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October 2020
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The new big six? A big eight? Just a big four again? A big two?

By Tony Attwood

It is not unusual to find that at the start of the season there is talk in the media about clubs breaking into the top four or top six or top anything else.  Usually this is accompanied by talk about Arsenal dropping out of the top group – it is the media’s favourite theme.

Indeed even after the unbeaten season, newspaper pundits were predicting Arsenal’s immediate decline on the grounds that the club couldn’t keep this record up, players were going to leave, and so we would slip.

It was true in a way, Arsenal did not win the league again under Mr Wenger, but he kept Arsenal in the top four for many more years after that.  And gave us the record number of FA Cups.

But what of now.  Is there really a new top four, a new big six and so on?

Here is the top ten from last season.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Liverpool 38 32 3 3 85 33 52 99
2 Manchester City 38 26 3 9 102 35 67 81
3 Manchester United 38 18 12 8 66 36 30 66
4 Chelsea 38 20 6 12 69 54 15 66
5 Leicester City 38 18 8 12 67 41 26 62
6 Tottenham Hotspur 38 16 11 11 61 47 14 59
7 Wolverhampton Wanderers 38 15 14 9 51 40 11 59
8 Arsenal 38 14 14 10 56 48 8 56
9 Sheffield United 38 14 12 12 39 39 0 54
10 Burnley 38 15 9 14 43 50 -7 54

The top two were way out in front, and had Europe to contend with as well as fighting for top spot in the league.   But what of the rest?

Manchester United have the money to buy big time players because of their world wide marketing, although their B shareholders are guaranteed a huge payment each year irrespective of how well they do financially.  The one thing that has cropped up of late is their dependence on penalties given at Old Trafford, which could of course change if referees decided to consider the strange figures from last season.

Chelsea are spending considerable amounts again, although their owner is not attending matches, and that might mean that with the stadium project abandoned, following the denial of his visa request, he is getting ready to sell.  Selling while at the top will bring in the owner extra money and recoup his investment.

So of the top four Manchester United looks the only one who might slip – but that slippage would have to be accompanied by a major push from a rival.

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Leicester did win the league a while back and it would be fascinating to see if in doing so their tackle / foul / yellow card figures were as weird as they were last season.  As we have noted before, half way through the season Leicester were second, and then suddenly fell apart – just as questions were raised about those weird figures.  And it wasn’t as one correspondent suggested, all down to one player injury because the collapse started long before that.

So much depends on whether they can pull the same trick again.  The suggestion that the Premier League’s official site is going to change this year to include all three relevant statistics (Yellows, fouls, and tackles) indicates an eye is being kept on them.  It will, I suspect, be tough to pull the same trick again, for even without referee assistance, everyone now knows what their game was.

Tottenham have won the debt league before the season starts, and that must hamper their buying to some degree, for their whole future model was built on the new stadium with its multiple use for other events.  They were sixth half way through the year, and that is where they finished up.

Maybe their manager can pull a rabbit out of a hat, but I suspect they would have been better off staying with the previous incumbent.

Wolverhampton were another team who were in the same position at the end of the season as on 1 January, and their manager has been making noises about breaking the mould and a new top six.  They were only three goals behind Tottenham but three points and 15 goals behind Leicester.

They have risen and risen, but they are restricted by a small ground… the 14th largest out of the 20 in the League.   Here are the clubs around them…

Club Ground Size
Chelsea Stamford Bridge 40,834
Everton Goodison Park 39,414
Southampton St.Mary’s Stadium 32,384
Leicester City King Power Stadium 32,261
Sheffield United Bramall Lane 32,125
Wolverhampton W Molineux Stadium 32,050
Brighton & Hove A The American Express Community Stadium 30,750

That obviously restricts their income, and earlier talk of pulling down the oldest stand and rebuilding it with a much bigger capacity has been set aside.  It is small scale improvements from now on.

For, as we have noticed, Wolverhampton made some moves in the money market before the pandemic, which involved borrowing money against the 2020/1 TV payments.  That was of course before those payments were cut because the league matches were delayed, and before games started to be played in empty stadia.  I suspect their funding is not in place to allow them to make many purchases, so top six is their prime aim.

Below Arsenal there is Sheffield United who flattered at one stage – they were 5th by 1 February, above Manchester United – but the lack of depth in the squad caused them to slip back.  Same again I suspect.

Of the other clubs below, Southampton improved considerably with their innovative manager, and Everton changed managers at the same time as Arsenal did.  Those two could push for higher places.

So there will be competition from below and of those above I think Leicester might slip back with their tactics now being examined week by week, and Wolverhampton will be up against it financially.

Which means we are back to the traditional top six of Liverpool, the two Manchesters, and the three London clubs.

Can we get above two out of Tottenham, Chelsea and Man U?   Certainly the style, approach and planning that was revealed in the FA Cup and Community Shield, and much of the final run in last season suggests yes.  And the purchases look ok.  So I would say, we have a fair chance of fourth.  If our tactics and new buys really take off, third even.

But I don’t think the opposition will take any revival of Arsenal lying down.  The Leicester trick of constant tackling and getting away with it for half a season would have been noticed by everyone, so that is over, but that suggests all sorts of other tactics could be introduced for the first time.  Sadly we can’t rely on the referees, which means it will be just down to us to highlight what is going on.

However the suggestion of a change in the Premier League’s official table of offences is a positive sign.

6 comments to The new big six? A big eight? Just a big four again? A big two?

  • Steve Vallins

    Something we put into how the league will pan out is the pandemic we are going through at the moment .
    If a player unfortunately gets the COVID-19 what are the rules , obviously he will have to quarantine for 14 days , say he’s been in contact with other players of the squad they will have to quarantine also .
    What are the rules , how many players out before a game is called off or do you have to play because you have a 25 man squad .

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Hmmm. If Arsenal are deemed by some Gooners to finish fourth in the Premier League this season, which officially has kickstarted after the community Shield match was played but awaiting commencement till next Saturday when Arsenal will take on Fulham at away.

    But why wouldn’t Arsenal go the whole distance to finish on top to become Champions before or on the final day of the season’s campaign?

    Arsenal have the human personnel and the financial resources to achieve this incredible feast once again. But if they are determined to achieve it comes what may come trying to stop them from achieving the feast. But all things being equal at the Gunners throughout this season, Arsenal will win the PL title when the season’s campaign has ended.

    I don’t think it is proper for Arsenal to be little themselves by accepting the notion that is being tailored in some football circles that is saying the club will finish fourth this season.

    But rather than to be believing, the Mikel Arteta’s led Arsenal should greatly be challenged and challenge themselves to have a Premier League Campaign season that will not be surpassed by any clubs in the PL that will challenge for the title to win it this season.

    If it is all about belief and sustaining the belief with the necessary ingredients that will make the belief sustainable, then, Arsenal should start having this belief in themselves that will see the club win the PL title this season.

    And the club should make the necessary all efforts that are needed in finding the most correct and suitable ingredients in correct new player signings this summer window to reinforce any weak areas in their squad. so as to sustain their beliefs. So that it will not wane but remain actively strong throughout the season’s campaign to win the title.

  • Tai

    Great read Tony.

    I noticed something about Mikel Arteta since he took over at Arsenal.

    1. He is very intelligent off the field. I’ve never read him say any word out of place. Put better, he says the right things always.

    2. Despite the ever dubious officiating against Arsenal, he ever remains controlled not to speak in anger both pre and post matches.

    3. Every manager he played against usually said positive things about his tactics irrespective of the result of the match. Even our ‘eneny’ Jose Mourinho was quite magnanimous in appraising Arteta after our London derby defeat.

    Most calls in the FA Cup final against Chelsea didn’t truly go against us as customary in any cup final.

    So I concluded that our new manager came with some luck, especially after winning on the lottery stage against Liverpool in the final.

    If he can get his tactics right against ‘lesser’ teams,I see him well in the mix for 3rd spot finish, least 4th.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I like to think that this team being built anew will prove themselves worthy. I think a top 4 finish is a firm reality . That every season I have hopes that Arsenal will be champions is a given. Then again , I’m a ‘ thank the gods that there is wine in my glass ‘ kind of guy ! Well until all of it is drunk !

    We do have seem to have attained a harder , gritty , and determined edge to our demeanour and overall play . I don’t suffer too many butterflies in the stomach type nervousness, as was the case before. With the addition of the new players , I think that we are a fair bet to win any game . And winning trophies with an air of near nonchalance , has become quite the norm.

    Especially at home , now that the toxic atmosphere is no longer evident . It used to be so palpable before , that even we watching it oveseas could feel the disillusionment creeping in , and affecting our players . May this positive vibe be ever and long transmitted to the team and management .

    Up the Gunners !

  • Menace

    Tai, what is ‘truly against us’ as opposed to incorrect? The decision that was made to award Liverpool a free kick when Minamino blocked Soares and went down. That brought the Arsenal position from offence to defence and eventually with a few more very obvious biased decisions allowed Liverpool to score.

    The key was the transition from offence to defence created by the official. The penalties were a just result and stuffed the PGMOL in their Arsenal.

  • Sammy The Snake

    Liverpool & ManC are in a league of their own.
    ManU & Chelsea are burning cash like there’s no tomorrow.
    A 5th position for Arsenal would be a good improvement over last year, allowing us to celeberate St. Totteringham day once again.

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