What can we say about Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four?

By Tony Attwood

From 1997 when we came third in the league, to 2016 when we were runners’ up, Arsenal always finished in the top four and gained admission to the Champions League.   It was the longest run of any club ever from England in the Champions League, and second only across the continent to Real Madrid.

But at the time, to some people it didn’t seem anything like enough, and they started using the sneering comment “Fourth is not a trophy” any time someone mentioned the run as a positive achievement.

Indeed during that spell of years of coming in the top four, we also won the FA Cup six times (as well as winning it in the same year that we slipped to fifth in the league for the first time under Mr Wenger).  Fourth may not have been a trophy, but there were trophies to be had, and Arsenal are now the all-time record winners of the FA Cup.

Now of course we want to get back into the top four, and if we do I feel it will seem as if it is a trophy (as long as we don’t get knocked out in the preliminary round).

And because I share this aspiration with a number of friends, we have been keeping tabs on just how this season compares with the past ten seasons, five of which saw us finish in the top four, and five of which saw us finish somewhere between fifth and eighth.

This table below takes each of those seasons and records where Arsenal were in terms of league position, after 20 games.  As noted, in the first five seasons on the list we finished fifth or below, the previous five we finished between second and fourth.

Season Pos W D L F A GD Pts End pos
2021/22 4 11 2 7 33 25 8 35
2020/21 9 9 3 8 26 20 6 30 8
2019/20 12 5 9 6 26 30 -4 24 8
2018/19 5 11 5 4 42 30 12 38 5
2017/18 6 11 4 5 37 25 12 37 6
2016/17 5 12 5 3 44 22 22 41 5
2015/16 1 13 3 4 34 18 16 42 2
2014/15 6 9 6 5 34 25 9 33 3
2013/14 1 14 3 3 39 18 21 45 4
2012/13 6 9 7 4 40 22 18 34 4
2011/12 5 11 3 6 36 28 8 36 3

So the question is, was 35 points after 20 games enough to get us to finish in the top four?  And the rather pleasing answer is yes. Although not always.

In 2014/15 we had 33 points after 20 games and finished 3rd.  In 2012/13 we had 34 points after 20 games and finished fourth.   And indeed just to stretch the point a little in 2011/12 we had 36 points after 20 games and finished third.

But there is a contrary side to this.   In 2017/18 we had 37 points after 20 games and we finished… 6th.  And to show that was no fluke, in 2018/19 after 20 games we were fifth with 38 points and finished… 5th.  So positions can go up and down, as if we didn’t know.

However, let’s push a little further by looking at some other features.

In goalscoring terms, we are better off than we have been for the past two seasons but we’ve not managed to get to the top four at the end of the season while only scoring 33 goals after 20 games.  We need more goals.

Defensively it is easier to see some hope.  In 2014/15 and 2011/12  we did get a top four finish with 25 and 28 goals conceded respectively.  And yes in 2011/12 we had a goal difference of +8 and finished up in 3rd.

And here’s another point.  Last summer we utterly reconstructed our defence, and they obviously took a while to get to know each other.  After three games we were bottom of the league, you may recall, and we are still carrying that deficit into our league table.

But if you are a regular reader you may recall that I’ve got quite fascinated with the notion that the best predictor of how well we will do in forthcoming games is not the actual league table but two shorter tables.  Tables of the last six and last ten matches, because they tell you about our current form in relation to the rest of the league.

First, the league table according to the last six games, and we are decently placed in fourth.

Premier League Form (Last six league games)
Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 6 6 0 0 21 4 17 18
2 Tottenham Hotspur 6 4 2 0 12 3 9 14
3 Manchester United 6 4 1 1 9 5 4 13
4 Arsenal 6 4 0 2 16 5 11 12
5 Liverpool 6 3 2 1 9 6 3 11
6 Leicester City 6 3 1 2 15 12 3 10
7 Chelsea 6 2 4 0 10 7 3 10

Anything lower than fourth would of course mean we are slipping in relation to our aspirations.  Our goalscoring (second highest in the league in fact, across the six games) has only been beaten by Manchester City who won all their games.  Our defensive record has only been bettered by Manchester City and Tottenham.  We have the second-best goal difference as well.  We are, in the last six games, performing like a top-four club.

Unlike the last six games table, the last ten table has no interlopers in the top six positions but I have included Wolverhampton (in 7th) to show what a team can do when it doesn’t score and doesn’t concede.

Premier League Form (Last 10 league games)
Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 10 10 0 0 31 7 24 30
2 Liverpool 10 6 2 2 23 10 13 20
3 Arsenal 10 6 0 4 21 12 9 18
4 Tottenham Hotspur 10 5 3 2 14 8 6 18
5 Chelsea 10 4 5 1 18 12 6 17
6 Manchester United 10 5 2 3 14 12 2 17
7 Wolverhampton Wands 10 4 3 3 5 5 0 15

Our defence has slipped to fourth but our goalscoring is third best and our goal difference is only beaten by Manchester City.

So are we in line for a top-four finish?  I would say yes, I rather think we are.

9 Replies to “What can we say about Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four?”

  1. Tony

    The only problem is, up until now I feel, as have some others, that by and large, we are getting a slightly more even hand from referees. I cant see that continuing.

    Up until fairly recently, the notion that we are a decent team and not relegation fodder,( “I’m still not convinced” being a fairly recent Guardian comment following another good result), remained an alien concept to most scribblers.

    History has shown that once we start to look a threat again the old habits will return.

    And lets not forget VAR, as usual, has been a nightmare and I cant see that improving any time soon either.

    Basically I cannot see this slightly more even handed approach from referees continuing, as such I’m predicting a rocky road ahead.

    We will not be allowed to finish in the top 4.

    Even at our best and with an even hand and a following windit won’t be easy. So it only takes the odd dodgy pen, red card etc, to cost us those crucial points and it wont even be questioned because as the saying goes ‘I’ve seen them given’ !

  2. Nitram I think it depends on whether the PGMO and the media that supports them feel invincible and thus able to do anything, or whether they feel that we have picked up so many bits and pieces and challenged them, that really they ought to be toning it down a bit.

  3. I believe that we can draw some inference from our game against Man City.

    Yes, perhaps we have had a somewhat less unfair deal from referees this season, but that may well be because we have not been regarded as a threat to the status-quo. The conventional media view prior to this fixture was that our recovery from the well-documented worst start in decades was not established, that we only had good results against weaker teams and that we could not compete against the top three. The widespread media view was that we would be comfortable beaten by Man City and that our recovery would be proved to be an illusion.

    That view was suddenly challenged by events in the first half, in which we were unfortunate to be only 1-0 ahead, (even disregarding the clear penalty which was denied for the foul on Odegaard.)
    At half-time, I actually predicted to a friend that we could expect some intervention from the match officials in the second half, so as to restore their view of the proper order.

    Sadly, my prediction proved to be spot-on! That is exactly what took place and it has continued since through the FA actions against the club, purportedly for the misbehaviour of players surrounding the referee. How does this compare with actions by players of other teams who seem to enjoy behaving in any manner they like, with total impunity, even if its a Spurs player fouling then spitting on an opponent, or Ronaldo and Fernandez conducting their routine moaning in the referees faces, or an Everton player stamping on an opponent’s face?

  4. sometimes i think i’d like us to finish … 5th and/or to win 1-2 cup(s), in order for us to play the europa league next year
    this young squad would have more than an outside chance to win it, and a run of victorious games in europe would give them the confidence needed to fire on all cylinders from the getgo in … the 2023-2024 champions’ league
    maybe that’s ’cause i feel we have an unfinished business with the europa league under MA.
    actually, our 2 abject performances against villareal last season were a very bitter pill to swallow, and had been gnawing at me for a long, long time.
    everything (lineup, setup, changes …) was wrong and my trust in MA was seriously dented then, and since it came on top of a shameful tie agaisnt olympiakos the previous season, it took me a much longer time to believe in him again, than it did for you, tony; and i needed a game like last saturday’s to definitely get beyond this
    lastly, about europe, it’s easier to give playing time to youngsters in the EL than in the PL, and there’s a bunch of youngsters i’d like to be given serious playing time next year (okonkwo, hutchinson, salah-eddine, henry-francis, azeez, john-jules, … flores maybe, patino and balogun of course)
    so … 5th wouldn’t really disappoint me, let’s just get back to europe!!

  5. I recently posted on Untold Arsenal (January 3rd) evidence from the Norwegian Premier League showing that “The team that was viewed as being more successful within the Norwegian Premier League received more penalties from incorrect decisions than their opponents and that their opponents were also not awarded the same number of justifiable penalties compared to these successful teams.”

    Whilst this is strong evidence of possible bias in one particular decision making area shown by the Norwegian referees under investigation in this study, what if English Premier League referees mirrored the behaviour of the Norwegian referees?

    Furthermore, what if such Norwegian referees were also making similar decisions when either awarding or not awarding both red and yellow cards to players from so-called more successful teams? One can only hypothesise!

    Indeed, taking this a step further, perhaps such hypotheses could then be applied to referees in the English Premier League?

    I know that such hypotheses are a little meaningless unless a research individual or group is prepared to investigate whether the hypotheses are sustainable. However, some of the observations and resulting reactions shown by football supporters throughout the Premier League concerning on-field decision making by representatives of the PGMOL, as occasionally highlighted by social media postings and less so from the National media, suggest that something needs investigating perhaps. Then again, I might just be talking bollocks! If so, apologies to all such readers of this.

  6. Tony

    “…whether they feel that we have picked up so many bits and pieces and challenged them, that really they ought to be toning it down a bit”.

    I really hope you are right Tony, I really do. Unfortunately as I see it, Yourself, Walter, Andrew and Blacksheep, among others, have been exposing the machinations of the Media, The PGMO and Referees for years, and it seems to of made very little difference.

    The truth is they were much much worse back in Wenger’s day, and nothing you, I, or anyone else exposed here seemed to sway them from their course back then.

    In particular I would like to draw attention to the 160 plus games match reviews that exposed significant bias as well as the statistical analysis that exposed the massive downturn in our refereeing fortunes (Specifically relating to Red/yellow cards as well as Penalties for/against), that occurred almost to the day Riley took charge of the Referees.

    Those 2 exposures were damning, yet Riley never broke stride. The media never picked up on it at all. And other fans, even Arsenal fans, simply mocked us as paranoid, claiming it’s the same for everyone, which it clearly isn’t.

    You will know more than I the extent and range of your readership. Who’s eyes and ears your research and exposures reach ? Whether people of note read you ? People in positions of influence read you ? Whether they take all your (Untolds) hard work seriously ? But most importantly of all, whether they care ? And that is probably the key question. Does anyone else even care ? Certainly nobody I speak to does.

    Either way, I have said many times that I doubt a word I have said, a statistic I have researched, has changed a single mind. Only you know if what you have exposed has ?

    Unfortunately Tony, as sad as it is, and as little difference it will make to my or your desire to continue the fight, I doubt it. I hope I’m wrong

    John L

    “At half-time, I actually predicted to a friend that we could expect some intervention from the match officials in the second half, so as to restore their view of the proper order.”

    How sad that it is actually that predictable.

    “…even if its a Spurs player fouling then spitting on an opponent”

    I’m so pleased you mentioned that. I thought I must be going mad. At the time I thought it was disgraceful. I thought the way the commentators on the match and post match commentary completely brushed over, not only the brawl but the spitting, was a disgrace. I posted links to a BBC video showing clear images of the spitting. Not a single comment on UA. No outrage. Nothing. Even here it was as if it didn’t even happen. Recently, as you allude to. I raised the incident again. Still nothing, until you today. As I say, I thought I must be going mad. Maybe I was imagining it.

    I’ve also highlighted 3 major incidents involving Chelsea. 3 Pitch brawls. Which have been received with similar contempt.

    The infamous Battle of Stamford Bridge. The Match against Leicester last may that earned them both a fine. And the touchline brawl against Leeds late last year.

    Again hardly a comment.

    Lets put this in perspective. The pitch side brawl against Leeds was their 3rd, that’s THIRD major brawl.

    I don’t think they even received a fine for that, but even if they did why no points deduction? Why are Arsenal still the only club to have 2 points deducted, and that for one brawl. I don’t get it.

    Well I do. The media aren’t interested. They let it slip away without a fuss. The compliant powers that be pretend it didn’t happen.

    The polar opposite of what happens when it’s us in fact.

    I’d love someone to explain how everyone’s treated the same.

  7. Nitram

    Also, our 2 point deduction was the punishment for a “brawl” which was started by our opponents, who only had a 1 point deduction.

    No such thing as fair or even treatment by the FA

  8. I think we have a good chance at finishing in the top 4 notwithstanding the machinations of the PGMO. The difference between the points we picked up in September and the points we are picking now, IMO, is day and night. Whereas, it felt that our goals in the first third of the season were ‘moments of quality’, I get the feeling now that we don’t have moments of quality but rather long stretches of play where we dominate teams.

    As evidence, I point to the 15 or so minutes before Saka’s goal against ManCity where they couldn’t get out of their own third. The link up play between the ‘rows’ is really picking up. The players know where their mates are and put the ball there. The team is playing with their heads up.

    Of course, we can always be stitched up by the PGMO, but, IMO, our play will generate a certain number of points regardless of their efforts and I, for one, have not been impressed with the play of that favoured lot up Seven Sisters nor the Chavs nor the Red Mancs.

  9. Just a little enquiry but some years ago I first came across Untold Arsenal on an app called Arsenal News Fusion on there is the provision to comment to supporters of many different clubs . So the question is why can I no longer see your posts on this site which reaches supporters of other Premier clubs ?
    Second point is that when I comment on this site I often refer to Untold Arsenal as the only source of detailed analysis there is ..
    Third point would it be possible to create an app of your site to reach a much wider audience. I’d subscribe to that !!

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