How far behind our top four rivals are we?
Before we get into how far behind our top 4 rivals we are, we must first establish who they are likely to be next season.
It would be too simplistic to say Liverpool, City, United and Chelsea. Liverpool and City won’t be direct rivals for some time. They’re currently too far ahead of us and we’re not going to be at that level for a few more years.
No, I’m talking about the other teams that finished above is this season, namely Chelsea, United, Leicester, spurs and Wolves.
Wolves and Spurs
Forgive my laziness, but I’m going to immediately rule out Wolves and spurs as realistic top four contenders.
I can’t see how Nuno Espirito-Santo can do more than he’s already done, even if he manages to add to the squad. Wolves are already punching above their weight and they can’t pay the fees and wages necessary to bring someone in who’s above their weight class (apologies for the second boxing analogy in a row).
Wolves also aren’t in Europe next season either (unless they win the Europa, which would change things massively), so attracting a higher calibre of player will be even tougher for them. In a nutshell I don’t seen them challenging for the top 4 next season.
Our North London rivals on the other hand have a big-name manager and have built a name for themselves on the European stage. Unfortunately for them that name is trophy dodgers, which makes it hard to attract top talent.
Furthermore, they will be hit a little harder by the economic downturn than most because of their new stadium. We all know that Jose is a man who needs to spend money, which he currently doesn’t have.
For those reasons I can’t see them attracting the players necessary to fight for a place in the top 4, even if Jose rediscovers his mojo.
6, 10 and 10. That’s how many points away from Leicester, Chelsea and United we finished, and don’t forget goal difference.
They’re not the important figures. The important figure isn’t even Chelsea and United’s joint tally of 66 points. The important figure is somewhere between 70-75, which I believe is the actually points total we’ll need to finish in a Champions League position next season. Looking back over the last few years, ending in 4th with less than 70 points is the exception, not the rule.
With that in mind we know we must improve massively to be in with a chance, but so do our rivals.
Leicester, just four points ahead of us and in indifferent form after the restart would be the obvious choice to remain outside the top 4. With Vardy turning 34 in January and Rodgers slowly being figured out, they’re going to have to up their game significantly if they’re to challenge. Adding to their woes is the likely departure of Ben Chilwell, who has been linked to Chelsea.
They still have a solid defence and excellent attacking players, with Perez, Barnes and the exciting Choudhury only improving, but if Vardy is off his game, injured or simply marked to oblivion, Leicester can be stopped.
Chelsea in contrast have a dearth of great attacking options but a poor defence. For all the talk of how terrible we are defensively, it’s worth remembering that they conceded more goals in the league than any other team in the top ten. Some will attribute that to their goalkeeper being a monumental mistake, however that’s only part of the truth.
They have wonderful attacking players, (Pulisic being the best of them in my opinion) with Oli Giroud an excellent target man to bring him, along with Timo Werner into dangerous areas. However, if their attack is a Ferrari, their defence is a Ford Fiesta.
The reality is that the days of “we’re gonna score one more than you” are (unfortunately) over. If the balance of the team isn’t right, you’ll lose games.
Lampard did a great job last season, but unless he addresses the defence, Chelsea will go backwards. Ben Chilwell isn’t going to solve the many problems they have, and neither is Willy Caballero.
Still in with a realistic chance of winning the Europa League as Raphael pointed out in his blog, United have already secured Champions League qualification by virtue of finishing 3rd. This gives them clout in the transfer market which we can’t compete with.
OGS is likely to add Jadon Sancho to an already strong attack, which is only one or two signings away from being a real threat. Bear in mind, they only conceded three goals more than Liverpool in the League last season, so the balance of the team is more or less correct. Simply put, we must make our peace with the idea that United are going to stay a step ahead of us next season.
Where are we?
We have improved under Arteta. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that we would not have beaten United, Chelsea, Liverpool and City in the latter stages of the season if Emery was the manager.
He’s improved the focus and energy of the players and they clearly have game plans to execute in order to win matches.
The question is, can we add roughly 14 points to our tally this coming season?
First off, we must keep Aubameyang for obvious reasons.
After that, if we cut out mistakes, half the battle is won already (maybe more). Simple errors were our downfall in so many games. Improving this alone will make a difference. Linked to the mistakes, holding onto leads, i.e. game management will make up the rest of the points. These are things which Arteta can realistically achieve with a little effort, with Aubameyang up top and a signing or two.
It would be remiss of me not to point out that transfers can change everything. Not just who comes in or goes out, but who works well and who doesn’t. If our transfers work out well for us, we could well be celebrating a top 4 finish and a much-needed return to the Champions League. If not, we can only hope that we see signs of continued progress.
I’m a lifelong Arsenal fan. I got my first kit at 3 years old and my dad put a nail in my wall and hung it there rather than in my wardrobe. Mum was furious.