11 April 2015

St. Totteringham's Day draws near, but what of the Prem title?

Saturday's drab win over Burnley may not have offered much excitement on its face; it was about as calm a victory as I've experienced in a while. Once Ramsey netted in the twelfth minute, it felt like both sides settled into a comfortable rut, largely content to see out the remaining 80-ish minutes of football until Mike Dean saw fit to call time. However, we now trail Chelsea by just four points (easy, now...). Perhaps more meaningfully, though, the result means we now lead a certain other London club by twelve points. So what? Well, thanks to that other London club's home-loss to Aston Villa, the magic number for St. Totteringham's Day now stands at just six. Any combination of results that adds up to six points gained for Arsenal, six points lost by Tottenham, and we have our holiday!

Fair warning: there will be a bad play on words coming up...
For as fine a run as we've been on since losing at White Hart Lane, Tottenham have tottered and teetered, crashing out of the Europa League and dropping 13 points from their subsequent eight matches. It's as if Spurs don't quite get the difference between winning a battle and losing the war. Yes, they won the latest North London Derby, but as it currently stands, they'll stand by while we finish somewhere in the top four while they languish somewhere in mid-table mediocrity. This despite James William Bottomtooth III's flirting with being the first Spud to score 30 league goals since Gary Lineker bagged 35 in 1991-92.

Whichever way you slice it, it looks like St. Totteringham's Day is just over the horizon. Both clubs have played 32 matches, and Arsenal have 66 points; Tottenham, 54. The best that Tottenham can finish then is on 72 points. Therefore, any combination of points earned by Arsenal plus those dropped by Tottenham that adds up to six means all but guarantees us the perennial holiday. In its most immediate form, let's say that Tottenham lose next weekend at Newcastle. We play Reading the FA Cup that same weekend, but if we beat Chelsea the following weekend (or if Tottenham lose again at Southampton), it's done. St. Totteringham's Day could come as early as 26 April. Even if we were to go on to lose our remaining fixtures and Tottenham win out, our superior goal-difference would carry the day: Tottenham's measly +4 pales in comparison to our +31.

26 April. It could come later, of course, but there's a certain feeling of inevitably, of predestination, around it.

If nothing else, it offers a valuable red-herring to distract us from chatter around winning the Prem, for which there's an actual trophy on offer. Yes, we now trail Chelsea by only four points, but, as of this writing, they haven't yet played QPR, and they have a game in hand. "A result in hand is worth two in the bush", or something along those lines; in other words, Chelsea haven't yet won over QPR or Leicester just yet. Still, it's far too optimistic, even by my standards, to suggest that something magical could happen. If QPR win on Sunday, well, Opportunity will brush off its knuckles and consider knocking.

After all, in keeping with the original thread, the highest Arsenal can finish is 84 points. Chelsea, having played 30 matches as of this writing, have a magic number of 15. Any combination of points earned by Chelsea and dropped by Arsenal that adds up to 15 hands them the title. They're just as much in the driver's seat as we are, even if we can beat them when they come calling on 26 April. Let's face it: Mourinho will likely approach that fixture as he so often approaches any big one: play not to lose. Mathematically speaking, yes, we could still win the Prem. Realistically speaking, though, it's enough at this point to point out that Chelsea can't win the Prem when they come calling, sparing us that ignominy. What kind of club allows a hated rival to invade their pitch and win the league, anyway? Imagine the embarrassment...

Sunday brings some interesting possibilities. QPR host Chelsea, of course, and they might be a bit emboldened by the fact that Sunderland, Hull, and Burnley lost, and the Hoops could scramble out of the drop-zone with a win. Stranger things have happened. Further north, of course, we have the Manchester derby to gaze upon, in which we can surely hope for a draw and multiple red-cards for both sides.

Taking in the bigger picture, it's a welcome change, if not a sea-change, to see us on the inside track instead of on the outside looking in. For far too many seasons, we've had to sneak in under the wire, whether that refers to St. Totteringham's Day or a top-four finish. This time through, we look and should feel confident of seizing the former as well as the latter. We're climbing, and we have our eyes on bigger prizes than those we've had to settle for in years past...