As I had warned last week, the path to the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium for the Arsenal, one of English football’s powerhouses, was not straight forward. They only booked their May 17 date with fate after no less than 120 minutes of gruelling football against lower division Wigan Athletic which were followed by the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. At the end of the day, relief was the prevailing emotion.
Indeed, after a series of indifferent and listless performances and deflating results, the smiles and gusto are back on the faces of Gunners’ fans because the cup triumph was followed up by two good results midweek that have put them in pole position in the fight for position four in the Barclays Premier League. It started with another back-from-the-dead victory against West Ham United on Tuesday night in a London derby.
The following night, all Arsenal fans became improbable supporters of Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace who were seeking to extricate themselves from all fear of relegation as they met one of the league’s form teams at that point, Everton, away at Goodison Park. In achieving their aim, the Eagles also did Arsene Wenger and his charges a world of good because their fate in that particular race is now in their hands.
Another stunning result on Wednesday night was also registered in the Northwest as bottom side Sunderland shocked pre-season title favourites Manchester City by holding them to a two-all draw when a home win looked a formality especially when the Citizens had their noses in front within two minutes of kick-off. It was quite telling that it was the minnows who were ruing their mistakes which cost them a deserved win.
That result was celebrated away from the Northeast because the Citizens have lost the initiative in the title race, coming as it did three days after their 3-2 loss to my Liverpool away to Anfield. If Manuel Pellegrini’s men fail to become English champions in three weeks’ time, they will look back at this week as the period when it all unravelled. The five points dropped will likely cost them and put them under enormous pressure.
After Sunday’s results, it was clear that Liverpool only need to win their remaining games to become champions. Now the same can be said about Chelsea who are on position two and travel to Anfield next weekend. City’s draw has lessened the pressure on the Reds to win that crucial game because even with a draw they can clinch the title if, and only if, they can win the other three remaining fixtures.
The last part is very crucial because there is need for focus within the Liverpool camp. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea have lost the initiative in the race in part because of focusing on the big games and easing a gear in matches against the so-called small teams. The biggest game for Brendan Rodgers and his troops now must be tomorrow’s trip to Carrow Road against relegation-threatened Norwich City.
Liverpool are now enjoying a 15-game unbeaten run which has seen them win the last 10 matches in a row, but everyone needs to remember that they have not won anything yet. There is no need, therefore, to look beyond this weekend. All focus must be on tomorrow’s match where a victory will guarantee a top-three finish and a return to Uefa Champions League football. Was this not the target in August?