Dec 222008

Yesterday was a real up and down day. On the plus side, we saw a wonderful Van Persie goal, half an hour of great fighting spirit, and one of the best crowd responses to adversity we’ve had in a long time. On the down side, our defending was again poor for Liverpool’s goal, Ade was sent off and consequently misses the vital Villa game, and worst of all Cesc will miss at least a few weeks with knee ligament damage, the extent of which remains unknown.

So what to make of it all? Well, firstly, we need to accept one thing, and one thing only, and that is that we are not going to win the title. That we are even mathematically in it is thanks only to the inconsistent form of the other three contenders, but to take advantage of that we’d need to put together a scorching run, which is at best unlikely.

No, more realistic is to watch Villa very closely, as they are becoming more realistic challengers for a top four berth than ever before. One thing that works against them is their entry into the Intertoto Cup in the summer, which put them into the UEFA Cup, a competition they remain in. If they still have European interest in March, they’ll surely fall away in the league – they don’t have the squad depth to cope.

But for now at least, they are a danger, and can stretch their lead over us to six points if they win at Villa Park on Boxing Day. And with the pace of Young and Agbonlahor up against our leaky defence, they’ll fancy their chances. What we need to do is fight like we did yesterday, where we knew we were up against it and raised our game accordingly. That should now be the norm.

I maintain that Adebayor’s red card was ridiculous, and indicative of a referee too quick to clamp down on tackles. How ironic, as Wenger pointed out, that the likes of Bolton and Blackburn are allowed to hack at our players’ legs all afternoon and take credit for it, but our players can be sent off for something so much softer.

As for Cesc, his injury prognosis is vital. On the one hand, the boy needs a break, having played all summer and become the talisman of this team so quickly. On the other hand, we need him. A three week break may not be a disaster, anything more than that and we’ll be worried.

One other thing came out of yesterday, and that was my belief that not only are we not in the title hunt, neither are Liverpool. That may seem like a daft thing to say about the league leaders, but to win the title you have to grasp opportunities. Too often of late they’ve dropped points a more adventurous team would’ve taken, and like Arsenal, I believe they are only where they are because of the inconsistency of United and Chelsea. The difference is those two teams can put a run together, whereas I’m not sure Liverpool or Arsenal can at present.

You can see why Liverpool thrive in Europe, where doing just enough over two legs gets you through, but in the Premiership, you effectively have to win both the home and away leg against many of the opposition. Liverpool aren’t there yet.

But they are not our current rivals. Let’s make sure we push Villa down the league and get back where we belong before we start worrying about the other three.

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