool are in the process of proving, though, that doesn’t quite guarantee a Prem title. It’s not the either-or proposition that some have made it. Our squad has shown that it can compete on both fronts. We came through the Champions League’s most-difficult group and drew the defending champions, whom we put a bit of a scare into, all the while sitting atop the Prem for 128 days.
No, we won’t end the season with a trophy to mark our achievements—but neither will Liverpool to mark theirs. We have an FA Cup final to look forward to, and beyond that, a summer of enticing some of the most-talented players in the world to join us as we again vie for glory in the Prem and Champions League. Take away the Champions League, and we might have had to say good-bye to any chance of signing players of the calibre we need. Thanks, Liverpool, for an entertaining season, one full of bluster and bravado but bereft, ultimately, of final product.
"EXCLUSIVE:"Arsenal "always" falters in February/March
A closer read, however, suggests that there’s both more and less to the lurid headline. What follows is this:
Since the club last won the Premier League in 2003-04, they have been in the top two on 1 February in three different seasons, but in none of those campaigns did they improve their position during those months, falling down the table in two.
Little to argue with there. In three seasons since winning the Prem in 2004, then, we’ve been in first place on 1 February only to fall down the table each time. In 2004-05, for example, we were in second place, ten points behind Chelsea but finished in second, 12 points behind them. In other words, the gap only grew two points. How that counts as faltering, especially in a season that Chelsea set a new record for points in a season, is perhaps lost on me.
The story is a bit starker in 2007-08, when we went from being level on 57 points with Man U on 1 February only to fall to third, four points behind them (87-83). In the span of time that Man U used to take 30 points, we could only manage 26, so yes, we did stumble, a fact accentuated by Chelsea slipping ahead of us at 85 points. Stuck in there somewhere, of course, was a horrifying leg-break to Eduardo that did more than deprive us of a key player; it arguably sapped morale at a key point in the season.
The last case-study for which there is complete data is then 2010-11, which saw us five points behind Man U (51-46) on that first day of February, and falling to fourth—12 points back of Man U and behind Chelsea and Man City to boot. This, in my book, is the only one that counts as truly faltering. This is the only season in which the margin truly grew and that seemed to grow as a result of our own frailties such as when we drew with Newcastle after being 4-0 or lost shockers such as the league cup to Birimingham (which has no bearing on the Prem, of course, but highlights how inconsistent we were).
Yes, as Homer reminds us,”you can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of all people know that.” In other words, yes, on the face of it, Arsenal seems to falter in February and March. That sounds grim. Look at it another way—despite facing better-financed clubs, despite losing key players to transfers and injuries—we sustain title-challenges for far longer than we perhaps have a right to do. So we falter in March? How many matches remain, Independent, when this swoon sinks us? Ten? Twelve? In each instance proffered, a case can be made that we held out longer than almost anyone else. No, we didn’t succeed, and yes, we couldn’t match point-for-point with Man U or Chelsea over the long run. That’s not the marvel. The marvel lies in how long we held on against squads that were far superior to us. There’s no trophy for that kind of persistence; indeed, many critics, among them quite a few Gooners, prefer to dub it failure.
The narrative is a bit harder to shake, especially given how the script seems to be writing itself yet again this year. We’re a club in transition and have been for a few seasons now while our rivals seem immune to transitions as they simply reload year after year by signing key players time and again—some from us, some out from under us. Yeah, I’m clinging a bit stubbornly to scraps of pride while eyeing enviously the trophies that others are polishing, but I refuse to accept the facile “analysis” that paints as as forlorn and inept losers doomed to repeat the past. This may not be our year to rewrite that script, but it’s too early to suggest that the writing is on the wall, the ink is dried, or whatever other metaphor is needed.
Ten matches. Thirty points. There’s still time. It might take a minor miracle, but stranger things have happened.