Title Run-In: Hit Or Myth
The title run-in we were told last week by Sir Alex Ferguson, favoured Arsenal. Their opponents were easier, had less to play for and were all emminently winnable games. His theory, presented as if he had invented the wheel by the media, was lapped up and used as the basis for taking seriously the Arsenal title challenge.
It is another avenue exploited as a means of justification for writing Arsenal off following the consecutive defeats by Chelsea and Manchester United. It also denigrates the efforts of the remainder of the season, where to date, Arsenal has performed better against the rest of the Premier League than either of those two sides. You only have to deduct the points earned in the ‘mini-league’ of the top three for evidence of that.
Undeniably, Chelsea has the tougher finish to season as the table below shows (bold indicates home fixtures):
|27/03/2010||Birmingham City||Bolton||Aston Villa|
|24/04/2010||Man City||Tottenham||Stoke City|
The immediate observation is that each side would want to go into the final match at the top, ideally with a points cushion rather than relying on goal difference for all of the opponents on that Sunday have a history of capitulating. Crucially it is the fixtures surrounding these that will have the biggest influence. If Tottenham get to the FA Cup Final, sixth in the Premier League is opened up to the Europa League giving Liverpool and Aston Villa much more to play for. It seems improbable that Liverpool will be in next season’s Champions League and they are struggling if they do not win the Europa League; Tottenham in the Cup Final suits them.
Despite their wretched current form, it would be a major shock if Chelsea do not win at Portsmouth during the week. Were they to fail to do so, they put themselves under tremendous pressure. There are three home bankers in their run-in; tempting as it is to wind any stragglers by claiming that it the matches in which Chelsea play way, those fixtures are the matches that they have against the teams outside of the top seven. The rest? They are truly up for grabs. Chelsea should have beaten Blackburn in the first half by sufficient margin to win the game. They did not and the obvious conclusion is that this was a hangover from the defeat by Internazionale. Perhaps losing to Aston Villa might have a similar effect.
Crucially, all of the top three have derby matches away from home against teams who are fighting for fourth place. Re-arrangement of any matches at this moment in time is a matter of days with nothing being pushed back to the tail end of the season. The team which emerges with seven victories from those games will win the league. Tottenham and Manchester City appear to be the ones who hold the key. They do; the two sides meet at Eastlands on May 5th in a fixture which will surely decide 4th spot in the Premier League. Defeats beforehand will make them more determined in the fixtures inbetween.
Each weekend increases the pressure; none of them teams can afford a defeat in isolation. The margins of error grow ever tighter as the weeks progress. With the perceived and real impact that the 2-2 draw the last time the teams met at St Andrews, this weekend is being built up as a key one for Arsenal. That is before you take into account the home form of Birmingham. This season they have performed well against United and Chelsea. No doubt that will come out in comments from the respective managers this week as part of their attempts to crank the pressure on Arsenal.
It is easy to highlight individual games but Arsenal has to win all seven and has a good chance of doing so, although it may be more realistic to expect a draw or two along the way. United are in the same boat and their meeting with Chelsea will be key for both, winning the match will be of equal importance as not losing it. A draw would suit Arsenal down to the ground.
Arsene Wenger alluded to experience being the key and whilst that is a beneficial factor, an often overlooked aspect is that Arsenal has experience of losing a title rather than winning it. The squad will not want to repeat those emotions and can draw strength should any dark times emerge in the coming months to pull themselves through. There should be no doubt that Arsene will use 2007/08 as a powerful tool to try to push through for the coming games; “You don’t want to feel that bad again, do you?” is as much of a rallying cry as “You’ve been here before; you know what to do“.
It is the tightest title race for years with three teams harbouring real title ambitions. For a squad that has been written off consistently from within and without, it is no mean achievement. Right now, none are settling for second best. Let’s get to winning it.
Posted on March 22, 2010, in Arsenal, Football, Premier League, Premiership, Soccer and tagged Arsenal, Chelsea, Football, Manchester United, Premier League, Soccer. Bookmark the permalink. 231 Comments.