The pragmatic among you may answer that headline question by saying: “Who cares? The Europa League is our priority, followed by finishing as high up the league table as we can. If that happens to be above Totnum, great. If not, it doesn’t matter.”
But most football supporters are not pragmatists. We think with our hearts as much as with our heads and I, for one, would love to believe we can finish ahead of the degenerates this season.
Obviously a lot will hinge on the outcome of our home game against them on March 14th. We are five points behind them at the moment so clawing back three points in a head-to-head would really put the pressure on.
What about other grounds for optimism?
Firstly there’s the sense that we are starting to play better, with greater attacking intent and with more of the squad starting to find their form. When we lost in the Swamplands in early December we were in a run of terrible form and playing with the offensive threat of a marshmallow. Now we are scoring goals and making chances.
Secondly, we have a slightly easier run in than the enemy. Here are the respective remaining fixtures for the two sides:
W. Ham A
Sheffield Utd A
Man Utd H
Sheffield Utd H
Neither team faces the dominant champions-to-be Manchester City again in the campaign, but the Spuds have to play the teams currently sitting at 2nd and 3rd in the EPL (Man Utd and Leicester). The highest currently-placed team that Arsenal will face is Chelsea, now sitting 4th.
The average league position of our opponents (based on the EPL table before this coming weekend’s games) is 12.3, whereas the average league position of the Spuds’ opponents is 10.4. It may not matter a huge amount and league positions will obviously change, but it’s something.
Finally, we have grounds for optimism in the person of Totteringham’s head coach. Jose Mourinho is one of the most successful managers ever in English football, but he also leaves a trail of carnage in his wake. He is capable of alienating key players, dividing the dressing room and turning the squad against him. Let’s hope that pattern continues.
From a Spud perspective, they have managed a few good results after the woeful slump they went on immediately after topping the table for a microsecond.
It’s like they got a brief glimpse of what it looks like to be top of the league and immediately realised that this was not where they belong, like a street urchin peering through the window of a fancy society restaurant. Their results and form soon made sure that they won’t be visiting that pinnacle again any time soon.
Nevertheless, they have – like us – qualified for the last 16 of the Europa League and they’ve won their last two EPL games – a thrashing of Burnley and lucky win over Fulham (they needed an own goal).
So, what do you think? Can we end the season with bragging rights over our neighbours? Does it matter?