12 April 2015

Well, so much for winning the Prem. Now, we're in Man U's crosshairs...

The weekend started off so well. We won, for one, trudging our way past Burnley. After that result, we had to wait almost a full 24 hours to see how our rivals would fare before knowing whether our aspirations would amount to anything. For 88 minutes, Chelsea enticed, flirted, and seduced, struggling to break down a stubborn QPR before none other than Cesc "I'll always feel like a Gunner" Fàbregas scored on Chelsea's only shot on target, dashing our hopes along the way. Scuttled are our dreams of an historic title-tilt. From there, our attention turned to the Manchester derby with hopes, of course, of a draw marred by multiple red cards along the way. Alas, it was not to be, and we now have plenty to fret and worry about as a resurgent Man U threatens our newly-minted Prem-runner-up status.

Barton v. Fàbregas: whom to root for?
To be clear, any aspirations offered here in previous posts were myopic, hopelessly optimistic, and pie-in-the-sky. That said, QPR offered us for almost a full 90' the full monty, not only holding Chelsea at bay as they sought a point at home but seeking out all three. There were several occasions when it did look like the Hoops would find a goal, and they'll feel hard done-by to come away empty-handed. For long, long stretches, it looked as if they were far-more interested in avoiding relegation than the Blues were in seizing glory. But for Fàbregas's winner, we at Arsenal might still be engaging in a bit of bean-counting, wondering where else Chelsea might drop points to clear the way for us to win the Prem. As it now stands, however, they're nine points clear with a game in hand, and there are precious few fixtures available to change that.

Fine. Done. Dusted. Let's move on.

Elsewhere, the Mancester derby offered us another chance to hope and wish and pray and curse. In an ideal world, the two would have locked horns and dragged each other to a mutually-assured destruction. Someone forgot to offer either side that script. Man U simply demolished Man City, the 4-2 scoreline flattering the visitors by half if not more. Aside from ten minutes to start the match and two or three to end it, City looked like a squad sinking towards relegation rather than one striving for silverware. They've now lost four of their last six Prem matches. There are now open questions about Pellegrini's future, and a wholesale overhaul of the squad itself, with the not-quite-distant prospect of slumping out of Champions League qualification looming over the club.

Back to what matters to us at Arsenal. Man U's domineering performance over City raises some uncomfortable questions. Setting aside our FA Cup win at Old Trafford, Man U have won seven straight Prem matches and trail us by just one point. Whereas Chelsea's win on Sunday has cued the fat lady singing, Man U's win has her saying it ain't over 'til it's over. Next weekend, Man U travel to Old Stamford Bridge. Scylla and Charybdis, it ain't. We have little choice but to choke back the bile and hope that Chelsea win—and comfortably. Not only do we have to worry about points or position; we have to keep an eye on goal-difference. We're at +31; Man U are at +29. Therefore, it would be nice of Mourinho's minions to win by a comfortable margin, even if this erases any remaining chance we might still have of winning the Prem.

If Mourinho's taught me anything, it's the relative value of realpolitik, the focus on rational, practical matters rather than ideological, ethical ones. I'm not ready to go over to that dark side, but I am willing to admit its existence. We have a chance to finish second, our best finish in ten years, and we still have a chance to win the FA Cup. Given how much Chelsea and Man U have spent to get to where they are, I'd gladly take second in the Prem and the FA Cup. In a heartbeat, if not less.

Man U's win over Man City might send a strong signal, but I don't think it's quite the one we should receive. Yes, they were impressive as they ripped their rivals apart, but I suspect that reveals more Man City's ennui than it does about Man U's intent. In other words, yes, we will to watch them warily, but we still hold the upper hand.

What do you think? Can we hold off Man U and secure second place, or are we doomed to slump to third, counting ourselves lucky to stave off the likes of Man City, Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham?