05 May 2013

Arsenal's Race for 4th: Thanks for nothing, Man U.

We shouldn't be surprised that Sir Alex did us no favors today, naming a less than full-strength squad to take on Chelsea today, perhaps deciding that his distaste for Arsène trumps his distaste for Benitez. It's a compliment, I suppose, in that it suggests that Benitez is not deemed important enough to Ferguson that he would tweak Benitez's nose. Anyhow, Chelsea now has a decided advantage in the race for 4th. If they can get to 71 pointssomething they could do by beating Spurs on Wednesdaythey're in. They're now a point ahead of us with that game in hand, so it looks like they might even be set to hold on the 3rd, leaving us to focus on 4th. therefore, it seems that we should root for Chelsea on Wednesday, even if it means conceding 3rd to them. A draw would give us a one-point advantage over Spurs, but I'm willing to concede 3rd for a stronger grasp on 4th.

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The chart we see shows us how high each team can now climb (dots and dashes are projections), and it's looking a bit precarious for us. Spurs now have a one-point margin over us if we each win all of our remaining games. Should they beat Chelsea, that might just be enough consign us to 5th, as Chelsea could still finish one point above us., 74-73. The silver lining is that it just about removes any ambiguities regarding our allegiances for Wednesday. Unless someone can tell me with 100% certainty that Spurs and Chelsea will drop points elsewhere, we have to pull for Chelsea to take all three points. Once-tricky matches for them look safer now than they did a few weeks ago: Everton's trip to Stamford Bridge seems to have lost its urgency for the Toffees after they drew with Liverpool today to fall five points behind Spurs. They're out of the top five for sure and will have little left to motivate them. Even Spurs' trip to the Britannia looks less intimidating as Stoke is all but safe from relegation. Still, anything's possible. 

One might even argue that Wigan's visit to the Emirates this weekend now emerges as one of the trickier matches as the Latics sit at 18th, two points below Sunderland and facing relegation. Before anyone bemoans the points dropped versus Man U and Everton, as untimely as they were and are, we've known since the schedules were announced that those would be difficult matches. Yes, it's always bad to drop points, especially at home, but I still believe that dropping points to the likes of Norwich, Fulham, or Aston Villa are more damaging, psychologically, symbolically, and strategically. Say all you want about our inability to take more points from Chelsea, Man City, or Man U. They're not ahead of us through luck or crummy goals (well, maybe a little bit). Don't mistake how recently the points were dropped with how important they are, either. It's those gimme-points we dropped, especially in the first half of the season, that are the ones haunting us at the moment. As I fumble for a better simile, it's like complaining about the car engine over-heating after failing to change the oil. 

As we look to the last weeks of the campaign, Arsène had this to say after the QPR match:
We are ready for a fight, and the team is highly focused to do it. We are on a very strong run. We definitely have momentum if you look at the points we have compared to two months ago. we are going for it and we make points. Away from home, we have won everywhere: at Fulham, at Sunderland, at Swansea, at QPR.
As much as I wanted us to give QPR a true shellacking on Saturday, it's still encouraging to see us grind out a victory. They can't all be poetry in motion, much as we might like them to be. All this stuff we've heard about Arsenal not knowing how to fight it out, not wanting to fight to win, is a bunch of manure. We love to fight and will go in for a tackle of a 50-50 and come away battered or bloodied, but not so much as the other guy. We're going to pass and pass and pass until we can't pass anymore, sure, but we're also going to punish anyone who stands in our way. Gooners won't tolerate a loser; neither will the men who don the jersey and cleats each week on our behalf. Sure, there are a few who have come through who have lacked the stomach for a dog-fight and who have gone where the going always seems to be good. Good riddance. I prefer the fighting spirit we've shown this season; I'd rather fight and claw and not know what will happen. The gilded life that others have found elsewhere just doesn't appeal to me as much. I might only be casting about to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear at the moment, but I don't mind. I love this club through thick and thin. Yeah, it's been a bit thinner than any of us would hope, but when our time comes back around, and I believe it will sooner rather than later. We're going to finish fourth, simple as that, and next year we'll do more that rattle a few cages. Maybe knock out some teeth.

Right. Wigan, you could have made things so much easier by beating Spurs, but you had to get sloppy and must therefore be punished. We're on a mission, and you're in our way.