03 May 2022

Rivals Roundup #35: Tantalus, Sisyphus, and barnacles...

I'll be honest here—I was really, really looking forward to writing about just two clubs this week. However, Chelsea had to go ahead and find a way to lose to Everton (who the hell loses to Everton, at Goodison Park no less? Pfft.), and Man U somehow found a way to defeat Brentford. As it stands, then, we still have to consider Chelsea, Arsenal (who stand in as Tantalus), Tottenham (who reprise their ever-lasting role as Sisyphus), and Man U (the obstinate barnacle).  I wish I could replace all of our rivals with that Chinese cartoon with the robots that turn into blingwads, but that's a project that will just have to wait. Without any further throat-clearing, then, let's get down to business.

3. Chelsea (34 played: 19W 9D 6L—66pts.).
Chelsea continue their wobbly ways, initiated by none other than the best club in London. Since their brave but futile defeat to Real Madrid, they've now won just one of their last four. This last one has to sting just a little bit, even if we remember that Everton are fighting to avoid being the biggest club to get relegated since...Leeds? Man City? Newcastle? Nottingham Forest? Ipswich? It depends on who you ask; context is everything. Let's set that aside and consider Chelsea as the tantalizing, just out of reach fruit that they are. Yes, they're three points above us with a vastly superior goal difference. On the other hand, the rats are deserting what appears to be a sinking ship (and, in this case, the rat epithet may be literal) ahead of a difficult summer transfer window. Already, Rudiger is off to Real Madrid. Rumours around Alonso and Azpilicueta leaving are proliferating. If it's true that this squad have started mailing it in, they may end up as very low-hanging fruit indeed.

4. Arsenal (34 played: 20W 3D 11L—63pts.).
We are Tantalus (okay, that sounded more epic in my mind as a kind of "I am Spartacus" kind of thing, but it didn't quite come off. More's the pity). Having won all three of our four supposedly trickiest fixtures, two of them away from the Emirates, it's starting to feel like we may just have to settle for a 2-2 draw at Topspur Stadium in order to clinch that vaunted fourth place finish. Fourth place and Arsenal. Name a more-iconic duo. While it might be fanciful to fancy finishing above Chelsea, it is after all still in the cards, all the more so given their form and a few tricksy fixtures. As to us, it seems as if we've found some confidence even in the absense of Tierney and Thomas; Tomiyasu's return restored some stability to that back line, and Nketiah even offered something resembling a threat against West Ham. Grinding out results is just as vital as clobbering opponents; if we can continue to find those results, fourth is ours. Third, tantalizing though it may be, is at least on the menu.

5. Tottenham (34 played: 19W 4D 11L—61pts.).
For a brief, glorious hour or more, Tottenham could entertain the notion that they might avoid the resurrection of a St. Totteringham's Day. To their credit, the holiday ("holy day" for the etymologists among us ("etymologist", or the non-etymologists among us, is one who studies the origin and evolution of words). Tottenham somehow found a way past a heavily-rotated Leicester side, one whose eye is heavily focused on winning whatever the European Conference League is. For a brief, glorious (to them) moment, they occupied fourth place and may even have believed that it was theirs to keep. Sisyphus has a new role model. It was only a matter of time before they saw it slip away and roll back down to the bottom of the mountain. Should Arsenal find a way to defeat Leeds and Tottenham lose to Liverpool (a stronger prospect after Man City's win over Newcastle), we could just see the Arsenal clinch fourth place with...I don't know...a 2-2 draw at our noisome neighbors' stadium? Hmmm...

6. Man U (36 played: 16W 10D 10L—58pts.). 
I'll be honest here. I'm really only including Man U because (a) they're technically, mathematically still capable of finishing above us. They'd have to defeat Brighton and Crystal Palace while we lose every single match we have left. As such, I'm willing to tolerate their presence here, much as a grizzled sailor tolerates barnacles—they're not really going away, nor are they really doing anything noticeable. Watching them at this point is akin to daydreaming as one watches the waves flow away from the prow of the ship. It's entrancing and mesmerizing, but, in the end, it's little more than a bit of ASMR. One might ponder the depths if one is so desririous: which ripple is Ronaldo? Whither goes de Gea? Who else will be cut adrift once Ten Hag tries to take the wheel?  To torture the metaphor, which rats will desert the sinking ship? Rashford? Sancho? Pogba? Rangnick has talked of the squad needing open heart surgery. At this point, multiple organ transplants may be in order. 

There. Four clubs reviewed. Four. Are you not entertained? We've finally dropped West Ham and Wolves; neither club can overtake us. Even if West Ham win Europa League, they can't knock the fourth place Prem finisher out of a Champions League spot. Wolves are playing as if they're completely content and complacent with finishing somwhere between between sixth and, say, thirteenth. I can't be arsed to do the actual maths on that. Something tells me we'll be looking at just three...maybe even just two clubs a week from now. That NLD could be a spicy meatball...or it could just be a sweaty, slimy boulder that slips away from a certain club's grasp...
Anyway, that's a wrap. Before you go, you know the drill: upvote, comment, share, follow, etc. Cheers.