Ever since the turn of the new year I have been trying to be more positive about Arsenal. I think towards the end of 2008 I was going a bit loopy because it all seemed so incredibly depressing, what with us losing to lesser teams, some bad problems with injuries, rumoured cash problems due to the property market and so on. I was convinced we were headed for 5th place this season, but now in my positive frame of mind I’m looking forward to a good battle for 4th spot which hopefully we can win. Villa and Liverpool have improved, so now there is a real challenge on to keep Champions League football at the Emirates, but I am trying to see this as exciting rather than depressing, and it works. I now get a buzz out of beating ANY team, whereas I used to just take certain matches for granted.
One thing that had been niggling me was the feeling that, on our day we can still beat anyone, so how come we have completely blown our chance of winning the league already? I started to look at our performances over the years against teams in the top half of the league compared to teams in the bottom half. If you imagine 2 leagues, one made up of matches against top half teams and one against bottom half teams, you get some interesting results.
In the chart below the black line is our finishing position in the league. The blue line is our finishing position in an imaginary league made up of matches against top half teams, and the red line is our position in a league of matches against bottom half teams. 08/09 is as at now, so there is plenty of time for it to change.
It is painfully obvious that recent seasons have been poor relative to our long run of always being in the top two. However, what I found most telling was that we have been a bit up and down against the top half teams but the area where we have dropped quite dramatically is against the poorer teams. Why should it be that we can be one of the best recently against top half opposition but much worse against the lesser teams? It did not used to be the case. In fact, from 1998 to 2006 we kicked ass against bottom half clubs.
Looking at the chart I saw that something changed between 05/06 and 06/07 onwards. For some reason since 06/07 we have done better against the better teams than the weaker ones. I don’t mean in terms of points, obviously we win more points against the weaker teams, but our performance relative to the other teams in the league against the lesser teams is worse than it was in the seven years up to 05/06. However, we now kick ass against the top half teams!
The main change between 05/06 and 06/07 was that (a) we moved to the Emirates and (b) our inspirational captain Vieira left. I’m not sure if these are significant. My personal belief is that it is nothing to do with the stadium change but is very much to do with the loss of the leadership of Monsieur Vieira. Could it be that we can raise our game against the better teams but against the others we take it a bit easy and can’t get “up for it”? A team with the quality to do so well against top half teams has no reason to be so poor against the rest other than, perhaps, an attitude problem.
Anyway, the positives I can take from this are:
we definitely are good enough to win the league (not this year though – the horse has bolted)
all we need is to get a more professional attitude against the lesser teams
Easier said than done, but I have detected the green shoots of recovery!!
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