If you compare match for match last season to this season, Arsenal are dead even on points, have scored four fewer goals, and yet with the games remaining there is a very real chance for Arsenal to win their first League title since the Invincibles.
Many of the media elites argue that this is Arsenal’s best chance at a trophy in years — citing the closeness of the race, the fact that Arsenal were leading the League for much of the season, and the void left at the top by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. And sure enough, looking at the Cann table from last year to this produces a rather dramatic presentation of the two seasons.
12 points clear with 11 matches remaining, Man Utd at this point last season were presumptive champions and the excitement in the League was in following which teams would get relegated; from the League and from the top four. Arsenal were four points behind Spurs and were just getting ready to start their “negative spiral” up the table to eventually overhaul their North London neighbors.
Now this season. The table is topped by Chelsea with Arsenal just one point below, Man City three points back (but with a game in hand), Liverpool four points back, and Tottenham 10 points off the leaders. Whereas last season there was a clear favorite, there are now three clubs who can take the lead on any given weekend and a fourth club who would need two good weeks over all three of the other clubs in order to get into the title equation. In that sense, you can see why people feel this is the most open title race in years.
But when you look at total spend on players, this race shouldn’t even be this close. You don’t have to agree but the fact remains that spending huge sums improves your club’s chances of winning trophies. Chelsea and Man City have proven that in spades and there is no end of the spend in sight for either of those two clubs. If Jose Mourinho’s team is a “little horse” it is a little horse with a gilded saddle and a feed bag full of caviar — the perfect little horse for Chelsea’s Napoleon to ride in on.
But while everyone was ogling the riches Man City and Chelsea are throwing around people seem to have forgotten that Man Utd spent their fair share as well. This season alone, Moyes spent £67m on transfers in to boost his squad, buying Mata and Fellaini. It’s not been for lack of spend that United are struggling, but for lack of management.
Meanwhile, plucky little Scouse underdogs, Liverpool, have had the same problem as Moyes. Brendan Rodgers is a serial spender in the transfer market, plumping out huge sums for players like Joe Allen (£16m) and taking a huge dump on Stewart Downing when they lost £15m selling him to West Ham. This season he spent another huge sum, £17m, for Sakho who has been “less than convincing.” Rodgers’ most important transfer dealings in his career has actually been to keep Luis Suarez. Without the Uruguayan having a career season, the Liverpool defense, which has more holes than a sunken ship, would be dragging them back in to mid-table mediocrity. And they might still yet miss out on 4th place if Suarez has his annual freak out ahead of the World Cup.
Top seven clubs, last three seasons transfer spend:
Man City £165m
Man U £159m
The media elites will go on about what an open season this is for Arsenal and what a chance to win the title but for me this is just the first of many rebuilding seasons with the Arsenal. Wenger’s grand plan to build a team around Cesc and van Persie has been utterly overhauled and he has now become much more pragmatic in the transfer market, buying seasoned professionals like Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, and Mikel Arteta instead of players for the future. This season, he added a sparkling new gem to the squad when he captured German International Mesut Özil from Real Madrid so, with a hugely talented base of seasoned professionals, a framework of young players who have been at the club for years, and a topping of a big-money signing, what I’m looking for, then, is an improvement. Sadly, if we count results from this year to last, Arsenal have stayed a bit static, and by some measures even fallen a bit short.
Take a look at the graphic above. I’ve matched up Arsenal’s results from last term (on the left) with the results from this term (on the right). Then I took the points difference between the results, the goal difference between the results, and the goals conceded difference between the results and created a table on the far right. The colored bars are for the 11 matches Arsenal still have yet to play: red bars indicated losses last season, yellow bars are draws, and green bars were games we won.
The first thing to notice is that Arsenal are dead even on points with the results that we had last season. This, combined with our second place ranking, indicates that Arsenal had a relatively weak schedule to start the season off and when you look at the fact that of the 11 games remaining this year our record last season was W4 D2 L5, you can see that Arsenal are headed into a very rough patch of games.
Rough patch, or you could think of those 11 games as an opportunity to pick up some points. For example, using my color bars, think of the green as “must win,” and yellow or red as “opportunity to pick up points”. Then any red bar becomes a chance to earn points with either a draw or a win and the yellow a chance to earn points with a win. Now, Arsenal have 7/11 chances to earn more points than last season.
For example if Arsenal earn a draw at home to Man City, away to Chelsea, away to Spurs, home to Swansea, and away to Norwich they will actually be four points better off than they were last season. Draws in all those matches would hardly be a string of memorable results but given the results of the season prior would indicate that Arsenal are in better form over last season. Turn any of those losses into wins and we are even better off.
No, I look at the record Arsenal had in the comparable 11 games last season and I take heart. To finish this season with the same points total as last season, Arsenal would have to go W4 D2 L5 or some equivalent which would leave Arsenal earning just 14 points from our last 11 games. Losing 5 of the remaining 11 matches seems almost impossible, especially when you consider that Arsenal have only lost 6 League matches in the last three years worth of run-in’s from February to May.
Where all this starts is this weekend against Stoke. Arsenal earned a 0-0 draw in this match last season and a win there puts Arsenal 2 points better off than last season. The perfect way to kick off the end of season run-in.