As Arsenal trudged off the pitch at the London Stadium, having thrown away a two-goal lead against West Ham United, Roy Keane wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to two-foot his old adversaries.
Seven days after Arsenal squandered a 2-0 lead at Liverpool, the Premier League leaders repeated the trick against West Ham to leave their hold on the title race looking increasingly tenuous.
The remorseless Manchester City lie just four points behind the Gunners with a game in hand. The showdown between the pair at the Etihad Stadium at the end of April already looks like the defining match of the entire season.
In this context, with Arsenal reeling and their enemies busy comparing Mikel Arteta’s side to bottle-jobbers of yore, Keane squeezed himself into his old boots and imprinted his stud marks all over Arsenal’s grief.
Or perhaps he just wanted to stick one on Gary Neville. Having spent the entire season rubbishing Arsenal’s title chances, Neville is easing into his role as footballing contrarian by suggesting second place would be a successful season for the Gunners – to Keane’s mirth.
“It wouldn’t be an unbelievable season,” the former Manchester United captain said. “No chance. Second wouldn’t be a successful season. They’re out of all the cup competitions.”
Warming to his theme, Keane continued: “The recruitment was good, they had a good start to the season. They were 2-0 up last week, they were 2-0 up again today, so these are huge moments.
“If they don’t go on to win the league it’s a huge disappointment. Arsenal have no distractions. They looked tired at the end [at West Ham], they were hanging in there against Liverpool last week. That’s not a great message to say they’re up for the fight and they’re enjoying it. It’s obviously playing tricks in their heads.
“In the last week or two, Arsenal have lacked composure, particularly when they’ve got into winning positions.
“They could still go on to win it because they’re in a fantastic position if they can just keep their heads and have a bit of composure, but the question was if they were to finish second, it’s a disappointment for Arsenal.
“Arsenal have made sacrifices by playing weaker teams in the cup competitions, so this has been their whole focus.” Tell us how you really feel, Roy.
🗣️ "Arsenal finishing second would still be an unbelievable season"
🗣️ "Not it wouldn't! You're in CUCKOO LAND!"
This disagreement between Roy Keane & Gary Neville 🍿 pic.twitter.com/iWbWrXh3FE
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 16, 2023
As Neville emitted enough splutter to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink wisely decided to side with Keane.
“They were seven points clear,” Hasselbaink said. “It would be a disaster, you’ve been leading the whole way.
“To give it away in the last three matches, it’s a disaster. If doesn’t matter if you’re not thinking to be No. 1 at the beginning of the season, you’ve been No. 1 for the whole way!
“We don’t know what is going to happen next year, everyone is going to get stronger. They might not be in this position again. It’s not a terrible season – but they would have given it away!
“It’s there, it’s there to be grabbed. You can smell it and for them not to get it, it’s too hard. You still have to get to the finish line, it’s going to be difficult – but you get the job done.
“They have drawn a game in which they were winning 2-0. If they lose away at Newcastle – you would think ‘ok’.
“But they lost two points at West Ham – that will hurt more than losing at Manchester City away. You are not allowed to lose points at West Ham if you want to win the league.”
Well dodged, Jimmy. We fear for anybody in Roy’s path once the eyes have narrowed and his prey has been identified.
Time will tell whether Keane or Neville is proven correct about Arsenal’s title hopes. But you cannot deny the Irishman’s ability to cut through the bullshit and deliver some home truths.
By Michael Lee