Last month, Arteta spoke about his concerns that if Arsenal did not do much to bolster their side in the window, they would see the gap between them and top tier teams continue to grow. It was an open and honest assessment of his current squad and just how far the club had to go before they were truly competitors in the race for titles or even the top 4. The statement is something that Arsenal fans have been saying themselves throughout the course of this year, but to hear it come from the manager, packs a little more punch.
But how do we define that ‘gap’? The easy way is simply showing the gap between Arsenal and the ‘already crowned champions’ Liverpool who skated through the league this year to their first after waiting 30 years. But somehow that comparison doesn’t really hit home.
So, you mean we aren’t currently the champions? Thanks. I wasn’t aware. Eye roll and on everyone goes on.
But this weekend, Arsenal fans had a moment of realization that demonstrates the void Arsenal find themselves in perfect. It is the void that Arteta is commenting on and one that is important to address and understand if retaining or enticing top talent like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to stay is in the plans.
After a huge win for Arteta and the squad over Wolverhampton, many fans noticed that every team in the top 5, besides Liverpool, have lost more, or as many, matches this year as the Gunners yet Arsenal have felt out of it for a while.
The answer is a bit obvious as to why this is the case – draws. That’s not revolutionary, and yet it is within these small margins, we see the difference between the top 4 and an Arsenal side sitting in the void between successful top tier and tier two. This year Arsenal have 49 points on 33 games – 1.48 points per game.
Compare that to the top 4:
- Manchester City – 66pts for a 2.0ppg average
- Leicester City – 58 pts for a 1.75ppg average
- Chelsea – 57 pts for a 1.72ppg average
- Manchester United – 55 points for a 1.66ppg average
Even looking back at the 3 years previous, in order to make the top 4 a team has to be averaging somewhere between 1.89 to 2.0 points per game or 70-76 points. At 1.48 points per game, Arsenal have somehow found themselves sitting in 7th with a chance to make something of this year, but how would that have gone in past years?
1.48 points per game over the course of a season puts a team at 56.24 points, so we will round up to 57 because we like Arsenal. Last year, 57 points would have put Arsenal in 8th place. 2017/18 season they would be in 7th. 2016/17 they would be in 8th, which tells us, in a small sample size, that there is some consistency in where results like these place a team and what mark they need to reach in order to compete for the top 4. 1.89-2 points per game.
The beauty of the table format is that it doesn’t simply favor teams that don’t lose – it favors those that take tight games and gut them out to get wins instead of settling for draws. Again, look at last year (2018/19). The only team with close to as many draws as Arsenal? Southampton in 16th place. The year before that, Liverpool but they only lost 5 of 38 games giving them a 1.97 ppg average, and Brighton on 13 draws in 15th place.
In this competitive league that prides itself on more parody than the other top leagues, we can see that average teams are capable of forcing draws rather than finding ways to win. What is tough is finding ways to win games, but the reward is evident in the extra point and boost over the course of the season.
Arsenal need to average .4 – .5 points per game more in order to compete. This may seem minor, but over the course of a season that’s and extra 19 points. After 33 games, an extra half-point would be an additional 16.5 points which would put Arsenal in 3rd place just behind Manchester City.
The league is pretty consistent and that 1.8 -1.9 ppg range is the ideal place to shoot for year after year, which is why the tactic of sitting back and accepting a draw should be done with caution. Going after a game to make something happen has a high risk, but an even higher reward. Just ask Tottenham last year who had 13 losses (3 more than us) but edged us out by a point to make the top 4.
At 49 points with 5 league games left to play, Arsenal could add 15 more to their tally and end on 66 – still only a 1.73ppg average on the year. It may be enough given what the surrounding teams are doing and a potential ban for Manchester City that could open up an extra spot, but when Arteta says “we have to win every game and then wait and pray”, he wasn’t kidding.