With this weekend’s 2-1 victory over Everton, we have officially completed the first quarter of the league season and entered into the second. Those long, hard, dark, cold Autumn and Winter months lie ahead. So I think its a good moment to pause, take stock of how its gone so far and consider what it will take to build on what we’ve started.
And what has gone so far has been, hey, you gotta say, very good indeed!
We’ve enjoyed, particularly recently, a level of form that bodes very well and, in particular, the victories over Man Utd and Bayern are the kind of back-to-back home victories we always dreamed the Emirates was built for; big occasions, big matches, big opponents, great moves, great saves, great goals. Wonderful, emphatic, impressive victories; the Stadium rocking.
Most crucially, with our first-quarter start to the season, we’ve established ourselves as joint leaders at the top of the Premier League and just three points behind the leaders of our Group in the Champions League. And we eliminated Spurs from the League Cup along the way for good measure. All very nice.
Last season, you’ll remember, we started quite a way short of title-contention form which, given how well we did subsequently between Christmas and May, turned out to be the specific bit of the season that scuppered our chances of challenging for the domestic league title.
Top 10 after 10 games last season
|5||West Ham United||10||5||2||3||19||14||+5||17|
So, this season, we needed to correct that and start well. And despite the opening game defeat vs West Ham, that’s exactly what we’ve done.
We’ve gained 22 points so far this season compared to 17 last season when we were in fourth position after the first 10 games. You’ll remember Chelsea had a superb start to last season having gained 26 points out of a possible 30 by this stage. Our 22 points tally this season is within touching distance of that form, so this is definitely encouraging.
Top 10 after 10 games this season
|3||West Ham United||10||6||2||2||22||13||+9||20|
|10||West Bromwich Albion||10||4||2||4||8||11||-3||14|
Looking at things from a slightly different perspective, I wrote a piece in the summer for Untold entitled, Champions-Ready or More to Do? In it I highlighted that in order to emulate the average points and average performance stats attained by the Premier League Champions of the previous 10 years, we would need to obtain 87 points, win 27 (71%) of our games, draw 6 (16%) and limit our defeats to 5 (13%). I suggested if we could do that, we might well have a good chance of being in contention for the trophy come the season’s close. (Clearly we can obtain a different configuration of wins, draws and defeats to win the league but basing it on what had gone before seemed to be a reasonable way of looking realistically at what might be needed)
And so far this season, after 10 games, our stats are 7 wins (70%), 1 draw (10%) and 2 defeats (20%). This isn’t looking bad at all and, specifically in terms of wins, we are on course and travelling very well.
However, if these overall percentages were to pertain by the end of the season we’d only end up with 85 points, just below our theoretical Champions target of 87. This is clearly not a large shortfall but trophy success might rest on such fine differences.
To nudge us completely back onto the right trajectory during the second quarter, we either need to win more than 70% of our next 9 games or tweak the ratio of draws and defeats in favour of draws. The harsh reality of these percentages is that it pretty much means we need to limit our defeats to just 1 between now and Christmas.
The more we don’t keep on this track, the more we have to make it up in the second half of the season and end up banking on a faultless finish. This is of course something a few teams have done over time to win the League but I guess, in an ideal world, we’d want to sustain a decent pace and ensure each part of the season is as productive as possible.
There’s a lot to encourage us to believe we can do this I think.
So far our new goalkeeper has been superb at making point-winning saves, our awesome threesome up front of Walcott, Alexis and Ozil have created a lot of chances and scored some stonking goals (not forgetting Giroud’s fine performance v Everton), Bellerin, Monreal and Coquillan have carried on from where they left off last season and the delightful Cazola has been superb in his deep-lying pivotal midfield role. Our defence, while not always totally commanding, has been mostly disciplined, only conceding 8 goals, with Gabriel, as hoped, adding some additional depth at its heart.
Perhaps significantly, for a team which has a bit of a track record over the years for falling foul of a few bloopers each season, we have done very well, in Premier League terms at least, to limit such customary blips to just two games.
Firstly, there was the home game against West Ham (which to be fair to Arsenal is not the only surprise result the Hammers have served up under Bilic this season) and secondly, there was the first half of the Liverpool home match when we looked like the Keystone Cops from a season or two back. To be fair once more however, this largely came about because, at the last minute, we were forced to play two central defenders who between them had only played a handful of games for Arsenal, and none of those together. And of course in this game, to give the team the credit they deserve, they did recover well in the second half.
The Chelsea game was one we might, at the beginning of the season, have half expected to lose, so I don’t count that as a blip. And of course we lost that match, not by being outplayed, but by being cheated. If anything, I took great solace from that match in seeing the return of our cult hero, Martin Keown. Reincarnated in the form of our new, fighting, passionate, driven, and battling Brazilian centre half, Gabriel stood up for his team mates and having been thumped on the back by the cheating Costa, he turned round and thumped him right back, hard on the chest in retaliation. I loved that reaction. It’s good to see you back Martin.
Overall, in most of our Premier League games in fact, we’ve either been superb or just plain effective. Either of those kind of performances, superb or effective, as we know, is exactly what’s needed to compete for the title.
The Champions League, on the other hand, it has to be said, has been, until Bayern, another story; one largely written by our Manager’s bizarre team selection. Even if you can justify why it was done, you can’t deny the result: disastrous.
Certainly, by not keeping pace in the Champions League in the first quarter of the season, the consequence is that it puts more pressure on us now in the second quarter where we almost certainly need to avoid defeat in the last three Group games to make it through to the Knock Out stages.
So between now and Christmas, can we limit our defeats across both of the two main competitions to a single solitary game?
That’s a tough ask. Especially when a) some of the second choice players, when selected, have looked a little short (Ospina, Debuchy, Gibbs) and b) our squad is still carrying injuries to Welbeck, Wilshire, Rosicky and now Ramsey. Purely from a tiredness point of view, we could definitely do with some of the squad players turning in better performances when called upon and, among those injured, one or two getting fitter sooner rather than later.
So although we really couldn’t of asked for any more than we’ve achieved in the first quarter of the season, we really might have to ask for a bit more in the second.
This is of course unreasonable, unfair and even ridiculous as the Manager and his players deserve all the credit in the world for rediscovering the momentum of last season’s Cup success, being joint leaders of the Prem and hitting some impressively heady heights along the way.
But to stay on the ideal course for the ultimate prize, somehow we’ve got to turn it up yet another tiny notch.
It’s tough at the top. As well as great.
Next staging post; Christmas and the half-way point.
Anniversaries from first to last
- 26 October 1863. Representatives of several football clubs met at the Freemasons Tavern, Holborn and formed the Football Association after Ebenezer Morley wrote to Bell’s Life newspaper, suggesting that football should have a set of rules.
- 26 October 2006: The Duke of Edinburgh opened the Emirates Stadium. The Queen was unable to attend and so the team and Arsène Wenger were invited to the Palace on 15 February 2007, for tea, making Arsenal the first ever football club to be invited to the Palace for tea.
Major new article on the Arsenal History Society Site
The Untold Books