By Sir Hardly Anyone
The media has gone into a mini-frenzy of late suggesting that it is far from certain that Arsenal will get fourth spot, because of the difficult nature of the games that they have yet to play.
In an earlier article I tried to show that this is far from being right, and that based on recent results and form, Arsenal were in a good place to come fourth.
But the media is continuing its negative view so I have been looking at this a different way, by asking, “How many points does it take to get to fourth by the end of the season?”
Here is a list of the clubs that came in fourth each year from 2014 onward, with the final column showing the points achieved by the fifth-placed team. The first line is the current situation with Arsenal having played 28 games, that is with ten games to go.
The first thing to notice is the Pts column, which shows that the number of points required to get to the “not a trophy” position (as those who forced Mr Wenger out of the club used to call it), is very varied. Anything from 66 to 79 was achieved by the team in fourth. 79 points would require 23 more points from ten games – quite a demanding run in. Although still possible.
*Arsenal have one game in hand.
So we can see that while 66 points was enough to get Manchester City into the Champions League in 2016, that would not have been enough to get the club into 5th in 2014, 2017, 2018, or 2019.
Looking at this table if we really want to be safe in getting fourth we need to aim for 76 points since no fifth-placed team has got 76 points in the seasons we are looking at. That means 22 more points in the last ten games. Possible but very tough.
But another way of looking at this is to ask, where was the team that eventually came fourth-placed, after 28 games, in the past?
This table shows Arsenal’s current position this season and compares it with the clubs that came fourth in earlier seasons…
So this season we have 54 points while sitting in fourth place after 28 games. In four of the last eight seasons that would have been enough to secure fourth place at the end of the season.
But it is also noticeable just how varied is the number of points required to get fourth. Chelsea’s 45 points in 2020 after 28 games really is correct and was caused in part by the runaway success of Liverpool that season. Here’s the table with Chelsea on 28 points in 2020.
So, a lot depends on what other teams are doing, which is fairly obvious but rarely stated. But it leads to a valid question. What sort of season is this?
It is a season where the gap between second and fourth is 15 points after 28 games. The last time this happened was in 2004 – the unbeaten season as you might remember. Then after 28 games, the top four looked like this
Pulling this together, if we ask, is 54 points on track to make fourth at the end of the season, the key element in the answer is “what sort of season is this?” Is it a season in which the league is stretched out at the top, as it was in 2004, and to a slightly lesser degree in 2020? A season where the gap between first and fourth is around 34 points after 28 games? Or is it a season where the gap between first and fourth is a much lower amount after 28 games?