Arsenal: The Liverpool Game Could Determine Arsenal's Chances at Top-4 Finish
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Fourth place will be like a major trophy for Arsenal this season. With this spot still up for grabs, and with a real possibility that Arsenal may finish outside the top four this season, the value of top four has become more apparent to many fans.
It has been a habit of a section of Arsenal fans to despise Arsenal's achievement in finishing in the top four in the last 15 seasons.
This has been one of the rewards the club has reaped from its appointment of an unknown Frenchman, who became Arsenal's manager 16 years ago.
Before then, Arsenal were a middling club, much like the Evertons, the Newcastle Uniteds or the Aston Villas of today. The Frenchman brought instant success to the club and won many accolades in his first decade at the club.
The last six years have seen a tapering away of success at Arsenal in terms of trophies, so much so that the term trophy-less has been coined by the English press just to qualify Arsenal. It is a term that has mercilessly tormented Arsenal fans in the last three years.
Frame of Reference
In the media's narrative—a narrative a section of fans have accepted—a top club shouldn't go six years without a trophy.
Fair. Only it's not fair.
What I think the media means is that a top club with a foreign manager shouldn't go six years without a trophy. Otherwise, how can one reconcile the bias and the hypocrisy that enshrouds the whole narrative?
If going trophy-less for a top club were really such a big deal, how come the term has never (or let's say rarely) been used for Liverpool?
Don't tell me they won the Carling Cup on Sunday. Prior to Sunday, what trophy have they won in the last six years?
By the way, Liverpool did not win the Carling Cup; Cardiff City lost it.
No club in the modern world has done what Arsenal have done and survived. That is, built a state-of-the art stadium, manage their debt and remained competitive. FC Porto and Bayern Munich all had subsidies. Arsenal didn't have any. So to use these examples is to be disingenuous.
Mediocrity or Achievement?
All I'm saying is that top four is an achievement, which is not to say it is the maximum benchmark, as some would immediately hear. Top four has always been understood to be the minimum benchmark, not the ultimate standard.
Arsenal have always wanted to win trophies, but in real life, to say something is not the same as having it happen.
In the last six years, Chelsea and Manchester United have bested Arsenal. But Manchester United were always miles ahead of Arsenal. Arsenal's change of fortune coincided with the arrival of Arsene Wenger at the club.
All Hail the Oligarch
Before the arrival of Roman Abramovich on the scene in 2003, United and Arsenal were England's two leading clubs, with Arsenal challenging United's stranglehold on the league, much as the latter had done to Liverpool a decade earlier.
Abramovich's money and Arsenal's sensitivity to the future changed all that.
With Highbury holding only a measly capacity of 38,419, it was clear to Arsenal's board that if Arsenal were to be relevant in the future, they club had to move, had to built a bigger arena, hence the Emirates, the financing of which has affected Arsenal's ability to buy top-class players in the last six years.
Arsenal have had to depend on growing young players to remain competitive, and competitive they've remained in the so-called trophy-less years.
In those years, Arsenal have outperformed teams that have outpaced them in spending, and that's about half of the Premier League clubs, including ones that since have been overtaken by hard times, clubs such as Portsmouth and Leeds United.
The Way of the World
Considering, then, the astonishing accomplishment of building a stadium while operating a sustainable model, unlike majority of Europe's top clubs, Arsenal should be applauded. As it is, the club, its board and manager have faced derision for their prudence.
Wenger reacts incredulously to this way of the world. It is a quote I have used recently. It is apt here.
What is unbelievable is that we run the model that should be absolutely normal and we look crazy. That is crazy. People will do anything stupid, but we are not crazy, we are all right.
We spend £1 if we make £1 and [then people say] 'What are they doing?' That is what is absolutely mad in our world, but the whole world is bankrupt because of that.
It is crazy because from the top clubs to the bottom of the pack, everyone is up to their neck in debt.
What is exasperating is that this is considered normal, such that if you dare question it, and say, "wait, Arsenal should be commended rather than condemned," you are liable to be run out of town with pits, cudgel, stones and the entire brass section.
This Year's Trophy
In the light of the foregoing, finishing in the top four shouldn't be despised. What has been amusing is that the very fans who have despised a top-four finish are now up in arms at the audacity of Arsenal to even think of finishing outside the top four.
Why, doesn't Arsenal know it would cost the club £25 million in Champions League revenue? And these are the fans that say money doesn't matter when it comes to football. Football (Soccer: they bring it down to the level of "dumb" Americans) isn't balance sheet.
I return after the long detour.
If Arsenal produce a good performance at Liverpool, it could serve as a turning point in their season. Here is this week's fixtures, courtesy of BBC Sport.
The inconsistent Chelsea are at West Bromwich Albion, who are equally unpredictable, so this match is up in the air.
Arsenal's fortunes will turn if Chelsea lose at Westbrom and Arsenal draw or win at Liverpool.
It wouldn't be a big gain over Chelsea, but it would give Arsenal some cushioning over Liverpool. A win will of course, grant Arsenal a three-point buffer over Chelsea if the latter lose at Westbrom.
A draw for both teams, with no significance difference of goals, means Arsenal will remain in fourth place for another week.
However, the scenario at the end of the week could have Chelsea in fourth place, three points better than Arsenal in fifth place, and Newcastle still in sixth place tied on points with Arsenal.
It is important therefore that Arsenal put in a similar performance as the one against Tottenham Hotspur last Sunday.
They need it to consolidate their challenge for a spot among the Premier League elite.
If Arsenal achieve this goal, it wouldn't be a trophy by any means, but given the club's extraordinary journey this season, it would be an achievement worthy of celebration.
And that's not being defeatist, it's being considerate and realistic.
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