By Tony Attwood
There’s no getting away from it, despite the tremendous upturn in results which came after the opening three league games, when we play the other members of the traditional “big six” clubs in the league, we have not been doing as well this season as we might have hoped. We’ve won one, lost six.
|22 Aug 2021||Arsenal v Chelsea||L||0-2|
|28 Aug 2021||Manchester City v Arsenal||L||5-0|
|26 Sep 2021||Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur||W||3-1|
|20 Nov 2021||Liverpool v Arsenal||L||4-0|
|02 Dec 2021||Manchester United v Arsenal||L||3-2|
|01 Jan 2022||Arsenal v Manchester City||L||1-2|
|16 Mar 2022||Arsenal v Liverpool||L||0-2|
This compares with last season when we won four games, lost five, and drew one. Which in itself was hardly a good set of results. Our victories were over Manchester United, Chelsea (twice) and Tottenham.
So although it can clearly be argued that while, when it comes to recent form measured across the last ten league games etc, we are doing ok, when it comes to games against the “big six” rivals we are not doing that well at all. So why is that?
I would suggest that the simplest answer is that Arsenal are moving in a step by step approach, and when it comes to playing the other big clubs, this is not helped by the fact that we have the youngest side in the league at the moment.
That is not a criticism – building a young team who will mature and stay together is an incredibly effective way of taking a club to new heights. But it does mean we can get hurt by the bigger teams.
But let’s compare Arsenal’s approach over the last two years with that of other teams from the Big Six who are also trying to push their way up the league.
In the overall table, we are above Manchester United and Tottenham Hots. And in fact both this season in the head to head games with those two clubs, as in the last season we have not done too badly winning two, drawing one and losing one.
Thus we can just edge it over Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, but are not yet a match for Liverpool, Manchester City. Chelsea we can beat sometimes, but not always.
Now of course the implosion at Chelsea, made much worse by the attitude of the fans chanting the name of Abramovich and the club attempting to get an away match played behind closed doors because they couldn’t have enough of their fans in attendance, may help us again. Although to be fair, that hasn’t been the case so far. They are still on a winning run of five Premier League games in a row following the defeat to Manchester City and a draw with Brighton.
But if the League does allow new owners to come in and pay Abramovich despite the sanctions against him (something that seems quite possible given football’s propensity for feeling the rest of the world’s rules don’t apply to football) then Chelsea will go sailing on as before.
However to consider Arsenal: the target this season has clearly been to get back into Europe – and if possible into the Champions League. That means coming fourth and as things stand that looks likely.
Leaving aside defeats to other members of the big six our only defeats have been to Brentford in that bizarre opening match when most of our side was missing, and to Everton.
That is of course two more than we would have liked, but it is better than Manchester United who have been beaten by Aston Villa, Leicester, Watford and Wolverhampton.
As for Tottenham they have suffered away defeats to Crystal Palace, West Ham and Burnley, and home defeats to Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Can you imagine how the media would be reacting if such results had come our way? In fact you can imagine it, by recalling the way that the media went bonkers after our first three league matches.
The obvious conclusion is that we are not at the moment aspiring to win the Premier League, not least because if by some chance we were to do that we would probably do a Leicester who, after winning the league in 2016 then came 12th, 9th and 9th over the next three years.
Arsenal have been making progress, but that progress needs to be sustainable. I suspect we will next season see an Arsenal team not only able to beat the big six stragglers of Man U and Tottenham, but also Chelsea in at least one of the two games with them. And we could even squeeze a draw out of Man C and/or Liverpool.
That still won’t be enough for the media who will call for another 100 signings and a change of manager. But for us to reach a position in which we can challenge for the title, this step by step approach has a lot to commend itself.