The Chelsea v Spurs game has been a potential glitch in the formulae of our run in for some weeks. Now that column in the balance sheet (an apt analogy given what we are actually ‘competing’ for) has been filled, the permutations are simpler. Don’t cock it up and we’re 4th at least. Yet somehow the clarity hasn’t brought me a great deal of peace. Regular readers will know that I have never viewed this charge for the Champions League money trough as straightforward and I still don’t.
I think there’s an excellent chance that none of Arsenal, Spurs or Chelsea will pick up six points from their last two fixtures. I think it could just come down to whether 2 or 3 points are surrendered in any given game. I think goal difference could yet have the final say for either 3rd or 4th position. All three teams have visible delicacies. Spurs have been able to raise their game for fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City of late, but anxiety permeates them whenever they are expected to win.
I think Arsenal have been a tad fortunate that the majority of their recent fixtures have been against teams with little or nothing to play for. Everton and Norwich were the only sides to whom the points were particularly valuable recently and both of those games were a struggle. Wigan will be fighting tooth and nail for Premier League survival and Newcastle could be too. Last week I said that I thought Arsenal’s defence were going to have to continue to carry us and so it proved against QPR.
Giroud’s suspension lasts for one more game and I don’t see a swift panacea for our recent bluntness upfront. Chelsea looked incredibly weary in the last half an hour against Tottenham and their participation in the Europa League might yet produce another spike in the graph. This is a season that might administer the final, injurious blow to cup football, which I think would be an enormous shame. If Wigan are relegated, many managers and chairmen will, unfairly I think, make a simple correlation with their run to Wembley. Millwall’s form collapsed after their F.A. Cup semi final and they were nearly relegated having seemingly looked safe.
The fortunes of the last three League Cup winners following their victories has hardly inspired either. If Chelsea finish outside of the top 4, I can’t really envisage an English side ever taking the Europa League seriously again. Gunnerblog wrote something that really chimed with me this week about “enjoying the race for fourth because it provides the illusion of genuine competition.” I’ve long compared it to Championship sides chasing a playoff place. It’s not really an achievement, it just narrows down what it considered mid-table and removes some of the banality of the Premier League.
James is right to use the word ‘illusion’. It is illusory. I allow “the race for fourth” to occupy me because, well, I want football to be a distraction and an entertaining one. And listen, I understand perfectly why qualifying for the Champions League is so important and it’s not just Arsenal that feel that way. Whilst I feel Arsenal’s big underachievement since 2005 has been almost entirely in the cups, I appreciate why the club prioritised the rewards of the top 4. Especially given the large mortgage they took on for the new stadium.
In fact, this year, it’s arguably more important to us to qualify than ever. Various commercial deals that are being struck and legislation in the wider footballing landscape suggest that, if we can just grimly hang on for one more year, the rainbow could be on the horizon. The revenues we stand to receive from the new overseas TV deal, Emirates and, reportedly, Puma, will boost our coffers more significantly than the new stadium itself. To fall off of the cash cow at this stage would be a crushing blow when the jam we have been promised for so long is in our sights.
The reports from John Cross this week that Puma have agreed to hand over a fat stack of cheese to Arsenal generated a lot of discussion online. Understandably too. This is undoubtedly A Good Thing for Arsenal because it should have a direct impact on the team on the pitch. Yet I still felt abash about involving myself in the discussion. It made me feel uneasy. It exposes my ignorance and my hypocrisy all too readily.
The relentless commercialisation of society itself is something that I find incredibly uncomfortable. Indeed, a good deal of my professional life to date has been devoted to fighting avarice and greed. Yet I sweep those principles under the carpet for my football club. It’s easier to do with “The race for fourth” because I can bury that hypocrisy on the pitch and conceal it beneath the rug of a couple of London rivalries to boot. But speaking of megabucks deals such as these make my double standards naked. It strips away the delusion I clothe myself in.
There is also a much more practical reason for my unease. I know so little about the minutiae of such deals. I suspect many people are in the same position. Recently I have been taking Portuguese lessons and anybody that has tried to learn a new language in adulthood will tell you that nothing makes you feel more awkward or exposed than trying to speak somebody in else’s tongue. It’s because your callowness is so evident and no amount of reassurance removes that in your early wrestles with language.
To discuss this sort of deal in depth would represent a botched attempt at another language on my part. Hastily punching sentences into babelfish and regurgitating whatever it spits out. There is also so much about these deals that remain undisclosed. For instance, have you noticed that since the Emirates deal was renewed, their advertising presence inside the stadium has almost vanished? That’s surely a deliberate part of the renewed deal. To make room for other companies to advertise their wares on the advertising hoardings and to reduce the Emirates stigma on television. Presumably so that the next time the stadium naming rights go to tender, the Emirates association won’t be so marked. With that, I have slipped into the marketing lexicon, but you see what I mean. There’s so much information that is foreign to us.
I have always understood Arsenal’s need to qualify for the Champions League. It facilitates the ability to compete on a long term basis. That in itself sounds like the sort of phrase that’s tossed about in a boardroom powerpoint. Nevertheless, I’m donning the 3D specs and strapping myself in for this simulated competition and come 6pm on May 19th, I’ll be as relieved / crushed / exasperated as everybody else. After all, we are the generation that sold our souls and we will get what we deserve. LD.
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