If we are looking at just the top 7 teams then the answer to the question “which team has the easiest run-in” is Liverpool. Tottenham, Chelsea and Man U have the next easiest, Everton is where Everton should be if the world is right (smack dab in the middle), and Arsenal and Man City have the two most difficult run ins.
Here’s how I came to that conclusion.
First, I assumed that all the top 7 teams will win every match they have against all of the bottom 13 teams. That is very unlikely but I’m not predicting points or results, I’m judging “difficulty” and everyone will agree that the team who wins the title has to beat the bottom 13 teams. In fact, Wenger today said that “we must boss the bottom teams”.
And so far Arsenal have been excellent in that category, losing just once (Villa) and drawing once (WBA) against the entire bottom 13. In fact, on average so far this season, Arsenal have been the very best of all the teams against bottom 13 opponents. That’s a far cry from the opening day howler against Aston Villa when fans called for the sacking of Tim Payton and John Cross.
Where Arsenal have struggled is against the top 7 teams, though, as you can see only one team has done exceptionally well in that regard, Man City. And why has Man City done so well? Should I answer that question? Do people asking rhetorical questions annoy me? They played all but one game against the top 7 at home, I just did, and yes.
Projecting results is a very woolly discipline, especially in football where an errant referee can easily throw a spanner into a game. And let’s be honest here — none of you (or me) are any good at projecting results or you would be making money hand over fist at the bookies (or working for a bookie).
One could look at past results over the last 10 years, or past managerial results, or home form versus away form, or squad value as a ratio of win/loss, or payroll costs, or some other measurement and probably get something close, maybe. But using this season’s results? That would be whack because this season is unlike any I’ve seen in the League since I started watching football.
But predictions aren’t the point of this article, difficulty is. And I have decided that for this season’s champs, the bottom teams have a difficulty of zero. I have also decided that among the top 7 teams they should average about 1.5 points per game against each other: 2 points home, 1 point away, average. This has some basis in reality, last season Chelsea was the best team in the mini-League with 1.83ppg and Man U won the League with a mini-League average of 1.67ppg — for those counting, that’s just two draws above my estimate.
That home versus away points per game in the mini-League is important because, as you saw above, not every team has the same home versus away schedule coming up. So, what I did was assign 3 points whenever a team faced a bottom 13 club, 2 points when they faced a top 7 team at home and 1 point when they face a top 7 team away. That produced a top 7 schedule difficulty:
The top 5 teams all have to play the top 7 teams 6 times and Spurs and Man U only have to play those teams 5 times.This gives Spurs and United a one to two point advantage over their top 7 rivals. In fact, much has been made in the press of how easy Arsenal’s last 5 game run-in is but it’s actually Tottenham and Man U who have the easiest final 8 games, with those two facing just one top 7 team whereas Arsenal, City, Liverpool and Everton all face three top 7 teams.
As I said above, Man City has the most difficult run in using my simplistic method. They have to play 5 of 6 away matches against top 7 teams.
But Arsenal has the second most difficult schedule using the simple method and the most difficult using just plain logic. Arsenal have the second most number of away matches (4/6) but also because they have to play 4 title deciders in a block, 3 of those matches are away games, one is a North London derby, 1 is an away match to Chelsea who have been undefeated in 1000 years under Mourinho, and that is a block which falls right after Arsenal go away to Bayern Munich.
And Liverpool, conversely, have the easiest run-in with just one away game against top 7 teams. Moreover, Liverpool don’t have any European matches this season and neither do Everton, both teams only have the FA Cup left.
This means that it looks like Merseyside will have a huge role to play in deciding the title: City have to play both Merseyside teams away in the final few weeks of the season and Chelsea have a crucial away match against Liverpool.
But here are some other facts for you to consider in bullet format:
- Even if Arsenal only get 8 points from their 6 matches (P6 W2 D2 L2) against big 7 teams, they can still finish on 89 points as long as they beat all the bottom 13. And 89 points should be enough to win the title, as long as they keep their GD up!
- If you want to argue that Man U are title challengers still, you have to do so by arguing that they will win every one of their remaining fixtures. This will not happen, thus, they are not title contenders.
- Liverpool have to be considered title challengers equal to City, Chelsea, and Arsenal: they play 5 of their 6 big games at home, they aren’t in Europe, they have the best record against absolute dross, and Luis Suarez is the league’s biggest flat track bully (19 of his 22 goals have come against bottom 13 clubs).
- There are two matches which will decide the title, in my estimation: Arsenal at Chelsea and City at Arsenal. I think Arsenal can beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge because Chelsea have to play Galatasaray four days before that match. I also think Arsenal can beat City at the Emirates because so far Arsenal are the only team to put three goals past City. I think that’s where Arsenal will win the League this season.