Do Arsenal have any realistic hopes of a top 4 finish left?
It’s been a strange season for the Gunners. The appointment of Unai Emery had some glimmer of the hope restoring the club into a stable position and the Spaniard did kick things off in style, don’t let the clouds of uncertainty eclipse that unbeaten run.
At this point of the season, the opinion of fans and experts lay on two close islands. While some have dubbed these days as ‘So far, so good’, others believe it’s the same old Arsenal just under a different manager. Regardless of all the things that have changed at the club, some amount of uncertainty would always be there to make life difficult if you are a fan, a fantasy football manager or a punter who’s involved in a football bet related to Arsenal.
The questions didn’t really surface much when the season kicked-off. Unai’s men kicked-off with an unbeaten which gave an awful lot of confidence to the Gunners family—Arsenal Fan Tv is there to give you some handy evidence of that. But as the season unravelled, Arsenal started functioning the ‘Arsenal way’—only talking about the Arsenal of past few years—yet, they somehow kept the fight on and stayed competitive for a significantly time. If we speak about the competition among the ‘Big 6’ in the league at that point of time, Liverpool and Manchester City were cruising at the top and Chelsea’s ‘Sarri ball’ was rolling smoothly over the league table. Spurs were clambering at the top with a few injuries clogging their way up top and last but arguably the most chaotic top side pre-December was Manchester United, who were suffering from a common football disease fans like calling ‘The third season syndrome of Jose Mourinho. ‘
Where has it gone wrong for the Gunners?
The Premier League is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You’ve got to fight the entire season with the same winning mentality. Every year the fans think they might salvage their lost pride in some way but the farthest they’ve gotten is finishing second in the league table and bagging a few glorious FA Cups. But Arsenal haven’t really been one of those sides that look threatening going into the season.
If we forget about the other top clubs for a moment and compare the current Arsenal team with the ones they’ve had over the past years, it’s safe to say they’ve improved many folds in their attacks. The likes of Lacazette and Aubameyang are top players beyond a shadow of a doubt and their two midfield signings, 23-year-old Lucas Torreira and Mattéo Guendouzi who is only 19 and is being dubbed as one of the best talents in the league, they’ve also been able to bring some stability to their midfield. But as good as this team looks on the surface, lady luck hasn’t really been on their side if we go deeper. One of Arsenal’s biggest woes over these years has been their tremulous defence. They’re the kind of the side that even if they score 3-4 goals in a game, it could still end as a draw or a loss. Let’s talk about their game against Manchester United in the FA Cup. Regardless of what their offence did, their defence had no answers to Manchester United’s blazing counters. They gave away early goals in quick succession in the first half and never looked daunting after it. Ole’s men found it easy to exploit Arsenal with their pace and it was a poor performance defensively. Although their defence trembles a lot, the curse of injuries has taken a toll over their vulnerabilities this season. Almost each of their important defenders has faced an injury—minor or major— and it has only made things worse for Unai side. Although Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Stephan Lichtsteiner have added some quality to that defence this season, but it’s still short of the robustness Arsenal needs to be competitive against the top sides.
Their defensive dullness has made their new keeper, Leno, question the team’s defensive solidity. In an interview, he said, “We have to work on this because the defence for me is the most thing to enable us to get back into the top four. For me, the most important area is the defence because we have the quality in the front line. We all want to improve and we can do that by being strong in the defence.”
They’re yet to keep a clean sheet in an away game this season in the Premier League and that says a lot.
In their last game against Cardiff, which looked like a game that’d finally give them an away clean sheet, Sead Kolasinac’s perplexing own goal in the injury time rained disappointment all over the aforementioned hopes and once again raised questions. Their manager also realises how such mistakes could allow their opponents to get better of them. After the Cardiff game, he expressed his concern regarding conceding goals like the one they did against Cardiff.
“It’s not enough, if they scored one goal we could have struggled more,” said Emery.
“My ambition is I want them to continue with the mentality of the first goal, don’t concede options and positions.
“I know it’s easier on the bench than on the pitch. But today the players worked well.”
Injuries and defence are one of the many problems that have come in their way of Arsenal this season. There are other struggles too that have made life difficult for this club in recent years. One of them is the lack of spending.
It’s loud and clear that the fans aren’t happy with the club owners for many reasons. The slim transfer budget is one of them. Money is quite a mover and shaker in modern football and it has kept the Gunners from moving like their league rivals. While we see clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United break banks to bolster their squads, the North London Reds have no choice but making peace with their bargain-transfers. They do deserve credit for such bargains but that doesn’t do enough in a league like the Premier League, where the juggernauts buy some of the best talents in the word every season to stay competitive.
The heart of the matter:
All of these problems boil down to consistency, had Arsenal been consistent enough, they would have easily been in the top 4. But the reality speaks otherwise and Arsenal are only a point shy of top 4 as they sit at the fifth place on the table with as many points as the London blues. Although the table looks like a fiercely competitive three-horse race for the top and the fourth spot, practically, the story for the latter indicates an obvious ending by the end of the season. The other two horses in the race have contrasting stories—while one has got another lifeline this season, the other looks to be in more than one kind of chaos. Most of the football fans and expert reckon that Manchester United would be the club that’d secure the fourth spot in the table by the end of the season.
But is it over for Arsenal this season?
No, it’s obviously not. First of all, let’s take a deep breath and do the maths. They’re not far off from the top 4. Also, their fixtures favour them too. Following the Spurs game, the only major games they have left now are against Manchester United. Some of their important players have returned from the injuries too and it’s safe to say that if they managed to not lose points in the soft fixtures, they can fancy their chances for the top 4.
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