Was going to include paragraph about the frustrations of the Newcastle, Arsenal & Chelsea draws, where wins were merited, and even Villa at home. Truth is we could have been nip & tuck with Villa by now, or ahead. But 8 points adrift will have to do. End of the what-ifs.
Despite our shortcomings, most obviously without Arteta, I see real reasons for optimism. Here's why.
1. Teams that win things or get close enough are usually the ones who don't make stupid mistakes, particularly late in the season and partcularly late in games.
ManU are obvious examples of this, and Chelsea have been in recent years. Arsenal's mantle has slipped in this regard and Villa's is highly questionable (e.g. today).
Everton, on the other hand, seem to have discovered the art of avoiding self-inflicted wounds. Taking injuries, teenagers & all else into account, the foundation of a quite brilliant defence is providing a platform of confidence & achievement. Villa (h) is the only unfortunate exception to this.
2. There are 4 league games before the Villa-Everton game. We have Blackburn, Stoke, Pompey & Wigan. Villa have Spurs (h) and Man City, Man Utd & Liverpool all away. Now of course football is a funny old game, but I suspect not that funny. Coupled with our greater ability not to "fuck-up", as it were, I have little doubt that we'll close the gap further between now & the 6-pointer at Villa Park.
There is even a statistical possibility that Everton could be 4th by the time we meet. But whether we are or not, the chances of finding ourselves 4th by winning a Villa park must be well above average. Objectively I would expect Villa to pick up between 1 - 5 points from their 4 preceding games. Conversely I would expect Everton to collect between 8 - 12.
3. The run-in is 6 games after the 6-pointer. Villa have West Ham, Bolton, Hull, Fulham, Middlesboro & Newcastle. 4 of these teams will be fighting for their lives, whilst West Ham & Fulham are both capable of results.
We have Chelsea, City, Sunderland, Spurs, West Ham & Fulham. Broadly speaking, not much in it.
4. Villa may indeed hit another purple patch before season end, but I'm not so sure. It was great that we broke their run and they seem to be getting found out more now. I may be in a minority of one, but I'm afraid I do not rate Agbonlahor. He may be a speed merchant, but he has no composure more often than not and he doesn't seem to have a football brain. Come to think of it, judging by his "interviews".....
Meanwhile Everton..... Well, what to expect? We have form with Moyes of tailing off in the season's final quarter, sometimes dramatically so. But despite the loss of our most important offensive player, something is telling me that this season will be different.
5. Composure & pressure. It's simple. I think both at squad level and at management level, we have more composure and strength. The pressure is mainly on Villa as they almost expect to be 4th (or 3rd or 2nd if you listen to some quarters). We don't and are clearly just taking every game as it comes.
Arsenal haven't had much of a mention here and I may regret that. They also have Fabregas, Eduardo & Walcott to return and on their day they are majestic. But they aren't having too many days this season and several players are misfiring, most notably Adebayor. They are finding fairly ordinary teams very hard to breakdown, as are Villa now, whilst Everton (with few exceptions) are not.
Taking everything into account, including luck, spunk, ability, form, fixtures and the shipping forecast, the teams I expect to see occupying places 4, 5 and 6 in the premier league this season are.... Everton (just), Arsenal & Villa.
It has, in truth, been a somewhat mediocre season in the EPL. Even ManU have stuttered for most of it. Not conceding a goal for 9 months might say one thing, but not scoring more than 1 in most games says something else. They are not dominating. Today's cup final result only serves to offer up hope for anyone that meets ManU in the cup. And Chelsea are hardly ripping up trees, with tight & late 1 goal victories against average or poor teams. Even the shite have finally had their card marked and may end up empty.
If we do finish 6th then, frankly, I will still regard it as a good job. But, and it's a big but, to get 4th AND to win the cup..... now that would set all the bells ringing.
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