By Tony Attwood
It was interesting to read the recent TalkSprout headline, “Chelsea and Man United are in turmoil’ – Arsenal hero predicts 2019/20 top four”
The hero is Perry Groves, and unfortunately he doesn’t give us any real insights in the interview, other than to say that we might grab the slot because Chelsea and Man U have problems of their own.
Those problems are of course well documented. Chelsea’s owner seems to have gone walkabouts since he was refused a work visa in Britain, and immediately after that refusal was made public the owner closed down the idea of re-building the Chelsea stadium. They also have a one year transfer ban in place, and as yet have not been able to push through an appeal either to have the ban put on hold or to have it overturned.
Manchester United’s next season is harder to discern. Their new manager got off to a flyer of course, but then went on a run which clearly wasn’t in the script…
|10 Mar 2019||Arsenal v Manchester United||L||2-0||Premier League|
|16 Mar 2019||Wolverhampton W v Manchester U||L||2-0||FA Cup|
|30 Mar 2019||Manchester United v Watford||W||2-1||Premier League|
|02 Apr 2019||Wolverhampton W v Manchester U||L||2-1||Premier League|
|10 Apr 2019||Manchester United v Barcelona||L||0-1||Champions League|
|13 Apr 2019||Manchester United v West Ham U||W||2-1||Premier League|
|16 Apr 2019||Barcelona v Manchester United||L||3-0||Champions League|
|21 Apr 2019||Everton v Manchester United||L||4-0||Premier League|
|24 Apr 2019||Manchester U v Manchester City||L||0-2||Premier League|
|28 Apr 2019||Manchester United v Chelsea||D||1-1||Premier League|
|05 May 2019||Huddersfield T v Manchester United||D||1-1||Premier League|
|12 May 2019||Manchester United v Cardiff City||L||0-2||Premier League|
12 games and two wins. Of course they could turn that around – they can spend as much money as they want, given the huge income they get from the worldwide marketing activities, and maybe they can shake that run off. But there is a doubt.
For while Arsenal was only one point away from the fourth placed team, Man U were five points. While we were only six goals away from the fourth placed team in terms of goal difference, they were 17 behind. It’s quite a gap.
And in fact Manchester United did far worse last season than they did in coming sixth in 2017. So they are now a bit of an enigma. A club with oodles of cash, and a club that came second in 2018, but sixth in 2017 and 2019.
We might also wonder if Tottenham will be able to maintain last season’s form. The savage drop in the attendances at Wembley last year (down over 20% on the year before) suggests a certain fickleness on the part of the fans, and history suggests that they will struggle in the new ground, simply because the vast majority of clubs that move do exactly that.
Tottenham have progressed of course – although they have not won anything since the league cup in 2008. But it is interesting that Kane, having scored 31, 28, 35 and 41 across four seasons, dipped to 24 last time around. Still impressive but still a drop. If injuries do plague him from now on, that would reduce Tottenham’s potential.
Since 2009/10 they have been top six regulars, getting there six times, four of these in the last four years. But in the last three years their points total has dropped: 86 in 2017, 77 in 2018, and 71 in 2019. Goalscoring has declined too: 86 in 2017, 77 in 2018, 71 in 2019. The 13 defeats they suffered last season was the largest since 2009. The defence which improved enormously since 2014/15, let in 13 more than in 2017.
Obviously everyone can improve or decline, and that is by no means a secure prediction for next season, but it is a little comforting to note that there are potential bananaskins lurking for Manchester United and Chelsea, while Tottenham might be in line for a little bit of a wobble.
However, it’s not just the clubs around us we have to be concerned with; what we need, obviously, is a growing and developing Arsenal team. A team which can play tactically, so as to get our away form back in order without affecting the home form. And it should not be too difficult. After all a couple more points away from home last season would have had us back in the Champions League this time.
Obviously we don’t know which of the 80+ players that have been noted by the ever over-excited scribblers to be coming to Arsenal, will actually sign, but we do have some indicators of positive movement for next season already.
First, despite endless chatter about changes to the goalkeeper line up, the two most obvious keepers in the squad have been playing in the pre-season games and that gives me confidence. Leno looked very good last season to me, and Martinez has been with the club a long time, and the manager clearly knows what he is getting.
Second, there really is a good bunch of young players at the manager’s disposal. Of course I don’t know who will ultimately make it, but given the way young players can lose form or get injured I’d sooner have a larger rather than a smaller list of players to rely on.
And undoubtedly we can add one or two more who have started to catch the eye in the pre-season games.
Then we have Chambers, Holding and Bellerin coming back in. I was of a mind that Chambers might have had his day, but looking at the pre-season game I am wondering if that conclusion was a big hasty. Mavropanos is still injured which is why we are not seeing him. If he can regain full fitness he will be a solid bonus.
In attack, only Liverpool and Manchester City scored more than Arsenal last season which suggests to me that although ultimately we will need to catch them up, and they are a long way ahead, that is not the priority area – it remains, as everyone says, defence.
So, we wait and see, but with the manager talking of three or four more incoming players, maybe getting back int to the top four won’t be quite so difficult as we thought.
And there is one reason to be happy about the Europa League this season (although I am not a fan of Thursday games, I must admit). They give many more opportunities for the younger players to get experience than the champions league games do. And there’s a real value in that.
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