Harry Redknapp started it, Arsene Wenger bought into it and Andre Villas-Boas is no longer part of it. No, it isn’t football’s next attempt of diversifying talents with the world’s worst boy band – it is the sub-plot to the end of the season. Whilst City and United fight it out for Manchester dominance and thus the Barclay’s Premier League title, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea do battle for the honour of finishing as the highest placed London club. Or as the rest of England call it – 3rd place.
If Manchester City’s victory over an Emmanuel Adebayor-less Tottenham didn’t crush Spurs’ title hopes and last week’s soul-destroying defeat at the hands of Arsenal didn’t end their ambitions to at least challenge for second, then Manchester United’s 3-1 rout over a Lilywhites side missing influential triumvirate Bale, Parker and Van der Vaart, would’ve at least awakened any dormant fans that had got so carried away with their quasi title challenge to the fact that Champions League football at White Hart Lane next season isn’t looking like the guarantee it was a handful of games ago.
Flick back a week or two in your footballing diary and Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham were 10 points clear of Arsenal, who were fourth, and just half that distance off of league leaders Manchester City. On top of that, they’d just encapsulated the style and spirit they’ve shown in abundance all season with a 5-0 demolition of Newcastle United, who by their own accounts have performed admirably all season, thus extending their cushion on slipping out of the Champions League spots to eleven.
However, since the comprehensive performance at White Hart Lane, which will be best remembered for the romantic partnership Adebayor and Louis Saha struck up within the space of twenty-minutes, Tottenham have let a ten-point lead on the Gunners, who looked depleted of organisation, leadership and confidence at the time, shrink to just four. Now, they’re thirteen points adrift of the top, whilst being just nine away from slipping out of not just the Champions League spots, but European qualification altogether.
Meanwhile, Arsenal’s turbulent season is currently being enjoyed for one of its steadier and more enjoyable spells. The said spell may be nothing more than just two games long in all competitions; however, excluding their nightmare week of successive defeats that have all but ended any trophy hopes for another season, The Gunners are unbeaten since their 2-1 loss to Manchester United, drawing one before winning four on the bounce in the Premier League.
Things could’ve been very different for Arsene Wenger’s side, though: February was deemed successful for Arsenal by the Premier League, with Wenger taking the Manager of the Month award; however March started as toughly as February ended. Having beaten Tottenham 5-2, despite being 2-0 down within 34-minutes, The Gunners then had to travel to Anfield to face newly-crowned League Cup champions Liverpool.
Fortunately for the visitors, Wojciech Szczesny was on fine form: having saved Dirk Kuyt’s penalty effort, the Pole leaped to save the next effort from the rebound and after conceding in unfortunate circumstances, via a Laurent Koscielny own goal, the ‘keeper saw his side take the lead through a van Persie brace, keeping his net empty in the process. After a humiliating capitulation in Milan and an equally crushing defeat by Sunderland, a fixture list that throws up your bitter 3rd placed rivals and a resilient at home Liverpool, as your next two ties, isn’t one you’d look optimistic over. Yet, six points from six have been collected, whilst Tottenham have picked up zero. The gap is closed and the focus from Wenger is there: “the only thing you can say is in the last 15 years Spurs have finished behind Arsenal.”
If Tottenham failing to pick up any points from their past two fixtures, whilst Arsenal did the complete opposite, didn’t flair up the fight for London dominance, then the headline news on Sunday afternoon did. Just under nine months into his three-year contract at Chelsea, Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas was sacked. With just seven points separating Tottenham and Chelsea, with thirty-three left up for grabs, as well as the two facing each other in 19-days’ time, catching up their fellow Londoners will be at the top of their agenda.
Like Arsenal, Chelsea’s primary objective will be to ensure another season of Champions League football: especially considering interim first team coach Roberto Di Matteo has been given the reigns until the end of the campaign – presumably in hope of achieving Champions League football in order to attract the desirable calibre of manager for next season. Yet, unlike Arsenal, whose secondary objective of finishing above Spurs is motivated by a “hate,” according to their ‘keeper, if Chelsea do displace Tottenham, it’ll purely be a subsequent condition of ensuring Champions League status.
Whilst the main attraction will continue to be the two-horse race for the title, between Manchester City and Manchester United, the light relief of the battle for third will provide secondary entertainment of the highest pedigree.
In Andre-Villas Boas, the competition between the London clubs has already indirectly caused one casualty. With Harry Redknapp the favourite for the England job, securing dominance is vital and failing to do so may see another victim claimed. Meanwhile, whilst Champions League football is Arsenal’s real “trophy,” finishing above their rivals will be almost as important.
One thing’s for certain – nothing is certain.