25 April 2022

Rivals' Roundup #34: Who needs an NLD anyway?

What a week it's been. Arsenal have apparently decided to troll Topspur by losing the matches we were expected to win and then winning the matches we were expected to lose.  It's a bit of the ol' Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope, and now they're the ones on the ropes. Either side of us, things are starting to crystallise, with Chelsea finally solidifying their grasp of third whilst Man U and West Ham finally fading away. It may be just a tad too early to write Man U off, but they gave it their best effort this weekend and came up well-short. With just five matches left to play among those still in play, then, the margins for error narrow all the more. Let's take a closer look at what that means.

3. Chelsea (33 played, 19W 6D 5L: 65 pts.).
Meh. Whatever. I suppose Chelsea did us all a favor by finally finding a way past a West Ham side that has clearly closed the book and asked the fat lady to sing on its Premier League campaign, with Moyes reseting key players ahead of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday against Frankfurt. Even against a bunch of plumbers and Sunday leaguers, Chelsea could barely find their way to a result that does end any realistic dreams of Arsenal reeling them in. In so doing, they've also driven a stake through the Hammers' already-distant hopes of qualifying for a European spot through a top-four or five spot in the Prem. They did do us all a favor by (a) getting Dawson sent off, rendering him unavailable along with Igbonna, Diop, and Zouma, and (b) letting Rudiger depart in the summer, depriving them of one of their best defenders and, ironically, goal threats. Maybe those Abramovichian sanctions will actually take a bite out of the squad after all...

4. Arsenal (33 played, 19W 3D 11L: 60 pts.).
A funny thing happened along the way to our "toughest run-in among the top six". We, um, won at Stamford Bridge and again over Man U within the span of three days, scoring seven goals along the way and suggesting, however demurely and coyly to Tottenham, that there may just be a St. Totteringham's Day this year. It seems as if the squad has rediscovered some confidence after losing Thomas and Tierney; the return of Tomiyasu and ascendance of Elneny playing no small part. All of a sudden, we find ourselves back in the driver's seat. Defeating Chelsea and Man U in close succession doesn't just give us six points when we might have been content with two and thrilled at four; it gives a young squad vital confidence as it gets into a very manageable string of five fixtures with that trip to the seedy side of London the toughest of them all. With unconfirmed rumours of Conte offering himself to PSG, it does seem as if Spurs are going down the drain like molten toothpaste. May they end the season feeling used and spit out.

5. Tottenham (33 played, 18W 4D 11L: 58 pts.).
Tottenham, knowing that Arsenal had defeated Man U earlier in the day, decided to continue one streak, one streak being better than none. Unfortunately, the streak they decided to continue was the one that sees them fail to register a shot on target for the second successive match, extending that barren run to more than three hours. In another sign that the grass is always greener away from Tottenham, most of the talk after this setback is about the possible magical unicorn return of Mauricio Pochettino from PSG and the performance of Christan Eriksen against Tottenham...as if Tottenham's best path forward is release a "greatest hits" DVD of a season three years ago. As they ponder their salad days, reality offers a cold, cold serving, with a tense visit of newly-fit Jamie Vardy and Leicester followed by a visit to Anfield (where they haven't won since 2011). Should they emerge from that gauntlet, their reward would be...Arsenal. The NLD could very well determine which club will finish fourth this season...or it could end up being more than a bit anticlimactic.
 
6. Man U (34 played, 15W 9D 10L: 54 pts.).

One almost has to feel bad for those poor little devils. They gave it their level best against Arsenal, striking the woodwork twice and fluffing a penalty (let's be honest, though: that was delicious) on their way to succumbing to a loss that might just consign them to their worst season in quite a while. The best they can do is to finish with 19 wins, and that's a tall order given how diffident the entire squad seems and how reticent Rangnick was in describing the locker room atmosphere after this loss. It's pretty clear that everyone from Rangnick on down is barely mailing it in when it comes to mailing it in. Even more so than Tottenham, all eyes seem to be on next season, with the announcement as Ten Hag as the next "permanent" manager. It's a bit wild to think that Ferguson was just the 20th manager in the club's from 1878 until 2013, and Ten Hag will be the eighth in the last nine years. There's a lot of talk of a summer splash, but they've already re-signed Fernandes for some reason, and Ronaldo has already stated that he'll return for another year. They may have the resources to buy all the players they want, but unloading others is another story.

So that's it then. It almost feels like it comes down to Arsenal and Tottenham, with Chelsea just out of reach and Man U slip sliding away. Even if we somehow let fourth slip from our grasp, a top-five finish surely exceeds most fans' preseason expectations, not that any of us is ready to settle for anything less than fourth at this point. I rather relish the idea of celebrating St. Totteringham's Day. Maybe we can even do so at Tottenham Stadium. Wouldn't that be grand?

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