Every good story has an ending.
At least, that’s what the placard said outside the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, held aloft by Arsenal supporters before their crunch game against Manchester City.
Arsene Wenger was the target of their ire, a greying relic, who had presided over two straight defeats and yet another slump in form.
Both sides went into the game needing a win, and a performance—both left disappointed. For the home fans, it was a surreal experience, because the performance was not quite good enough for the win, but also not bad enough to justify the melodrama and fury accompanying some of the club’s recent displays.
Which makes the scenes of fighting inside the stadium all the more bizarre. Arsenal Fan TV may have become a recent haven for seekers of Schadenfreude, but there was something almost comforting about how easily Sergio Agüero nipped in to score just ninety seconds after Theo Walcott’s leveler on 40 minutes.
In a season of pure Arsenal performances, this was surely the peak.
Even after Shkodran Mustafi headed an equaliser on 52 minutes, it seemed as though another sucker-punch was coming. Arsenal fans left the stadium feeling almost deflated, robbed of the opportunity to wallow in their hard-earned misery.
These days, football in England is a sanitised product. Stadiums offer high-definition ‘experiences’, with lukewarm hot dogs and 5-pound pints. Heartfelt terrace anthems have largely been whitewashed, replaced by the anodyne click of smartphone cameras, and the chatter of disinterested tourists. In a league beset by corporate cash, Arsenal are perhaps the worst culprits.
The biggest surprise about the fight was that the fans in question managed to put down their cappuccinos, and iPhones before engaging in laughable handbags.
The biggest story of the weekend arrived in another corner of London, where Sam Allardyce performed his latest miracle at Stamford Bridge. His Crystal Palace side were superb against a Chelsea outfit that had won its last ten games in the league.
It’s just as well, then, that the title is more or less wrapped up already, before Chelsea entertain Manchester City on Wednesday night.
Palace meanwhile have now won four of their last six matches, and are sitting comfortably away from the drop zone with a game in hand.
If Big Sam’s customary pint of wine is not enough to send him off to sleep tonight, he could always consider replaying the highlights of the terribly-named South Coast Derby.
Harry Arter’s missed penalty was the only incident of note in what was arguably the drabbest 90 minutes of the season. And that includes Middlesbrough’s trip to Swansea, where the coach less and toothless Teesiders managed to snatch a point in South Wales, and Manchester United’s vacuous 0-0 draw against West Brom at Old Trafford.
The same could not be said of the Merseyside derby, where Jürgen Klopp’s erratic Liverpool finally clicked into gear to best an Everton side with one eye on the Champions League places.
Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Divock Origi all combined beautifully in an afternoon that represented Liverpool’s last game of the season against a team in the ‘Top Seven’. Given their recent history against the so-called smaller clubs, this could be signal more trouble than paradise, but this 3-1 victory will give Reds fans hope that a corner has been turned.
In Lancashire, the Tottenham machine ground down Burnley’s weak opposition, becoming only the fourth team to beat Sean Dyche’s men at home this year. The title may be beyond Spurs at this stage, but second place is becoming a probability rather than a possibility. Sorry Arsenal fans.
It could be worse—you could support West Ham, whose post-Payet performances have brought Slaven Bilić’s tenure into real jeopardy. Hull were the latest team to beat the East Londoners, Andrea Ranocchia the unlikely hero with a late winner on 85 minutes. Their next game against Middlesbrough looks like a quintessential ‘six pointer’, with the losers almost sure to join Sunderland in the Championship next year.
David Moyes’ men were cold, damp and miserable yet again, coming up short against another side who desperately needed a win. Miguel Britos’s second half header brings welcome respite to a Watford team who were beginning to look rudderless—their biggest comfort remains the fact that there are at least three teams reliably worse than them.
Once again it was left to Shakespeare to provide the drama (sorry). The Leicester boss is the first English coach to win all four of his opening games, and looks a shoo-in for the permanent job after quashing any fears of an embarrassing relegation.
Wilfred N’didi and Jamie Vardy were on hand to seal another convincing performance from the Foxes, albeit against a Stoke side lacking any kind of identity under Mark Hughes. They will be here next year, just like they were the year before, making up the numbers. Nothing to see here, move along quietly now.
It is going to be a busy few weeks in the Premier League, with many clubs facing a packed fixture list in April. This is one good story whose ending is approaching fast.