By Admir Pajic
It’s been a season that only the biggest optimists could have seen coming. I have to admit that I was thrilled with our preseason performances against Chelsea (4-0) and Sevilla (6-0) where our passing and pressing game looked so sharp I had to put a bandage on my finger when I accidentally touched the screen of my TV when Olexandr Zinchenko was doing some of his magic against Chelsea. I had high hopes before the season but I didn’t think we would be able to give Man City a run for their money.
Our next game is going to be really special as we play against a team that is in a really good form. Also, it’s the only team that has beaten us in the league this season. What is even more important, it’s the team that was the ugly half of unparalleled rivalry in the Premier League era – the one between Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
Since the defeat at Old Trafford, a lot of things have changed. The United Kingdom has lost Queen and got King, a job in the Prime Minister cabinet looked as safe as the managerial job in Watford, Howard Webb has returned to PGMO on a high horse, Argentina have become world champions and Arsenal have opened an eight-point gap between themselves and Man City.
We all remember the most painful game against Manchester United in the Premier League era – the one that ended our unbeaten run at 49 only because Mike Riley couldn’t watch skilful Arsenal players beating Man United fair and square at Old Trafford where, as Mark Clattenburg admitted, referees were intimidated to give calls into Manchester United favour. That game is still referred to as “Game 50”. Manchester United – using tricks that were so dirty that they would have been left out from “The Book of Dirty Tricks” for being too dirty – stopped us from reaching the “50” milestone.
Now, in what is going to be our 19th game of the league campaign, we are heading to another “50” milestone that only Manchester United can slow us down in reaching it.
After 18 games played, Arsenal have picked 47 points and as of Saturday, only Arsenal can theoretically get 100 points or more this season. One of the greatest Premier League achievements – Manchester City reaching a century of points in 2017-18 – is out of reach for the record holders themselves. Even if Manchester City win all of their remaining 20 games, they will have 99 points or one point short of a century.
If we beat Manchester United on Sunday afternoon, we will have 50 points after 19 games which extrapolates to 100 points in 38 games. So, once again, Manchester United stand between us and number 50.
If you think 100-point mark sounds like a delusion, I’d probably agree with you but not before writing these facts:
- we have picked 47 points so far in 18 games,
- out of 18 games, 10 were played away from home,
- we have already picked more points against Big Six (Man C, Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and Man U – that’s the order from the final table last season) – last season we picked just nine points in 10 games while now we have 12 points in just five games v Big Six including two away wins;
- we have been tracking the lead for mere 83 minutes this season which, surprisingly, is an area where we are not top of the league (Newcastle are top with just 80 minutes),
- we have picked a clean sheet,
- we have been given a written proof that VAR Lee Mason (surprise, surprise) wrongly disallowed our goal at Old Trafford that would have given us a 0-1 lead,
- Paul Tierney was the referee in that game and he was the referee in three of our last six league defeats which is something we should think about,
- we were a better team in all three games we didn’t win this season (Man United, Leeds, Newcastle) and each time an appalling refereeing decision stood between us and three points,
- our football is positive, our players’ movement is intelligent and our brilliant manager is our 12th player on the pitch,
- we use our weaker foot so good that two own goals we have scored this season (Guehi and Lloris) both came after a sharp right-footed cross from Bukayo Saka,
- did I forget to say that, among others, we have Bukayo Saka, the best English footballer out there?
But first things first.
Man United have won against City after a dubious goal from Bruno Fernandes. Howard Webb’s return to PGMO has coincided with their great run of results but it’s fair to say they now have a manager who is similar to our Mikel:
- Ten Hag has a positive football philosophy,
- he wants his players to deliver it,
- he doesn’t allow rotten apples to stay around for too long even if they are superstars or club legends and, most importantly,
- has a support from the structures above him for his actions.
It will be a difficult game even if we play at home and will have a few days more to prepare for that game as Man U have a mid-week trip to Selhurst Park and our own Patrick Vieira.
Basically, it comes down to this: if we want to reach 50 (points), we have to give 100 (percent) on the pitch. And if we reach 50 (points) on Sunday, we may get our 14th (league title) come May!
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