Are Arsenal really challenging for a top four finish?

By Tony Attwood

Arsenal’s next two games were supposed to be against Wolverhampton at home on Thursday and Chelsea away on Sunday but with Chelsea in the League Cup final that game has been re-arranged.  So Wolverhampton is all we have to worry about this week!  (Apologies, I hadn’t realised that when the article first went up).

Of course both matches look tricky irrespective of when they are played, although across the last ten games Arsenal are fractionally ahead of both teams.  However with Wolverhampton, we are only above on goal difference.  

The danger with games like these is not just that Arsenal might not win, but rather that even the slightest hiccup in our run of form will be a signal for the media to go back on the attack.  Indeed the Metro is already rolling out Roy Keane with his prediction that Manchester United will make it into fourth place by the end of the season.

As it is, the talk in the media is about replacing members of the squad.  And of course two, we know, will be leaving: Nketiah and Lacazette.   

Now I’m sure you will recall the dominance of defensive transfers last season: in order of arrival they were Nuno Tavares, Sambi Lokonga, Ben White, Martin Odegaard, Aaron Ramsdale and Takehiro Tomiyasu.  Of those only Martin Odegaard who had previously been on loan, was not a defender.

To see what difference these purchases made, the table below shows our position after 23 games in recent seasons, with a note in the last column of our final position in the league.

Year Pos W D L F A GD Pts End
2022 6th 13 3 7 36 26 10 42
2021 11th 9 4 10 27 23 4 31 8th
2020 10th 6 11 6 30 32 -2 29 8th
2019 5th 13 5 5 48 32 16 44 5th
2018 6th 11 6 6 41 30 11 39 6th
2017 3rd 14 5 4 51 25 26 47 5th
2016 3rd 13 5 5 37 22 15 44 2nd

As we have noted before in looking at these comparison tables across the seasons, at different points, there is no absolute continuity or regularity here.  44 points at this moment in the season can have the club sitting 3rd and finishing 2nd, or sitting fifth at this point and finishing up in the same position by the season’s end.

However, highlighting in red some of our better performances we can see that across these seasons 13 wins in 23 games has only been exceeded once across the years we’re reviewing.

But let’s return to the issue I started with – the defence, which was replaced last summer.  It has actually let in three more goals by this stage than the defence that was moved on last year. 

The excuse must be that first, the defensive players brought in were all young, and so we can be expecting them to develop in the next few years, and second that they have been required to learn a new “no tackling” system to reduce the number of yellow cards.  The nightmare of 86 yellows in 2019/20 has gone and we are currently on 34.  Last season’s total of 47 looks like being exceeded, but only by half a dozen or so which is not bad for players getting used to PGMO tactics.

The number of fouls is 117 so far which leads to an estimate of 193 by the end of the season, just nine more than last season.  Again not bad for a group of players having to get used to new refereeing and a new language.

Of course, the league positions in a table like that above do not take into account the games in hand over other clubs, which at the moment is two and three games, leading to the thought that we could well be overtaking West Ham and Manchester United as the catch-up games are played.

But overall, thus far, the huge expenditure on defenders last summer and the lack of spending on attackers has actually given Arsenal the reverse effect of what one might have expected.  The defenders on whom we spent a fortune have let in more goals, and the attackers on whom we spent nothing, and one of whom from last year jumped ship, have scored more goals. 

However, as a result of this bizarre change around we are eleven points better off!  What’s more, we are now returning to the level of points that leaves us challenging for a top-four finish. 

I’m still not sure that it was a wise move to transform the entire defence at once, but given that it has worked, there is hope that similar success will be had transforming the attack.  Especially since we have scored more goals than in the last two seasons by this point.

Today in Arsenal’s history – becoming the first English team to beat Real Madrid away.


5 Replies to “Are Arsenal really challenging for a top four finish?”

  1. If you separate the first 3 games of this season, which did not include the new defense, then I think the new boys are doing exceptionally well.

  2. It is hard to predict based on form, because of the continued pernicious influence of PGMOL on results.

    It is no exaggeration to suggest that Arsenal could have had 3, if not 4, penalties against Brentford, that Lacazette’s goal should not have been disallowed, that Brentford’s lat consolation goal should have been disallowed.

    So a 2-1 victory might have been 3-0, 4-0, 5-o or 6-0.

    With such wide margins in response to PGMOL influence, there must be serious doubts as to whether Arsenal will be allowed to achieve top 4 status.

  3. Tony

    “Arsenal’s next two games were supposed to be against Wolverhampton at home on Thursday and Chelsea away on Sunday”

    Sorry Tony that’s wrong.

    No idea who Arsenal were due to play but Chelsea were scheduled to play Leicester at home on Sunday and not Arsenal

  4. @ John L

    Quite right about the PGMO. I’ve just been looking at some of the facts (courtesy of

    Anyone who reads UA regularly will be aware that we’ve already had Michael Oliver five times in the league already this season. I suspect we all thought it was because of the unfavourable way he referees us…apart from a few dissenters who actually still believe it “all evens itself out in the end”!!

    So let’s see how it evens itself out by looking at some key facts. We’ve had 29 different referees in the history of the premiership. The five under whom we’ve achieved the most points per game have refereed us a total of 43 times. The five under whom we’ve achieved the fewest points per game 157 times. Funny that! Further, those five referees have been in charge of 11 of our 23 league games this season. What a strange coincidence……

    But it gets better when we look at individuals. For the referee who has officiated over the lowest average points per game in premiership history for Arsenal is none other than, you’ve guessed it, Michael Oliver. And just for good measure, only one of the 29 refs we’ve had in premier league history has presided over a higher average number of Arsenal defeats than Arsenal wins. Yep, Michael Oliver. That’s correct, 97% of refs in premier league history have seen Arsenal win more than they lose. The only one that hasn’t is the one we’ve had five times already this season.

    Oh and btw, just for the record. In his career, Michael Oliver has given the highest number of yellow cards and the highest number of red cards to exactly the same team….yep, Arsenal.

    It all evens out in the end though……..

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