Scrapping for fourth place? How far we’ve fallen

OPINION: Both the Gunners and Spurs have shown they are ill-equipped for beating Brighton, let alone Real Madrid

Thursday, 5th May — By Richard Osley

Arsenal Spurs derby

IT’S all got a little sweaty in the final weeks of the season as Arsenal and Spurs duke it out for a fourth place finish.

People have been telling me they are growing nervous about the final sequence and how it will pan out. People are spending far too many waking hours working out what will happen “…if they get a draw here, and we win there – then we’ll only need a point there”. The rivalry is rich, the distraction all-encompassing. And yet, what must the supporters of Liverpool and Manchester City think? What must the fans of any other club think, for that matter?

The two clubs are not fighting out the league title here, or facing off next week in the FA Cup final: they are trying to be not quite as bad as the other in order to be the runner-up to the runner-up to runner-up.

If we could step back from the one upmanship – impossible, I know – then we’d probably see that this weekly stress is actually quite embarrassing. Whoever does finish in the higher position will no doubt have fans celebrating like a trophy has been secured, but at some stage we should probably be honest about just how far both Arsenal and Spurs are from the top two. It’s light years.

The way Liverpool have glided into contenders for a quadruple is a different planet to scrapping around against the teams in the lower reaches of the table.

Arsenal and Spurs have both lost 11 times – nearly a third of all their matches – but both sets of fans are acting like they are superpowers.

We are, I’ll say it again, playing for fourth place.

Of course, some readers will now go into a lecture about the importance of playing in the Champions League as if Liverpool had not assembled a very strong outfit through careful and clever scouting when they were absent from the competition. As nice as it is to hear the Champions League theme and think you are sitting at the top table, it is possible to grow without it. Besides, both the Gunners and Spurs have shown this season that they are ill-equipped for beating Brighton, let alone Real Madrid.

Whoever goes into the competition next season will falter. Spurs reached the final one year, but did so with an odds-defying series of last-minute dramas that belonged to chance and coincidence, and occasion, rather than strategy and sense. That can’t happen every time.

And yet here we are, tight knots in stomachs when either one of the teams are playing. Spurs fans would have madly cheered West Ham’s equaliser on Sunday; Arsenal fans would have cursed Leicester’s shabbiness. None of us can admit, though, until someone gets a grip of either club, it’s a huff and puff about nothing.

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