Tag Archives: Prem Title

Man U will have had a better season than Arsenal? Okay…

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.

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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.

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Yes, Arsenal's risen to third—but are they good enough to stay there?

And we’re back. These midweek fixtures are tough for me to deal with—too many results crushed together to sort, especially when the Tuesday-Wednesday results come in right at the worst part of my workday. So it goes. The good news is that, in addition to winning both of our most recent fixtures, a variety of rivals dropped points over the weekend. Even if the midweek results didn’t change things, we can still enjoy a a lengthy spell in third place with an increasingly realistic eye on second. Heck, if Man City and Chelsea continue to leak points here and there, and if we can go on a run, who knows? I’m not making any promises. I’m just suggesting we look at where we are and where we once were and dare to dream. Ten matches left. On to the rundown…


● Position: 1st.
● Record: 19-6-2
● Points: 63 (77.8%)
● Form: WDWWDW
● Last match: Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham (League Cup Final), West Ham 0-1 Chelsea.
Before you get too excited about trailing Chelsea by “only” nine points, remember that they have a game in hand. Having won the League Cup final must take a monkey off of Mourinho’s back; he can now claim to have won a trophy on British soil more recently than Arsène has, such as it is. We do owe him a bit of thanks for denying Tottenham any silverware. Back to business. Chelsea went into Upton Park and came out victorious, overcoming a determined Irons side that troubled but never topped them, as Hazard gave them the one and only goal that Mourinho ever seems to seek. Mock it if you will, but, dammit, results are everything. If this was Olympic diving or synchronized swimming, style-points might come into play. They don’t. As such, we know what to expect: boring football, stubborn defending, and very few dropped points. It’s working so far. We’ll see if it works against an even-more stubborn defense in due time.
● Next match: 11 March vs. PSG (UCL), 15 March vs. Southampton (Prem)

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 17-7-4
● Points: 58 (69.4%)
● Form: DDWWLW
● Last matches: Liverpool 2-1 Man City, Man City 2-0 Leicester
Man City succumbed to resurgent Liverpool over the weekend before rebounding against Leicester midweek, but they can no longer hide behind the “Toure’s at AFCON” excuse. He’s back, but other issues arise as Vincent Kompany, long-lauded as one of the Prem’s best CBs, seems to be off his game. Against Liverpool, he was dispossessed by Coutinho in his 200th league appearance, and this led to Liverpool’s first goal. He’s a man off his game on many levels, so much so that he was an unused substitute against Leicester. Apparently, Pellegrini equates City’s inconsistency with that of Kompany and might seek greater solidity in back from Demichelis and Mangala, who helped to earn a clean-sheet against Leicester. If you just smirked or chuckled, congrats. City’s struggles are, of course, Arsenal’s gain, but never underestimate a side that can score in bunches as well as City can.
● Next match: 14 March at Burnley (Prem), 18 March at Barcelona (UCL)

● Position: 3rd
● Record: 16-6-6
● Points: 54 (64.3%)
● Form: WLWWWW
● Last match: Arsenal 2-0 Everton, QPR 1-2 Arsenal
Four consecutive wins have us sizing up Man City: do we have what it takes to reel them in? Giroud scored his fifth goal in as many Prem matches against QPR, Alexis scored his first goal since late January, and Coquelin has apparently emerged as The Not-At-All Hyperbolically Best DM in the Prem™. After a truly depressing showing against AS Monaco, we’ve gotten back to winning ways in ways that suggest that we could be set for a run. After all, this isn’t the first time we’ve lost catastrophically in a UCL first-leg only to fight back rather famously. To do so against Bayern was galvanizing; to do so against Monaco was embarrassing. In each case, it looks as if we’ve taken our lumps and doubled down. Despite the early season dominance of Chelsea and Man City, we’re now within striking distance of the latter if not the former. If nothing else, it looks like we’re well-positioned to defend a position rather than chase it. Dollars to donuts they’re going after both—with us in the cross-hairs.
● Next match: 9 March at Man U (FA Cup), 14 March vs. West Ham (Prem), 17 March at Monaco (UCL)

Manchester United
● Position: 4th
● Record: 15-8-5
● Points: 53 (63.1%)
● Form: WDWLWW
● Last match: Man U 2-0 Sunderland, Newcastle 0-1 Man U
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.
● Next match: 9 March vs Arsenal (FA Cup), 15 March vs Tottenham (Prem)

● Position: 5th
● Record: 15-6-7
● Points: 51 (60.7%)
● Form: WDWWWW
● Last match: Liverpool 2-1 Man City, Liverpool 2-0 Burnley
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.
● Next match: 8 March vs Blackburn (FA Cup), 16 March at Swansea (Prem).

● Position: 5th
● Record: 15-4-9
● Points: 49 (58.3%)
● Form: LWDLLW
● Last match: West Brom 1-0 Southampton 1-0 Crystal Palace
Are Southampton following West Ham’s lead, fading from dizzying heights towards mid-table mediocrity? That might overstate things a bit, but their uneven form has sent them to their lowest position all season. Ironically, they’ve emerged from two earlier stretches of tough fixtures relatively unscathed, and so it seems that they might be finally succumbing to the accumulation of stress and fatigue before the final run-in. Perhaps like Everton a season ago, who fought for a top-four finish all season to fade in the final weeks, They’ve taken only seven points from their last six matches, the kind of form that would send them to 13th. Things are apparently urgent enough that Koeman has taken the squad to the Swiss Alps for a bit of morale-building. The proof, such as it is, will come out when they face Chelsea next weekend.
● Next match: 15 March at Stamford Bridge.

Ten matches to go—except for Chelsea, of course, and Tottenham, who face QPR on Saturday. I’m not sure our fellow Londonites (Londonians?) merit a mention in this column, with apologies to the Hoops. The race has tightened up to the point that, not only are third and fifth place only separated by three points, second and fourth are only separated by five. Chelsea still look like first is theirs to lose, especially with a game in hand. With another week to go before the next round of Prem fixtures, we might have to take a closer look at remaining fixtures to see who looks to have the easiest run-ins. On the hear-horizon, though, we have an FA Cup clash oat Old Trafford to prepare for. We’ll take a look at that one in the ext post. ‘Til then…

Liverpool exposes the myth of European entanglements

Well. I don’t think any of us saw that coming. A Liverputian squad goes up 0-3, only to draw 3-3? What happened to that +50 goal-differential? What happened to that challenge for Prem title? They still have that +50, of course, courtesy of an epic ten-minute comeback from Palace. The title-challenge is all but dead, left to crumble to dust at Selhurst Park. The capitulation strands Liverpool at 81 points—vulnerable now to Man City, who are at 80 points (and have a game in hand) but also to Chelsea, who are at 79. If Chelsea had found some way to defeat Norwich, well, wouldn’t that be a fine mess? It all makes for some fine entertainment from our position of relative stability even if fourth place ain’t quite the prize we were hoping for. There’s a bit of a lesson in the Liverputians’ tale, though, one that we should take a moment to heed just as others are scoffing at that fourth place finish of ours.

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.

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"EXCLUSIVE:"Arsenal "always" falters in February/March

In the kind of breath-taking exposé that at first shocks readers into a stunned, dispirited silence, The Independent says today that “recent history does suggest that it is always in the months of February and March that the Gunners’ title challenge falters.” I’m sure that, like me, many of you look at that headline or lead-in and say to yourself, “crap. February was terrible, and March looks like it’ll turn out even worse!” Then, with little else to say, we shake our fists at the sky and utter oaths like “consarn it” and “fiddlesticks.” This is, after all, a family-friendly publication. This prediction from The Independent looms over us like the Sword of Damocles, dooming us, it seems to abject failure. After all, who are we to resist the weight of history? Who do we think we are to dare dream of achieving such power?

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.

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