14 November 2022

Rivals' Roundup—it's over. Give the trophy to Arsenal.

In which my quest for an original graphic may have gone awry...
There is not an ounce of piss being taken in that blogpost title, friends. I am deadly serious; it is in no way a hyperbolic, tongue-in-cheek mocking of where we stand (and will stay until Boxing Day, if not longer). "Top of the league during a six-week mid-season break for the World Cup, you'll never sing that if only because everyone hates this World Cup and they'll never do it like this again!" Hm. Doesn't quite roll off the tongue as it should. Anyway, it was a topsy-turvy matchday 16 in which not a single club has played 16 matches with Man City's shock loss at home to Brentford, Tottenham and Man U finding miraculous late wins, and Newcastle grinding out another win as they climb slowly if inexorably into the title chase. Right. Let's get to it...

1. Arsenal (12W 1D 1L, 37 pts).
Five points clear. Top of the league on Christmas Day for the first time since 2007. Okay, so it's only Wolves we beat this time, but they're stubborn as hell and always seem to view clashes with us as some kind of derby. Having said that, though, they were generous enough to do what they could to resolve the "Ødegaard is overrated" mindset, gamely allowing him to pick them apart on his way to two goals. It's really a pity that Diego Costa was unavailable, something I touched on in my match preview, but only because it might have been a bit of fun to see him try to manhandle Big Gabi and Saliba the way he manhandled Gabriel Paulista. In the end, though, it was a comfy win against a jammy opponent, and it's gratifying to see us send them further down. I tweeted at one point that this fixture feels like playing Stoke. It might be closer to the truth to suggest it feels like playing Burnley—absent the complaining manager, if only because they are between managers...

2. Man City (10W 2D 2L 32 pts).
Brentford once and for all exposed Man City's innovative strategy of buying all of the best players available for what it is, beating Pep's squad on its home turf, courtesy of Ivan "this has nothing to do with my omission from the England national team" Toney's brace. City looked strangely sluggish throughout, as if they sometimes assume that their financial superiority, world-class depth at almost every position, and a juggernaut of a Norwegian who scores, quite literally, when he wants is enough to guarantee a result. Take nothing away from the Bees, though—they were brave and positive, and this is the second week now when City have looked quite the opposite. Unlike last week, there would be no last-minute penalty to bail them out, despite the histrionical attempts from Haaland and de Bruyne to "earn" one. One might think that such theatrics are beneath them, but when world-class talent isn't enough, well, I guess one has to resort to darker arts.

3. Newcastle (8W 6D 1L, 30 pts).
Joe Willock answered the age-old question of which player we should have kept rather than sold, scoring the only goal as Newcastle won yet again while Aubameyang was an unused substitute. Perhaps. It was somewhat strange to see Graham Potter, desperately needing goals, start with Auba, Sterling, Ziyech, and Havertz on the bench. I'm sure it's some 4-d chess that I can't fathom. More importantly, Newcastle have been building momentum with each passing week, much like a snowball rolled from the top of a hill that has been financed by the entirety of an oil-state the likes of which would put Abramovich or Mansour to shame, should either of them know what that emotion feels like. On a more-serious note, there's a hunger here, a determination that should not be underestimated. As noted in previous posts, Newcastle are alone on this list on having no continental commitments and can focus with laser-like precision on the Prem. I'll stop just short of anointing them favorites to win the Prem...for now. 

4. Tottenham (9W 2D 4L, 29 pts).
Spurs continued their meticulously conceived and entirely sustainable approach to matches, conceding early and scoring late. They went behind to Leeds three times before finally applying their death-blow, just as Conte had drawn up. Here saw both sides of Leeds—the one side capable of some attractive, flowing football, the other equally capable of collapsing catastrophically. It's almost as if Jesse March is offering a parody of Bielsa-ball. Still, though, much as I want to resist, we're here to discuss Tottenham. It was a strange match, one in which we learned an arcane, rarely-invoked rule that allows a player to shove a keeper to the ground as long as he also sits down on the keeper afterward. Should an opponent score a goal during this sequence, it shall be allowed to stand. Spurs were savvy enough to get their first goal here, laying aside once and for all whether or not Harry Kane ever gets preferential treatment. Conte complained about how tired Kane has been, and it's only fair that he was therefore given a chance to score such a legitimate goal.

All of it's a hot mess, to be honest: an-already messy situation to which heat is applied, thereby making it messier. Should I include Man U, whose latest win came through a not-at-all "Fergie Time" goal at Craven Cottage? And what to make of Ronaldo burning all sorts of bridges with his interview with always-to-berespected Piers Morgan? What of Liverpool, who have won two in a row for the third time this season (surely, there's a trophy of sorts for that)? Will Brighton or Chelsea find any kind of relevance? Did your correspondent find any kind of delicious schadenfreude in asking that last question? Savor the mystery. There does seem to be emerging a kind of three-horse race, with Arsenal, Man City, and Newcastle starting to pull away from the rest of the pack. We'll enter the next six weeks in a kind of limbo, but January will surely bring a flurry of activity from the contenders for as well as the pretenders to the throne. Let's enjoy the fact that we'll sit atop the table until Boxing Day, if not a bit longer, shall we?

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