02 May 2014

Does Arsenal dare to hope for an Everton win?

With fourth place hanging in the balance, Everton host title-chasing Manchester City on Saturday while Arsenal wait until Sunday to host relegation-resisting West Brom. At first glance, the desired outcome is all but self-evident: if Everton lose, then Arsenal claim fourth place. It won't matter what we do on Sunday. However, perhaps it's not quite that easy. Might we want Everton to win? Yes, it would keep the chase for third place open, at least until we face West Brom. On the other hand, it would also keep alive whatever slender hopes we might have of climbing to third.

The last time we finished third...
It's far-fetched, I know. With their game in hand, Man City are already four points above us. If they win, that slams shut the door on any hope we have of overtaking them. They'd have 80 points with two matches left to play, and the highest we can get is 79. Done. Dusted. However, an Everton win ramps up the pressure just a little bit, perhaps enough to open a few cracks in the facade at the Etihad. It's a pity that Chelsea beat Liverpool, as that result keeps alive the hope that they or Man City can still overtake Liverpool for the championshp, but so it goes. Keeping the focus on our end of the business, an Everton win, for as much as it might increase the pressure on us, need not provoke real anxiety. After all, the one or two points that we hoped Everton might drop have quickly become six that they've already dropped. On that math, we're ahead of the game. Should they defeat Man City, we still have an inside track towards fourth place.The highest Everton can finish is 75 points. We're at 73 with two to play. That's enough to work with. Heck. if we win on Sunday, we finish fourth and nothing that happens at Goodison Park can change that.

The downside might pertain more to how it affects our readiness for the FA Cup. If we're still chasing third place, we can't rest players against Norwich quite as much. We'd have to win, no doubt about it, and we'd still have to hope that Man City find was to drop points against Aston Villa and West Ham, both of whom have to come to the Etihad. I think by now we're all looking at the same slim window of opportunity. However, 'slim' is fatter than 'none', if only by the narrowest of margins, and so here we are. After all, we have to keep one eye on the summer. With the World Cup looming, finishing third could (should) coerce Arsène to move more aggressively in the transfer-window. Gone would be the excuse of needing to qualify for the Champions League; we'd know that we're into the group-stage and can entice players earlier, rather than waiting to win a play-off and make a few last-minute signings afterwards. The flip-side to this, of course, is that finishing third might convince Arsène that the squad possesses enough quality to need only one or two modest signings instead of the two or three marquee signings so many of us pray for. I do think that, should the improbably happen and we somehow finish third, whether it's Man City or Chelsea we overtake, the pressure to spruce up the squad will remain and intensify. Our needs are too many to ignore: a striker, a center-back, a defensive midfielder, perhaps a right-back and keeper.

If nothing else, I'd prefer that we earn our fourth place finish, much as we did with St. Totteringham's Day. Instead of backing our way into it by hoping Everton lose, I want to claim fourth place. If we can do that and keep a finger-hold on third, so much the better.