From the mood of everyone surrounding the club coming out of the North London Derby, you wouldn’t think Arsenal were in trouble in the table at all.
The reality is, however, that despite a grand victory at the weekend, Arsenal still sit sixth in the Premier League. They are level on points with Burnley, with a trip to face them at Turf Moor up next.
Mood does not line up with table
The positivity is probably due to performing well against the two of the big teams so far this season, with the disaster of the first three league games now a distant memory.
Arsenal ground out a draw away to Chelsea and hammered Spurs, only losing to an undefeated Manchester City and Liverpool – while fielding a team of players that clearly did not want to be playing.
The club is also on a good run of form at home. Arsenal have won 11 straight league matches at the Emirates, leaving a positive image in fans’ minds. The last time the Gunners lost a home league match was on January 31 to Watford.
The Europa League is going to plan as well. Arsenal sit top of the group while having mostly played the ‘kids’. The football has been pleasing to watch, with the scoring being spread more evenly throughout the team, instead of Alexis Sanchez doing it all himself like last season.
The Chilean only has two league goals and two league assists 12 games into the season.
If general impressions of the team have turned to positive, then why does the table not line up with this?
Two Days Make the Difference
Two games that Arsenal had no business losing have made all the difference: Stoke and Watford. Never mind the disgusting Liverpool loss. Those two days are the difference in fans celebrating Arsene Wenger and Zimbabwean protesters waving “Wenger Out” banners, continuing the meme-ification of this proud football club.
On both of those days, Arsenal laid a big, fat egg. At Stoke, Lacazette had a goal incorrectly ruled offside and the Gunners were unable to capitalize on an incredible 77% possession. Perhaps distracted from swirling transfer rumours involving just about every player in the squad, Arsenal let the first of two games in a row go to waste.
Against Watford, the Gunners seemed to think the game ended after the first half. After going into the break up 1-0, Wenger’s men lost to a last-minute goal from Tom Cleverley. The team completely phoned it in during the second half, and it cost them.
Those 135 minutes of inept, unfocused football have been completely narrative defining. If those two games against decidedly inferior competition had yielded six points instead of none, Arsenal would sit second behind the devouring monster that is Manchester City this season.
If they had just been draws, Arsenal would sit fourth, only two points from second.
But instead, here they sit in sixth, despite a thorough dismantling of Tottenham Hotspur and a gritty draw at Stamford Bridge.
A lapse in focus for only a game and a half is all it takes to sink a team in today’s ultra-competitive Premier League. The margin for error is smaller than ever in modern football.
So where does Arsenal go from here?
Arsenal are notorious for playing terribly in November. The Tottenham win might be a sign that things are finally looking up. With winable matches against Burnley and Huddersfield left in this month, the Londoners might finally have a positive winter month if they can avoid the aforementioned loss of concentration.
The Christmas period in English football has always been gruelling. It is even tougher if a team are coming off of a terrible November. This December, Arsenal start off with a visit from Manchester United, before going to Southampton – a place where they have traditionally struggled.
But the two weeks surrounding Christmas, normally the toughest time for teams, seems more manageable this year. The toughest game on paper will be the visit from Liverpool. But Arsenal have a full six days between that and the league fixture before it. A League Cup outing in between that will surely feature a lesser squad.
The only tight period between games is the three days between 20th place Crystal Palace and 17th West Bromwich. Arsenal have a decent winter schedule. They round out the period with the return fixture with Chelsea on January 3, so the team could be fresh if several players are rotated for the West Brom match.
The January transfer window, whether any players leave or not, could prove deadly. Arsenal were clearly distracted by all the rumours swirling in August. If they worry more about the papers than the league table, last season’s 5th placed finish may look like a trophy.
Wenger’s side must retain focus, take the season one match at a time and tune out the press. Consistency is the key. This team is capable of playing title-winning calibre football.
If Arsenal continue to pick up steam in November and head into a favourable Christmas period schedule, they could find themselves right back in the thick of things come 2018.
All stats per WhoScored.com