The battle to finish second – or at least in the automatic Champions League slots – has twisted and turned but with some strange fizzling-outs elsewhere in recent weeks, it’s opened up for Arsenal.
United, who were winning without convincing, have slumped at a peculiar time. Liverpool, ditto, though they won’t have given up hope yet. Man City have won three in a row but have had a strange season.
So we stand on the threshold of Champions League football again. Win tonight against Hull and we’re there, barring a four-game collapse of monumental proportions and a swing in goal difference of more than 20 goals.
It’s a good position to be in, but I can’t help but feel it could be a more unpredictable end to the season than we think, too. It’s the time of year when concentration can drop and bodies are weary (as we are seeing elsewhere). If the ‘goal’ has long been Champions League football (stop squirming at the back) and we make it with four games to go, that little edge might be taken off proceedings. That’s something Wenger will be keen to warn against.
Fortunately, we have three home games to come. Does it matter if we come second, third or fourth? Obviously, not having to qualify for the Champions League would be huge. But beyond that – not much. Runners-up means you haven’t been good enough to come first. Though if you look at it chronologically, it’s progress – we’ve not been second since 2005.
In fact, the two most unpredictable opponents could be Hull tonight and Sunderland at home. The prospect of relegation can do strange things to people; just ask Leicester.
If I was in charge, I’d inject a bit more width tonight. Ramsey is a bit wasted out on the right and I’d be inclined to go bold. For me that means starting with Welbeck on the wing, not Ramsey. He can either play through the middle, giving Santi a rest, or can come on later in the game if we need more midfield discipline.
Of course, fitting everyone in is hard when they’re all so atypically fit. Wilshere is champing at the bit and he won’t be the only one. It does make for an intriguing summer, because while I agree with Wenger that the close season won’t see huge ins and outs, there will be some frustration and agitation to contend with. Walcott, Wilshere, Gibbs, Debuchy, Szczesny, Arteta: all will wonder about their places. That’s not even taking the imminent departures of Rosicky and Flamini into account.
In other news…
Much as I say it through gritted teeth, because there’s a list of things I dislike about them as long as my arm, Chelsea have deserved to win the league and I don’t want to be incredibly graceless about it by pretending it hasn’t happened. All fans are partisan and blinkered, and I am no different, but they’ve won the league by a canter, so fair play to them.
The whole ‘boring’ thing was just an epic wind-up and should be seen as such. For me, the thing to concentrate on is not whether you like their style of play or not (I think they’ve played decent football overall – our own performances hardly tore trees up in the first half of the season) and more about what we need to do to catch them next year.
Points-wise, everyone else is miles off.
So if closing the gap means being more cynical and streetwise at times, and throwing aesthetics out the window if necessary, I’m not sure I’d care too much if it edged us closer to the top of the pile.
As for tonight: Come on you rip-roaring reds. Keep going.