Both Arsenal and Tottenham have 12 games left in their season. Both teams have 6 home and 6 away games. Both teams face a mixture of tough opponents and easier opponents. Tottenham has a 4 point advantage in the table and Arsenal have a +7 goal difference advantage. Everything looks all square, just about, so which team is going to win The 7amkickoff 4th Place Trophy™?
As I like to do, I quantified the run-in. I used both Arsenal and Tottenham’s opposition’s current position on the League table to rank their difficulty. It’s a bit simplistic, I know, but to see how close I was to my gut, I first ranked them using just my instinct and then compared them to their position on the table. And it turned out that their position on the League table was pretty close to my instinct — with just a couple of notable exceptions.
Then I looked at both teams’ previous performance against these 12 teams and made a column for actual points accrued. Then I predicted an outcome for each match based on my gut feeling. I did this because frankly if I didn’t predict outcomes, someone would have called out for it and if I do make predictions someone will call me out for it, so either way I’m getting called out. I might as well make predictions because it gives you all something extra to argue with each other about!
As you can see from the graphic above Tottenham’s run-in has a greater difficulty of an average of 2.5 places on the League table over Arsenal. That means that their run-in is somewhere between Liverpool and Stoke City on average whereas Arsenal’s run-in is somewhere around Norwich and Sunderland.
This average difference is reflected in the actual points taken from the previous matches, with Arsenal edging Tottenham by a little less than .25 points per game over those 12 opponents. As an aside here, if you just take the total points taken from the previous encounters between the teams listed above, Arsenal only regain 2 points on Tottenham and to do that would require Arsenal to win at White Hart Lane. In the previous 12 matches against these opponents Arsenal had 21 points and Tottenham had 19.
But I don’t think that these next 12 games will shape up the way that they did in their previous encounters. For example, I just can’t see Wigan getting three points on Tottenham again and similarly I don’t see Arsenal losing to Norwich again. I also would like to point out that Arsenal have to play both QPR and Newcastle in the final weeks of the season, both of which are teams who spent enormous amounts of money in the January transfer window and radically overhauled their teams. If you remember, Wenger mentioned this very thing in a press conference a few weeks ago saying that teams who have to play Newcastle and QPR after January face a much different squad.
Admittedly, my predictions may be a little bit harsh on Arsenal. For example, I have draws in both of those games against QPR and Newcastle. I did that simply because I think QPR are going to be fighting for their lives to escape relegation, plus, that match follows on the heels of the big game against Man U and if previous seasons are any measuring stick, Arsenal struggle in the last few games after a big match. For example, there was a notable dip in form after Arsenal beat Man City last season, with the Gunners winning just 2 of their last 6.
Is that what I want to happen? No. I would rather Arsenal finish this season strong as a building block for next season. But the reality is that Manchester United could win the title at the Emirates this season and with this squad so unsteady at the moment there’s no telling how they would react if they let that happen.
That’s actually why I put that United game in red. It’s one of the two key games for the end of the season run-in. In fact, if you look at my predicted total and you change just either of those two red games to Arsenal wins, Arsenal overcome Spurs in the League table.
The other key game is, of course, the North London Derby (NLD). Arsenal face Aston Villa at the Grove next and Spurs face West Ham at the Bubble. I think that Spurms have just enough to get a draw there but that Allardyce is fighting for a new contract and he has his favorite target Andy Carroll back. That’s going to be a real tough game for them. Meanwhile, Arsenal will have to look at Villa as exploitable for all three points — the Birmingham side have really struggled with form this season and just recorded their first win in what seems like ages.
If Arsenal can win against Villa and West Ham can get a draw against Spurs, that North London Derby will be an actual battle for fourth place with just two points difference between the two teams. I predicted a draw above, but you know what? I might just change that.