Wednesday 17 July 2019

Arsenal could yet take fourth spot by default

Damian Stack looks at some of the stories making back page news over the past seven days

Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal.

When the Kop rises and sings as one it's enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It's the collective endeavour that does it, thousands of voices singing the same tune at the same time for the same purpose.

There's something in that collectivist spirit which - even in this most capitalistic of enterprises, the Premier League - might appeal to an old fashioned unreconstructed socialist.

No surprise then, perhaps, to discover there amongst all the usual banners fluttering in the breeze during a rousing rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone, a new banner paying homage to the leadership of the Labour Party was unfurled on Sunday afternoon.

Alongside Shanks and Paisley stood Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell. No problem there, the idea that sport and politics don't mix is faintly ludicrous at this stage.

Those denizens of the Kop who wanted to hail Corbyn were perfectly within their rights to do so. More than that it's an admirable thing they did to show passion for a subject that more and more people feel disconnected from.

All the same Liverpool fans might have reason to feel a little queasy at the sight of the Islington MP waving proudly in the Liverpool sunshine, if only because of what he represents and by that we don't mean his brand of politics.

No the problem with Corbyn - and the Corbyn banner - as we see it is that he represents a hopeless cause. You'd have thought the last thing a Merseyside socialist would want is the continuation of Tory rule, but that seems exactly what Corybn is on course to deliver.

All the indications are that the General Election will be a disaster of historic proportions for the Labour Party. The Tories are on course for a triple digit majority in the Commons. Labour is facing a potential wipe-out in their north of England and Welsh heartlands.

Corbyn's face is not that of a bright new dawn, a future in which we can all be confident in. He represents a vision of the past that's not coming back, sclerotic, undynamic, hopeless. None of which a Liverpool fan would want to associate with their team.

Increasingly of late, however, Liverpool do seem to be regressing. Not to the point of hopelessness obviously, they remain well in the hunt for a top four berth, but a lack dynamism is putting that quite achievable goal ever more in jeopardy.

That the unveiling of the new Corbyn banner was probably the most notable thing to happen in Anfield on Sunday afternoon is actually pretty damning. It's all terribly one-paced and lacking in vision at the moment from Jürgen Klopp's men.

Injuries, of course, haven't helped. Even so Sadio Mane's absolute centrality to the Reds is anything but encouraging. Without him they again struggled badly to create much of anything at all.

Last weekend's draw with Southampton could well have proven a fatal blow to Liverpool's chances of taking a top four spot - with it their fate was, and not for the first time, out of their own hands.

Yet again events transpired elsewhere to make Liverpool masters of their own destiny once more. At the moment it feels though nobody actually wants to finish in the top four, such is the topsy turvy nature of events.

Maybe Manchester United weren't altogether that pushed if we're to judge by the side they selected to face Arsenal. Even so given the depth of their squad Jose Mourniho's side should have been capable of better than what they showed on the weekend.

Remember it wasn't that long ago that frustration with Arsene Wenger was boiling over such was the poverty of the football being served up at the Emirates. Bit by bit, however, Wenger seems to be turning it around.

Not to the extent that anybody would have confidence that they could return to the top of the pile, but enough to suggest that a top four spot is well within their reach. Who would you have more confidence in to round out the campaign with a 100% record, Arsenal or Liverpool?

Wenger has been doing this a hell of a lot longer than Klopp, a man for whom reserves of luck must be running pretty low right about now. The Bavarian, a bit like Blanche Dubois, has been depending on the kindness of strangers a little too much.

What a strange quirk of fate it would be if Wenger were to lead Arsenal to the top four, overhauling Liverpool and their much vaunted manager in the process. For the longest time it's felt as though Wenger is a man out of time and out of his time, the future belonged to the Klopps of the world and not to him.

To turn that around at the last minute would be the sweetest victory of all for the French man. Proof that, despite everything his critics (us included) have said about him, he's still got it and who knows, if he does pull it off, then maybe there's hope for Corbyn and Labour after all.