12 April 2016

Six matches. Eighteen points available. Can Arsenal still catch Tottenham?

With just a few weeks left in the season, Leicester have quietly morphed into a stubborn, George Graham-esque side that calmly grinds out 1-0 results and looks like they've sewn up first place. Hot on their heels (but not hot enough), Tottenham could conceivably end the season with a goal difference figure larger than the goals scored by many squads. Such is the madness that this season has been. Trailing them, of course, is our beloved Arsenal, nervously hoping to reel in Tottenham while fending off Man City. Talk about upside-down. There's a three-point gap (assuming we make the most of our game in hand). Is there enough time to salvage something from the season that's looked like it might go off the rails?

Leicester City
● Position: 1st
● Record: 21W, 9D, 3L
● Points: 72 (72.3%)
● Total at this rate: 82.9
● Form: DWWWWW
● Last match: Sunderland 0-2 Leicester
We kept on waiting for the other shoe to drop, for injury to strip them of key players, for them to hit the wall..and it just hasn't happened. Since the New Year, Leicester have if anything looked stronger, cagier, and more savvy than they did in the first half. Gone, for the most part, have been the wild scorelines, replaced by gritty, cynical football that gets results and wins titles. They've kept five clean sheets in a row and ten in fourteen fixtures since New Year's Day. Along the way, they've won at White Hart Lane and the Etihad. Even as rumours of diving and doping bubble up, these sound more and more like sour grapes or grasping at straws than anything else. With just five matches left to play, their destiny is firmly in their hands—they need just nine points to become Prem champions. Some will attach asterisks to the achievement—and some will—we're witnessing something historic.
● Significant injuries (return date): None.
● Next match: Sunday vs. West Ham.

Tottenham
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 18W, 11D, 4L
● Points: 65 (65.6%)
● Total points at this rate: 74.8
● Form: LDWWDW
● Last match: Tottenham 3-0 Manchester United
Most goals scored. Fewest goals conceded. a +35 goal difference. Just four losses from 33 outings. A manager with some actual nous. Two years after the sale of the talismanic Gareth Bale, Tottenham look to be finally reaping the rewards of their reinvestments. Under Mauricio Pochettino, who first impressed by steering Southampton towards the top of the Prem in 2014, we're seeing a defensively disciplined outfit that can also score in bunches, as evinced most recently by their thrashing of Man U, themselves a somewhat stingy outfit. The seven-point gap between and Leicester might be too big to bridge, but they do control their destiny in a different way: even with Arsenal's game in hand, Tottenham still hold a three-point lead over their erstwhile rivals, and that goal difference offers valuable insurance. They may not claim any silverware, but the colour of a certain town looks very like to change...
● Significant injuries (return date): Kane (18 April), N'Jie (18 April), Bentaleb (NA).
● Next match: Monday at Stoke.

Arsenal
● Position: 3rd
● Record: 17W, 8D, 7L
● Points: 59 (61.5%)
● Total points at this rate: 70.1
● Form: LLDWWD
● Last match: West Ham 3-3 Arsenal
Remember when we were mocking Chelsea, Liverpool, and Man U for their ineptitude? Or when we assumed that Leicester would collapse? Good times, those. Well, like those other former "Big Four" clubs, we've stumbled, having sleep-walked through most of the second half of the season. Yes, there have been injuries, but even those can't explain how we've taken barely half the points from our last 15 fixtures. Since beating Man City in mid-December, we've lost away to Southampton and Man U, lost at home to Chelsea and Swansea, and drawn away with Liverpool, Stoke, Tottenham, and West Ham. Some of those are understandable, but that's hardly the kind of runs champions end a season with. Let's be honest: the collapses of those other clubs should have paved the way for us to win both the Prem and the FA Cup. As it stands, we cling to third and hope Tottenham drop points so we Arsène can extend his streak. Let's make one thing clear, though: the club has finished below Tottenham before. It happens. Should it come to pass, the club will survive. Then again, the fat lady hasn't sung yet...
● Significant injuries (return date): Oxlade-Chamberlain (any day), Cazorla (any day), Flamini (any day), Jenkinson (three months) (courtesy of Arsenal Report).
● Next match: Sunday vs. Crystal Palace.

Manchester City
● Position: 4th
● Record: 17W, 6D, 9L
● Points: 57 (59.4%)
● Total points at this rate: 67.7
● Form: DWDWDW
● Last match: Man City 2-1 West Brom
Is this the season that Man City copies Chelsea's 2012 run to the Champions League final? Aside from Vincent Kompany's recurring injuries, one has to wonder what has distracted Man City from seizing what should have been a cakewalk to a Prem title that just begged to be won. City, however, barely bothered to show up on any regular basis, somehow drawing at Carrow Road, losing consecutive matches at the Etihad (to Leicester and Tottenham), and otherwise inviting anyone else who cares to win the Prem have a turn. Their focus instead seems to be on the Champions League. Having eased past PSG, they've now through to the quarterfinal. Back to the Prem, they trail Arsenal by four points but have a lot to worry about from West Ham, just one point back. This squad should enough quality in it to fight on both fronts but seems indifferent at best in the Prem.
● Significant injuries (return date): Otamendi (16 April), Sterling (24 April), Kompany (16 April).
● Next match: Saturday at Chelsea.

This has been about as crazy a season as I've seen in a while.  Chelsea looked for a long time like it would be the first club to from winning the Prem to getting relegated since Man City did it in 1938. They've since righted the ship but look likely to finish outside of the top five. Cold comfort that is though in a season in which Arsenal led the Prem and had legitimate hopes of winning it. There was a time when we had circled 8 May as a potentially title-deciding date. Little did we or Man City know that it might only matter for who gets to say they finished below Leicester and Tottenham. Hell, when you start to scan the Panama Papers in hopes of seeing names like Vardy, Mahrez, Kane or Alderweireld, you should see the writing on the wall.