12 April 2022

Rivals' Roundup #32: Dust in the wind, all we are is dust in the wind...

This was a weekend to forget. Not only did Arsenal lose to an inferior opponent—again, but Tottenham won. Add to that the fact that yours truly, having torn his ACL, MCL, and meniscus seven years ago, was doing his best Sunday League impression of Vieira (seriously—box-to-box, breaking up attacks, bombing forward, scoring) until I felt something in that same knee go pop. It wasn't as bad as the original injury, which was apparently audible to everone on the pitch, but it was enough to tell me that I should call it quits. This is quite different from what Arsenal should do, of course. We may not be playing for all of the marbles, but there are still enough out there that we shouldn't lose ours.

3. Chelsea (30 played, 18W 8D 4L: 62 pts.).
Okay, so Chelsea are released. We set them free. Not because we love them, but because the maths pretty clearly state that they're in the clear. This will pretty much be the last we see of them in these roundups. Dropping a half-dozen goals on Southampton may not have done much to resurrect their Champions League hopes, but it sure has qualified them to join Liverpool and Man City as "no longer our rivals". Let's move on.

4. Tottenham (31 played, 18W 3D 10L: 57 pts.).
Tottenham have scored 12 goals in their last three outings. Does this prove that they have somehow found the magic formula that Conte has been trying to force down their throats, or merely that they've hit a very favorable stretch of fixtures? Eh, a little from column A, a little from column B. Truth be told, padding that goal difference may just end up being the, um, tiebreaker should it come down to that sort of sordid little detail. In the short run, there may be just enough momentum to convince Conte, the squad, and Levy that a top-four finish proves that all is fine and dandy like sour candy, but the long-term reality is that such a finish would paper over numerous cracks. This current manifestation may have just enough quality to back its way into a Champions League spot, but it's a long way from fighting for silverware, and that latter factd is pretty much what we might expect from this lot.

5. Arsenal (30 played, 17W 8D 4L: 54 pts.).
Ugh. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Losing away to Palace might have been tolerable had it not been followed by losing at home to Brighton. Arteta made what was arguably one of his worst decisions by moving Xhaka to LB after losing Tierney and Thomas to injury, leaving us unable to control the midfield against Brighton. Palace tore us up like Kleenex at a snot convention, but Brighton simply benefitted from two well-taken shots. Going into a very rough stretch of fixtures that includes trips to Stamford Bridge, London Stadium, and Topspur Stadium, as well as a visit from Man U (more on them momentarily), it just may have been preferable to not lose key players to injury and also lose to midtable squads content to just take the piss. Still, fourth is not yet out of reach, but Tantalus may have had a better time of it than we will. Maybe Sisyphus is the better allusion? Pick your poison. That North London Derby could be bum-squeakingly climactic.

6. West Ham (32 played, 15W 6D 11L: 51 pts.). 
West Ham are on the verge of being dropped, but we can't quite count them out just yet. They have a decent chance at advancing in their Europa League semifinal clash with Lyon, no small feat for a club that hasn't seen a European semifinal since yours truly was two (1976, for those still doing the maths). All indications are that Moyes is determined to do something in this competition, if not win it. Whether his paper-thin squad can do something on Thursday in France and again on Sunday against dogged relegation stragglers Burnely will go a long way towards determining just how seriously we pretend to take them seriously. As the only club in the top seven to have played a full slate of 32 matches, the Hammers just can't afford to drop any more points anywhere if they hope to finish in the top five. Unfortunately for them, they have to go to Stamford Bridge and host both Arsenal and Man City. This may be, then, as the French say, il bacio della morte. At least, I think that's French. I really just wanted to show off how I could use italics for two different purposes. Enjoy.

7. Man U (31 played, 14W 9D 8L: 51 pts.). 
This whole time has felt more or less like having had to eat overboiled brussel sprouts in order to have some pudding. Well, it's puddin' time. Having spent more last summer than just about any other club on the planet in order to buy overpriced, ill-fitting baubles who flatter to deceive, Man U then went about proving that merely spending lots and lots of money on transfer fees and wages is not enough to contend. The other side of Manchester is having a bit of a chuckle at the moment. I mean, who loses to Everton? (Italics again, eh?). No one with any serious designs on a top-four finish. I don't want to wallow in anyone else's misery, but then again, let's wallow. Man U face a serious, soul-searching summer if they can't put Lazarus to shame. There are boisterous talks of boycotts to force the Glazerss out of the club, but those of us who know insurrection won't take that seriously until fans get together to rent a plane to fly a banner over the stadium. Until then, they're rank amateurs both on and off the pitch, whatever their wages may be.

Here we are. It's quite possible that the best we'll end up with from this season will be schadenfreude should Man U finish outside the top five. Maybe, just maybe (ooh—one-syllable italicizing!), we'll have a St. Totteringham's Day, but that would be a tall order. Let's be honest: rooting for another club's suffering is just the flip-side to rooting for our club's success. If we can somehow find our way past Tottenham, we'd get the best of both worlds. Is it too much to suggest that finishing fourth, and maybe even fifth, would have exceeded expectations for the year? Spending a few weeks in fourth and dreaming of catching Chelsea may have soured us somewhat on our current position. Finishing below Tottenham is never a good thing, but it's too soon to have to face that prospect just yet. 

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