Budiling Arsenal sustainability – at the top
- Yet another example of the way the media tries to put down Arsenal
- When Arsenal lose they sneer, and when they win they sneer even more
By Tony Attwood
After Arsenal’s game finished and before the rest of the weekend’s fixtures have been completed the league table still looks rather promising, as all that has happened is that Arsenal have used their game in hand. It’s hardly a disaster. Indeed last season Manchester City had 50 points as well, by this stage of the season.
The season before (that is 2020/21) after 20 games Manchester City only had 44 points, having also lost two games.
As for 2019/20 when Liverpool won the league, they had one just one draw and no defeats after 20 games, giving them 58 points, but that Liverpool achievement was a one-off, it seems.
And it is illuminating I think to go back to that season of 2019/20 and look at the league table with Liverpool, the eventual winners having playing 20 games, as Arsenal have now. All I have done here is taken that table and looked to see where the top ten teams of the day were then and where they are now.
Much was made of Arsenal’s demise at this time, and indeed on 20 December 2019, Arsenal had appointed Mikel Arteta as “head coach” with Arsenal in tenth.
And once again let us not forget that the “project” was to get Arsenal not to win the league, but just to be in the top four – against the expectation of the media. Most of us would have smiled in disbelief at the suggestion that three years on, after 20 games we’d be top of the league by five points.
But just as Arsenal have risen over those three years, so others have sunk and others have just sat pretty much where they are.
In fact only one team in the top four, three years ago, is there now. Only half of the top six three years ago are in the top six now. And one of the top 10 is in the championship and another is looking very much to be heading that way.
And my point in all this is that rising and falling in the Premier League, or indeed in and out of the Premier League, is the norm. Staying at the top is very unusual.
But then so is the ability of pundits to predict the future. Tottenham have for a number of seasons been predicted to be a regular top-four club, but after their four seasons of glory wherein they came second, third (twice) and fourth, their last three seasons have shown them ending up sixth, seventh and then to much media heralding, fourth.
Seen like that one wonders why the media were so sure they would make top four again this season, a season when the financial realities of the new stadium would well and truly start to bight since this is the season when the repayments in full kick in.
So if we are looking for consistency over the last four seasons beyond the obvious case of Manchester City we might consider Liverpool (a title, two runners-up and a third place) who are now in 21 points behind Arsenal in tenth. Consistency followed by collapse doesn’t seem so clever.
The fact is that clubs that have pretensions of even just the top four, need to build not just for this season but for years to come. Manchester City have done it because of their finances of course, but at the moment no one else is managing it.
Thus my point is that Arsenal at this moment should be working not just to win the league this season (which will once again differentiate them from Tottenham who haven’t won it for 62 years, but to stay at the top beyond one or two years, and avoid that desperate yo-yo reality that has besieged Chelsea across the years, and now is afflicting Liverpool.
Given the propensity for these clubs to have a mix of good and bad seasons, Arsenal’s achievement of a top four finish each year from 1997 to 2016 should not be ignored. Only one team has ever exceeded 19 consecutive years in the Champions League, and that is Real Madrid whose finances, like those of Manchester City, are unreal.
Of course, I want Arsenal to win the league, but I also want an avoidance of the yo-yo game that other clubs have been playing. The greatly lauded Tottenham side had four finishes in the top four in a row (2016-2019 inclusive), and that was the height of their achievement. Let’s win the league, and build a team that can stay at the top – but without spending a fraction of Manchester City’s expenditure. Now that would be one hell of an achievement, and that is what the club must aim for. Long-term sustainability at the top without making the club utterly dependent on another country’s finances.
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