I don’t know whether 2007 is a special anniversary or anything, but the rest of the Premiership seems to be clubbing together to give Manchester United the title this season. On Saturday, Blackburn took fifty-odd minutes to remember their rightful place, before rolling over and letting Alex Ferguson tickle their bellies. Meanwhile, Chelsea (who appear to have simply not bothered reading the script for this season) clung on grimly and distantly in second place, re-affirming my suspicion that they’re nowhere near as good as they think they are by requiring a last-minute goal to pick up all three points at already relegated (in all bar name) Watford. Their defence is significantly strengthened by John Terry being back from injury, but really they’re all an illusion.
Meanwhile, at Anfield, Peter Crouch’s gradual metamorphosis into a real footballer continued with a “perfect hat-trick” for Liverpool. Now, this concept of a “perfect” hat-trick befuddles me somewhat. It means one with the left foot, one with the right foot, and one with the head, but I would question whether this in itself warrants the description of “perfect”. Three thirty-five yard volleys into the top corner with the right foot would be far more “perfect” than any old three goals scored with three different parts of one’s anatomy. The 4-1 result continued the rapid disintegration of Arsenal’s season, so may I briefly be the first person to briefly mention that Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal might just be starting to go a bit stale?
Now, I’ve almost certainly mentioned on here that I don’t have much time for the claims that the current Arsenal team are, because of the way that they play, are one of the best teams in Europe. This time last year. everything looked rosy for them – all set for a Champions League final in Paris against Barcelona and set to move into their glistening, shiny new stadium, a stone’s throw from Highbury. A year on, though, and it all seems have gone awry. Knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers, dumped out of the Champions League by PSV Eindhoven in first knock-out round and having practically given up on the Premiership by Christmas. By the standards that they expect, this can’t be counted as success, can it? As it stands, Bolton are too inconsistent and Spurs have left it too late to launch a serious challenge for the final Champions League place, but the gap is down to seven points and Arsenal are clearly stuttering. He’s almost certainly unsackable, of course. Only Alex Ferguson and Steve Coppell are safer in their jobs than him, but fourth in the Premiership and without conspicuous success in the cups seems to indicate that this is, at best, a transitional phase for them. How much longer before people start to think that he’s merely trading on past glories?
The bottom of the table is, of course, about twenty times as interesting as the top, and recent good form from West Ham and Charlton is making a number of Premiership managers look over their shoulders. Aston Villa and Newcastle are the latest “crisis” clubs, and with just a handful of matches left the crisis is genuine. West Ham raced into a two goal lead against Middlesbrough on Saturday but, whereas earlier this season they would have found some way to throw it away, yesterday they held thing together with a steely resolve which indicates that they might just have located their survival instinct in time. The same goes for Charlton, for whom Darren Bent smacked in a late penalty to confirm all three points against Wigan. Any two from ten teams could be dropping through the trapdoor with the perennially hapless Watford. Newcastle United in the Championship next season? Yes. I rather like the sound of that. It’s the least that Freddy Shepherd deserves.