By Tony Attwood
I’ve not seen anyone publish details of just how many points a club needs to get to fourth place each season, so I created the list myself, and immediately I was struck by the variability. Over the years anything from 66 to 79 points would be needed to not get a trophy.
Likewise, there is a huge variation in the number of goals scored (58 to 84) and conceded (36 to 54). And of course goal difference (22 to 46).
Final data of teams reaching 4th in the Premier League over last ten years.
|4||Tottenham Hotspur 2019||38||23||2||13||67||39||28||71|
|4||Manchester City 2016||38||19||9||10||71||41||30||66|
|4||Manchester United 2015||38||20||10||8||62||37||25||70|
|4||Tottenham Hotspur 2012||38||20||9||9||66||41||25||69|
The average number of points is 71.2 to make it to fourth, and Arsenal today are on just 39 with 16 games to go. This means we need an average of two points a game to get us to the average fourth spot number of points. And yes we have got an average of 2.2 points per game in the last six games but it still looks difficult.
But perhaps a better way is to compare the position of the club that finally came in fourth at the end of the season, with where that club was after 22 games.
|3||Tottenham Hots 2019||22||16||0||6||46||22||24||48|
|3||Manchester City 2016||22||13||4||5||43||21||22||43|
|4||Manchester United 2015||22||11||7||4||36||21||15||40|
So what can we learn?
First it is quite possible (although not exactly common) for a team that is sixth after 22 games to make it to fourth by the end of the season – it has happened twice in the last ten years.
On the negative side, no team in the last ten seasons has made fourth having scored just 34 goals or having a goal difference of just +9 at this point.
But three times in years 39 points after 22 games has been enough to make it to fourth. 2013, 2020 and 2021. However more importantly, we can also say there is something very different about this season in that although Arsenal have played 22 games, all the clubs above have played more games than Arsenal
If therefore we create a table in which all the clubs have played 22 games (that is, taking their league results after they had played 22 games this season) we do find Arsenal in fourth.
|6||West Ham United||22||11||4||7||41||30||11||37|
Not much room for error there – just one point above Manchester United, but another indicator that fourth is still perfectly possible. Tottenham have not yet played 22 games, but if even if they did win their game in hand to take them to 39 points they would have to win it 9-0 to take them above us given their poor goal difference at the moment.
So fourth is possible although our run in looks tough in terms of the games we have to play.
Now of course none of this is being mentioned in the media just now, because they are not in the business of running any positive stories about Arsenal. Except that there has been a very slight change of direction by the Daily Mirror which is suggesting that “Pep Guardiola may have given Mikel Arteta a plan on how to thrive without a natural centre forward at Arsenal.” They suggest he has done this “by explaining how he uses Phil Foden as a false nine at City, a tactic which the Gunners boss could replicate with attacking midfielder Emile Smith Rowe.”
Foden has scored eight goals in 19 games this season according to 11v11 although the Mirror says he has scored six and assisted three so far this season”.
They don’t tell us anything about Smith Rowe’s figures because that rather knocks the idea of Guardiola being the source of this development. Smith Rowe has scored nine in 17.
Given that Smith Rowe has scored more than Foden, and the Mirror’s statistics are wrong, I guess we can ignore their notion that poor Arteta has needed to go cap in hand to his former boss for advice. But the subsequent point in the Mirror that “with Smith Rowe playing as a false nine, Odegaard may be able to play in midfield and run in behind” makes sense.
This would leave “Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli… more space to run in behind, especially the latter considering the Brazilian is expected to be the long-term striker in North London.”
In fact the whole Mirror piece is designed to suggest that Arteta doesn’t have an original idea in his head, adding, “Smith Rowe can take inspiration from the way that Foden has adapted and grown into the role of a false nine, whilst also taking the pressure off of his club as they look for a striker.”
Arsenal are sixth in the league goal-scoring table, four goals behind Manchester United in fifth in terms of goal scoring, with Arsenal having two games in hand.
So the need for a goal scorer is not desperate, given how young Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli are.
As for fourth, I think it could be tough, especially looking at the fixture list, but it is very possible, although the handing out of yellow cards without following the rule book could be problematic.
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