Something about this website has been bugging me for a while. It’s a very welcome home for Arsenal-oriented debate, and the regulars here are great, all bringing something different to our little party. And the format is excellent, with contributions coming from that group of regulars, meaning one voice doesn’t dominate.
So what’s been bugging me then?
It’s that “Points total” table over on the right-hand side, just below the bit about “Our day will come again” (which it will). I like the fact that the table is there, it provides a little bit of information not routinely available elsewhere. But when I’ve glanced at it this season, more often than not we’ve had fewer points than at the same stage last season. That doesn’t exactly suggest progress, does it?
I’ve been reassuring myself that this is a strange season, that all the title contenders have failed to achieve consistency, that they’re all misfiring, so no need to worry that we appear not to be doing quite as well in crude terms of the number of points bagged. But is that right? I decided to run some figures (yup, I really am that sad), comparing the standings of each of the top five with their position at the same point (in terms of games played) last season. Here are the results:
Now: 51 points from 23 games
Last year: 50 points
Now: 46 points from 23 games
Last year: 49 points
Now: 45 points from 24 games
Last year: 44 points
Now: 41 points from 23 games
Last year: 54 points
Now: 38 points from 23 games
Last year: 41 points
The stand-out fact from these figures is the collapse in Chelsea’s form; a 13-point fall in one season is appalling in anyone’s books, let alone for the self-styled would-be world beaters. They had a run of 11 games in which they collected just 10 points, a run that has all but destroyed their title hopes.
Beyond that, a few other things emerge: the two Manchester clubs are pretty much where they were last season, being just one point up each. United’s unbeaten run needs to be judged in that context – at this point last year, they had already lost five games, so turning that into zero looks very impressive. But they’ve become draw maniacs; a one-point improvement on last season sounds a lot less impressive than the media’s much loved undefeated United, especially bearing in mind that United have had their easiest fixtures in the first half of the season and have tough games stacked up in March and April. They are annoyingly but rightly renowned for being strong in the second half of the season. The test will be whether a side built on Ferdinand and Vidic can reach those heights this year.
City could still end up winning the league, but so far their one-point improvement on last year looks a pretty pathetic return on the Abu Dhabi United Group’s enormous, gross investment. They’ll argue they’re a work in progress, but the question has to be asked: where’s the improvement?
And then there are the North London clubs. (Spurs are still North London club, aren’t they?) Both are three points down on this stage last season. That may not sound like much but it’s a significant difference, one neither side can be proud of. For Spurs, there’s no surprise, they’re having to cope with juggling CL and EPL football for the first time, and as Harry has said this week, it was a miracle they finished fourth last season, so a decline for the contenders’ weakest side shouldn’t shock anyone.
But what about us? We’re all feeling buoyant after the dominant performance against Wigan (shame we didn’t cash in on the goals though) and getting to the League Cup Final. We’ve not conceded a league goal for four games, Nasri, van Persie and Fabregas are on fire, and we are looking to have overcome blips in the domestic cups with a rejuvenated and relatively injury-free squad, so it all feels good. And so it should. But the fact is we are three points down on the same point last season, and before the Wigan game, that difference was five points. Just as United’s season is often marked by an improvement at this stage, so our performance often falls away in the home straight. Last season, United won 12 of their last 16 games, dropping just 8 points along the way. By comparison, we dropped 21 points in our last 16 games, completely losing pace with Chelsea and United as a result.
I’m often accused of being over-optimistic about Arsenal, and of showing excessive faith in Wenger. But on this occasion, with our side in danger of realising its potential, I want to add a note of caution. We really need the players to concentrate from here on. No more two-goal leads thrown away (or one-goal leads come to that), no more defeats extracted from the jaws of victory, no more dropping points against the lesser sides, no more home defeats, we had enough of that in 2010, on both sides of the summer break. With Chelsea collapsing, United retreating into their shell, City stymied by internal division and change and Spurs dealing with their biggest challenge to date, this season could have been much easier for us than it has been; it wouldn’t have taken much for us to have accumulated much more than 46 points to date, just more focus and concentration. But the failures of the first half of the season mean we’re now under much more pressure than we needed to have been, and we need to respond positively to that pressure.
I remain an optimist, I believe we’ll be fighting United toe-to-toe until the end of the season (making our home game against them massive). My comments might be read as being negative or pessimistic; in fact, I make these points because I consider our squad to be the best in terms of talent, bar none, in English football. I (like Wenger and all other Gooners) just want them to go out and show it, not in flashes but in sustained runs of victories. The frustration is we haved ceded control of this season to the weakest United side in years when we could have dominated.
We still have what it takes to prevail over all four of our rivals, and even to give the best side in the world, Barca, a run for their money in the CL. We just need the players to take each and every game seriously.
Written by 26may1989