21 April 2013

Race for 3rd: Mixed Nuts

Well, we almost got everything we wanted this week: we took all three, Chelsea dropped two, but Spurs managed to steal three with a reprise of our comeback against Norwich, notching three goals inside of seven minutes to come from behind against Man City. These results keep us in 3rd place for the week, one point above Chelsea and two above Spurs.
With the game in hand that has them facing each other, I submit that we strengthen our hold on a top-four finish. It would have been nice, of course, if Man City had seen fit to hold its 1-0 lead or salvage the draw, but Liverpool's Luis Suarez did find time between outrageous offenses to equalize against Chelsea in stoppage time, so, all in all, a decent weekend. One quick note on Man City, just to get it out of the way: seeing them win would have been nice, not just for its deleterious effect on Spurs, but because it would disabuse us of any notions of grandeur. As things now stand, their loss keeps second place tantalizingly within reach. However, City's remaining schedule is so soft that I doubt we'd close that gap. On the other hand, it's always nice to have a carrot to chase.

The big news out of the weekend will undoubtedly be Luis Suarez's apparent bite on Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic. The FA might take action against Suarez, and considering his history, he might be done for the season, if not longer. He was banned for seven games for a bite while with Ajax in 2011, for that tells us. Chelsea must (and should) be outraged that the bite went unpunished or that Suarez was still on the field in the first place after his handball earlier in the match. To drop two points on his goal in what felt like the 17th minute of stoppage time must be infuriating to the extreme. I just hope they take it out on FC Basel and not on any Prem opponents.

In the short run, Man City now maxes out at 83 points, so Man U need 84 on the season to clinch the Prem. They currently have 81, so beating us on Sunday has that sharper edge to it. Then again,  they have five games in which to earn three points, so their sense of urgency could be here, there, or anywhere come Sunday. Regardless of their motivations, these are three points that I've dubbed a toss-up for as long as I can remember. As fantastic as it would be to keep all three, it won't scupper us to drop them either. With Chelsea dropping two today, we could still clinch a 3rd or 4th place finish even if we do drop points come Sunday. I'm not a big fan of spite, but it would be nice to delay Man U's coronation, even if only by a week. A win Sunday would be huge, no doubt, but not because it knee-caps Man U. That's quite far down on our list of priorities behind the following:


  • finish in the top four.
  • finish above Chelsea.*
  • finish above Spurs.
  • finish above Man City.

  • *yes, I do rate finishing above Chelsea as a priority higher than finishing above Spurs. I currently rate Man City and Chelsea as the worst symbols of how money distorts football, followed closely by Man U. Spend enough, and, yes, you will win. To borrow the phrase, we don't buy superstars; we make them. Any team can rent a cabal of superstars. However, it's akin to renting the hottest prostitute versus building an actual relationship. This might be the married man in me talking, but I'll take the latter for all its frustrations because the exhilirations are all the more-sublime for who you share them with. 

    However, lest we go too far down a rabbit-hole, let's get back to business. I've taken Man City off the chart for now, and I've done the same for Everton. The race seems to be narrowing to now only include us, Chelsea, and Spurs. It's still nail-bitingly close, but a number of issues continue to work in our favor. Spurs may have dropped out of the Europa League, allowing them to focus on the Prem, but even their dramatic win today leaves them needing to go on quite a run to overtake us. Chelsea's continued foray in the Europa is sure to sap their energies, especially as it's Benitez's last, best chance to emerge for his fiasco of a season with a trophy to wave under Abramovich's nose.

    As we can see, we have a very favorable draw over the remaining weeks. Should we emerge for our match with Man U with one or three points, this might be enough to confirm our finish in the top four. By the time we face QPR, they're all but certain to have been relegated. Aston Villa only needs two points from its five games to confirm that. The situation with Wigan is a little harder to call, given their FA commitment. Newcastle is already safe, and without Krul to mind the net, we really should be able to take all nine points there, putting us at 72 on the season, give or take the points to be decided against Man U. Should we take those nine, Spurs would need 13 points from its five remaining games and Chelsea would need 10, if not 11, from its remaining five to overtake us. It's difficult to see both of them pulling that off, given that they have to face each other with one or both guaranteed to drop points. I'm not arguing for us to back into the top four thanks to the stumbles of others, but it's worth keeping track of the variables.

    Chelsea, with its Europa commitments and harder Prem schedule, is more likely to drop points than is Spurs, with a cleaner and somewhat-softer schedule. If everything else works in our favor, we might just find ourselves rooting for Spurs to beat Chelsea on May 8th. Crazier things have happened.

    Speaking of crazier things, we're going to have to sort out the reaction to our display against Fulham. Various Gooners seem to have been cheering Giroud's three-game suspension while jeering our performance. Last I checked, we took three points on the road. Last I checked, we're talking about the only striker to have scored in April. To suggest that we're somehow better off without him is short-sighted, to say the least. As much as I would like to be proven wrong, we have  some sorting-out to do up top if we expect to pull off any of the afore-mentioned feats off.