Arsenal have the toughest Premier League title task because Brentford is in London

Editor F365
Arsenal attacker Kai Havertz celebrates his winning goal against Brentford.
Arsenal attacker Kai Havertz celebrates his winning goal against Brentford.

Martin Samuel argues with his own head about local derbies, Manchester United prepare to sell the family silver and Bukayo Saka chases referees down tunnels. It can only be Mediawatch.

 

London calling
A confused and confusing contribution to the title-race discourse from Martin Samuel, who by the end of his latest Times column can’t quite seem to remember whether he’s arguing for or against local derbies making life harder for Arsenal.

The headline is clear enough about where West Ham fan Samuel sits on this one.

Liverpool’s two derbies or Arsenal’s dozen – who has it tougher, Jurgen?

This is followed by the claim that ‘a whole capital city full of teams would delight in denying Arsenal the Premier League title’. It’s an opinion, fine, but it’s not one Mediawatch is entirely sure it agrees with.

The idea that all games between London teams are ‘derbies’ is never one Mediawatch has embraced. Geographically they may technically qualify, but it’s objectively absurd to suggest they all carry the frisson, the same levels of deep-seated rivalry that the term implies.

‘London derby’ is much the same as ‘Yorkshire derby’; these places are massive, there are loads of teams there, and they simply don’t all carry the same weight. Brentford v Arsenal is really no more of a derby than Huddersfield v Rotherham. It’s a pretty flimsy argument for Arsenal’s task being ‘tougher’.

This means more? No, it doesn’t. Liverpool play two noisy, robust derbies in a season. And impassioned affairs they are. Yet in this campaign, Arsenal will play 12, and London derbies are no different to those on Merseyside or in Manchester — there are just more of them.

We’re just not having this at all. Arsenal absolutely do not play 12 derbies a season on a par with those ‘on Merseyside or in Manchester’. The north London derby is absolutely up there. You can make a strong case for Chelsea as well. But the rest of them? Come on. There is no justifying a claim that Arsenal or any other capital club play 12 games a season of comparable local gravity to the derbies of Merseyside, Manchester and north London. What’s more, a Hammer like Samuel surely knows this.

The reason many remain sceptical about Arsenal’s title potential is because their run-in brings matches against Chelsea and Tottenham, two teams that are plainly inferior. Tottenham trail them by 11 points, Chelsea by 27, so what is it about these matches that makes them difficult? The local factor.

Well, a bit. But it’s not just that, is it? Spurs also play Liverpool and Man City and those games have also been earmarked as significant hurdles in those clubs’ title bids. Because Spurs are, measurably, the next best team in the league after the title-chasing three and have already got results off all three this season. There are a great many interesting reasons as to why Spurs managed to beat Liverpool earlier in the season, but a ‘local factor’ was not one.

As for Chelsea, we all know they are currently a bit rubbish but we equally know they possess quality players in abundance and on their day represent a significant hurdle for a title challenger to overcome. They’ve drawn twice with City and once with Liverpool already this season. The ‘local factor’ is part of it, but absolutely not all of it.

Even clubs that have no great historic rivalry with Arsenal, such as Fulham, will take enormous delight in beating them.

Yes, because beating the best and biggest teams is an enormously fun thing to do. Fulham would also be delighted to beat Liverpool or Manchester City.

London football is full of irrational grudges and resentments, and proximities that people do not realise. West Ham’s London Stadium and Arsenal’s Emirates are separated by a mile more than the two Manchester clubs. Yet those outside the city think that Arsenal’s only rivals reside in north London.

Always a bold gambit for any national newspaperman to go with ‘You know which part of the country people should pay a bit more attention to? London’. And nobody thinks Arsenal’s ‘only’ rivals reside in north London, that’s a straw man. They just – correctly – don’t think Arsenal v West Ham is the same as United v City or Liverpool v Everton.

If Arsenal and West Ham fans want their games to be considered local derbies full of grudges and resentments, maybe they should stop spending them joining together to sing songs about Tottenham.

But it’s at this point Samuel truly loses his way. Having insisted that Arsenal’s run-in is the harder because of geographical proximity, he then (rightly) notes that these ‘irrational grudges and resentments’ don’t require a local angle anyway.

Klopp knows English football by now. His implication that Arsenal will find Old Trafford more hospitable when they visit next month should be taken with salt.

Exactly. Arsenal against United is far more of a rivalry than Arsenal against Brentford. Glad we’ve cleared that up. But it also totally undermines everything you’ve just said?

It does not mean, however, that when Arsenal visit, United will throw it away. It certainly does not mean that Mikel Arteta gets it easy in the coming weeks. Next up for Arsenal, Aston Villa at home. Leaving aside the matter of Champions League qualification, does anyone think that Unai Emery and his goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, might have a point to prove?

Why are we ‘leaving aside the matter of Champions League qualification’? We’re very, very confident that will be enough to prevent Villa rolling over due to the absence of any ‘local factor’. We’d certainly expect more fight from Villa in that one than shown by, say, local grudge-bearing rivals like West Ham in a 6-0 defeat that curiously escapes mention anywhere in this piece.

But, to be clear: the thrust of Samuel’s argument really does appear to be that Arsenal have the hardest task because they have to play more teams from the same city, and those games mean more, but also that they have to play some other games against good teams from further away, and these games also mean more.

The Conspiracy is real.

READ: Arsenal’s Premier League title run-in matches ranked on slippability with Man Utd trip second…

 

Magnificent Seven
This brand of headline always catches Mediawatch’s eye.

Manchester United ‘could sell SEVEN first-team stars’ as part of summer clear-out at Old Trafford… as part-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe prepares to embark on his Red Devils rebuild

Couple of clues in there that this particular headline comes from the Mail. Random caps? Check. Longer than some stories on other sites? Check.

But let’s take note of that exact phrase: ‘seven first-team stars’. First-team. Stars. Seven of them. Okay? Important bit of info that. So important that it’s repeated later on, look.

According to Manchester Evening News, as many as seven first-team stars could be shown the exit door at Old Trafford.

Seven first-team stars. There’s no mistake or slip here, because they’ve said it twice. We’re dealing with stars here. First-team ones. Seven of them. We’re so excited by this point. Who are they binning here? Bruno? Rashford? Cashing in on Kobbie Mainoo? Jonny Evans? What precise madness has Sir Jim got brewing?

Several paragraphs later comes the inevitable bum’s rush.

Omari Forson, Alvaro Fernandez, Hannibal Mejbri, Donny van de Beek, Jadon Sancho, Facundo Pellistri and Mason Greenwood could all leave this summer.

Those seven ‘first-team stars’ have, between them, made 34 first-team appearances for Manchester United this season in all competitions. And 14 of those are Pellistri’s, only three of which were starts and none of which showed enough to stop United shipping him out on loan at the end of the January window anyway.

Alas, the stars will shine brightly no more at Old Trafford.

 

One is the loneliest number
Mediawatch has wrestled with this one for longer than is strictly necessary for a throwaway line in some tish and fipsy from the Mirror about that Saka penalty claim at the end of last night’s game.

Arsenal took the lead through Saka in just the 12th minute in front of a one-sided Emirates Stadium after Bayern fans were banned from travelling to north London to support their team.

Is this an acceptable use of the ‘one-sided’ qualifier? We’re really not sure it is. Its place is to describe on-field action, surely, not fan numbers which will always be one-sided in any non-neutral setting. And its positioning directly in front of ‘Emirates Stadium’ like that is, at best, geometrically confusing.

 

Kane reaction
Harry Kane facing Arsenal again with Bayern Munich was always going to be headline-worthy, and it delivered in style. Kane scoring a penalty while also enraging Arsenal fans with some rough-housing they could furiously post on the socials was enormously on brand.

It wasn’t enough for the Daily Star, though. They wanted more, and boy did they get it.

Harry Kane can’t help reacting to Arsenal fans’ Tottenham chants mid-interview

Now we saw the interview and must admit we panicked for a second that we’d missed out on Kane flicking Vs or hurling c-bombs at the mischievous Gooners.

Needn’t have worried, because against the odds it turns out to be complete b*llocks.

As he began speaking it wasn’t long before “we hate Tottenham” chants could be heard. Kane kept his cool throughout, although he couldn’t resist a wry smile as he responded to the catcalls.

Whoa. A smile? And not just a smile but a wry one? The most dangerous of all the smiles? What was he thinking? You just can’t rise to the bait and react like this. You’re just giving them exactly what they want.

 

Tunnel vision
‘Furious Bukayo Saka chases referee down tunnel after Arsenal denied last-gasp penalty,’ shouts an excited Daily Mirror.

‘No, he didn’t,’ replies a weary Mediawatch.

Just an absurdly unnecessary embellishment this for an already newsworthy incident we all saw with our eyes.