14 February 2022

Rivals' Roundup #25: Damn, it's good to be a Gooner...

It's hard to imagine a weekend going much better than this past one did. Most of our rivals for a fourth place finish dropped points, some of them twice since we last checked in, and our new-ish identity as Game In Hand Athletic Football Club (GIHAFC for short, patent pending, all rights reserved) has us sitting pretty in sixth with two games in hand over Man U, three over West Ham, and, it must be added, one over Wolves. More on them shortly. They've wandered into the mix (see what I did there? Eh?) and shouldered Spurs aside for now. It's getting nervy in the fight for fourth, so let's get to it.

1. Man City (25 matches: 20W, 3D, 2L, 63 pts.)
Meh. Whatevs. I suppose I'm supposed to trot out the ol' "we're closer to relegation than we are to City" line, and, for as true as that is, it also saves me a great deal of time and effort typing something more meaningful about the putative champions. Good for them and all that. Before moving on, though, I do want to ponder what it's like for success to feel so...so...banal. There's no drama. No tension. Just the weary, drawn-out pseudo-drama in which Pep pretends like he's worried. Anyway, I'm pretty sure they won again this weekend but can't really be bothered to look it up. 

2. Liverpool (24 matches: 16W, 6D, 2L, 54 pts.)
Again, "we're closer to relegation than we are to Liverpool". So be it. Liverpool sent a clear statement of intent to City and Chelsea with a bold, brave, and imperious away win over [checks notes] Burnley, they of the -12 goal difference, 14 points taken from 21 matches, and 12 outings without a win. While this may be enough to furrow Guardiola's brow and dull ever so slightly Klopp's penchant for hyperbolic exaggeration, I think we're all in agreement when we say that both managers are wankers and we couldn't care less what happens at the top of the table. Ideally, of course, both clubs suffer a series of surprising setbacks and are both put into liquidation. Hey, stranger things have happened.

3. Chelsea (24 matches: 13W, 8D, 3L, 47 pts.)
The last time that Chelsea saw fit to play a Prem match was back in January, and it wasn't even a proper Prem match, what with the opponent being Tottenham, whom they did what most everyone does by battering them. Fast forward to this matchday, and we see Chelsea jetting off to Abu Dhabi, ostensibly to win something called the Club World Cup. Clearly intimidated at the prospect of facing GIHAFC, also known as Game In Hand We'll Play A Man Down Athletic Football Club (GIHWPAMDAFC for those keeping score at home), Chelsea opted to fatten themselves on some minnows. They can't avoid us forever, even if their continued progress in the Champions League, FA Cup, and League Cup postpone our visit to Stamford Bridge. It really is rather pathetic to see the lengths to which they'll go to avoid Arsenal.

4. West Ham (23 matches: 12W, 5D, 8L, 41 pts.)
After conceding an early goal, the Foxes had their tails up for long stretches, which might be a dangerous position giving a certain centre back's penchant for kicking mammals in the arse. Kurt Zouma was, um, "mysteriously" dropped shortly before this one, and an early goal suggested that karma (there's a portmanteau waiting to be made there (a portmanteau is a word invented by combining two other words. The work I do to enlighten the unwashed masses. Seriously.). At any rate, the Hammers looked like they either forgot how to play football or were too tired to try because they made Leicester look like top-four challengers themselves, conceding twice before finding a dramatic late equaliser to remind us all that Leicester are a little bit shite at the best of times. David Moyes will have some work to do as he tries to steer this squad to his customary sixth-place finish, especially as a very thin squad compete on three fronts.

5. Man U (24 matches: 11W, 7D, 6L, 40 pts.)
The Rangnick Revolution, um, continues? One of the most-expensive squads ever assembled has now sleep-walked to three consecutive 1-1 draws, each of them against fair-to-middling opponents. Including their 1-1 draw and eventual ouster from the FA Cup via penalties by Middlesborough may seem at first blush a bit, well, spiteful, but none of us is here for magnanimity, are we? A draw at Turf Moor to [checks notes] Burnley, followed by a home draw to Southampton suggests that Rangnick or Ronaldo or both has been hyped beyond belief. Forget gegenpress, Rangnick's calling card. Numerous players in this squad either can't or won't run all that much, even if they have the ball at their feet. For the most part, players seem to be mailing it in or succumbing to low confidence. More's the pity. Still, no squad with the likes of Ronaldo, Rashford, Sancho, and Fernandes in attack should be underestimated. They're underperforming...for now.

6. Arsenal (22 matches, 12W, 3D, 7L, 39 pts.)
It's been a quiet weekend, what with would-be opponents Chelsea fleeing to the Middle East for safety (which alone speaks volumes about their feelings about us). We have to dig deep into the annals of history to find a result worth analysing, and it's a doozy. Ten-man Arsenal somehow found their past 12-men Wolves, reduced as they were for 25 minutes or so after Good Gabrield netted early on and Mischeivous Martinelli was sent off for two bookable offences inside of several seconds, surely setting some kind of record or at least undoing somewhat Michael Oliver's reputation as an unbiased referee. That red card means we've committed roughly the same number of fouls in the last three years as [checks notes] Burnley while seeing 15 red cards to their zero. The only logical conclusion to draw from this is that Arsenal are a latter-day Stoke managed by Pulis, ruthlessly scything down opponents for fun. Anyone who suggests otherwise, such as incompetent or biased refereeing, is clearly out of his gourd.

7. Wolves (23 matches, 11W, 4D, 8L, 37 pts.)
On one hand, I'm happy to write about Wolvers in seventh because it means that Tottenham, whom they defeated, are eighth. On the other, I'm a bit nervous. Having sold human bowling ball Adama Traoré in January, Wolves had faltered a bit, losing at home to relegation stragglers Norwich and again to some London-ish club that was reduced to ten men. Unlike everyone else aside from Man City and Liverpool, they'd probably been playing at something close to 100% of their potential, and their defensive record suggests that they'll be tough to break down unless you have a Brazilian centre-back who can poke in from close range. Still, if they can find their footing again (by which I mean "play in the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium each week"), they'll be a force to be reckoned with.

8. Tottenham (22 matches, 11W, 3D, 8L, 36 pts.)
Antonio Conte seems to be wrapping his mind around what it means to be Spursy as he suffered his third consecutive loss for the first time since doing so way back in 2009. For the club, a third consecutive loss was somewhat more recent. As far as I can tell, it was in 2012 when they lost to [checks notes] Burnley, Chelsea, and then, finally, Arsenal. I could be wrong, but we don't come here for the facts; we're here for the feels. There was a lot of brave talk out of Tottenham (nothing new there) after they went nine undefeated once Conte took over. Conte seems to finally understand the nature of this club, saying after the match that "when you lose two games in a row at home and a previous game against Chelsea, a team that wants to fight for the Champions League is impossible." Perhaps more tellingly, he added that "the problem is that you cannot buy the winning mentality". Having loaned out Ndombele, Alli, Lo Celso, and Gil, and having only brought in Betancour (who looked sullen at the best of times) and Kulusevski on loan, it's hard to feel like Conte has gotten the players he needs to instill that winning mentality. Well, it is after all Tottenham. What do you expect?

Right, then. There you have it. It was all in all a very good week for those of us who support Arsenal. Most of our rivals suffered huniliations, if not humiliations galore. Still, that only matters if we make the most of our own opportunities. Those games in hand are tricky ones—away to Tottenham and to Chelsea, and home against Liverpool. On the other hand, we've been a bit wobbly the last few weeks, and we're still right in the thick of it. For now, I supposed we're expected to either relish or resent the fact Kroenke's Rams won the Super Bowl because it either proves or disproves that he cares about his playthings' success. Call it Schrödinger's Super Bowl.