Happy New Year all! I hope you had a great holiday season, if this is a holiday season for you. If it’s not a holiday season, then at least I hope you enjoyed the football. Over the festive season Arsenal won 3 of 4 matches, including a whopping 2-1 win over Man City and whatever your beliefs, if you’re a Gunner that’s something to celebrate.
Yesterday was game 20 of the season and Arsenal beat Newcastle 1-0. Because of the way I compile my stats, I was reminded that yesterday’s match was the first time that Arsenal had played any other team in the League twice. In fact, the Premier League has set the schedule so that all teams play each other once before January and then once after. The season is truly half way over after game 19 because not only have we played half the games but we’ve played all the teams once.
That quirk of the schedule gives us a convenient point of comparison for the rest of the season. In other words, you can look at the results of the first half of the season and compare them to the second half.
As I have said in passing, I think the first half of this Premier League season has had a lot of “fake” results. Take Chelsea’s season as the obvious example. Reigning Champions, they have just 5 wins in their first 19 matches. They have also had nine losses, that’s 47% of their season so far.
But Chelsea have an absurdly talented team. Fabregas had Arsenal fans on suicide alert for the first 19 games of last season as he chipped and passed his way into the record books. Eden Hazard may be too big for his own ego but he’s still one of the best dribbling forwards in the game. And the rest of that team as well, if Oscar wants a new team, I’d gladly take him at Arsenal. He is a fantastic football player whose career was nearly ruined by Jose Mourinho.
But now that they have a professional manager at the helm, one who isn’t prone to egotistical madness, Chelsea are going to start playing more like the team that they are. And in fact they already have started down that path. They beat Crystal Palace 3-0 this morning and reversed the result from August when they lost to Palace 2-1 at home. My guess is that they are going to be reversing a lot of their results from the first half of the season.
Meanwhile Leicester City, press darlings, are showing signs that the wheels might be coming off their counter attacking caravan. Three consecutive matches they have failed to score, that’s the first time this season they failed to score. There was a bit of bad luck in there, they were awarded yet another penalty (they lead the League in penalties with 8) and missed, but there is also a sense that teams have figured them out a bit. Their basic brand of football is simple to beat, for mid-table teams and teams fighting for relegation, just give the ball to Leicester and use their own tactic against them. And for the top clubs (Arsenal, Liverpool, Man U, Man City, Tottenham), they haven’t proved too tough of a challenge: Liecester have taken 3 points from 5 games against those teams. And if you put Chelsea into the mix, it’s just 6 points in 6 games.
We have seen a lot of surprise results this season. Even Arsenal have had a few blips: for the last two years no club has been more dominant over bottom teams than Arsenal. But this season they have dropped points against West Brom, Norwich, and Southampton. Arsenal also dropped points against Chelsea in a match that was so horribly officiated that the FA reversed two red cards after the game. I suspect that will be a much better contest when the two teams meet again at the end of January.
There is a lot of talk about Arsenal buying a player or getting players back healthy and that is certainly an important factor in Arsenal’s title challenge. The Gunners have shown excellent depth up to now, the depth that many of us said they had, but with long-term injuries to several key midfielders, it’s looking like Arsene Wenger is going to dip into the January transfer market for at least one player, Mohamed Elneny.
Looking at the stats that he has given us in the Champions League and Europa League, Elneny is a runner like Aaron Ramsey and a passer like Mikel Arteta. I’ll do a more complete stats analysis in a separate post, but needless to say I think he’s a great purchase and could be the bargain of the season at £5m.
But getting the players back, or integrating new signings into the team, are only a means to the end. The end is that regardless of how they do it, if Arsenal are to win the title all they have to do is mirror the results of the first half of the season. And they started on the right foot: Arsenal beat Newcastle 1-0 yesterday, which was the same result from August.
Bonus: what games would you say were “fake” results by Arsenal? Either positive or negative. – Tim.