06 May 2015

And then there were two: Arsenal and Man City, sittin' in a tree...

In an outcome that surprises no one, Chelsea have won the Prem in a process that excites just as many. While it’s true that there’s little left to fight for other than table-scraps, recent results seem to have cleared the decks for a two-squad squabble—Man U’s apparent collapse, combined with Chelsea’s coronation, suggest that Arsenal and Man City will duke it out for second place. This is not to say that Man U have passed the point of no return, but they’re definitely on the outside looking in, hoping and praying for results elsewhere to break their way. While Arsenal and Man City seem all but assured of Champions League qualification, it will be intriguing to see which of them sees a second place finish as a prize worth fighting for. Enough throat-clearing. Let’s get down to it.

● Position: 1st.
● Record: 25-8-2
● Points: 83 (79.04%)
● Form: WWWDWW
● Last match: Chelsea 1-0 Crystal Palace.
Yes, they won the league. I feel like a broken record when I again suggest that the method felt more than a bit mediocre, coming as it did through a penalty that Hazard earned, only for Speroni to save it and which the PFA Player of the Year bravely headed home. Sorry if any of that sounded the least bit sardonic. Chelsea won this game and the league with the same cold-blooded efficiency that we’ve come to expect from a Mourinho-managed side, and I’ll make no apologies for the sour grapes that sounds like. Yes, results matter, but I’ll continue to cling to the notion that method matters at least a little. For a squad as stacked as this Chelsea side is to have to rely on a theatrical dive in order to win over a mid-table squad surely counts as an asterisk of sorts. Chelsea backed their way into this title, not so much conquering all comers as cock-blocking them. Congratulations are in order, I suppose.
● Next match: 10 May vs. Liverpool
● Remaining fixtures: Liverpool (h), West Brom (a), Sunderland (h).

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 21-7-7
● Points: 70 (66.7%)
● Form: WLLWWW
● Last match: Tottenham 0-1 Man City
Man City did their level-best to ensure we’d have an enjoyable St. Totteringham’s Day but in the process complicated the fight for our second-place finish. Tottenham were not without their chances, exposing yet again the visitors’ vulnerabilities, but an excellent performance from Joe Hart—augmented by atrocious finishing from Tottenham—allowed City to escape with their first away-win since mid-February, a string of five matches. Aguero’s goal gave City a crucial three points as they seek to finish second, but pertinent questions persist about the future of an ageing squad that has apparently failed to meet expectations. Even if City find a way to finish second, they’ll finish without any actual silverware for the first time in what must feel like eons, a barren spell long enough to spell out the end of Pellegrini’s tenure, if not of mainstays like Kompany  and TourĂ©, not to mention younger, more-valuable assets. Will these murmurings motivate the squad to close out the season on a high note? Of their remaining fixtures, QPR, Swansea, and Southampton might each feel like they have something to fight for, whether it be staying up or qualifying for Europa League play, which Southampton would do if Arsenal win the FA Cup.
● Next match: 10 May vs. QPR
● Remaining fixtures: QPR (h), Swansea (a), Southampton (h)

● Position: 3rd
● Record: 21-7-6
● Points: 70 (68.6%)
● Form: WWWWDW
● Last match: Hull 1-3 Arsenal
Alone among the top seven squads, Arsenal delivered a dominant performance of the sort that might otherwise indicate a squad serious in its title-tilt. Alas, the surge has come too late. Three first-half goals, two of them a bit more of the lucky than good variety, were enough to secure another three points, keeping Arsenal level on points with Man City, with that game in hand becoming more and more important as the season draws to a close. Even if Arsenal are riding high, we do have a bit more to overcome, what with another trip to Old Trafford looming. A confident performance against Hull might have provided an inspiring response to last week’s disappointing draw against Chelsea, but it remains to be seen whether there’s enough in the tank for Arsenal to fight off Man City to seize the second-place spot. Even if third place serves as an improvement over recent seasons, it’ll be hard to feel satisfied with marginal returns on recent investments and efforts. For what it’s worth, Swansea and West Brom might feel complacent, but Man U and Aston Villa might be feeling a bit scrappier. Then, of course, there’s the small matter of an FA Cup final against Aston Villa…
● Next match: 11 May vs. Swansea
● Remaining fixtures: Swansea (h), Manchester United (a), Sunderland (h), West Brom (h), Aston Villa (h—FA Cup final).

Manchester United
● Position: 4th
● Record: 19-8-8
● Points: 65 (61.9%)
● Form: WWWLLL
● Last match: Man U 0-1 West Brom
Man U at this point seem to trying to relive the early years of the 21st century when they, Liverpool, and Arsenal vied for Prem supremacy. Problem is, only they and Liverpool seem to be reading from the same script, and it’s one that has the two of them squabbling over a fourth-place spot. Three straight losses for Man U seem to have sent them spiraling out of the conversation for outright Champions League qualification and into the limbo that is Champions League qualifying, maybe even Europa League purgatory. With Liverpool now nipping at their heels, Man U will have to have at least one eye on the rearview mirror. Whether this pressure impels them upward or causes them to implode remains to be seen. It’s one thing to lose at Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park; it’s quite another to lose at home to West Brom. Their next opponent, Crystal Palace, seem safely ensconced mid-table, but Arsenal and Hull each have something worth fighting for. Can Man U say the same? We’ll see…
● Next match: 9 May at Crystal Palace.
● Remaining fixtures: Crystal Palace (a), Arsenal (h), Hull (h).

There you have it. Chelsea have won in the league in the most-cynical of fashions, whether we’re referring to the most-recent result or the campaign as a whole, and Man U seem to be daring themselves to qualify for Champions League play by the narrowest of margins. ‘Twixt the two, Arsenal and Man City are eyeing each other warily, the former as in-form as any in 2015, the latter perhaps rounding into form for the final weeks. As it currently stands, Arsenal could climb as high as 82 points; Man City, just 79. If we can find four points from our remaining four matches, we finish above Man U. If we can find ten points from those four matches (three wins and a draw), we’ll finish above Man City. Of course, if either of them drops points, the maths break our way all the more. The way things are looking, though, we might have to wait until the final match of the season before we know for sure who finishes where. Still, we’re essentially defending second place, rather than scrambling for fourth, and that has to count as some kind of progress, doesn’t it?