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Everyone knows about Arsenal’s first three league games of the season – three defeats, relegation was looming, Arteta either was going to be sacked or ought to be sacked, the squad was too small, the tactics wrong, the players inept, and even publications that never published league tables started to do so. And not just because we were bottom, but there was much gloating over who was top.
The Sun ran the headline “Arsenal third most backed club to be relegated from Premier League…”
Plus Manchester City weren’t up to much either…
|2||West Ham United||3||2||1||0||10||5||5||7|
|8||Brighton and Hove Albion||3||2||0||1||4||3||1||6|
Then came eight League games which included six Arsenal wins and two draws. But apart from Tottenham these were all easy teams to beat, and actually before we kicked off against Tottenham on 26 September they were not doing that much better than we were as both clubs were behind the likes of the might Everton, Brighton, Aston Villa and Brentford in the league. In fact Arsenal were also behind Watford – although both Arsenal and Tottenham had played one game fewer.
But that league table does tell us just how dodgy early indicators are of subsequent form. Who would have predicted Everton and Watford to be in a relegation scrap? OK Watford maybe, but Everton?
|6||Brighton and Hove Albion||5||4||0||1||7||4||3||12|
|7||West Ham United||6||3||2||1||13||8||5||11|
But looking back across this season, something does leap out. Tottenham did not manage to get more than two league wins in a row until late March / early April, when they beat Brighton, West Ham, Newcastle and Villa in consecutive games. Not only that they scored 14 goals and conceded two in those consecutive matches – which is pretty much title-winning form.
And then… they lost at home to Brighton, drew away with Brentford, and beat Leicester. Form that we might call “patchy”. Which is how it has been through the season, with the one exception of that run of four wins in March and April.
I mention this today because Arsenal’s form has been quite different. Indeed if one word is required for Arsenal’s form I would go with “lumpy” rather than “patchy”.
Three straight defeats with a covid and injury-plagued team at the start followed by eight unbeaten: that run of three wins, two draws, three wins.
Then three defeats and one win in four – including a defeat to Everton of all people.
After that, come mid-December we were off again, with four straight wins. Thus by the end of the year we had already had two negative runs and two positive runs.
The start of 2022 saw more of a blip than a run (defeat to Manchester City and a home draw with Burnley) but then off we went again with a third long run of five straight wins.
Of course, it couldn’t last and we then had four defeats and one win in five league games and it was doom and gloom all round, until starting on 20 April we were off again… three straight wins, scoring nine conceding four.
It is indeed a simple fact of football that many clubs go on runs of this sort. The reason that some end up in the Champions League positions and others are near the foot of the table fighting relegation is how long the runs continue.
Everton went on a run of eight games in the league without a win. Then they beat Arsenal before reverting to type and going six without a win. Next they beat Leeds but then another four straight defeats.
The only reason they are not already relegated is the three wins and a draw they have concocted in the last seven matches.
Chelsea must have thought this could be their season, come 1 December last year. They were top of the league and the pundits were talking of a three-way battle and even Brighton were dreaming of a place in Europe, even if it was only in the Conference.
|4||West Ham United||14||7||3||4||25||17||8||24|
|7||Brighton and Hove Albion||14||4||7||3||13||15||-2||19|
Certainly, at that time the media (who really don’t like statistics and so if they do look at runs only look at one club at a time) were full of the three way fight.
What no one predicted was Chelsea’s nine-match run in the league from 4 December to 18 January in which they won just two games. By 18 Jan they were 12 points behind the leaders having played a game more.
My point is that the media tend to relate runs to individual teams as if they are the only clubs to suffer a run, but by and large runs of results affect most teams in a season. Those who get near the top come out of any bad patches quickly and keep the positive runs going.
Which is why our latest run of three consecutive wins needs to be kept going.
|20 Apr 2022||Chelsea v Arsenal||W||2-4||Premier League|
|23 Apr 2022||Arsenal v Manchester United||W||3-1||Premier League|
|1 May 2022||West Ham United v Arsenal||W||1-2||Premier League|
All runs come to an end sometime, but keeping the positive runs going is the key to success.
Arsenal’s best run so far has been five consecutive wins in February. If we are going to get fourth place, we probably need to equal that and then round it all off with a nice win against Everton. And if Chelsea go on a bad run, we might even make third.
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