11 February 2013

The Road for 4th Place: A Trophy in Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

As the end of the 2012-13 season approaches, the Gunners continue to contend on three fronts: the Champions League, the FA Cup, and 4th place in the Premier League. Progress on the first front may be a pipe-dream, but the second and third are tantalizing enough to pursue and, realistically, to achieve. A fifth-round FA match against Blackburn awaits us on Saturday. For now, though, it's time to assess this 4th-place "trophy."

A quick glance at the chart above (which will be updated after each set of Premier League matches) will show where Arsenal stands vis-a-vis the other top-flight teams in the league. With apologies to Liverpool, one does not lose twice to the likes of West Brom and continue to expect a top-four finish. Anything is possible, of course, but Liverpool is now 12 points behind 4th place, and if a 12-point lead is enough for Man U to be thinking title, it's enough for the teams scrapping for 4th.

So what we have is enough of a logjam to justify closer scrutiny. Currently, Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, and Everton are jousting for 4th place. Everton started the year strong but has faded, while Spurs, Chelsea, and Arsenal are now separated by only five points: Chelsea 49, Spurs 48, Arsenal 44. With twelve games left to play, this is wide-open enough for us to consider 4th place to be a real possibility. Chelsea, like Everton, has faltered recently, and Arsenal has overtaken Everton. Indeed, much of the chatter over embattled managers has shifted to the point that Arsene Wenger's future no longer seems to be such a hot topic, replaced (for now) by Benitez's shaky status and even Mancini's ever-more tenuous reign (I hope it doesn't come as news to Roberto that you shouldn't go about pissing off highly-paid strikers year after year).

At any rate, as I've covered in the not-too-distant-past, Arsenal have a favorable road ahead with three of 12 remaining matches against teams in the top five. Everton faces five such games, and Spurs have six. Of course, any team can beat any other team on any given day--QPR has beaten Chelsea at Stamford, Wigan beat Spurs at White Hart Lane, Man City lost to Aston Villa at the Etihad...only Everton and--you guessed it--Arsenal have escaped embarrassing home-losses unless you count our loss to Swansea, who currently sit 7th and are hardly in danger of relegation.

I realize that all of this is so much folderol if we find a way to drop points where we shouldn't. Spurs seem unlikely to stumble as they did last year, having a manager this time around who currently has no aspirations to manage the English national team, and we can't rely on Chelsea and Everton to do us any more favors. Last year, 69 points was enough to hold onto 4th place. There are 36 points still on the table for each team. Can we outdo Spurs by five? I'd love a good St. Totteringham's Day--the earlier, the better!