As we take a mini-break from Premier League action, it gives us a chance to reflect on where we are and what we will need from the remainder of this season.
It’s fair to say it has been something of a roller-coaster ride to date, with flashes of brilliance couple with several servings of tripe too.
By way of context, after 26 games last season, we had 45 points. After 26 games this season, we have 50.
Finishing in the top four has been our target from the outset of the season and, although we currently sit in fifth, we remain in with a good chance of forcing our way back to Europe’s top table.
But what will we need to get there?
Here’s a handy list of the past seven seasons, featuring the fourth-placed team and the points that finished with:
2011/12 (Tottenham, 69 points)
2012/13 (Arsenal, 73 points)
2013/14 (Arsenal, 79 points) (73 would have been enough)
2014/15 (Man United, 70 points) (65 would have been enough)
2015/16 (Man City, 66 points)
2016/17 (Liverpool, 76 points)
2017/18 (Liverpool, 75 points) (71 would have been enough)
If you add up the points tallies achieved (instead of the points required) and average them across those seasons, you come out with about 73 points. If you do the same calculation with points required, you come out with about 70 points.
It’s not unreasonable, therefore, to say that teams require at least 70 points to be in with a good chance of securing a top four position. It’s perfectly possible it will be higher than that – as we saw last season – just as it’s possible it could be lower than that, as we saw in 2011/12 and 2015/16.
Fixtures, injuries, managerial changes, and other such factors will all play a part but, over the years, it would seem that 70 points is a good benchmark.
So where does that leave the Gunners?
As it stands, we have 50 points from 26 matches played – that’s an average points per game tally of 1.92. If you apply that average over the length of the 38-game season, we are on course for about 73 points.
On the face of it, that would appear to put us in with a shout of success but, in reality, we will probably require at least another three points on top of that, given that we are currently in fifth place and all the teams above us will have better points per game averages.
If we assume, therefore, that it will take 76 points to secure fourth place, that leaves us needing 26 points from our remaining 12 matches. There are a number of ways you can slice it, of course, but that leaves us needing at least eight wins. Nine wins would get the job done much easier, of course, but we’re unlikely to go out and win nine of our next 12.
Our remaining opponents are: Southampton (H), Bournemouth (H), Tottenham (A), Manchester United (H), Wolves (A), Newcastle (H), Everton (A), Watford (A), Crystal Palace (H), Leicester (A), Brighton (H), Burnley (A).
Based solely on our current run of form, I feel confident of five wins from that run-in but that won’t be enough. Winning all of our remaining home games would give us six wins, but we we’d need at least another two away wins to give ourselves a fighting chance. Playing as we are, can we get those wins at Wolves, Watford, Everton, Leicester or Burnley?
Traditionally, we finish our seasons strongly, albeit when our backs are firmly against the wall, and it is worth remembering that a lot of mid-table teams like Watford and Leicester, tend to pack up for the summer from April, with Premier League status ensured for another year.
But we can’t take anything for granted, especially with our defensive injuries, our wild inconsistency, and our lapses in concentration at key times in key games.
Encouragingly, the task before us is not impossible. If we can win our next two league games, taking us into the trip to Tottenham, we give ourselves a fighting chance of still being in the mix come March and we have plenty of experience of chasing the pack in tight situations.
But, make no mistake, we have to take maximum points from our next two league games and, in all likelihood, from all of our remaining home games. There is no margin for error now. We won’t win all of our games, of that I am certain, but we simply cannot afford to be careless against the teams below us.
Over to you, Unai.