In theory, losing at home to a team who are languishing in the bottom half of the table and have already sacked their manager in a desperate attempt to change their fortunes, should have been a catastrophe for Arsenal’s title chances.
Yet in practice, Arsenal have good cause to be more confident about winning the league than they were before Sunday’s game versus Chelsea.
Yes, you read that correctly. More confident.
First off, the loss by itself is irrelevant
The only conclusion that we can draw from that game is that Mathieu Flamini is not good enough to play for Arsenal. If he had backtracked any further away from Willian whilst the Chelsea midfielder played the through ball to Diego Costa that got Per Mertesacker sent off, he would have ended up in the Arsenal tube station.
Lewis Ambrose summed it up brilliantly here.
Then, with ten men, and Olivier Giroud having been sacrificed in order to maintain a threat on the counter attack, Flamini thought that the best man to be attacking the penalty area should be…….himself.
If it never dawns on you that letting Aaron Ramsey play further forward is a better idea than trying to score yourself, then being a Premier League footballer probably isn’t for you.
The good news though, is that with Francis Coquelin set to return on Saturday in the FA Cup, plus Mohammed Elneny’s work permit finally finding its way through the fax machine at the F.A, Flamini is now currently the fourth-choice central midfielder, with Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla still to return.
So it’s more than possible that Flamini will never play for the club again. Don’t feel too sorry for him though, this just gives him more time to help save the world and make gazillions of pounds in the process! Win-win!
But along with players coming back from injury, (hello, Danny Welbeck!) there are a couple of very interesting sets of numbers that would indicate that Arsenal are about to go on a run of form that could easily propel them clear of the pack.
In summary, Arsenal have created more ‘big’ chances than anyone else in the league, almost 50% more than Leicester in second, but have converted those chances at a rate that is the third worst in the league.
So a regression to the mean is inevitable, more so in an increase of scoring goals than a decrease in creating opportunities. And with a certain Chilean forward returning to the team, it makes sense that Arsenal’s attack is about to become a lot more potent.
The other set of numbers comes from recent history.
Over the last four seasons, Arsenal have performed much better after January has finished, and have managed to put remarkable spells of form together. This has been illustrated especially well over the last two seasons, when they’ve put two F.A Cup winning campaigns back to back. But their league form has also been exceptional towards the end of the season.
There are currently 15 games left in the league season. Over the last four seasons, Arsenal’s record during just the last 15 games is the following; Played 60, Won 39, Drew 12, Lost 9. That averages out at a record of 10-3-2 per 15 games, which is far from shabby. It would be even better if it wasn’t for our propensity in 2014 to play games that started at 2pm or earlier as if we had drunk 20 pints of Guinness the night before, because four of those nine losses came during that period.
If Arsenal go 10-3-2 over the next 15 games, that would put them on 77 points.
Usually, 77 points wouldn’t win the title, the average points tally for the winner since the Premier League went to a 20-team setup in 1995 is 85.7. But this year has already seen a shift away from the bigger teams being able to treat games against smaller clubs as banker wins, as the likes of Leicester City and West Ham have shown, and thus the likelihood of Manchester City or Tottenham going any better than 10-3-2 is extremely small, what with City’s inability to keep their star players fit and Tottenham about to play a Europa League schedule with only one senior striker.
So in order for Arsenal to win the league this season, they must repeat their form of improving after January, but they don’t have to play as well as they would have had to in previous years in order to win it.
They also have have key players returning, are due an upturn in scoring efficiency anyway, a favourable run-in, and will have no European fixtures to worry about after Barcelona beat them 6-1 in the second leg at the Nou Camp in March. (Regular listeners to the Daily Cannon podcast will know exactly what I’m doing here.)
Beating a poor Chelsea side would have proved nothing, and may have tempted us into believing that we don’t need all of our best players available to win the league. Losing that game has shown that we need everyone playing at full potential to succeed, and that there is no room for complacency to seep in.
Can they step up the pace like they have in previous seasons? Absolutely. Will they? Who knows. All we do know, is that they’ll never have a better chance.