This year’s title is a 2 horse race and don’t let any misguided Spurs fan at work or in the pub tell you any different. It is between the 2 Manchester sides and I know this because of history and probability with almost complete certainty. So please read on and arm yourselves with the facts for those annoying misguided tiny tots, but let’s also look at a few serious pointers for the Arsenal.
To win the Premiership you need a solid and consistent defence and to score a lot of goals. No surprises there perhaps but this century no team has won this league and conceded more than 40 goals. In fact with one exception no team has won the league and conceded more than 37. That team was Manchester United in 2000, when they conceded 46 but at the other end they scored 97 which has only been bettered once.
In short, this century the Premiership winning side always scores 72 or more goals and concedes less than 37 and will have a goal difference of over 40 in most cases. So here comes the easy bit. Spurs according to the press are playing breathtaking, exciting attacking football and are the new Arsenal?? Well this ‘dream team ‘is on track to score a ‘huge’ total of 70 goals and will concede 46 if they continue at their current rates. With the exception of Manchester United in 2003 where there was a goal difference of plus 36. In every other year the team winning the title has had a goal difference of over 40 and in many cases over 50. The ‘Mighty free scoring Lilywhites’ are on track for a goal difference of 24. So enough of that title talk in Seven Sisters me thinks! Perhaps when Gareth Bale actually provides a few assists for your much travelled striker but until then I would keep a bit quieter. We are 22 games into the season and Tottenham have not even got a player into double figures, but enough of the enjoyable digression.
For the record Manchester City are on course for 103 goals and only 31 conceded, which would better the best in Premiership history of 103 and 32 from Chelsea in 2010. Whilst the team from the red site of the City are on track for 93 goals and only 31 conceded, which quite frankly would have won the division in virtually any year barring Chelsea’s record breaking 2010 campaign.
So whilst we can happily dampen the bravado of our North London noisy neighbours what does this mean for our own team? Well shockingly the Gunners are on course to concede 58 goals and score only 67 which would quite easily be our worst performance since Wenger arrived. This is not the whole story though as we are improving and getting players back, so we should expect an improvement in both scoring and defensively. However the reality is that we have conceded 34 goals after 22 games, 2 less than in the whole of our championship winning season 0f 2001/2 and 8 more than that of 2003/4. Having said that in Wenger’s first title year of 98 we won the league with only 67 scored. It is the goals against column that is our problem.
I am going to make a bold statement that I think some may disagree with here, but I do not think our problem is at all to do with the quality of the defenders in the current squad. I do however consider it everything to do with the inability either for selection or mostly for injury reasons to play with a settled back 4. There have only been 3 separate occasions in the league this season when we have started 2 consecutive matches with the same 4 defenders. Stoke and Chelsea in October, Everton and Man City in December and Wolves and QPR over Christmas. Some will argue that Wenger should have had more strength in depth knowing the injury history of Gibbs and Vermaelen and they may be right. Some will question even selecting Santos versus Olympiacos when we had already qualified from our Champions’ League group and I would concur. The fact is that a consistent back line wins titles when you combine it with creativity going forwards. No side has really won the title with an average back four or with a disrupted back four. This is why when all is said and done the blue side of Manchester will probably prevail this year.
For us Wenger is close to having a full defensive line available so he has to stick with the same players for a run of successive games as soon as he is able. In 1991 under George Graham, the last year before the EPL, Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn and Bould all played in all 38 league game. In fact if Adams had not been delayed at Her Majesty’s pleasure he would have done as well and we conceded only 18 goals in 39 games on our way to the title. In 2004 every Arsenal Supporter knew that our back 4 was Cole, Lauren, Toure and Campbell, and if we had injuries and only then we had Clichy, Cygan and Keown in reserve. Do any of us actually know which is the first choice back 4 in Wenger’s mind today? I think we know when all are fit that Sagna and Vermaelen will play, but do any of us know whether he sees Gibbs or Santos a left back or Koscielny or Mertesacker as Vermaelen’s partner? In fact what has he told Johan Djourou, for heaven’s sake that has convinced him to sign on for 3 more years?
My opinion which counts for little is that if all were available the back four should be Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Santos, but Santos is not ready until so I am happy with Gibbs. This is harsh on Mertesacker but I just happen to believe that Kozaa and TV5 are our strongest pairing but they have started only about 3 games together as a pairing all season. Wenger may disagree which would be exceedingly tough on Koscielny but whatever he decides history, statistics and probability will tell us that if the 4 he decides upon can play together consistently between now and May, we have enough about us at the other end to finish in the Champion’s League positions Chelsea are conceding and not scoring enough and Newcastle and Liverpool are not conceding but also don’t score enough, so get in right at the back Arsene, and crucially stick with your decision and it is there for us.
Until next time thanks for reading
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