Analysis – Arsenal will finish 8th, and can we call this progress?

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.

Soccer Football – Premier League – Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur – Emirates Stadium, London, Britain – March 14, 2021 Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette scores their second goal from the penalty spot Pool via REUTERS/Dan Mullan

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.

Paul Desmarais

34 Comments

  1. gotanidea says:

    Finishing in the eighth position and getting kicked out of EL won’t be a progress, but we can’t solely blame Arteta for that. We also can’t replace Arteta in this season because of our financial situation, so Arsenal better give him time till December

  2. jon fox says:

    The final table does ,in one respect, lie, in that it concerns a whole nine months form , where as the most recent form is the truest guide to wher a club it right now.
    I JUST WANT TO THROW THAT SALIENT FACT INTO THE DEBATE, as some choose not tothink as deeply as others on here.

    1. Trudeau says:

      I was bored so I did a bit of math. Never my strong subject so someone might want to check!

      If we take the last 14 games as a reasonable reflection of current form, then Arsenal will finish with 60 points, enough to pip the Spurs by one point and into a tie with Everton for sixth place.

      Of course that assumes Liverpool continue to bounce along at .9 points per game (unlikely).

      All of this of course means nothing because games are played on the pitch and not on a calculator or in our heads. I’d have to be an absolute numpty to state that my projections, even on the off chance that I got my math right, as a fact. Wouldn’t I?

      1. jon fox says:

        As for projections, into the future, then yes you would be. But as to current actual form on games played but recently, you would not be a numpty but a thinker. There is a huge difference between games actuallyand recently played and mere projections, which are notyet played of course .I hope you can agree.

        1. Trudeau says:

          Of course I agree and sorry if I came across as irritated. I am, but not with your post Jon but the original article. It dressed up opinions and treated them as facts, a pet bugbear of mine.

          1. jon fox says:

            HEAR HEAR to that, Trudeau. A pet bugbear of mine too, as are all articles that do not give context or are deliberately unbalanced in their views.
            I prefer deep and detailed thought, being a serious minded and sober thinking fan. Humour is fine in the right place but this article was a poor one and not worthy of serious comment from proper thinkers, as we both are.
            I found it ironic that the final paragraph talked about “objectively” when the whole article lacked objectivity in spades. No attempt at balance was made and the article was all the poorer for that.

          2. Admin Pat says:

            Wow Jon,
            Are you serious? You did not see the research and thought that went into his analysis of exactly why we will finish in 8th? I was extremely impressed and I actually think he is correct.

            Okay wise guy. Where will we finish, and why?

    2. Nick says:

      ‘where as the most recent form is the truest guide to where a club is right now.’

      By your logic, if we beat the league champions in one match, that would make us the new champions?

  3. Eddie says:

    Arsenal will finish 8th… Sorry Sir Nostradamus version 2.0.
    Arsenal will? It’s the confidence using the word will for me.
    You know this already? They can’t finish 9 or 10th? Or 7th? But you’re certain they’ll finish 8th?
    I don’t even have the energy for this discussion, roll on Thursday please.

    P.S: Who read that PEA left the stadium very early yesterday? Man he needs to calm down and stop acting like a baby. He’s the captain, I sorta questioned why would Arteta leave him out even for disciplinary issues until I read it won’t be the first time Auba would be breaking rules.
    Like Lee Dixon said, I’m supporting Teta’s decision to leave him out yesterday. He’s been boiling hot and cold this season and breaking rules, the fact that Teta let it slide for long before finally punishing him even means he was given time to dey himself straight.
    I expect him to start on Thursday.. Hopefully he scores some goals again and we move on to Sunday against West Ham

    1. kev says:

      Aubameyang has never been captain material and I’ve always thought that even when he was scoring a lot of the goals. His style of play and the way he carries himself on the pitch doesn’t make him captain material for me. Laca is even worse as a captain. The foundation of the team is not strong and its clear to see. I mean just look at the back and you see David Luiz and imagine giving him the armband. If our team’s foundation was solid Auba wouldn’t have been captain in the first place. I remember Emery’s three captains hahaha

      1. siamois says:

        First of all we don’t know if we’ll finish 8th there 7 points between 5th and 10th with 10 games remaining so as long as it is mathematically possible i’ll hope and the author should know better anyone is able to beat anyone he used Rverton as an example unless i’m mistaken didn’t they just get beaten by Burnley?

      2. jon fox says:

        Kev You are exactly right! Auba is almost the worst choice of all players as captain and his whole attitude to life – and the recent contract saga and his child like final signing of “dat ting”, shreiked out to me how immature he is. It now comes to light that he has form for being late.

        You CANNOT have a captain like that and I FEEL SURE IN MY OWN MIND THAT AUBA WILL CORRECTLY BE RELIEVED OF THE CAPTAINCY, BUT NOT TIL THIS SUMMER.

        To do it now would not be sensible, though I doubt ANY players at the club would not see this coming, as it surely will do.
        The obvious stand out candidate,even though he is said to be shy, is surely Tierney!

        1. ron says:

          one particular player I have alot of respect for and should be given the ambard is kt be it now or future that guy deserve it

  4. kev says:

    Imo this season is one of the most difficult for top clubs because the smaller clubs are showing a lot of quality so every match is difficult. I would like to see how we fare next season under Arteta. For this season there is progress defensively as we are more difficult to beat but I’m not happy with the way we attack as its quite predictable and we can’t finish. Finishing 8th will not be progress. I was looking at a top 5 finish as progress from where Emery left us. Winning the Europa league is the real progress for me. However, I believe Arteta needs another season because I want to see how Arsenal look like when his style is fully implemented on to the team. If he fails next season then he should go. The dynamics of Emery’s time here and Arteta’s is different. We would have to include so many contexts to that debate. Arteta needs to sell some of his favorites this coming window if he wants to get this team where it wants to be. Already the Martinez sale looks bad as he’s been the best keeper in the league this season. If he doesn’t get his signings this window right that will probably end things for him at Arsenal.

  5. PJ-SA says:

    Form is mentioned as a reasoning for a lot of these predictions.

    Form is temporary and can change at any time so there is no way to tell. I’m thinking we’ll end 9th but hoping for 8th.

  6. instrooments says:

    We all know loads of our senior players underperformed early season and as a rookie coach learning on the job, it took time for arteta to get a right mix for the squad though we had lost a lot of games before that happened..

    He kept the faith with the players hoping they would come good but that didn’t happen till the lucky team selection in December… We probably would have been fighting for relegation if he had persisted with that team…

    So looking at the team now and performances since then, we are indeed making progress, majority of our standout players are young and homegrown, so the future looks bright with little additions here and there..

    We are currently having two decent teams for rotation as shown this past week, only Chelsea and man city can boast of a big squad like ours…

    There would come a time where all our playing will be in form and we are up there challenging for the title just like Liverpool did…

    Remember any team can go through a rough patch, klopp would say his defence affected his team but his forwards ain’t creating chances too…..

    We currently have a good record against the traditional top six, all we need is to finish off smaller teams and boom we are challenging again…

    Arteta would be an epl experienced manager by end of season, with a little idea of his best players for each position and style of play…so there’s every reason to be optimistic bout next season

    1. Sean Balke says:

      Well said sir

  7. siamois says:

    I think it is all about perspectives,would you rather finish 5th 6th..with a squad full of ageing players on long terms contracts on a downward spiral..or finish 8th a squad with a lot of good young players and ageing and not good enough players on their way out in the summer freeing places money for new players? i’ll ho for the latter thanks!

    1. Trudeau says:

      Great point.

  8. Indian Gunner London says:

    Firstly, I must congratulate the author for raising issues of a possible 8th place finish and his reasoning which has some value but I am not in agreement with.

    Neither, 8th place or a win in the EL would constitute progress.

    I am not a fair weather fan. I have supported AFc since 1979.

    For me, hiding behind the sofa or closing my eyes when the opposition attack would be a better measure of progress.

    From 2013 onwards despite winning the FA cup 3 times, AW had lost the plot IMO. We were not defensively or offensively good after spending money.

    As far as UE, even the 22 match unbeaten run + reaching the EL final did not show me a specific style of play or any direction. Certainly no more than AW post 2013.

    With MA, I have found that we have improved defensively and there is more energy in our play. What he has not yet done is to bring the speed of passing and the fluid movement of the players that AW had especially prior to 2013. This is my definition of progress.

    Despite some mistakes like goalkeeper (I am almost coming to the conclusion that our best current goalkeeper is Mat Ryan) , William Saliba situation and many other points which I will not ellaborate on, I would definitely give him 1 more season: 2021 – 2022.

  9. OnceGreat says:

    After doing some math, I agree that it’s the most likely we’ll finish 8th again.

    Scum would really have to spurs the place up properly to drop lower than 7th. They’ve got a relatively easy roster and if they manage to not lose against Manure, Everton, and Leicester, there’s no way we’ll celebrate st. Tottenringham’s day.

    We are likely to jump over Everton and especially Villa but as for scum, I can’t see it. Also, I believe Liverpool will find their feet soon and go back to the top 4 battle.

  10. adajim says:

    with 30points up for grab, we should aim at least 18, with 18points i think 7th is achievable.
    am happy with the way we are ending the season, much more improvement and direction of things to come.
    the inefficient attack, silly red cards, unnecessary error, early goal against and unlucky ref decisions, have so far define our season.
    i hope we cut out the mistakes and have a better season next year

  11. Val says:

    For me i see it as progress, not basing things off of final league positions but on what i see on the pitch

    Tables can be deceiving

    we have got a direction and the style of play is coming along nicely, especially as this team is not MA’s team yet, he still needs to bring in more of ”his men”

    but i see improvements every game.
    if we didnt have so many gifts for our opponents we would be in a far better position i think.

    i think he is doing ok, but lets not rush the what ifs and just wait till the end of the season, see where we are and then look at who the club bring in, in the summer.

    to look at progress just by looking a table withn numbers on it is abit short sighted

    1. Darthballz says:

      Good observation. I hope that the board see what arteta did with odegard in the team and back him in the summer

  12. A J says:

    I stand to be corrected here, but much on Arteta above – but nothing on the current ownership.

    And I use “ownership” in the widest sense of the word.

    1. jon fox says:

      Ah theres the rub, eh AJ! To have raised the pertinent question of our owner would not have suited the relative trivia which this articles author was keen to present and in place of discussing the REAL problem . Which, as all proper serious minded thinkers know, is the appalling, absent, non caring owner. Sigh!

  13. Grandad says:

    I am only interested in the development of our team, not in comparisons with previous Managers nor in speculating where we are likely to finish in the League.We have dropped points against the likes of Villa, Everton and Wolves who are teams I would expect us to beat, yet we have kicked on recently to win against Leicester and Spurs who are arguably better sides.We have a number of weaknesses in our squad which need to be eradicated if we are to improve next season, and principal among them is the lack of pace at the back and midfield..A naturally left footed back up for Tierney is essential , and we need to show some real creativity to get the best out of Pepe, who, is an example of our poor recruitment record of late.Willian is another error of judgement which is clearly apparent , but then again, virtually every Club suffers from bad buys, apart from perhaps Leicester City.With one of two tweaks we are not far away from being a pretty good side, and under Arteta, we can make it back to the top four within the course of the next year or two , and in my opinion we have a very decent chance of winning the Europa Cup this season , with all that that would bring.

    1. ozziegunner says:

      Grandad, don’t give up on Pepe. In his limited opportunities, the good things he does, like the superb pass to Lacazette leading to the penalty, seem to go unnoticed.

  14. RW1 says:

    If we finish 8th and nothing else it’s regression and no alternative facts can make it look any different … we have a slightly better squad than 2 years ago and one as good as at least 4 of the teams above us … same owner … the only change that one can factor in of meaningful significance is change of manager … ditto we will have regressed under arteta and if this scenario plays out he has to go … there are two other possibilities that change this conclusion we do finish in top 6 which looks unlikely but not impossible or we win el which is also difficult but slightly more likely … either happens arteta should be given another year to prove himself … of course this ignores the fact that we have an owner who doesn’t care which is a complicating factor

    1. RSH says:

      Simple as this RW1. Lower position in the table = regression. I dont see how people spin it. I think our point total will even be less too.

  15. Innit says:

    If we finish 8th and don’t win EL then Arteta needs to go

    If we finish 8th and no trophies then that’s not progressing

  16. Joe. S says:

    Not looked at above comments but I can imagine it’s one that will divide the fan base along the usual lines. All weather loyalists will definitely argue yes, the defence has improved certain youngsters have been brought along, trust the process, trust the manager and this time next season we’ll be in a better place. Others like myself might argue that at the beginning of the season the goal was to finish in the top four with sixth best the only other acceptable compromise. As such the bar has been lowered.Remembr the heady days when both players, manager and fans would celebrate fourth place in front of a full Emirates? How can one celebrate eight place? We are not Wolves. On a positive note though there are small signs that things are improving. The playing squad looks leaner and meaner. In the right hands this current group has serious potential. Can we fans trust those in charge to make the best decisions in the interest of Arsenal Football Club.

  17. David Rusa says:

    I am amused by the way we have been passionately discussing our supposed 8th position at the end of the season. This is simply by someone who is either musing, dreaming, imagining, conjecturing, predicting or prophesying! We cannot argue with someone about his imaginations. What I know for a fact is that there are still 10 games to play which means 30 points. I would have been more impressed if someone argued basing on these known variables rather than resorting to voodooism! It makes more sense to say that if we got say 20 points out of 30 we would get 61 points which might earn us a place in Europe. That is using logic. Oftentimes people prefer to use emotions instead of logic because emotions are more appealing! However the moment you discard logic you are bound to make wrong conclusions.
    It is erroneous to predict our future performance based on the recent past because we committed a number of errors which cost us about 12 points, most especially the red cards. Nobody can convince me that we shall again get those many cards. Furthermore we have now discovered which players to use in which games. Our inexperienced manager is also learning on the job. Thus I am optimistic that we do shall perform better in the remaining matches. I will not predict which position but I believe we can be even 5th. Anything is possible with 10 games.

  18. Grandad says:

    Very well said DavidR.Re Ozzie, I have not given up on Pepe but in my view he will be more effective if he is not stuck out on the right wing.I think you will agree Ozzie that we paid a huge premium for Pepe?

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