17 March 2013

Race for 4th: Week 30

Berbatov's cheeky little panenka over Lloris gave Fulham a shocking win over Spurs at White Hart Lane, throwing the door for a seat at the table at wide-open. In fact, Chelsea's win over West Ham vaults them past Spurs into 3rd, dropping Spurs to 4th, only four points above us--and we have a game in hand.  This is delicious. When I looked at each team's remaining fixtures, I figured that Spurs would make short work of Fulham. Instead, Spurs have now lost three in a row (counting their away-leg at Inter). Could they be about to fall apart as they did last year? Somewhere, Redknapp is enjoying a spite-fill laugh as he ponders the possibilities. Don't mothball your St. Totteringham finery just yet, fellow Gooners. Things just got real.

Spurs is the only team in contention to have played thirty games (sorry, Liverpool, but today's loss may have just knocked you out for good. I'll keep you on the table because stranger things have happened). Between now and the end of the season, Spurs and Chelsea still have the Europa League to distract them. Spurs have to squeeze in a home-game against FC Basel between their trip to face Swansea and then host Everton, then travel to face FC Basel ahead of their trip to face Chelsea. Crazy. Chelsea fairs little better, squeezing in their home leg against FK Rubin Kazan between an away trip to Southampton and before hosting Sunderland, then traveling to FK Rubin Kazan before hosting Spurs. I hope I don't sound insincere when I wish the both of them the best of luck in their European adventures.

Not only do Spurs and Chelsea face more cluttered fixtures in coming weeks, they also arguably continue to face stiffer domestic competition than do we. Having dropped points to Fulham may not be catastrophic (after all, we did draw against them ourselves), but it certainly comes at a terrible time for Spurs. Amidst their home and way legs with FC Basel, they also face three of the Prem's top six teams in Everton, Chelsea, and Man City. Having two of them at home matters little--they barely escaped when we came to visit, and now Fulham has waltzed out of White Hart with those three points. Chelsea has a couple of similarly tricky Prem matches coming down the pipeline, and I do hope that Liverpool finds its form by then. We'll see.

We look set to go on a tidy run if we can take care of business. I don't think it's a stretch to say that we should be able to handle Reading and West Brom, and we really owe Norwich after losing to them early in the season. Heck, a week from now could see us one point back if we dispatch Reading and Swansea bounces back to beat Spurs. If the nerves are frayed at White Hart now, just imagine how they'll be feeling if we can close the gap that quickly.

It could just be that beating us was the worst thing that could have happened to Spurs. If they do stumble out of the top four, it may be because they built up the importance of that game far beyond its actual significance, and winning has now led to such a letdown that they will struggle to recover. We came out of that loss, not dispirited or defeated, but determined. They came out believing that they had apparently accomplished something, forgetting (at least temporarily) that there are still games to play. After last year's collapse, each dropped point is going to murmur ominously to remind them. Let's see what we can do to amplify that murmur to a dull roar.