Arsenal will finish eighth. Arteta will claim ‘progress.’ Here’s why it will take some serious luck and grit to manage it.
The premier league table never lies. Pundits lie. Journalists lie. Mangers lie. Referees lie. Directors of football lie. Players lie. And we all know agents lie. And, as Mark Twain famously wrote, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. The table, however, is one source of information that has no agenda, no politics, and no secrets. It never lies.
When the final table is recorded after 38 games and all the teams have played all the other teams. home and away, you will know exactly how good (or bad) your team is relative to the other 19 teams in the league.
At the end of the 20/21 season, Arsenal will be eighth.
Why? The team has a lot of really good players, no players any objective analyst could call ‘below standard’ and yet, they are currently in tenth position, a place the Gunners have been in and around for the majority of the season. There are two reasons that the club is in this position.
First is, in spite of having a lot of good players; better players, man for man, than at least four teams above them in the current table. The team is not playing well. Sometimes there are obvious reasons for this kind of under-performance. Liverpool for example, are underperforming because the club’s best three central defenders, Joe Gomes, Joel Matip, and the colossus Virgil Van Dijk, are injured. Last season fans witnessed a similar stumble form Manchester City when the team suffered from central defender injuries. With Arsenal, there is no such obvious reason for the team’s failure.
The second reason they will not climb higher than eighth is; there are simply too many teams above them to reasonably expect a dramatic collapse from the four teams Arsenal could reasonably expect to over-take if the Gunners went on a good run of form; Aston Villa, Liverpool, West Ham and Tottenham.
Everton, in fifth, with a five-point advantage with ten to play, with only two games against better opposition remaining (compared to Arsenal’s four), are most likely out of reach. This is not some kind of perverse logic, but simple mathematics.
West Ham, in similar form to Arsenal and with a seven-point lead, are also likely out of reach, especially considering that, while Arsenal play three games against teams above them in the table, West Ham play only two. This means Arsenal would need to play significantly better than the team’s current form allows and West Ham would need to suffer a massive collapse. Sadly, for the Gunner’s chances of making it into Europe on merit, the Irons have been steady and reliable, if unspectacular under David Moyes. Arsenal might match the Hammers on form down the stretch, and they might narrow the gap, but there is no reasonable scenario in which Arsenal over take West Ham.
Aston Villa, however, despite a game in hand, are tied with the Gunners and are in worse form. Villa must also play seven of the eight teams above them in the table between now and the end of the season, compared to Arsenal’s three matches against better opposition. Expect the Villains to suffer a rather precipitous slide down the table to 11th or 12th by season’s end, while Arsenal will claw their way clear of the Villains.
Similarly, while Liverpool enjoy a two-point lead over the Gunners they are in worse form, which suggests Arsenal have a reasonable chance of overtaking Liverpool. In the Reds’ favor is their schedule; with only 1 game against teams above them in the table down the stretch, compared to Arsenal’s three. In many regards, Liverpool’s poor form is tied to the team’s opponents, with losses to Chelsea, Leicester, and Everton, all teams above them in the table. Arsenal will need to beat the Reds on April 3, outperform their current form by winning at least one more game, their record suggests they should lose to make it to eighth. This is certainly a huge challenge, but an entirely possible, outcome, especially after taking all three points form the North London Derby.
This could be the year that Arsenal fans celebrate a return of St. Totteringham’s day, and it is possible for Arsenal to overtake the Spurs. After a victory in the North London Derby, the Gunners are just 4 points behind Spurs. The Lily Whites, however, play four games against teams above them in the table, while Arsenal play only three. Arsenal have performed well against superior opposition, while Tottenham have not. Spurs do own a massive 11 goal advantage in the goal difference tie breaker, meaning Spurs have the all-important goal difference tiebreaker. The real issue is Arsenal’s unfortunate tendency to self-destruct. Which means while overtaking Spurs and vaulting into 7th place is possible, but unlikely. Sad-face emoji.
As you can see, in order to finish higher than 8th would take a miracle; finishing lower than 11th would signal a massive collapse. Arsenal have not shown themselves capable of performing miracles and to be fair, the team has played too well to expect a massive collapse.
The real question is, not where Arsenal will finish. The real question is; can the team, the players, the manager, and Arsenal supporters consider a second 8th place finish in a row, progress?
Some other critical questions are;
Does a Europa League win allow Arteta and the Gunners claim progress in the face of an eighth-place finish?
Can the same people who howled like demons for Arsene Wenger’s blood after fifth and sixth place finishes after 20 years of top four results, be satisfied with stability in the 8th to 12th mid-table, out-of-Europe, zone?
Does Arteta, who has overseen worse results than both of his predecessors, deserve more time than Emery, who arguably out performed him? Is Arsenal, as a club, happy being a midtable team?
Can the team look at itself objectively and tune out the fans and the pundits to focus on areas of real need and bring in the three players that can actually make the club better and not give in to the kind of ‘tear it all down’ chaos being espoused by so many fans and pundits.