FOURTH IS THE NEW FIRST
Arsène Wenger could be forgiven for feeling a little lonely as he surveys the desolate managerial landscape at the top of the Premier League. Lord Ferg's bags are already packed, Rafa Benítez is half-heartedly throwing the contents of his desk into a black bin bag and Bobby Manc has been dumped unceremoniously by Manchester City with nothing more than his selection of scarves and several articulated lorries crammed with severance pay for company. And the general coming and going of managers at the snowy peak of English football is not the only reason the Arsenal manager may feel a little left out.
Amid the fond and not-so-fond farewells, and despite a run of six wins and two draws in their past eight games, the story of the Gunners' season has found itself a little lost, relegated to the status of quirky, light-relief subplot in the all-devouring stony-faced Manchester-led Premier League narrative. [At this point the Fiver had planned an elaborate Shakespearean metaphor in which Wenger and his team play the role of donkey-headed Bottoms to Lord Ferg's Oberon, Bobby Manc's Lysander and Benítez's cheeky Puck but felt the hideous calling of Pseuds Corner and therefore bottled it]. For the final week of the domestic season, though, Wenger and his team thrust themselves back on to centre stage.
Fourth, of course, is the new first – and it's eyes down for the bare-knuckle mano-a-mano stripped-to-the-waist slobberknocker between Spurs and Arsenal for the coveted runners-up-to-the-runners-up-to-the-runners-up spot. With Arsenal currently two points behind their north London rivals they must beat the newly-crowned FA Cup holders Wigan at the Emirates this evening in order to keep matters in their own hands on the final day of the season. Anything other than a win for Wigan, on the other hand, will see them drop into what some rather over-dramatically describe as "the abyss" but what the Fiver would rather call "the division just below the Premier League".
"We are on a remarkable run, we have been hugely consistent and we are in a position where our destiny depends on us and we want to finish the job," said Wenger. "Both teams have to go for it so it is very difficult to know what will happen but usually it should be an open game."
And even though anticipation has a habit of setting you up for disappointment in evening entertainment, as someone once sang, the Latics manager Roberto Martínez joined in the general fate-tempting. "It is a game that we have to win but Arsenal have to win so it will be a great advert for the league," he said. "Two teams with similar ideologies who have to win on the day and I can't think of a better game to watch." This could get messy.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"Not my style to come in here and start to bad mouth someone …" – former Manchester City employee Stephen Aziz pauses mid-rant on Twitter to explain he's not that sort of kit man while describing Bobby Manc as "Arrogant, vain, self-centred no manners ignorant" and "really a piece of work".
"Could I be the first of the usual 1,057 pedants to point that if Bobby Manc's dilemma (yesterday's Fiver) is akin to worrying about if and when the sun will rise, it can't be too severe – a quick check reveals that tomorrow's sunrise in Manchester is at precisely 5.11am. If only the solution as to how to see off a team costing a fraction of a Gareth Barry had been so readily available" – David Hopkins [and 1,056 others].
"I'm a little disappointed that a fellow United fan appears to have wished for Mancini to be fired (yesterday's Letters). There is a risk that somebody good might take over now. Therefore, please can I use the third wish, on behalf of all United fans, to ensure that Rafael Benítez gets the job?" – Stephen Yoxall.
"I initially took yesterday's Last Line to be a literary expression of the aesthetic purism that drove Ad Reinhardt to spend his last 10 years creating square, black, paintings which wilfully rejected any reference to the outside world, and flowed from his dictum that 'art is art and everything else is everything else'. I subsequently decided that it was more likely to be a mischievous attempt to stir up old arguments about Deconstruction by sly reference to Derrida's famous assertion 'Il n'y a pas de hors-texte'. Could you please let me know which of these you had in mind?" – Steve Allen [you're giving us that much credit? – Fiver Ed].
"A last line devoid of all meaning? And the rest of the Fiver ..." – Edan Tal.
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BITS AND BOBS
English Stu has scribbled 23 names* on a piece of paper before posting it to Uefa, and Callum McManaman is on it but Jack Rodwell isn't.
ITV has won the rights to show EnglaTIC TACS! GET YOUR TIC TACS! WHO WANTS A TIC TAC? TIC TAC, SIR? TIC TAC, MADAM? TIC TACS! GET YOUR TIand now for the News at Ten.
"Accrington Stanley? Who are they?" As of last night they're the club managed by former England striker James Beattie.
Plain Old John Terry, Eden Hazard and Mikel John Obi have all travelled with the Chelsea squad to Amsterdam for Wednesday's Big Vase final against Benfica despite concerns about ankle-knack, hamstring-twang and hip-ouch respectively.
Talking of hamstring-twang, Lionel Messi may not get the chance to break his 697th record this season as he's set to miss Barcelona's three remaining games in La Liga.
And plans for Paris Saint-Germain's moonlit victory boat trip along the Seine tonight and a ceremony at Paris's City Hall on Wednesday have been scrapped after violence flared during celebrations in the city on Monday.
* Full England squad for the European Under-21 Championship: Goalkeepers Butland (Stoke), Steele (Middlesbrough), Rudd (Norwich) Defenders Caulker (Tottenham), Clyne (Southampton), Dawson (West Brom), Lees (Nasty Leeds), Rose (Sunderland, loan from Tottenham), Shaw (Southampton), Smith (Tottenham), Wisdom (Liverpool) Midfielders Chalobah (Watford, loan from Chelsea), Henderson (Liverpool), Ince (Blackpool), Lansbury (Nottingham Forest), Lowe (Blackeye Rovers), McEachran (Chelsea), McManaman (Wigan), Shelvey (Liverpool), Townsend (QPR, loan from Tottenham) Forwards Zaha (Crystal Palace, loan from Manchester United), Marvin Sordell (Bolton), Connor Wickham (Sunderland).
STILL WANT MORE?
Sepp Blatter in doing-something-that-benefits-him-more-than-football shock, writes Jonathan Wilson.
Benfica are putting their faith (geddit?) in Jesus ahead of the Europa League final, writes Louise Taylor.
ITV's deal to televise England games provides a central platform for venting viewers, reckons Owen Gibson.
And Rafael da Silva morphs into the Silver Surfer, Arnold Schwarzenegger and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in this week's Gallery.
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