On Saturday in London, shit hot Arsenal — which hasn’t lost a game in any competition in two months – hosts presumed English Premier League champion Chelsea. With Arsenal breathing down Chelsea’s neck in the standings (erm, a whole 10 points back, so let that metaphor breathe), Gunners boss Arsène Wenger should be motivated to go for the win. In reality, José Mourinho will have Chelsea play for a 0-0 draw, and probably get it (if not more). Still, two days before the game, we can still hope for a little excitement. After all, match previews of big games involving a Mourinho-coached team, like much of life, is about living in denial of the depressing and inevitable.
Speaking of depressing inevitability, how ‘bout this year’s league title “race?” That the Premier League title has been all but decided for months has led to some hand-wringing amongst fans and media, alike. It’s certainly true that the title challenge this year was, well, not very challenging. On top of that, none of England’s representatives did themselves justice in Europe, which has led to some of the gleeful pulse-checking from those who are rightfully sick of the “best league in the world” propaganda. In reality though, this year is more likely to go down as an aberration rather than Year Zero of the premiership’s dark spiral into the second tier of European soccer leagues. For England’s top flight, 2014-2015 should be just a hiccup, and nothing more.
History backs that notion. Closely contested title races, and to a lesser extent Races For Fourth Place™, have typically been par for the course in the Premiership. Just last season there was a legitimate three-horse race for first that lasted practically right until the end of the campaign. Champion Manchester City only finished two points ahead of Liverpool, which itself only finished another two points ahead of Chelsea. Two seasons before that, the title was decided on goal difference – won by that goal from Sergio Agüero, in added time on the final day of the season. One swallow does not a summer make, and one boring and utterly predictable title march does not suddenly mean that England is turning into 2000s-era Ligue 1.
Chelsea may not have much in the way of serious competition this year, but that is highly unlikely to continue in the near future. Manchester United already looks like a real team again, and what problems remain will likely be addressed this summer by having money thrown at them. Similarly, Manchester City may be in need of a serious rebuild, but unless Sheikh Mansour decides he would rather build spaceships or buy Greece (or whatever billionaires like to waste money on), the Blues will be back in the title picture sooner rather than later. Even Arsenal — a team seemingly in a perpetual state of being “almost there” — will likely do enough to improve next year. The Gunners have long gone stale under Wenger, of course, but they will do enough to cause some bother in next year’s title race, even if only until February.
Has the Premier League had a bad year overall? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that the destination of the league title is going to be predetermined on annual basis, as say the case was in Italy or Germany in the last few years. Chelsea has a good team, with the potential to be even better next year, with perhaps better depth in a couple of positions. That said, Mourinho’s men are not a million miles ahead of the competition. And for all the problems that those usual rivals have had this year, their solution are blindingly obvious.
Money can’t cure all ills, but it most definitely can improve United’s defense, or City’s midfield, or Arsenal’s strikeforce. And if it’s one thing that the Premier League has, it’s money. Executives at England’s top clubs will be making it rain this summer, as they always do, and the gap between Chelsea and the rest of the pack will be closed. If Arsenal and Chelsea meet this time next year, the result may well be the same as this time around, but at least it will mean something.