13 May 2015

Can Arsenal stay in 3rd, or will we slip to 4th...again?

It’s hard to get motivated this week, to be honest, after we let slip a golden opportunity to put some space between us and Man City. Instead, things feel quite a bit bleaker than they did a few days ago. Chelsea, almost taunting the rest of us, drew with Liverpool. City, of course, obliterated QPR to establish their claim on second place via goal difference, if not yet on points. At our end, of course, we lost a domestic match at home for the first time since October. Man U’s win at Selhurst Park suggests that we might have to worry more about defending a third-place finish than earning a second-place finish. Still, all is not yet lost, so let’s get to it…

Chelsea
● Position: 1st.
● Record: 25-9-2
● Points: 84 (77.78%)
● Form: WWDWWD
● Last match: Chelsea 1-1 Liverpool
Having won the league, Chelsea might be forgiven for again playing it safe, this time after scoring early—a fifth-minute goal from John Terry. However, Steven Gerrard equalised just before halftime, and that’s where it ended. Somewhere, there are Chelsea fans seeking out Arsenal fans in order to apologise for criticizing the Invincibles when they played for draws in pursuit of history. Chelsea have won the Prem and still can’t be bothered to offer anything more entertaining than a draw. Sorry. Sour grapes. I admit it. Putting a positive spin on things, the match at least gave Gerrard a chance to enjoy himself, something he’s more than earned after a lengthy career marked more by toil than triumph for both club and country. Back to Chelsea, for all the slings and arrows I’ve slung, they get results. That, after all, is the lion’s share of why the game exists. Mourinho has shown that the ends justify the means.
● Next match: 18 May at West Brom
● Remaining fixtures: West Brom (a), Sunderland (h).

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 22-7-7
● Points: 73 (67.6%)
● Form: LLWWWW
● Last match: Man City 6-0 QPR
This was the kind of offensive onslaught we’ve come to expect from Man City, a side brimming with as much attacking talent and willingness to use it as we’ll see. For it to come against QPR takes nothing away from the achievement; this is precisely the kind of performance one should expect from a match pitting squads at opposite ends of the table against each other. Those six goals could prove vital as they raise Man City’s goal difference to a robust +41. Playing with an eye towards second place, Man City now have an inside track on finishing second. They can now finish on 79 points, the same as Arsenal, but boast a goal difference that is currently nine more than Arsenal’s. Should the two finish level on points, City finish second—unless Arsenal find a way to outscore their three opponents by ten more goals than City outscores their remaining two. Their final two matches do look tetchy, coming against clubs on squabbling for Europa League qualification, but it’s hard to resist the notion that they’ll claim second anyway.
● Next match: 17 May at Swansea.
● Remaining fixtures: Swansea (a), Southampton (h)

Arsenal
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 21-7-7
● Points: 70 (66.7%)
● Form: WWWDWL
● Last match: Arsenal 0-1 Swansea
Swansea are now only the third team to beat both Arsenal and Man U home and away in a Premier League season, repeating that feat that Chelsea pulled off in 2009-10 and that West Ham did in 2006-07. In so doing, they’ve put a serious dent in Arsenal’s ambitions for finishing second place while reminding future opponents of just how predictable Arsenal can be. Despite dominating possession to the tune of 68% and taking 23 shots, we couldn’t find a goal. Swansea defended well, it’s true, but we seemed obsessed with putting all of our shots directly at Fabianski, who proved he’s just as good as saving shots from six yards away when they’re put straight to him as he is when he has to actually dive to save them. A second-place finish, which once felt all but guaranteed, now hangs in the balance as we hope the Swans can do something similar when City pay them a visit while we invade Old Trafford with hopes of reprising our FA Cup win there back in March. Speaking of Man U, we now have to fend them off if we hope to finish third. They could climb as 74 points. If we win or draw Sunday, though, it's over for them.
● Next match: 17 May at Man U
● Remaining fixtures: Manchester United (a), Sunderland (h), West Brom (h), Aston Villa (h—FA Cup final).

Manchester United
● Position: 4th
● Record: 20-8-8
● Points: 68 (63.0%)
● Form: WWLLLW
● Last match: Crystal Palace 1-2 Man U
Man U rode a generous penalty against Palace’s Scott Dann to go ahead, Mata putting the penalty home, and were perhaps fortunate to escape Selhurst Park with the win. Palace looked for long stretches like the better side, testing de Gea time and time again only for the keeper to be up to it each time.  Still, as with Chelsea, ends matter more than results, and this one sees Man U climb to within striking distance of a third-place finish, with Arsenal paying a visit next weekend. It remains to be seen if this was a Pyrrhic victory, as Wayne Rooney came off at halftime having aggravated his thigh-injury. He, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, and Robin van Persie are said to be ready to return for Arsenal’s visit, but Angel Di Maria, Rafael, and Michael Carrick look like they’re ruled out. Make no mistake, though: for all of the money invested in this squad, Van Gaal is determined to qualify for Champions League play and is unlikely to settle for the qualifiers. Sunday’s clash is rife with ramifications for both sides…
● Next match: 17 May vs. Arsenal.
● Remaining fixtures: Arsenal (h), Hull (h).

It’s a depressing one, I know. We had four matches to play and needed three wins and a draw to finish second. We didn’t allow for a loss, and if we did, it wasn’t supposed to happen at home. We might have tolerated a loss at Old Trafford, figuring we could make up for that by winning the other three and hoping that City dropped points against Swansea or Southampton. As it currently stands, we’ve squandered the advantage we had and now have to pin our hopes to results elsewhere. City, for what it’s worth, face two squads with something at stake. If Swansea or Southampton can take points from them, our quest for second place lives on. By the time we face off against Man U, we’ll know the Swansea-Man City result. This will only matter if we can take all three from Old Trafford. We’ve done it before; let’s do it again!