Fourth place is a prize unto itself in the Barclay’s Premier League. That’s because of the fine work Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has done over the last nine seasons, coming in fourth place six times. Arsenal have finished fourth so many times that we might as well begin calling that position — England’s final UEFA Champions League spot — the Wenger Trophy.
But this season, Arsenal has some additional competition for the Wenger Trophy from a familiar foe, the previously decent Manchester United.
We’ve learned over the last nine seasons from Arsenal that coming in fourth place is an art. It requires a team of talented players. It requires those same talented players to underachieve for significant stretches over the course of the season. That is, if they’re not injured. Many of them will be. It also requires frequent questioning of a manager’s ability to come in fourth, which is often coupled with calls for the manager’s firing. And sometimes, on special occasions, it takes the right number of players to succumb to food poisoning.
Here’s what we learned during Manchester United’s one-shot-on-goal performance:
- You can score two goals when you only have one shot on goal. How? Typically it will involve an own goal. Today’s own goal was courtesy of a fine finish from Arsenal left back Kieran Gibbs.
- Both teams came into the game chasing fourth place. Arsenal were in sixth, and United only one spot behind them in seventh place. Fourth place was firmly in the crosshairs for both teams.
- Both squads, on paper, are stacked with players that most teams in the world would sell children to sign. For now, we’ll ignore their less desirable players.
- Both squads have, in theory, underachieved this season. We don’t really need numbers for United, because United were below an Arsenal team that’s now off to its worst start in Premier League history
- Injuries or not fully fit players? Arsenal’s list includes Mesut Özil, Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Debuchy, and Theo Walcott. United’s list is a bit longer: Daley Blind, Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Falcao, and Rafael.
- As a result of underachieving, plenty of shade has been thrown toward both Wenger and United manager Louis van Gaal. Just search #WengerOut and #VanGaalOut. That’s all the research you’ll need.
When you run the numbers through a sophisticated algorithm and do several jumping jacks, you’ll see that Manchester United, on the back of a 2-1 win at the Emirates, is now in fourth place, with one hand on the Wenger Trophy. There’s a lot of season left, which means there are more injuries to be had, more slumps to endure, and the possibility of final-day food poisoning. But as it stands, Manchester United is about to snatch the only prize that Arsenal have been able to capture consistently over the last nine years. That has to be causing a great deal of sadness in North London.