23 May 2015

West Brom Preview: Pulis just keeps poppin' up...

Sigh. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a thing of beauty, not this…this monstrosity. Three matches and two weeks ago, we were booking our best finish in a decade, offering a nifty bookend to winning our first bit of silverware in a decade a season ago. Instead, we’ve staggered and stumbled through our last three matches, dropping seven points from nine, and now have to settle for a third place finish—provided we can get at least a point from the Baggies.

21 May 2015

Arsenal anxiously eyes up its chances for finishing above Man U...

Sorry for the delay. Between the midweek match and its outcome, I couldn’t quite come to terms. It’s one thing for Chelsea to have won the league—it’s like cheering for gravity, really—and quite another to let second place slip through our fingers as we’ve done. As it now stands, we look all but certain to finish third, and this has to feel like a letdown after rising to as high as second. That spot is now Man City’s, and there’s an outside chance that Man U could find a way past us to third. Feh. If nothing else, we’re defending a position rather than scrambling for it. On top of that, unlike the other three, we still have some silverware to fight for. Let’s get down to it, then...

● Position: 1st.
● Record: 25-9-3
● Points: 84 (75.7%)
● Form: WDWWDL
● Last match: West Brom 3-0 Chelsea
Chelsea are well and truly mailing it in now, losing 3-0 to West Brom in truly bizarre fashion.  28 mintues in, there was a bit of a scuffle in the Baggies’ area, which Fabregas tried to solve by launching the ball in, hitting Chris Brunt in the head. Red card. Perhaps Fab was making sure that he would respect Henry’s record of 20 Prem assists in a season. It’s not quite Pizzagate, that’s for sure. Moments later, in a separate incident involving John Terry but not his teammate’s girlfriend, Saido Berahino scored his second goal to earn the Baggies the win. Does anyone really care, though? Let’s move on.
● Next match: 24 May vs. Sunderland

Manchester City
● Position: 2nd
● Record: 23-7-7
● Points: 76 (68.5%)
● Form: LWWWWW
● Last match: Swansea 2-4 Man City
Effin’ Swans. You come into the Emirates and defend like your lives depend on it (although, to be honest, we helped by shooting straight at Fabianski time and time again) only to fold faster than Superman on laundry-day at home against Citeh. You could’ve been contenders. You could’ve qualified for Europa League play. Instead, you let it slip through your fingers. More to the point, you denied us a chance to finish above Man City. Oh well. Pellegrini’s men have been on a mission, scoring ten goals in two matches to ensure that they’d finish second on goal-difference and again on points. Whether this surge is enough to secure Pellegrini’s position or forestall a fire-sale is another question, though. Yes, Yaya scored, but he, like most of City’s core, is waning rather than waxing. Of their outfield players, only three players under age 27 have made more than 20 starts—Aguero, Fernando, and Mangala. Yes, Aguero inspires fear, but do Fernando or Mangala? This might have been City’s Swan-song, which is not the same as saying their goose is cooked. I’m sure Sheikh Mansour will pull a few rabbits from his hat come summer…
● Next match: 24 May vs. Southampton

● Position: 3rd
● Record: 21-9-7
● Points: 72 (64.9%)
● Form: WDWLDD
● Last match: Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland
I could’ve had class. I could’ve been a contender. I could’ve been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am. Sigh. There’s no other way to look at this other than as an opportunity missed. We were in second place. We had a game in hand. Then, we dropped seven points from three matches and might count ourselves lucky to still be sitting third. We had to figure that we’d beat Swansea and Sunderland, maybe suffering a loss or earning a draw at Old Trafford. Little did we know that the draw at Old Trafford would be the highlight of the last two weeks. Still, all is not lost. A third place finish is well within our grasp—unless we lose on Sunday and Man U win in such a way that they overtake us on goal-difference. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a thing of beauty, not this abomination. However, even with City’s stumbles, we have to admit that a third-place finish is about right—maybe even a spot higher than we “should” finish,  when we consider the finances of the top-four finishers. That might be cold comfort, but it’s a far-cry better than fending off the likes of Shite other clubs for a top-four finish…
● Next match: 24 May vs. West Brom

Manchester United
● Position: 4th
● Record: 20-9-8
● Points: 69 (62.2%)
● Form: WLLLWD
● Last match: Man U 1-1 Arsenal
It’s rare that we can suggest that Arsenal were the shrewder side against almost any opponent. However,  it must be suggested that, offered a one-goal lead at home in a fixture whose outcome would go a long way towards deciding who qualifies outright for Champions League play and who has to face a two-leg qualifier, the home-side would defend that lead. Somehow, however, Van Gaal’s side had more grandiose ambitions. Defending that early one-goal lead, they forgot that Theo Walcott likes to lurk in that almost-offside position in order to run in behind, and he manufactured an equaliser that all but extinguished Man U’s hopes of a third-place finish. With just ten minutes left to play, Man U had lost the plot in a match that would have seen them leap-frog Arsenal into third-place. 150m in transfer-fees, in a campaign bereft of Champions League commitments (not to mention League Cup and (ahem) FA Cup fixtures) have not been enough to allow Man U to qualify for Champions League play. They’ll have to deal with a two-leg qualifier—and will struggle with another summer of uncertainty: will they make Falcao’s “loan” permanent? What’s to be done with van Persie? Will de Gea bolt? And so on…
● Next match: 24 May at Hull.

With the top-four positions essentially settled, a certain malaise sets in. At our end, we have to feel like we let a fantastic finish slip through our fingers—even if the Prem title was Chelsea’s to lose from, oh, ‘round about October. From the looks of things, we’ll finish third, behind two of the most profligate spending clubs in the world and ahead of another. Not too shabby. It might have been nice to finish second, and we’ll have to answer some hard questions about why we didn’t, but we do also have an FA Cup to win. Let’s deal with the Baggies while setting our sights on a second straight FA Cup title. 

20 May 2015

A scoreless draw? I blame Theo. And Norwich. And Sunderland.

We waltzed in and assumed that we would waylay Sunderland, forgetting for the evening that they only needed a point to stay up in the Prem. Between this match and their next one against Chelsea, the Black Cats had to figure that this might be their best chance at a point. After all, we sleep-walked through the loss to Swansea and stumbled out of Old Trafford with a draw and hardly look like the same squad that briefly rose to second place in the Prem. However, we seemed bound and determined to nibble around the edges of the Sunderland area, hoping against hope to find another pornogol of the kind Wilshere scored a season ago against Norwich—or, for that matter, the one Rosický scored against Sunderland. As with Swansea, we've reverted to some bad habits, namely, passing and passing and passing in the hopes that we can string together the perfect sequence of passes until the ball ends up in the back of the net. It just wasn't meant to be, not on this day.

Arsenal 0-0 Sunderland: Vote for Player-Ratings/MotM

A stubborn Sunderland side dared Arsenal to pierce a defense that strived to keep eight or nine defenders behind the ball, and despite a few fleeting chances, we went into halftime locked in a scoreless draw. It stayed that way for most of the second half until, around the 70th minute, we seemed to remember that a win is more interesting and useful than a draw. We tested Pantilimon time and time again, but he was always up to the task or the parked bus got in the way or we wasted our own best efforts. The result keeps Sunderland in the Prem another season, eliminates us from finishing second in the Prem, and exposes us to dropping to fourth, however unlikely. We'll take a closer look at ramifications and performances later; for now, rate our lads in the poll below...

Walcott to punish Pantilimon all over again...

Look, I know that the man played 18 minutes against Manchester United and only 21 minutes the week before against Swansea, but it's hard to resist the idea that Theo Walcott is raring to go. While other players are getting a bit rubbery after playing week in and week out all season, Theo has to be fresh as a daisy, not to mention chomping at the bit, after being sidelined for most of the last 12 months, first by that ACL tear and then by uneven play compounded by much-more intense competition at his favored position, whether it was from the the newly signed Alexis or Welbeck or the displacement of Ramsey to the wing to make room for the Cazorla-Coquelin combo. As he's sat, it's been all too easy to opine that he's fallen out of favor, to the point that there's been open talk of selling him in the summer. Madness. Please remind yourself of what the man can do. Better yet, let's hope he gets a chance to show us against Sunderland.

18 May 2015

Send out Wilshere and Walcott against Sunderland, please...

We've backed ourselves into a bit of a corner, but that's still a far cry better than we've done in previous seasons when we've needed some last-second heroics or results to break our way elsewhere before claiming a Champions League spot. Despite our recent setbacks, we still have a gilt-edged glimpse at finishing second and should certainly feel like third is ours to lose. Standing in our way is a squad struggling to stave off relegation and a cauldron of complicated results. If we can make the most of our Wednesday clash with the Black Cats, we'll have third in the hand with second lurking in the bush. That might sound borderline inappropriate, but bear with me.

17 May 2015

We can still mangle these Mancs, whether they're Sky Blue or Devil Red...

Once Sunday began with an improbable, last-ditch win for City at Liberty Stadium, we might be excused for mailing it in a bit at Old Trafford. After all, Yaya Touré's winner all but cinched the belt on second place, and what else is there Arsenal to play for but third? For 75 minutes, we played in such a way that a comparison to dog food would be insulting to it, not us, and we still emerged from a stadium in which we haven't won a Prem match for how long I don't dare mention it (okay, September 2006). It's not the win we clamored for, but it's a result that sees us batten down hatches and all but dare Man U to overtake us anyway. Like it or lump it, that's a far-cry better than we might have hoped for when the first half of the season unravelled unfolded.

Man U 1-1 Arsenal: Vote for Player Ratings/MotM

We came into Old Trafford knowing that Man City had found a way past Swansea, knowing that we would need a win in order to keep our hopes of a second-place finish alive. However, it was Man U who went ahead courtesy of a nice bit of work from Young, who found Herrera waiting at the far post. Herrera calmly volleyed home, and the goal looked like it would close the door on our hopes, leaving us to fight off the wrong Mancs for the position we hoped for. Finally, though, we found our way though (was it because de Gea had come off? Perhaps...). In the 83rd minute, Walcott bobbed and weaved in the box, his cross deflecting into a shot past Valdes. Better lucky than good, sometimes, Five minutes of stoppage time were not enough to allow Arsenal another chance, but the draw does keep us above Man U in third place. We'll take a closer look at the match later; for now, give our lads the ratings they deserve in the poll below...