It was just short of 6:00 p.m. London-time that the 2011-12 Premier League race ended. Then, Mikel Arteta scored a late winner against visiting Manchester City, leaving the Citizens eight points back of Manchester United with six to play. Even with one more Manchester derby left this season, there’s no chance we’ll see City lift their first Premier League trophy. United, on the other hand, will win their 13th title in 20 seasons.
For those who want to evoke “it ain’t over `til it’s over,” I hope you’re talking about the Lenny Kravitz song, because the Premier League race is done. United is on pace for 93-94 points. City? 84-85. Even if City runs the table (which would mean beating United at the Ettihad on Apr. 30), their max point haul is 89, meaning Manchester United (who can max out at 97) would have to stumble at least twice in their last six games.
That’s not the stretch. City running the table is. Roberto Mancini’s side has won only once in their last five league matches and were dominated at the Emirates on Sunday. Arsenal out-shot them 12-4, with City only testing `keeper Wojciech Szczesny once. The Gunners were allowed 64 percent of the possession (per STATS) and put in an amazing 42 crosses to City’s 16. On the face of it, it’s amazing that Arsenal needed 87 minutes to seal this one.
So a checklist: City not only needs to beat United on the 30th; they need to run the table; have United stumble (2-3 times); and do this without their best player, who is gassed.
The odds of them winning six in a row at this point are already pretty long. Even if you use their season-long, 22 wins in 32 matches form as the barometer, the odds are about 9.5-to-1. Consider that they need help from United and we’re being generous in considering their season-long form? This race is over …
Which is a bit sad, and not because we all would prefer races be exciting at their finish lines. It’s rare that the team that’s the most talented and has played the best for most of the season won’t win the league (though you could argue it’s happening in Italy, too). Manchester United supporters might take umbrage with that description, but they shouldn’t. In fact, it should be a source of pride. There’s more to managing a league than your dominant spells, no matter how long those crests last.
Manchester United have one thing City will never have: Alex Ferguson, again proving his ability to navigate a season is United’s most powerful advantage.
All results: Manchester United 2-0 Queens Park Rangers; Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City
Stuff that stuck out:
- People are going to complain about United’s good fortune, having an opposing player sent off in the first quarter hour. Shaun Derry saw red, Wayne Rooney converted from the spot, and the game was settled. Not to gloss over the arguments (perceptions) that United somehow benefits from a league-wide bias toward their success, but do we think QPR was going to otherwise push United in this one? It always sucks when a potentially good game is thwarted too soon, but that’s a much better refrain than conspiracy.
- For the second straight day, I’m burying a potential lead, because Arsene Wenger deserves some credit. Perhaps off the pitch, he was a bit of a disaster this summer, but on the field, he’s completely reconstituted a team that was gutted by the losses of Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona), Samir Nasri (City) and Jack Wilshere (injury). People will want to credit Robin van Persie’s magnificent season, but that’s a bit overplayed at this point. You see today’s result and it occurs to you that, at some point in the last seven months, Wenger had to completely reconstruct this team’s psyche. You don’t win a game like today’s (eschew settling for one) unless you believe you’re capable. Today was further evidence that Wenger’s rebuilt that mentality, while most thought (after the summer window debacle) this would be the year Arsenal dropped out of the top four.
Up next: Five matches on Monday, with fourth place firmly in focus: Tottenham hosts Norwich; Newcastle hosts Bolton; while Chelsea is at Craven Cottage for the latest West London derby.