The title race is over. In January.
A rampant Liverpool side is already 13 points clear (with a game in hand) and are on a 37-game undefeated streak that is rapidly approaching the 49, 49 Undefeated… achieved by Arsenal’s 2003/4 “Invincibles”.
That Liverpool may go the season undefeated seems more likely than not. Most Arsenal fans will be hoping that Mikel Arteta’s gritty new Arsenal can, somehow, grab an unlikely win when Klopp’s men visit London on May 2nd, and defend the one thing that only Arsenal can claim to in the modern era. The thought of a second gold Premier League trophy at Anfield is unimaginable.
The race for the remaining Champions League positions has never been more fiercely contested – making predictions more difficult. The number of teams traditionally scrapping for a place at Europe’s top table has been steadily increasing, season by season. A decade ago, there was a Top 4 – City, United, Chelsea and Arsenal – battling for 3 Champions League spots – with the 4th place team having the stress of a pre-qualifying round.
Post-Ferguson United dropped out of this Top 4, and were replaced of late by Klopp’s rock’n’roll Liverpool, and an over-rated (over-achieving) Spurs side, led by their most successful (unsuccessful) ex-manager Maurizio Pochettino. 2016’s unlikely champs Leicester have burst back onto the scene under new gaffer Brendan Rogers, and Nuno Santos’s Wolves have been snapping on the heels of the League’s bigger clubs, while a post-Moyes Everton has threatened to compete, but never delivered.
Post-Wenger Arsenal started on shaky ground this season, despite being only a point off Champions League qualification in Emery’s first season. They also missed an opportunity for redemption in Baku, where they were trounced in the Europa League Final by Chelsea, who seem to be holding their own despite being unable to win at home under club legend, now manager, Frank Lampard.
So – even though the title race is effectively over – the battle for Top Four has never been fiercer, which makes it a tough race to call, and presents a great opportunity for punters looking for sign up bonuses.
Manchester City aside – none of the other top ten chasing pack has been able to string together a decent run over the festive period. City’s 12 from 15 is exceptional: the rest have only managed 7 or less.
This is encouraging news for the Arsenal, who are 9 points off 4th with 17 to play. A nine point swing is possible – especially when they have remaining matches against all of the teams above us, except Manchester United.
I suspect that the three teams topping the table right now will end up in the top 3 spots after the fat lady has sung:
2nd Manchester City
I believe that the team that comes 4th will need 64 points.
That means Arsenal would need 37 of the 51 available from 17 games.
Eleven wins, four draws and three losses would do it.
That’s almost twice as many wins as Arsenal has managed in the first 21 games. And half as many losses. The main thing would be to stop drawing games – the 9 games drawn thus far is the most of any PL team (tied with Wolves).
Hopefully Chelsea’s woes at home continue – as they are the most likely to take the 4th spot. Spurs without Kane – and a leaky defense despite Mourinho – are bound to struggle. United are unpredictable. Wolves, Sheffield and Palace – with their shallower squads – are bound to fall away as the season draws to a close.
Arteta seems to have instilled a new determination in this fragile Arsenal squad: two clean sheets and some fiery performances since he took the helm have given the Gooners some hope in an otherwise miserable season.
And besides – if the Gunners fall short of the 64-points required, there is always the back door entrance via winning the Europa League. Right?
Paul Hepker (aka invinciblog/batmandela) recently returned to South Africa after a 16-year stint in Hollywood, where he plied his trade as a film and TV composer. He adopted Arsenal in the mid-80′s, and if it doesn’t start behaving soon he’s going to send it to boarding school.
As an ardent Gunner propagandist – he has contributed a number of tongue-in-cheeky images to the Goonerverse – one of which is bound to get him into trouble at some point.