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.
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…
|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.
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