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By Tony Attwood
Is it getting tougher at the top of the Premier League? Are the bigger teams pulling away from the rest? After all, this season feels really good to Arsenal supporters but are we getting it easy? Is this sustainable? Is the huge gap between first and second, and then second and third, normal?
Such questions are relevant if we are trying to look ahead to Arsenal next season and thereafter. So here’s a quick peek at this season in comparison to others.
Here’s the current position of the club… the top four clubs by now have 229 points between them
And this is how it looked at roughly the same point in 2021/2 – at that point the top four had 246 points between them – a difference of just seven percent.
So we go back another year to 2020/21, and the clubs at the top are again in the same sort of range
2019/20 – and this time things do look a bit different. Liverpool had shot ahead and the fourth placed team Chelsea was on just 45 points.
One last comparison – Liverpool in 2018/19 after 28 games were exactly the same as Arsenal now – on 69 points. But Arsenal that season were in fourth on 56 points which normally would have secured them second or third.
Defences too can vary, but not by that much – although we need to add that Arsenal have let in more by this stage of the season than it is normal for the top club. Yet when we take into account the goals conceded and look at the goal difference, again there is not much change year by year. The goal difference of the top club ranges from 37 up to 50. For the fourth club it is between 8 and 22.
The fact is the number of points gained by clubs by this stage of the season can vary – but overall the top four circle around the same sort of level year on year.
Even more consistent is the number of goals scored by the top club – between 56 and 68 – and Arsenal this season are at the upper end of this range.
So things shift around a bit, but not that much. Which makes a question as posed in the Guardian “why do none of the other 14 Premier League clubs have an all-time top scorer who played in the past decade?” quite interesting
The answer must be that clubs that are successful can have that success either by having one key goal scorer (as with Manchester City this season) or three who are into double figures already (as is the case with Arsenal).
But it is also the case that over the past decade, the gulf between top and bottom of the Premier League has become far greater, for as we have noted before a lot of teams are managing to yo-yo their way up and down between the top two divisions – one thinks of Norwich and Burnley as prime examples of late.
Looking at the players who have scored this season Arsenal have three in the top 11.
Looking at assists overall it gets even better since we have five players in the top 23 assisters (if that is a word), Saka, Trossard, Odegaard, Gabriel Jesus, and Xhaka (although to be fair, Trossard did some of his work at Brighton, of course).
Now my point in both cases is that although it can be very exciting indeed to have a Thierry Henry in the team, it is actually a lot safer to spread the work around, first because if your top man is crocked by lumbering defenders most of the goals go. And second, those same defenders really don’t know where the next attack is coming from when a club has three of the top scorers in the league playing for it.
In short, Arsenal are not just top of the league, but are running at a level that would have them top of the league most seasons, and with a very stable balance of players. If a goal scorer or assistant gets injured, we are still going to be ok.
And this suggests this season is unlikely to be a one-off. We could be set fair for the future..
4 Replies to “Why this season is not a one-off for Arsenal, but probably a sign of things to come”
“Arsenal have let in more by this stage of the season than it is normal for the top club” – Yes, Tony, but it may be the price to pay for unleashing Zinchenko …
I have difficulty remembering (but I might be getting old, too) when a player was given such freedom to do exactly what he liked, whenever he liked it, by a manager. So much so that we have played with only 3 actual defenders (White, Saliba, Gabriel) for most of the season (huge credit to them – as well as to Ramsdale, btw). This is Arteta’s tactical touch which keeps impressing me most. I guess our manager had it in mind during all those months on the City bench (often times by Oleks’s side – which makes me, at least, seriously wonder about Pep’s so-called “genius”).
Saliba’s and Jesus’s sheer talent, Ødegaard’s and Bukayo’s definitive comings of age, Xhaka’s mesmerizing reliability (and his peace of mind in a more advanced position) have dramatically improved the team’s technical level, but Zinchenko, under MA’s watch, has become a unique kind of player, the like of which you don’t find in any other team (just as far as I know, of course) – not to mention the very endearing (imo) touch of madness oozing out from the lad.
It takes courage to stick to such a risky setup from the beginning to the end of a PL season. Should we end up ahead of Guardiola’s robotic outfit, it is this courage which would be rewarded, too.
All good points, Tony.
I was making an analysis myself the other day and I realized how special was our 2001-02 team, the one that was somehow left in the shadow of Invincibles despite winning the double, setting the record at the time of winning 13 games in a row, scoring in every league game of the season and going unbeaten on the road.
That team had three players that hit double digits in goals scored – Thierry 24, amazing Freddie Ljungberg 12 and title-winning goal-scorer Wiltord 10. What is even more important, Dennis and Bobby scored nine goals each which means we were a goal from both of them away from having five players with double digits.
We had 13 different goal-scorers, 24 different players being picked for action including three goalkeepers. It’s probably unique case that each of three goalkeepers (Seaman, Wright, Taylor) had at least 10 appearances in the league.
We don’t have just a great team, we have a great squad.
I also enjoy Zinchenko’s play but agree that he places a burden on the other defenders. Arsenal allow too many breakaways because of this as I’ve commented before. It could catch up before the season is finished. Just look at the Palace game. Good thing they can’t finish. Also, sometimes he just dominates the ball too much. Please pass to Odegaard at every opportunity. That’s really directed at all the players on the pitch, not just Zinchenko. But you’ve got to love his drive, determination and tremendous talent. I’m on the edge of my seat watching him.
Funny (and how relevant) that you should mention this particular “Wenger” season, Admir – thanks for that. The fact is that, when Trossard is on the pitch in particular, we end up playing with:
One playmaker (Zinchenko)
Two playmakers – goalscorers – assist providers (Odegaard, Xhaka)
One playmaker – assist provider (Trossard)
One goalscorer – Martinelli
One otherworldly forward – Saka
… which looks very much to me like an Old Wengerean Dream come true.
I’m not sure this’ll heal the wounds which the way he was shown the door opened up, but it’s very likely that the irony of it all hasn’t been lost on Arsène, and the thought of him watching this season unfold with joy, like all of us, but also with a wry smile across his face is not an unpleasant one.