As far as English Premier League campaigns go, the 2016-17 season has been a wholly disappointing one. The title race was wrapped up months ago (sorry, but it’s true); relegation a�?battlesa�? have already been decided. There is no tension, no drama, no suspense. And as far as this campaign goes, there hasn’t been for quite some time. But we’re not pointing fingers at anybody. Really, we’re not. (Though, we’ll certainly get to that in a moment).
It’s not Chelsea’s joba��or any other title-winning side’s job, for that mattera��to make the title a�?racea�? a close one. I’m not going to begrudge a side taking full advantage of a relatively clean set of fixturesa��that is, no Europe. After all, Liverpool had the same luxury and underperformed at various times throughout the season.
It’s not Swansea City’s joba��or any other relegation-battling side’s, for that mattera��to make sure the relegation a�?racea�? goes down to the wire. These lesser sides need safety and the financial reward that comes with it. Sure they should strive to do better, and presumably Swansea will in the next campaign, but why should they make it interesting when they have no incentive to do so?
It’s not Manchester United’s job to prioritize the league when winning the Europa League grants them a place in the 2017-18 Champions League anyway. Sure if they fail to beat Ajax in the final, we’ll be left wondering why JosA� Mourinho didn’t take his last few EPL fixtures too seriously, and he’ll be rightly criticized for it. But they know what they have to do. They have been very obvious about their goal all season; why change now?
And you know what? Despite how boring it will continue to become, clubs have no incentive to win cups here and there when they would rather qualify for the Champions League (or Europe in general) instead. Or so we heara��remember, the FA Cup semi-finals were made up of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur this season. So that doesn’t entirely check out. Manchester United were in (and won) the EFL Cup.
But when it comes to the top-four a�?race,a�? of course that’s going to matter when clubs are within striking distance. Sure they should strive to win domestic cupsa��trophies are nice, after alla��but they’re going to go where the money is.
That’s the Champions League. That’s not the FA or EFL Cup. If teams aren’t going to push the eventual title-winners, they’re going to prioritize top-four. That’s just the way it is now. Sure it’s not a trophy, no matter what ArsA?ne Wenger believes, but it’s something, I guess. If you take it seriously the following season, of course. (Looking at you, Tottenham Hotspur).
But now that we’re done speaking on not pointing fingers, it’s time to talk about those who are. Oh, hey, let’s get started with ArsA?ne Wenger, shall we?
Whenever Arsenal falter, there’s always an excuse. It’s the official’s fault. Player X was too aggressive and he hurt Player Y. There are too many fixtures. (I would even agree on the last one, but that’s not the point). Wenger has been on this job for a very long time. He’s won plenty; he’s found plenty of success. And now that it’s starting to turn, now that Arsenal’s very impressive UCL qualification streak is in serious jeopardy, he’s getting pretty riled up:
a�?We are focused until the end and as long as we are in a competition we prepare the team well. That’s why we finish strong. Some teams turn up, some go on holiday. You want your team to do the job properly until the last second…a�?
Now surely that’s not a shot at West Ham’s 0-4 defeat against Liverpool this past Sunday. Of course not. Never. Liverpool, of course, are in direct competition with Arsenal for that coveted fourth spot, one that puts them into the UCL qualifying rounds ahead of next season. Manchester City is right there too, though a point against Watford on Sunday will be enough to see them finish third. Liverpool, meanwhile, take on an already-relegation Middlesbrough. A win and they’re in. It’s that simple.
But back to Wenger. It’s not another team’s fault that your side is currently in fifth place. It’s not West Ham United’s fault that Arsenal lost to Crystal Palace in April, or West Brom in March. Or Tottenham just a few weeks ago. It’s not West Ham United’s fault that the calendar switched to May, and Arsenal suddenly remembered how to control and win football matches. Just stop it.
On a lighter note, Pep Guardiola essentially doesn’t believe that Manchester City is a big club. (Well, that they’re not Bayern or Barcelona, which is true, but…):
a�?Here they gave me a second chance and we will try to do it. In my situation at a big club: I am sacked. I am out. Sure. Definitely. At the clubs I worked at before I am not here, but here we have a second chance and we will try to do it better than this season.a�?
One more time: ‘In my situation at a big club: I am sacked. I am out. Sure.’
Perhaps not something a manager wants to openly state at a press conference, but again, Pep knows he’s not going anywhere. Still, that’s got to sting a little bit, right?
Pep also had this to say regarding Wenger’s earlier comments:
a�?I don’t understand how the managers speak for other clubs and other teams. Ask ArsA?ne, not me… The people who are hired are focused on their teams, they do what they have to do… But so if you don’t want that, win more games yourself, or qualify before or win the Champions League, and after we don’t have the problems for the other ones.a�?
Personally, I can’t wait for the 2017-18 EPL feud between Pep and Wenger. That is, if Wenger still has a job to come back to at season’s end.
Two mid-week fixtures remain before the Premier League’s final Sunday; will either Manchester City or Liverpool allow Arsenal to scrape their way back into the top four?