18 March 2022

Weekend Wind-up #30: It's a wee bit short (that's what she said).

There's been a doin's a-transpirin'. What with midweek Prem fixtures about which we'll say little (other than to point out that the Prem's youngest squad very nearly toppled one of the world's best), Champions League and Europa League ties, this weekend's FA Cup clashes, and international friendlies coming up, there are, well, um, of lots of doin's...doins'...doins's...a-transpirin'? I don't know. I don't speak satirized versions of American southerners all that well. Suffice it to say that there's been a lot going on. As Ernest Hemingway once said, don't mistake motion for action. Let's get down to business.

3. Chelsea
The not-at-racists eased past Lille in the Champions League, and their reward is to face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Saturday, and it's a good thing that (a) there are no absolutely, positively no off-field distractions to discombobulate the squad, (b) Tuchel is clearly not being vetted by Man U for next season, and (c) no Prem side has ever been upended by the likes of Middlesbrough. Long story short, this should be an absolute cake-walk for the Chavs. Bolstering their bona fides have been Tuchel's crystal-clear, not-at-all waffling responses to questions about Abramovich and his coziness with would-be Soviet-style dictators as well as the absolutely 100%, crystal-clear commitment to finding a new owner who's not been linked to funding or profiting from human rights abuse. Long story short: Chelsea are the Ukraine of the Prem. Everyone's rooting for them...right?

4. Arsenal
Name a more iconic-duo and all that. After being absolutely drubbed inches away from drubbing one of the best squads in the world, Arsenal emerged from a midweek setback...pretty much where we were beforehand. If Martinelli or Ødegaard had been just a bit more clinical in their finishing, if Ramsdale had just smothered Jota's shot, if Marriner had just booked Mané just once...well, dare to dream, eh? Despite the setback, we're still sitting fourth with games in hand over our closest rivals. We do have to go into Villa Park for a very tricksy fixture against a side that has feasted on relegation-fodder sides but also acquitted itself fairly well at London Stadium, scoring a late consolation goal only to lose 2-1 to West Ham. Coutinho is a threat to be watched, but if we can play with anything like the intensity and focus we showed midweek against Liverpool, Villa will be overwhelmed (almost went with over-velmed there. Bonus points for restraint shown, eh?).

5. Man U
Having bested Tottenham courtesy of a Ronaldo hat-trick, Man U decided that the best course of action against Sevilla in the Champions League would be to not let Ronaldo touch the ball. Like, at all. The man touched the ball, to be sure, but never did so anywhere close to the Atleti box. It's almost as the hat-trick against Tottenham was the stuff of spontaneous serendipitiy rather than anything resembling a grand design. Having been ousted from winning Champions League silverware (which they clearly had a clear path to, what with there being no other clubs superior to them (I've been told that Bayern, Man City, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Atleti, and, well, everyone other than Benfica would like a word with me), Man U can now try to focus on salvaging something resembling respectability by holding onto a Europa League Conference spot. This is surely a shiny bauble that will entice Ronaldo, Rashford, and Rangnick to re-commit to the Red Devils.

6. West Ham
I'm torn. On one hand, I find it hard to taunt the Hammers when the Ukrainian Yarmolenko is involved, and he did score to send West Ham through to the Europa League quarter-finals. That's some balm to the soul right there. On the other hand, Kurt "I kick cats" Zouma continues to play. Weighed on a scale, the fates and sufferings of millions of Ukrainians far outweight that of one cat. Yarmolenko: keep scoring goals. Zoum: get sanctioned. Having weighed up the moral underpinnings, I hope it's not too cynical to size up what this all means. West Ham's very-thin squad played a lot of football on Thursday and will have to go into Tottenham Stadium on Sunday, weary and perhaps divided. A positive result would boost their top-four aspirations while again denting Tottenham's; resting a few key players might boost their chance at winning the club's first major trophy since 1981. That's just the kind of distraction a thin squad best by injury can ill-afford.

7. Tottenham
It's the flip-side of the coin, innit? Tottenham will host West Ham on Sunday, and woe betide the side that has beaten the side that has lost its last six. That would be Brighton; Tottenham somehow, by hook or by crook, found a way to beat Brighton, Hove and Albion. Seems a bit unfair to have to face three different squads all at once, even if they together had conceded 13 goals whilst scoring just once in their last six outings. Making matters worse, Tottenham have established a very firm pattern of following a win with loss and vise versa, having repeated this pattern across eight matches dating back to mid-February. To be honest, though, a draw serves our interests best, as the two are both on 48 points, three behind us. West Ham have played a full slate of Prem matches but have Europa League to distract them; Tottenham have played just one match more than we have but have no other chances at silverware...yet again. Let's hope they share the traditional scoreless draw with numerous red cards for violent conduct and, depending on your moral predilections, a few season-ending but not career-ending niggles.

Right. There you have it. There are a lot of moving parts here, and it's getting harder to resist the idea that Arsenal have the inside track on a fourth-place finish. A lot can happen between now and the end of the sseason, of course, but I don't think it's too much to suggest that we among our rival for fourth are the only ones who are showing the kind of mettle, consistency, and dynamism requisite for the position on the table that we are all vying for. 

I'm no seer, of course, and as a result invite your own insights. Take a moment to enlighten me and all of those who bother to read this far. Comment, upvote, follow, share to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and all of those other platforms. Cheers.