26 February 2023

Rivals' Roundup: We're through the looking-glass, people...

Another week, another win for the Arsenal. And for Man City. Man U, not so much. Well, they did win, but it was in the EFL Cup, which no one of any repute really takes seriously until after they've won it. Newcastle apparently felt bad enough about Liverpool's quagmire of a season that they generously shipped not one but two goals but still look tenacious enough to cling to a top-four spot, despite Tottenham's Conte-less rise. The less said about that the better for the digestive tracts of all concerned. Well, enough throat-clearing. Let's get right to it.

1. Arsenal (18W 3D 3L: 57 pts.)
Our Gunners had to overcome a spirited Leicester side captained by Craig Pawson  and VAR, who decided that holding hands with the keeper in the box is worth denying a goal whilst dragging a player down in the box isn't worth a pen. It's no mean feat to overcome a squad fighting to stave off relegation, and that feat gets even...meaner? Larger? I'm not sure how to extend that idiom. Let's move on. It's a second consecutive away win, and it gives us 31 points from 13 away matches, eclipsing the 28 points we took from all of last season's 19 away matches. We've emerged from our worst wobble of the season largely unscathed, still two points clear with a game in hand until Wednesday when we host Everton, whose new manager bounce lasted all of about ninety minutes. Maybe they'll sack Dyche and bring in Pulis or Pardew to replicate the effect. It would be hard to decide which of the three brings more bile to the back of the throat.

2. Man City (17W 4D 4L: 55 pts.)
City have apparently decided that they win the Prem based on goal difference alone, putting four past toothless Bournemouth in what City defender Rico Lewis said, apparently with a straight face, "sends a message" to Arsenal. Um, Rico, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we still sense that yours is the better squad, and we know that you've beaten us twice in the last few weeks. We don't need any messages, thank you very much. I have to admit to having shaken a few birdcages with this post lampooning the idea that Arsenal have simply copied what City have been doing. There might be some insecurity around the idea that Arteta's getting more out of his thin squad than what Guardiola's getting out of his deep, expensive, not-at-all-illegally paid-for squad. Is it possible that Pep's obsession with winning the Champions League turn his gaze away from the Prem? Yes, but it's not something we can count on.

3. Man U (15W 4D 5L: 49 pts.)
The Red Devils took a break from Prem play this weekend to win The Most Important Piece of Domestic Silverware in All of England. Maybe, just maybe, this will force the British media to finally, at long last, notice the job that Ten Hag is doing and start writing about the tentative progress his side have made. I mean, really. How overdue are the accolades? Where are the articles that overflow with superlatives? I really find it more than a bit scandalous that more isn't being said about how superior Man U have been to any other club in history. The Home Office should announce an inquest. Okay, more seriously, Man U have looked much improved since the World Cup, something I'd warned about in previous posts. Rashford in particular seems to found his groove, and the squad do look capable of making this a three-horse race. Like us, they have a game in hand over City, and they could use that to narrow the gap to their noisome neighbors to just three points. Winning the EFL Cup might even give them a boost.

4. Tottenham (14W 3D 8L: 45 pts.)
Oh, now we're into the dregs. Tottenham have climbed four points clear of Newcastle by somehow managing to score more goals than Chelsea, who really should consider bringing in some attacking players who can score goals. That's just my two cents. Speaking of goals, Harry Kane managed to score goal #201, closing the gap to Alan Shearer to just 59, suggesting that he could surpass the legend by the end of the 2024-25 season. Of course, Shearer managed to win the Prem, highlighting the very unique and very Spursy skill set that Kane has of collecting individual honours while avoiding silverware like it was the plague. Spurs are very much still alive in the FA Cup with a trip to Sheffield United this weekend and have a bit of work to do in the Champions League after losing the first leg1-0 at the San Siro. I don't think that even the most-optimistic Spurs fan sees them winning either of those, and the gap between them and Arsenal is simply too big to cross. Still, they're in the top four, so I had to write about them. Done. I need a shower and a drink.

Below the dregs, it looks like the bloom is off the rose over at Newcastle. Turns out that scoring goals is an important part of the equation, and when you lose to Liverpool these days, well, you really do need to give yourself a good, hard look in the mirror and admit that you have problems. They have only played 23 matches, though, and could overtake Spurs by winning those two, but where will the goals come from? Hard to say. Elsewhere, Fulham, Brighton, and Brentford have stumbled a bit, and Chelsea closer to being rock-bottom than they are to being in the top four. We're basically at the two-thirds mark of the season, and things are starting to crystallize. At a risk of sounding overly optimistic, I think we have a fair chance at finishing above most if not all of our rivals. 

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