Arsenal declared ‘chokers’ despite never actually being favourites

Editor F365
Arsenal cocked up v Aston Villa
Arsenal cocked up v Aston Villa

Can Arsenal ‘choke’ on a Premier League title for which they were never favourites? Though Martin Samuel wants you to know that Man City sometimes lose.


Actually, Manchester City sometimes lose football matches
Think it’s all over. Well don’t be daft because Martin Samuel is here in The Times to tell you that actually, Man City DO drop points in the run-in. Phew.

In 2022, City dropped two points in the penultimate game away to West Ham United, and needed a staggering comeback on the last day against Aston Villa to again deny Liverpool.

Yes, what you have described there is Manchester City successfully claiming the four points they needed from the final two games of the season as they remained unbeaten over the last dozen matches. Comforting, right?

In 2021 City’s winning run was interrupted by defeats by Leeds United and Chelsea…

Yes, and that Leeds loss left them just 14 points ahead of Manchester United. And it was real squeaky-bum time when defeat to Chelsea left them a precarious 13 points ahead of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s marauding Reds.

In 2018 a home defeat by Manchester United was sandwiched between two Champions League reverses to Liverpool.

A truly damaging defeat that left Jose Mourinho’s United just 13 points behind.

It’s almost like Manchester City win games in the run-in when they need to and drop occasional points when they don’t; this should give Arsenal and Liverpool a great deal of hope as City enter a final straight when it’s a repeat of the first scenario.

It’s over, two points apart and six games to go? The football I’ve watched for half a century isn’t like that. There are twists, there are turns. Liverpool get beat at home by Crystal Palace. Arsenal drop six points to the manager they sacked four years ago. That’s why we watch it; because stuff happens. And it may happen, still. The Premier League is the best and most popular in the world for precisely that reason. More than any other domestic competition in Europe, it is a tale of the unexpected.

It’s a tale of the unexpected in which City have emerged as champions in five of the last six seasons.

Are City favourites? Of course they are. Pep Guardiola was right when he said that in a race as tight as this, between three outstanding teams, whoever is top at any given moment are the favourites. So it was Arsenal last weekend, and Liverpool the weekend before. Now it’s City. And because of their experience over course and distance, it is understandable to look no further.

Except Arsenal weren’t favourites last week. But carry on…

Yet, studying the run-in, the corresponding six fixtures for City in this campaign deliver a record of P6 W4 D1 L1. Wolverhampton Wanderers have already beaten City; Tottenham Hotspur drew.

Funny how this ‘study’ of the run-in has not extended to Arsenal, whose corresponding six fixtures still would not deliver enough points as they are yet to face Manchester United and Tottenham.

Liverpool might have a chance, though that logic does rather ignore the fact that they somehow deservedly lost to Crystal Palace despite beating them earlier in the season.

Does anyone think the Championship done, with two points between Ipswich Town, Leicester City and Leeds United? Is relegation done, with two points between Everton, Nottingham Forest and Luton Town?

Nope. Because Ipswich Town have not won five or the last six Championship titles. And not just because it’s impossible.

It is possible all three title-chasers will be involved in European semi-finals, or out. City have an FA Cup semi-final to play and, if successful against Real Madrid, a fixture list that potentially reads Wednesday, Saturday, Thursday, Sunday, Tuesday/Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday/Wednesday, Saturday, Tuesday, Sunday.

Which is wildly different to last season when they had a fixture list that read Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday, Tuesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday.

Remind us what happened last season, Martin.

He’s right that it’s not over yet; it’s just his arguments that are an absolute mess. Bring back Henry Winter; at least he had stopped trying to be interesting.

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Choke hold
Arsenal lost for the first time in the Premier League in 2024 so this headline feels a little off from the Telegraph:

Arsenal show first signs of choking with worst performance of the season

But maybe that’s not reflected in Jason Burt’s match report?

Suddenly it feels like this has been the pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race. Just after Liverpool threw away their chance to resume the leadership, Arsenal choked.

It was an accusation levelled against them last season, unfairly so as they were then in a fight to be champions that no one expected, but if they fail to finish first this time round it is a charge they unfortunately cannot escape.

So it was ‘unfair’ to call it a ‘choke’ when Arsenal were at one stage 10 points clear of Manchester City, but you are declaring them guilty as charged if they blow a *checks notes* one-point lead?


The wit to woo
Talk about damning with faint praise. Here’s Ian Doyle in the Liverpool Echo:

Worryingly, the forward line looks as exhausted as the rest of the team, even if all still had good opportunities to score. Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez were both thwarted by unwittingly brilliant saves by Palace goalkeeper Dean Henderson, while Mohamed Salah saw a late effort blocked.

‘Unwittingly’ means ‘in a way that is done without knowing or planning’ or ‘unintentionally’. Which is a hell of a way to describe some excellent goalkeeping from the former Manchester United goalkeeper.

And yet…

Alisson is the world’s finest for a reason, demonstrated by his remarkable second-half save at point-blank range from Jean-Philippe Mateta.

Oddly not ‘unwitting’, that save. Presumably it was entirely planned by the world’s best.

Obviously Jurgen Klopp escapes any censure, with Doyle writing:

Recent form is evidence of the issue Klopp had previously highlighted of having to integrate players back into a team after a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

For example, this was a first Premier League start for Curtis Jones in two months which ended with supporters berating two glorious chances spurned in the second half. Would a more match-sharp Jones have converted one of those opportunities? Given his form before injury, it’s a distinct possibility.

Pesky fact: Curtis Jones has come off the bench three times in the last two weeks; he has been ‘integrated’. Oh and he has literally scored one goal in the Premier League this season.

Amazing how quickly the blame can pivot from ‘too many injured players’ to ‘injured players coming back’.

This really does mean more.

Was it not the flags after all, Ian?


Quote of the day
“It might be naive. [But] I’ve got a three-year-old girl who still believes in rainbows and unicorns, maybe that’s through me” – Craig Bellamy on Burnley’s chances of survival.

Mediawatch still believes in rainbows too.

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