Once the title is out of your hands, it’s a long, long road to the end of the season.
And for these four sides (Arsenal, Newcastle, Liverpool, Tottenham), they’ve got very little to play for except in Europe, and it shows in their league performances.
Arsenal have been awful all season, but their best performance (Old Trafford) came when their backs were against the wall – so many points behind, players not performing, etc etc. Arsenal played the same way last season in the Champions League – fighting hard through the knock-out stages but struggling to reach 4th spot in the Premiership.
So what next for Arsenal? On their form, they will probably lose to Tottenham at home, then blow Porto away (away), and beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. But being Arsenal, they’ll contrive to lose the next two games after that.
Newcastle are in the same boat, although their backs-to-the-walls stuff is out of necessity rather than stupidity – 7 first-team players are injured, they’ve got a thin squad and they still are close to the relegation scrap. They fought their way through at the Emirates, and it looks like they’ll go throughout the season fighting for scraps – the UEFA Cup seems to bring out a different Newcastle, but we’ll see tonight if they can come away from Frankfurt with points or not.
Last season Newcastle stormed to 7th place, but the league is much tougher this year, and they’re not as strong as last year. Top 10 would be a big acheivement for them. With their luck though, Newcastle could beat Chelsea in the Carling Cup quarter final.
Liverpool are the same – they pulled through the Champions League two seasons ago on guts and grit but despite the false-positive of last season’s form, Liverpool are more comfortable beating equally cautious shit teams in Europe than they are with facing up to Premiership opponents. Injuries have hurt them, yes, but Liverpool have hurt themselves by playing crap.
Liverpool are through to the knock-out rounds in the CL, and play Arsenal in the Carling Cup – with both teams playing poorly, you wouldn’t bet on either of them winning. Liverpool are a team that folds in the Premiership but bluffs and battles its way through in cups.
Tottenham aren’t a cup-mentality team like the rest, but they are so bad on the motivation stakes that you wonder what Tottenham fans were smoking when they thought their team could improve upon 5th spot from last season. The Spurs are doing well in UEFA but have shown a disturbing tendency this season to throw away needless points. You can understand if Tottenham lose to United, but when Tottenham beat Chelsea but lose the next, you’ve got to wonder what Martin Jol is doing and whether he’s the right man for Tottenham.
On the motivational stakes, these teams don’t have the right managers. Maybe that’s the problem? Good managers can make average squads (United) or misfit squads (Chelsea) play amazingly well. The rest can’t even make the good squads work.