Forget Leicester’s Loss, Arsenal Are Having a Great Year
Among all the possibilities and uncertainties of life, one thing is sure from the concluded 2019/2020 EPL season: had Arteta begun the season with Arsenal, we would have ended higher up the table. Perhaps we would have reached 10 more points to qualify for the Champions League. Perhaps not. What is clear is that we wouldn’t have had such a dismal season, the worst season in some two decades at Arsenal.
Some people tend to think that league position is an indication of the quality in your team with respect to others. While that can be generally true, such assumptions miss out on the fact that there is also managerial quality to consider. If you’ve got the best team and the best coach, you generally end up at the top of the pile. This is true for the duopoly at the top of the league.
This is true especially for teams on the lower side of the league. And then there is some element of luck to consider.
Remember Vincent Kompany’s goal against Leicester City? The pivotal goal in a pivotal game of the 90-point, tyre-burning, leather-grabbing race at the top? That goal could have easily not gone in. Manchester City could have easily drawn that game. What about Liverpool ignoring their expected goals against and racing to a twenty-five point lead at the top? Only at the back end of the season, when it was clear that no one was coming for them, that they regressed back to mean. Luck is an understated part of football and a unique one at that, because, in football, you make your own luck.
Last season was widely recognized as quite a bit unlucky for Arsenal, as bad as they were. A Sky Sports study crowned them as the unluckiest team in the league. You may of course doubt the ability of this study to reflect the truth, but any Arsenal fan would tell you a similar story. No doubt about it, if Arsenal had as much luck as the average team, they would have nicked a few more points.
So, last season’s 56 points were the result of poor coaching, poor luck and perhaps poor quality in the squad. When you are regularly starting David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi, with a paper thin midfield and Kolasinac, well, you deserve what’s coming to you.
Arteta came in and everyone suddenly looked better. That’s some decent coaching at work. Arsenal have shored up their defense with Gabriel Magalhaes and their midfield with Thomas Partey. These are serious talents. If you consider the addition of Willian, Mari, and the growing maturity of high-performing youngsters like Saka, Martinelli, Nketiah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, then you have an even more talented squad than last season’s. Already, Gabriel, Niles, Saka have made serious contributions this season. That’s only going to continue.
Arsenal’s coaching has gotten better, the squad has gotten better, but will the luck improve. There are some ominous signs this season. Sadio Mane’s slap at Kieran Tierney’s face went unpunished. Kyle Walker’s high kick in his own box went unreviewed. Those two incidents occurred in two different matches that Arsenal lost a combined 4-1. But again, those were against two of the best teams in the league so we cannot come to a strong conclusion yet. Given the variability of season-to-season luck, Arsenal are unlikely to be as unfortunate as last season. Hell, they may even be one of the luckiest teams this season. Nobody knows for sure. But with the combination of Arteta’s coaching, better talent, maturing youngsters, improved luck and their involvement in the Europa League, Arsenal have a better chance of having a great year than last season (if “great year” is defined by Champions League qualification).