Things were winding down comfortably for Arsene Wenger’s Gunners. They haven’t been in the title race in months, but had maneuvered smoothly past the Tottenham hurdle and, as April turned to the May, were clear for a smooth landing onto Champions League tarmac.
So the last few weeks have been something like eating at Olive Garden or Chili’s: Certainly not the best spot in town, but hardly fast food, either. Things looked settled, and what was really to be decided was Robin van Persie’s bid to hold off Wayne Rooney in the scoring title chase.
Well, all that changed in a clunker of a clanker in north London for Arsenal, a 3-3 draw with Norwich that pulls Tottenham and Newcastle back within striking distance of third spot and the automatic Champions League berth that goes with it. (The updated EPL table is here.)
Oliver Kay, a journalist I respect a lot out of England, Tweeted this morning that Arsenal could finish third, fourth, fifth or sixth now, hinting that it didn’t really matter which because Arsenal is a flawed team in rebuilding mode.
But doesn’t it? Because it’s better to rebuild with Champions League money. And better to give players like Lukas Podolski, the German international already signed up for duty at the Emirates next year, as many bites off the Champions League apple as possible.
As Roberto Mancini found out this year, collective Champions League experience counts for a lot. His Manchester City side may soon lay hands on its first top flight title since 1968, and yet didn’t even make it beyond Champions League group play.
There were hints of this last week, when a 1-1 draw at Stoke left Wenger admitting his team’s reliance on van Persie’s incredible work was finally denting the cause.
Arsenal’s final match is at West Brom, and it will come attached to some scoreboard watching now.