13 April 2022

These go to eleven—can Arsenal overtake Tottenham?

Where do we go from here? Nowhere. Exactly. After two disappointing losses in matches we really should have won, it's starting to feel like the season is slipping away. I tried to think of the appropriate metaphor, the best idiom, to crystallize the situation. Sinking ship? I do like the idea of fairweather fans and bandwagoners and plastics deserting like rats. Sand slipping through our fingers?  It has its merits. What I'd like to introduce though is a concept from American baseball—the magic number. The magic number is the combination of one team's wins and its rival's losses that will ensure that this first team wins the division or at least finishes above those rivals. In this situation, though, we have to look at points claimed and points drops. If we're to somehow overtake Tottenham, this is a number we surely have to look at.

Of course, any reference to the number has to include an allusion to Spinal Tap. I think that's listed in the Magna Carta or maybe the EULA for whatever mobile device we each use. At any rate, eleven is Tottenham's magic number. Any combination of points they win and points we drop guarantees that they finish above us...again. With seven matches remaining, they can reach that magic number on their own. If they win the NLD, for example, they reduce their magic number to just five—they'd take three points and we'd drop three points. Just one more win and two draws and they've got whatever the hell the opposite of St. Totteringham's Day is. I don't want to know. Losing the NLD leaves them with six remaining matches, more than enough to reach that magic number. It is indeed looking bleak. 

Before we throw up our hands, gnash our teeth, or rend our garments, let's remember that there is a chance, however slender, for us to overtake them, and, what's more, return to the Champions League and  restore some sense of order and meaning to this chaotic, Bizarro-world alternate reality we find ourselves in. We simply can't afford to drop points. There's a slim, slender chance that we can in fact control our destiny by winning all eight of our remaining matches. Come to think of it, we don't even have to do that. 

Our magic number, the points we need to find plus the points Tottenham would have to drop? 25. We have only eight matches left to play, so winning out would just barely see us slide past Tottenham. We'd take only 24 points, of course, but Tottenham would drop three along the way by losing the NLD for a total of 27 points to us. We finish on 81 points, Tottenham on 75.  Order restored. If we were to win seven (including the NLD) and draw one, that would give us 22 points. Add to that the three points Tottenham drop in the NLD, and we have our 25 points. We finish on 79, Tottenham finish on 75 (assuming they win their other six matches). It's a tall order, to be clear, even if we didn't look a shadow of our recent selves in our last two outings. Tall, but not entirely out of reach.

Let's look on the bright(er) side: no rational fan (oxymoron, yes) actually expected us to finish fourth. "Challenge for a European spot" was the apparent goal, with a wink and a nod to the notion that this would allow us to qualify for the Europa Conference League and say "mission accomplished". The fact that we occupied fourth for a few weeks and even believed, however naively, that we might have a chance at reeling Chelsea in, might have inflated expectations ever so slightly. To now find ourselves looking up at Tottenham from fifth has surely soured us on the situation. Let's get back to rational. Those injuries to Kierney and Thomas have shown us just how thin our squad is—and how far we are from where we want to be. If we do end up outside the top four, that will reflect where we really are. Finishing fifth would still represent an achievement that outstrips our ambitions or at least our abilities. 

To that end, it's worth noting that our magic number over Man U is 19. While it's worth remembering that a wounded beast is pretty dangerous, this particular wounded beast also seems quite complacent (that's a polite word for lazy). While we may not be able to overtake Tottenham, finishing above Man U seems much more achievable. That squad, despite its glitzy summer signings and hefty wage bill, just doesn't seem interested anymore. Their sights are clearly set on the summer transfer window, and only their next match, a visit to Carrow Road, looks comfortable. Trips to the Etihad and, yes, the Emirates look perilous, as does a visit from Chelsea. Even if Man U were to somehow win all of their remaining matches, including that visit to the Emirates, we could still finish above them by winning our other seven matches.

It's not much, but it's reason enough to hope. We're still in the thick of it. Tottenham don't quite control their own destiny...