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by Tony Attwood
We know of course that to have got fourth place last season Arsenal needed either 71 points and a goal difference of +30 or more or 72 points. What we ended up with was three points short, or two points and +17 goal difference short.
But of course, the performance of other teams at the top of the league varies year by year and so obviously what it takes to get fourth varies as well. So I wondered if another three points (which would have taken us into the Champions League would have been enough in other seasons…
In fact in both 2021 and 2020, the 69 points we gained last season, would have been enough to get us fourth, which is slightly comforting.
But in 2017, 2018 and 2019 69 points would not have hacked it. We would have needed 72, 76 and 77 points respectively. So no laurel resting.
In 2016 our 69 points of last season would have been enough, but not in enough in the three seasons before that – although in 2013 and 2014 we are measuring overtaking ourselves, since Arsenal did come fourth.
But what we can say is that the highest number of points gained by a fourth placed team in the last ten seasons has been 79 points, so for safety’s sake, that has to be our target. Ten more points than the season just gone.
Here’s how that season ended in 2014.
I am of course not suggesting that fourth should become our ultimate target, but rather suggesting it is our next realistic target, and in order to achieve that target doing better than the best fourth placed team of the past ten years seems worth aiming for.
We could however also look at the lowest number points achieved by the fourth placed club in the past ten years. That was achieved by Chelsea in 2020.
What is interesting also is the way that in both those tables the team that crops up in fifth place is not one that is traditionally associated with the “big six”.
This past season of course the six clubs that the media like to call the big six (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur) ended up in the top six places. But it is interesting how often that is not the case.
In 2021 both Tottenham and Arsenal were outside the top six, coming seventh and eighth, allowing Leicester and West Ham to creep into the hallowed positions. But as we have seen this past season, staying in the top six is even harder than getting there in the first place, and those two interlopers subsequently slipped down to seventh and eighth.
In 2019/20 Leicester again got into the top six, by coming fifth (at Arsenal’s expense), but in 2018/19 we had the traditional big six in the top six.
Before that we have to go back to 2015/16 when Southampton were the interlopers coming in sixth, with Liverpool shunting down into eighth to make way.
In 2013/14 Everton were in fifth, Manchester United making way, and in 2012/13 Everton also made the six, this time with Liverpool dropping out.
Indeed between 2010 and 2016, Liverpool failed to make the top four on seven occasions, meandering their way between second and (on two occasions) eighth in the league.
All of which goes to show that the big six in the top six places is not as common as some commentators like to suggest. We came to accept that Arsenal would not only be in the top six but actually in the top four, year after year in Mr Wenger’s reign, and indeed from 1996 through to 2019 Arsenal were a top six club.
My point here is that all the big six have had period of being outside the top six, and that really isn’t the prime issue. The issue is, when they fall outside, how long does it take them to get back? Arsenal had two years outside the top six, and have had six years outside the top four.
Chelsea, since 1996 have had one year outside the top six, and seven years outside the top four. while Liverpool have had five years outside the top six. Manchester City have had 11 seasons outside the top six, Tottenham have had 12 years outside the top six. Manchester United however are the joint winners with Arsenal however with only two seasons outside the top six.
Because we are still not back in the top four, the recent period looks like a failure, but when one looks at the longer perspective we are still right up there in terms of consistency.
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