By Tony Attwood
In recent years the league table at the end of January has given us a rough guide as to where Arsenal will end up by the end of the season, as the table below shows.
The second column here shows us the position of the club on 31 January for each year covered. In only one of the seasons in the chart, our position on this day (6th in 2019) was the position we ended up in at the end of the season. But there’s not been a change of more than three places in the years covered between this day and the final league table.
In summary, the changes are:
- Up by 3 places = 2015
- Up by 1 place = 2016
- Same position = 2018
- Down by 1 place = 2019
- Down by 2 places = 2017, 2014
Of course what has happened in the past is not an absolute predictor of the future, but on the other hand the past can give us an idea of what we might expect – which is to say that a move between our current position and our final position of more than 3 places would be exceptional.
Obviously this is not just because of Arsenal’s performances, but because other teams have been buying new players and preparing themselves for the future, just as we have. No one is going to let us saunter into the top four or top six when they could grab a European place from us.
So on the basis that this is not going to be an exceptional year our final position will be somewhere between 12th and 7th.
Certainly what we can see is the huge gap that has arisen between the number of points achieved by Arsenal this season and that of other seasons. We are nine points below our second worse season of 2015 when we were sixth but eventually climbed back to third. We are 22 points worse off than where we were in 2014, a season in which we finished fourth.
Now that fourth position is interesting because that was the era of fans stating that “Fourth is not a trophy” when writers on Untold had the temerity to say that our long run of appearances in the Champions League was something to be cherished, not decried, on the grounds that it brought in a load of money.
Looking at the other figures in the chart above it is clear that our problem is not that in defence (although listening to many Arsenal supporters with their talk of Mustafi and Xhaka one might be excused thinking this is the case) it is the problem with attack We have scored 18 goals fewer than by this stage last season. What we must hope is that the attack really can return to form in the final part of the season and drag us up to sixth in order to qualify for the Europa League again. But looking at recent seasons, that seems unlikely.
It is also interesting that Arsenal’s problems are following the problems that other clubs have had who have taken the same route: spending a huge amount of money last summer and changing managers. Splashing out money on players and changing managers normally does not take teams up the league table – quite the opposite in fact if we look at the top six spenders from last summer.
The current league table shows us just how many points we need to gain to get up to sixth and a guaranteed place in the Europa, and this is where there is a glimmer of hope
We are only four points off the 34 points that Tottenham have in sixth. The problem however is that just as we are hoping to improve, so are the three teams above us. On the positive side Wolverhampton and Sheffield United, although with better goal differences than us are only four or five points above us. But to climb up the table enough to qualify we need four teams to stand still as we move up.
It is not going to be easy to get that higher position and thus get back into the Europa next year, but it is still not impossible. We just have to emulate 2015, and then a little bit more.
But who actually qualifies for Europe? Apart from the obvious fact that the top four in the PL get a place in the Champs League it is a bit complicated. The FA Cup winners and the league’s fifth-placed side go into the Europa League groups, with the Carabao Cup winners entering the second qualifying round.
However because the FA Cup and League Cup winners are often already qualifiers that can mean that the sixth placed team in the league can creep into the Europa. But also the Champions League and Europa League winners get an automatic place in the following season’s Champions League group stages. And obviously we are a long way from knowing who those teams are going to be – although last season they were both English clubs.
One change in recent years is that you can no longer qualify for Europe by losing the FA Cup or League Cup final.
The most teams that can qualify for Europe from England is nine, as far as I can work out. If an English team wins the Champions League and Europa League and neither qualifies for Europe through league position or winning a cup – then nine Premier League teams would qualify for Europe with five in the Champions League and four in the Europa League.
Which is rather unlikely. We need league points, and for the upstarts to slip backwards.
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