The Premier League In Review: Don’t Start Believing, Leicester & Spurs

by | Feb 28, 2016

One doesn’t wish to start indulging the platitudes of modern football, but sometimes the results of the matches themselves don’t make this easy. There is nothing scientifically significant to back the idea that Arsenal have the hearts of budgerigars or the folding skills of world origami champions, and on afternoons such as this we might even be persuaded that the club’s teams have been a series of performance art installations created in the brains of an insane eugenicist with hatred for the London Borough of Islington. There’s no such thing – in spite of what supporters of Norwich City or Southampton might say – as an easy trip to Old Trafford, but this year Arsenal were playing a Manchester United team so threadbare through injury that they named two Raggy Dolls amongst their substitutes and they came away with nothing.

The story of the match is the story of the spindly Marcus Rashford, who matched his two Europa League goals on Thursday night with two and an assist today, and the possibility that Louis Van Gaal might have alchemised Manchester United in much the same way as Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. With the last scrapings at the bottom of the barrel he has created a team which might yet at least give United supporters something to enthuse over rather than the tepid slop of much of the last couple of years or so. But the short term significance of this result is to offer the first definite signs that Arsenal could wilt in the charge for the Premier League title. Victory against Leicester City a couple of weeks ago was supposed to breathe new life into this team, strapping a confidence nitro to its back at the best possible time.

And the frustrating thing for Arsenal supporters is that this season is their chance. Pep Guardiola will be at Manchester City, and there’s a good chance that Jose Mourinho will be at Old Trafford by then, too. Jurgen Klopp isĀ  surely not done in with his Liverpool revolution, and Chelsea are unlikely to have as chaotic a time as they had over the first half of this season again. Even Spurs – more of whom presently – might not sell all of their best players during the summer. It’s not to say that Arsenal never can or will challenge for the Premier League title again. It’s more that they’ll never be gifted the opportunity to win it in this way. And if The Emirates Stadium is a somewhat skittish place over the next couple of weeks, that knowledge is most likely the biggest single reason why. The next couple of weeks will make or break the seasons of both Spurs and Arsenal.

Next Saturday, Arsenal make the short trip to White Hart Lane. Win there, and the gap conceded this weekend will have been repaired whilst a shot of cold adrenaline will have been fired up Spurs’ metaphorical backside. Draw, and Spurs’ tricky run-in will come to look all the more mine-ridden. But lose, and not only will the gap between the two sides be somewhere between seven and ten points, but a fresh jolt of that most un-Tottenham-like of emollients, confidence, will have pulsed through the nervous system at White Hart Lane. Spurs themselves were as edgy as we might have expected at home against Swansea City, but two late goals prevented a repeat of last weekend’s FA Cup lapse against Crystal Palace. Those of us who’ve spent most of this season conjuring up increasingly complex hypothetical situations in which Spurs contrive to drag defeat kicking and screaming from the jaws of victory are having to be increasingly original with our thinking, at the moment.

Down in the fourth paragraph, however, remains the story of the season. It should really be impossible for for a team to be at the top of the Premier League by the end of February, but Leicester City have somehow managed to stay as far from the glare of publicity as it’s possible to be in the circumstances that they’re in at present. It’s starting to feel as though they’re delighting in confounding expectations, too. The late, late Arsenal show last weekend – “a goal for all orthodoxy”, we might be tempted to opine – was, according to all of the most learned talking heads, a final torpedo under the waterline for Leicester’s title hopes. “And how dare they have started to believe that they could actually challenge the great and the good?”, was the often thinly veiled subtext to all of this, and for eighty-nine minutes at The King Power Stadium yesterday afternoon it felt for all the world as if there may have been something in this theory.

For much of the afternoon against a Norwich City that, if it does avoid relegation come the end of this season, will only do so because there are three worse teams than them in the Premier League rather than on account of any , Leicester showed signs of the wilting that many had expected at various points earlier in the season. With just over a minute to play on Saturday afternoon, however, Leonardo Ulloa converted Marc Albrighton’s cross and Leicester was reminded of the fact that the Premier League title could end up in the East Midlands, come the end of this season. Spurs are still challenging. Arsenal could yet revive their season. Manchester City are looming large in the background like a shadow at dusk. Whisper it quietly, though. This year’s Premier League title is still Leicester City’s to lose. For now, at least.

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Thanks to Dave, by email, for pointing out my Alexander Fleming/Louis Pasteur brain melt.