After Tuesday night’s exit from the Champions League, it was so easy to write this season off as over – after all, we’re highly unlikely to catch Chelsea but we’re assured in fourth, so the remaining league matches are merely a formality, right?
Wrong. Meaningless as far as our positional finish they may be, but the next two games are against Chelsea and United, who are responsible for us failing to reach either of the two cup finals we were chasing. And it goes beyond that – a win over Chelsea on Sunday would see us complete the double over them, and at the same time finally confirm their exit from the title race, mathematically. As for United, they may have won the league by the time we play them next weekend, as they play their game in hand during the week, so wouldn’t it be great to spoil the party? If they do slip up against City or Wigan, three points against us would confirm their status as champions, so either way we need to ruin their day.
After that, perhaps we can start taking stock of the season and moving forward – Stoke on the final day is truly meaningless, but until them, it would be foolhardy to say we have nothing to play for. As much as anything, we need to prove to ourselves that we can compete against the best teams after the fortnight we’ve had.
Chelsea will be angry after their exit to Barcelona on Wednesday – our defeat seems kind compared to the frankly hilarious circumstances they went out in. It was almost as if the football gods were determined not to let them have another shot at the trophy they want to buy crave the most. Having made John Terry slip while taking what would have been the winning penalty last year, they had to make this one hurt even more:
“Hmm, last year was good, how do we top it? Has to be a late winner this time, and away goals helps us there, we can make them go through until the very last moment. But that’s still not painful enough, what else can we do? Maybe make the goal Barcelona’s only effort of the match, yeah that’s good. Oh, and as Chelsea are the bad guys of the story they have to have an advantage, maybe a man up? Maybe Barca have had someone unfairly sent off by that stage, so the comeback is even more unlikely? Yeah, I like it. Think I’ll chuck in a few denied penalty shouts as well, just to really wind them up.”
In all seriousness, it would be infuriating to be on the wrong end of a result like that, but any sympathy I might have had for them disappeared as soon as I saw Drogba, Terry and Ballack behaving so despicably (it is amusing, incidentally, that Chelsea feel so hard done by that Drogba being fouled wasn’t given – the boy who cried wolf story obviously never made it to Stamford Bridge). Add to that trio the likes of Anelka, Malouda (what it with the tiniest ponytail in the world?), Cole and Essien (who managed another of his ‘rake the back of the legs’ tackles), and it just becomes impossible to do anything other than laugh.
Yes, that is childish, but this does lend favour to the notion that karma does exist. At the end of the day, the only side in that tie that tried to play football went through, and Chelsea learned the hard way that if you don’t even try to score an away goal, you’ll be vulnerable to it yourselves.
Anyway, enough gloating – after all, we haven’t exactly had a good week ourselves. But I’m just not sure I could’ve taken another United-Chelsea final, so I guess I’m relieved as much as anything.
So both sides have a point to prove on Sunday. We will still be without Clichy, who misses the final three games, and probably Arshavin, who has flu, so our side may look very similar to Tuesday night’s, which at least gives those players a chance to put things right.
Bendtner’s behaviour in the week, that saw him stumble out of a nightclub with his pants down, probably ruins his chance of starting ahead of Ade, but after receiving a fine I don’t expect any further repercussions, nor do I think there should be any. He apologised immediately, and who hasn’t reacted to a defeat by sinking a few beers?
Another who was quiet against United is Theo Walcott, but we got the excellent news that he signed a new contract today, described as ‘long-term’, which I guess means four years. Now if we can just secure Van Persie’s future, we might get some much-needed stability around the club. That is, apparently, the priority.
There is a big summer ahead, but first, we have a couple of big matches to play. Let’s end this season well.