Arsenal fan Julius @OneGunn3r on why the battle for third and fourth is set to get very, very interesting
As our North London rivals can vouch, it is remarkably easy to get carried away on the back of a string of good results. Since Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale danced round a hapless and hopeless Arsenal defence 37 days ago, the Gunners’ resultant form has been second only to that of champions-elect Manchester United. This has made the race for third and fourth much more interesting, especially when you factor in how awry it has gone for Tottenham.
Villas-Boas (or AVB) confidently asserted that his side’s 2-1 win over an anaemic Arsenal would send his team into an “upward spiral”, and cast us into one of the downward type. Of course, we have heard much from up the Seven Sisters road about a “shift in power”, as if some sort of seismic earthquake rips through Islington whenever a relatively assailable gap appears.
There was even Robbie Keane’s belief that 2009/10 would be the season Spurs were ready to sail past a sinking ship, Arsene Wenger frantically calling for lifeboats and all. Of course, that belief never materialised. Last season, ‘Arry was talking of a similar shift, going as far to say that “If we keep up form, we’ll win the league”. They didn’t win the league. Or finish above Arsenal.
Since that awful day for anyone in red and white at the Lane, Tottenham have won two of the proceeding seven matches. They have only mustered up ten goals in that time and have conceded twelve. In the league, they have won just once in four attempts, failing to even hit the net at home against notoriously bad travellers Fulham. In that time, Arsenal have won four on the trot, including the gloriously disappointing night in Munich and an impressive win at West Brom. With a game in hand, albeit against Everton, that famous gap has shrunk to two points. It is back in Arsenal’s hands.
There will be difficulties for both sides in the N postcode. The Gunners welcome Everton and Manchester United to the Emirates in a fixture list that includes trips to Fulham, QPR and Newcastle, three away fixtures in which we picked up a solitary point last season. It will surely be even harder for Spurs. Should they progress against Basel, they will have to sandwich in another pair of European games on top of visits to Wigan, Stoke and Chelsea and still find a way of beating Manchester City at home.
Technically, both sides can reach the top four if Spurs gain more points than Chelsea and beat them at Stamford Bridge. But unless there is an incredible collapse at the Etihad, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal must tussle for two Champions League spots. That obviously cannot work, so one must fall out of the running. If history tells us anything, it is that there will be a lot more twists and turns.
It was at this stage last year when Arsenal had established a healthy lead over Spurs and seemed to be coasting into the top three (the only guaranteed path given Chelsea’s progress in the knockout stages of the competition itself). Hiccups against Wigan, Noriwch, QPR and Stoke allowed Tottenham back into the running, who complied with victories over Blackburn and Bolton.
Had they beaten Aston Villa, Spurs could actually have leapfrogged Arsenal to head into third before the ultimate final day, but an early red card for Danny Rose meant they could only draw 1-1 at Aston Villa. The final day came and went, with Arsenal ending up with the somewhat oddly coveted crown of qualifying for a competition they were hardly going to win.
The rest of the season will be an entertaining spectacle for any neutral. It seems unlikely that both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur will end up with premier European football next season, and whoever wins the battle will be able to take the bragging rights which Arsenal have hogged since George Michael was top of the charts with “Fastlove”.