So here it is – November. Halloween brings genuine horror for Arsenal fans, because the day after Halloween is November 1st and that is something for us all to be scared of. Every year I convince myself that November is an absurd irrational superstition, and every year it delivers on the horror. Last season, we played the following games with the following results:
|Bayern Munich||Lost||1-5||Away||4th November||Champions League|
|Tottenham||Drew||1-1||Home||8th November||Premier League|
|West Brom||Lost||1-2||Away||21st November||Premier League|
|Dinamo Zagreb||Won||3-0||Home||24th November||Champions League|
|Norwich City||Drew||1-1||Away||29th November||Premier League|
We entered November 2015 with a settled team, off the back of an away win by three goals (3-0 over Swansea), second in the league behind Man City by dint only of goal difference, with the home NLD to come. Sound familiar? What could go wrong?
We gathered two points from three Premier League fixtures, a rate of 0.7 points per game, bad enough to have earned relegation in 2015/16. Bayern humiliated us and erased all suspicions that we might be a better team than them after our 2-0 home victory. The Dinamo result was the sole beacon of light.
In fact, results were not even the worst thing that happened in November 2015. Coquelin picked up a knee injury against West Brom that kept him out for three months. In truth he never recovered his pre-November form when he returned, and was soon dropped again. Cazorla was injured against Norwich and effectively missed the rest of the season. The loss of our first choice midfield pairing was a blow from which our season did not recover. Sanchez also picked up a hamstring injury against Norwich. Like Coquelin he didn’t come back as the same player and didn’t score again until March 5th.
Here are our fixtures for November 2016:
|Ludogorets||Away||1st November||Champions League|
|Tottenham Hotspurs||Home||6th November||Premier League|
|Manchester United||Away||19th November||Premier League|
|Paris St Germain||Home||23rd November||Champions League|
|AFC Bournemouth||Home||27th November||Premier League|
It looks to me like a similar fixture list, with slightly tougher opponents but one extra home game (and one less away) this year.
The curious thing is that, at the time, November 2015 didn’t feel fatal. At the end of the month we were only two points behind in the Premiership, and we regained the lead by the turn of the year, so we can hardly say that November destroyed our title bid.
The fact that we weren’t too far behind by the end of November 2015 tells us something interesting. If we put the superstition aside, there is a real reason that we find it tough in November. By the end of November we will have played thirteen Premiership fixtures and five Champions League fixtures, at total of 18 top class matches.
In the physically tough Premiership, we will be playing against teams who have only played 13 matches, and this is a significantly different level of fatigue. This ‘cumulative fatigue’ is the reason that we didn’t fall too far behind in the league last November, despite poor results.
November is incredibly tough for any team that is playing in the Champions League , and our rivals at the top of the league are likely to be suffering in the same way. Managers of these teams have a choice, rotate their players or play tired players and risk injuries. Both are likely to lead to dropped points. In the light of this, we might expect Liverpool and Chelsea (who are not in the Champions League) to have relatively good Novembers and Man City, who have played 2 extra Champions league fixtures, to struggle.
Wenger has tended not to rotate much in previous Novembers, but I detect a little bit of change here. Last season we saw major rotation in the Champions League leading to defeat (Olympiacos and Dinamo). Wenger was then forced to play his best 11 in every game in order to keep hopes of Champions League qualification alive. This season, the rotation is smaller, but more persistent. We are hearing a lot of players pulled out of matches with minor injuries, or described as being in the ‘red zone’. For the Ludogorets game, Wenger described the non-travelling Monreal, Cazorla, Bellerin and Walcott as having ‘more or less injuries’. It sounds like they could have played if required, but he is trying to avoid injuries.
As the season wears on, it seems fatigue kicks in for everyone and as we get into December the Champions League takes a break, so the playing field is levelled and the top teams are no longer at a disadvantage. It seems to me that what we should hope for in November 2016 is simply to hang on, not fall too far behind in the league and avoid major injuries. I, for one, would settle for that.
If you liked this article, you might enjoy Tim’s book “It’s Happened Again”, which is now available on Amazon (print and Kindle versions). Read a sample chapter at www.itshappenedagain.com
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