It’s Tuesday, a full three days since we were defeated against the state-funded Oil Whores, yet that defeat still stings a little bit. I guess it’s partially also due to the fact that on Sunday those teams around us all picked up wins and now we’re only a couple of points ahead of the Scum, with the North London Derby the next league game for both teams, which means defeat puts us behind them on points and games in hand. It shows you just how much this league will swing between now and the end of the season and it shows you that we will need to fight as hard as we did against City for some of the points we need to pick up.
Even our postponed game against Wolves will be mightily hard. Last night they outplayed, outfought and outscored Man United winning 1-0 and whilst we can all have a chuckle and afford ourselves a mini fist-bump with United dropping points, I had to remind myself that since Wolves returned to the Premier League in 2018, we are yet to beat them. They’ve picked up two 1-1 draws and beat us 2-1 last season at the Emirates. They have a pretty good record against us and we are still yet to play them home or away.
I guess I’m highlighting this mainly to show to myself just how tough it is going to be to get that top four spot and whilst great performances like the City game will help to give us pride, in the grand scheme of things it means little from a returns point of view. We’re on 35 points having hit the halfway stage. double that up and you’ve got 70 points. The average top four finish points tally in the Premier League in the last 10 years is 71 points. We were the side to finish with the highest ever top four points tally in 2013/14 when we got to 79 points. What this is telling me is that we need to replicate the same form as the first half of the season – minimum – in order to get close to getting in to the top four. We can’t afford to draw too many games (we’ve only drawn two all season) and we are going to have to avoid a lot of defeats compared to the first half of the season (seven with the Man City defeat).
Perhaps turning some of those defeats in to draws will be vital, which is why the last minute sucker punch against City feels all the more painful when you start thinking about what is needed between now and the end of the season. But it also brings home the importance of picking up that away form. Our home form has been very good; we have won seven of our ten games at home and lost just two against City and Chelski. We still have to play United and Liverpool at home and whilst it is impossible to put specifics on what is needed to get top four based on individual games, I do feel like we need to win at least one of those games. Away from home we play Chelski, the Scum, Wolves, West Ham, Villa and each of those games feels like it will be tough. Then you add to it away to Southampton and Palace – two teams who have seemed to be able to pick up plenty of points at home against us, and it feels like we probably need to win at least three of those games. That’s how many away wins we have so far this season and whilst there are the likes of Watford and Newcastle in our remaining away fixtures, I feel like we’re going to need to pick up three big away day wins if we’re to get top four. I hope we continue to have a great home record, but it won’t last for the whole season and that’s why we need to pick up away wins at grounds in which we haven’t been too great at in recent years:
- No win at the Scum in six league games (going back to 2015)
- Two defeats in three away to Wolves in the league
- Two draws in last three away to Palace
- Two defeats in our last two games at Villa
- 10 defeats in our last 11 games against Chelski
I’m not highlighting this to give you a downer or anything, merely to point out that in order to get top four we’re going to need to change some of that recent poor away form. The good news is that the belief this team seems to have, as well as the belief we are are all starting to feel with this side, is such that we are starting to think that things are changing. The performances and the confidence with which that we outplayed the Champions on our own turf is very encouraging indeed. But we need to see more from the players and we need the consistency of THAT performance, rather than the two away performances against Man United, which are two games looking increasingly more frustrating as we see how other sides are performing against them (Everton have one win in their last 12 games…to us…).
The next 11 days, however, see a respite from the league and in that we’ll play Liverpool twice and Forest away in the FA Cup. It is perhaps an opportunity for some rotation but what we really could do without is the confidence bubble to burst. The team can take a lot from the wins over the Christmas period and hopefully will take a lot from the way we played against City. But that confidence needs to now transmit in to a performance in both the domestic cups because I don’t know about you, but I feel like wins in all competitions in the cups will have a significant bearing on how much confidence and swagger this Arsenal team can take in to the North London Derby in about 12 days time.
There is still much work to do, we still have to see more from this Arsenal side, but the initial signs are good.
Catch you all tomorrow.