Arsenal’s season so far can probably be summed up by a headline that appeared in Arsenal Banter in early February, “Two Step Forward, One Step Back”. In short, the Gunners are progressing and the “process” is starting to bear fruit, but it can feel a little frustrating for fans at times. It’s a case of stumbling – rather than marching – forward. Still, if you remember back to how things felt in August, there’s a much better feeling around the club right now.
But what about that coveted Top 4 place? With City almost guaranteed the title, and Chelsea and Liverpool looking likely to sew up the next two spots, it has become the most intriguing battle as we conclude the season. Below, we wanted to take a neutral approach to discussing Arsenal’s chances, looking at reasons why Gunners fans should be confident they will secure Champions League football next season, and some reasons why they should doubt it.
To begin with, we will look at the reasons to be confident:
Arsenal have lost just one game since December 11th (vs. Man City), and only the league leaders and Liverpool have better form than the Gunners since that time. Yes, there have been poor performances (the 0-0 vs. Burnley), but Arsenal have been generally very good since that period in mid-December. Certainly, the Gunners’ form has been more consistent than Top 4 rivals like Man United, West Ham, and Spurs.
Bookmakers don’t always get it right, of course. But 888 Sport’s Premier League odds show that Arsenal are the favourites among the chasing pack to land a Top 4 finish. The odds of 6/5 show that it isn’t nailed on in the bookies’ eyes, but they are shorter odds than United, Spurs, and the rest.
Yes, we can trot out that old mantra of having to play everyone twice in the Premier League, but Arsenal have already gone to Anfield, Old Trafford and the Etihad. They’ve played City twice, in fact. And while they picked up no points from the champions elect, it’s reassuring that they don’t have to face them again. In particular, Arsenal have a run of home fixtures against teams below them (form at the Emirates has been largely excellent) that should yield plenty of points.
And some reasons to doubt Arsenal’s credentials
Points on the Board
If Arsenal win their games in hand over Manchester United, they will leapfrog them into 4th (Arsenal would, in fact be hot on the heels of Chelsea in 3rd). However, Mikel Arteta would arguably prefer points on the board, especially given the teams Arsenal have to face in those games in hand (see below).
We mentioned Arsenal’s kind fixture list, but we left out a very important caveat. The postponed games that mean Arsenal have played fewer than those around them are very tough. Spurs (A), Chelsea (A), and Liverpool (H) are the three make-up games for Arsenal, the latter of which comes from Liverpool’s appearance in the EFL Cup Final on February 26th. Honestly, Arteta would probably take four points from those games if they were offered.
United’s Demise Is Exaggerated
There are several candidates for the Top 4 spot, but we can’t help but think United’s squad depth will make them Arsenal’s closest rivals. You’ve probably encountered some of the media circus surrounding United of late, and there has been a lot of criticism of their form. But to be frank, it hasn’t been as bad as suggested. They’ve lost one league game since November 20th, and several of the draws that have derailed their Top 4 bid should have been victories. In short, they have actually been unlucky. Nonetheless, it means the crunch game at the Emirates on April 23rd could have huge repercussions for the Top 4 race.