By Tony Attwood
Although you might well know this off by heart, for ease of reference here is the way the Premier League finished in 2021/22
But of course we know that each year the league table looks somewhat different. This table below shows what the fourth-placed team got each season across the last ten years
So we can see at once that in three of the last ten years Arsenal’s 69 points would have been enough to get fourth, but at no time in the last ten years has a goal difference of 13 equated with the goal difference of the club in fourth. The nearest was 2020 when the club in fourth – Chelsea had a goal difference of 15.
As we can also see the number of points gained by the fourth club ranges between 66 (Chlesea and Manchester City) and 79 (Arsenal in 2014). So let’s look at some averages. Numbers are adjusted very slightly to match the total number of 38 games played.
|4||Average over 10 yrs||21||9||8||70||41||29||73|
The averages line is made up from the average of each of the individual columns (won, drawn, lost etc) so that doesn’t then quite match with the average number of points achieved by the fourth placed team, and is intended as a rough guide as to what Arsenal need to do next season to achieve fourth, if the season were to be an average season.
And we can see that in 2022 Arsenal were just four points off coming an average fourth position – not a huge gap. And we can also see the way to achieve this is to turn just a handful of defeats into draws.
What’s more although a lot of fuss was made about Arsenal’s lack firepower it was both goals scored and goals conceded that were problematic.
We were sixth in the league last season in terms of goals scored last sesaon, eight goals behind Tottenham who were the fourth best scoring team in the league. But in terms of defence, we were only the eighth best team in the league, conceding eight more than Tottenham, again the fourth best team in that category.
And interesting these numbers are similar to the average position for the fourth placed team. Eight goals more scored and seven goals fewer conceded would have put us in the average position of the fourth placed team across the seasons.
But of course an average finish for the fourth placed team is not good enough, since by definition in five of the ten years the fourth placed team got more than the average shown above.
So let us compare the best position a fourth-placed team achieved in the last ten years with Arsenal last season
And there we have it. Two more victories, four more draws, seven more goals scored, seven fewer goals conceded. That should be our target.
So where could we find those four defeats which could have become draws, and two draws that could have become victories?
In fact it is not too hard to find that, and we have readily found two draws that could have become victories and five (not just the four needed) defeats that with a single goal could have become draws.
|02 Oct 2021||Brighton and Hove Albion v Arsenal||D||0-0|
|18 Oct 2021||Arsenal v Crystal Palace||D||2-2|
|02 Dec 2021||Manchester United v Arsenal||L||3-2|
|06 Dec 2021||Everton v Arsenal||L||2-1|
|01 Jan 2022||Arsenal v Manchester City||L||1-2|
|09 Apr 2022||Arsenal v Brighton and Hove Albion||L||1-2|
|16 Apr 2022||Southampton v Arsenal||L||1-0|
One more goal in each of those games last season and our league position would have looked much healthier. We would have four more points from the two draws now victories, and five points from the defeats now draws.
In terms of goals just one more goal was required in each game, obviously seven more goals. And the table would have looked, at the end like this…
So there we are. Seven goals, one each against Brighton (twice), Palace, Manchester United, Everton, Manchester City and Southampton. (I have in each case counted it that Arsenal would score one more, but of course it would work equally well if the opposition had scored one fewer.)
Put like that it doesn’t sound impossible.
Of course it could work the other way and actually have a defence improve by seven – or obviously a mix of the two. And here I think it is worth remembering that Arsenal not only built a completely new defence last season, but brought in young players throughout and also removed the central attacker.
It seems hard to find a reason for changing the defence this summer. Those young players will each be a year more experienced, and have had a year to get used to each other. What we need are more goals, and it seems we are keeping Eddie, who scored five in the last seven games of the season – which is the rate of a 25 goals a season player.
By working with the minimum requirements to get us to into the top four using the average across the last ten years we come out as the fourth best attack in the league but still only the sixth best defence. But the players are young, they have now had a year together, and they will learn. I think we are on track.
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