A great many people—if we should begin with an exaggeration—pride themselves in their stoic disposition.
Like the great athletes, they can point with pride to their unconquerable spirit in the face of pain and disquietude. A spirit that emerges indomitable in the battle that calls for the triumph of the will.
Any reader familiar with my writing knows that I'm anything but stoic, although I do underscore, almost to the point of nausea, the importance of the rule of reason at the precise moment the tumult of raw emotions threatens to overwhelm all.
This conclusion is part of the paper's team-preview ahead of the coming season just around the corner.
The all-too-familiar feeling that precedes the emergence of a full-blown rant warmed my bosom rather quickly and too readily: Why fourth and not third, second, or even first place?
The question sounded in my head with as much forcefulness as a battery of cannons.
And just underneath this I could recognize the ugly face of that monster that can cling with the tenacity of a parasitic twiner: persecution complex.
Why can't we, for once, be reckoned the first of the bunch?
Why is it that somehow we are confined to the slot of the also-ran even before the ball is kicked?
If we are to be fourth, who, according to The Guardian's reckoning, is going to be ahead of us?
Isn't this a clear case of stereotyping, the auto-piloting that has overtaken sport journalism, which makes it t seem that no matter what Arsenal does, a certain ready-made narrative about the club must continue to prevail.?
As these questions roiled in my mind, four things drove me back to my senses.
First of all, The Guardian has every right to make any prediction it likes, and certainly one it deems concomitant with the signs ahead of the coming season.
The reader would note that the writer of The Guardian article gives a disclaimer that the prediction is a sum of the opinion of the paper's sport writers. Somehow, their combined readings of the signs ahead led them to conclude that Arsenal can't match last season's achievement.
How they came about this conclusion is not specified, but one can hardly blame them, given the fact that everyone is accustomed to having Arsenal finish fourth, certainly in the last few seasons.
It doesn't, therefore, take much imagination to conclude that this is now the status quo for the club.
Secondly, even a little reflection exposes the futility—and most certainly the foolishness—of ranting about the prediction.
The fact that The Guardian has said it does not suddenly make the paper an oracle. Nor, for that matter, one of those deux ex machina one finds in almost every fantasy novel.
To wit: "There was a prophecy..." which, because the narrator has said so, becomes as inevitable and as iron-clad as Calvin's doctrine of predestination.
At any rate, who is to stop me or any enterprising Gooner from making a contrary prediction that fixes Arsenal firmly as next season's winner?
Such a prediction wouldn't be less objective or more subjective than The Guardian's, any more than if a Liverpool or a Chelsea fan were to contend that, no matter what anyone says or thinks, Liverpool or Chelsea will win the league in the coming campaign.
Thirdly, the actual writer of The Guardian column gives Arsenal an objective assessment, so there's no need for going Jeremiad on him. His is by no means an auto-piloted article.
Fourthly, the prediction calls for reflection.
Why, if one must ask, do the sport writers of The Guardian think that Arsenal will be fourth instead of first?
Since this is just the first of their previews and predictions—Aston Villa is second and they've been slotted into 12th place, so what right have Gooners to complain?—they haven't reached the point of saying yet.
It is evident that prediction is to proceed alphabetically.
If Arsenal are to be fourth, who are considered better poised for the higher positions?
Most expected Manchester United to fly in the coming season. Getty Images.
I can understand why someone might think Manchester United might finish ahead of Arsenal.
Their pedigree and reputation are both strong persuasions for anyone considering the subject. Will they finish first then?
If United finished first the season before last, with what was arguably a very weak squad, then anyone who counts them out must be foolish indeed. Nor was their last season's squad the strongest, and yet they were only pipped for the title on goal difference.
Therefore, one must conclude that Manchester United have to be in contention for the title yet again, and that their strongest finish can't be below second place.
Notice that, so far, the conclusion isn't empirically driven. It follows completely from inference, which tilts precariously in the direction of the subjective.
An empirically driven analysis might involve a head-to-head comparison of the surveyed teams' squad members. Although, even that wouldn't constitute an iron-clad reason for concluding what team will be first come next May.
In any case, the conclusion that Manchester United might be first is as stereotypical as saying Arsenal will be fourth. None—as David Hume might point out were he still alive to be consulted—can defend either assumption on an empirical ground.
The fact that the sun rises every day does not guarantee it will rise tomorrow.
But that does not mean that there may not be tell-tale signs that enable the analyst to make an educated guess.
It appears that The Guardian has made an educated guess that Manchester United—not Arsenal—will finish first when the coming season grinds to an end.
What about Manchester City?
I don't believe City will retain their title. Getty Images.
When City played Arsenal at the Emirates last season and lost, they were in a crisis mode.
Rumor of an altercation between Yaya Toure and their enfant terrible in residence, Mario Balotelli, was making muted rounds.
Then Manchester United contrived to throw away their advantage. All of a sudden bells of joys were jingling and jangling once again in the caverns of the Etihad Stadium.
My inclination is to say if the Premier League's strongest squad of last season was barely able to win the league title, I do not think they will repeat the feat.
It could be argued that this will be Sergio Aguero's and Samir Nasri's second seasons and that they can only improve. True. Still, I do not believe that City will have as strong a beginning to the season as they had last year.
Towards the end of that season, even smaller teams had somehow figured them out. Most, I believe, will be better poised to face them this season.
As such, I believe their likelihood to have problem with smaller teams will be as strong as Arsenal's.
But that being said, it'd be foolish to count City out. They will challenge for the title, and if one were to be objective, one would have to conclude that slotting them into second position isn't unrealistic.
So far so good then.
Chelsea will finish above Arsenal? Not likely. Photo courtesy of Chelsea.com
This is were, I believe, subjectivity has overtaken the writers of The Guardian.
Yes, Chelsea have bought Eden Hazard and Oscar, but I'm still not convinced that Chelsea will finish ahead of Arsenal.
If you argue that they are the Champions League winners, I can counter—without coming off too subjectively—that was more luck than the team's exploits, even if one must credit them with an excellent and disciplined defensive display.
The strength of Chelsea after the departure of Andre Villas-Boas was two-fold: The experience of the veterans in the squad and their defensive organization, which was drilled into the team by the natural inclination of their Italian manager.
That strength cannot be called upon to win the league title.
Defense can win a cup competition for you quite easily—although I'm aware that Chelsea fans might object by saying that the Champions League is more than a cup competition—but it isn't bound to win you the league.
How Chelsea fare offensively will determine where they fall on the table.
The fact that Roberto Di Matteo is in his first season with the club isn't a big advantage, not compared to Arsene Wenger, who has had several opportunities to build team after team with considerable success.
When one returns to the transfer purchases, one must hand the advantage to Arsenal. Of the two Chelsea has bought so far, only Hazard is somewhat convincing to me.
I'm not sure what impact Oscar will make, then again, he could turn out to be a hit. But considering that the promising Romelu Lukaku just wasted away last season, what's to be the different in the case of Oscar?
My inclination is to say that however strongly someone might fancy Chelsea's chances in the coming season, I'd advance Arsenal's chances even more.
What really do I think of Arsenal's chances?
I think Arsenal will challenge for first position. If the better-fancied teams—the two Manchester clubs— fumble their chances, Arsenal could easily surprise by emerging as champion.
Consider that they are unlikely to have a repeat of their shambolic beginning to last season.
Also, consider that they've made really good signings. One can honestly say that the squad looks stronger than last season's.
Imagine if Arsenal were to add Nuri Sahin to the squad, as it is being rumored. Plus, Abou Diaby is returning.
Jack Wilshere's return (hopefully) in the second half of the season is bound to provide momentum to the team. Remember when Carlos Tevez returned to City after his amusing saga with the club?
There's no reason to dismiss someone if he or she to posited that Arsenal do have a chance to better their finishing position or that they might actually win something.
But what about Liverpool?
I am honestly not sure. They are in the same position as Chelsea. A new manager is coming in, the result of which could be a huge boost or a huge drag.
I genuinely do not have any opinion either way.
What I can say is that Liverpool are always contenders. But will they finish above Arsenal? This is a competition so it's possible, but I don't think it is likely.
But again, one should never say never.
What is to be their lot in the coming season? Photo courtesy of tottenhamhotspur.com
If Andre Villas-Boas' still irascible pronouncements are anything to go by, here is a disaster just waiting to happen. But, like a broken record, I must qualify this by saying that one never knows.
Villas-Boas could turn out to be catalyst that Spurs have been waiting for all these years, although I doubt that they'll finish above Arsenal next season.
One of these years they are bound to. I just don't think it'll be next season.
What, then, is my conclusion regarding The Guardian article?
It is harmless.
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