I'm not here today to talk about Arsenal's problems. You've all seen them, we all know what they are, and it's wasted space to keep talking about the same things over and over again, at least in my opinion. Well, I sorta lied; I do want to mention one thing about Arsenal. I finally started looking at the table this weekend - up till mid-Novemberish, there's almost no point in taking the table seriously because there's so much movement and noise until the number of games played gets larger. What did I find when I looked?
P12 W4 D5 L3 17 PTS
What that record gets Arsenal currently is eighth place in the league, a place that none of us wants Arsenal in and a place that, in late November, isn't ideal. But is it fatal to Arsenal's CL qualifying hopes for next season?
The top four teams, of course, qualify for the CL, so as much as we all might be annoyed by it, Arsenal right now need to aim for that fourth spot and build from there. What's the good news, you ask, in another year where Arsenal are competing for the Fourth Place Trophy?
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-partner="tweetdeck"><p>In fact, 19 points is the lowest for fourth place after 12 games, since three points were introduced for a win in 1981-82.</p>— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) <a href="https://twitter.com/MiguelDelaney/status/536546916394627072">November 23, 2014</a></blockquote>
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Yep, that's right. The Premier League is more bifurcated this year than in a long time, and maybe in its 22 year history; the gap between third and fourth is currently only five points, but the gap between first and fourth is 13, and while I do expect Chelsea to lose a game at some point this season, I don't really see anybody seriously assaulting that gap this year. The other gap - the gap between fourth place and 18th, the one with all the other teams in it, is insanely tight. There are only nine points separating Manchester United in fourth and Leicester City in 18th place.
So who does that leave as Arsenal's main competition for that top four spot? Let's take a look.
Liverpool: Coming off a strong season in which they were in contention for the actual title, not just the Fourth Place Trophy, until late April, Liverpool were widely expected to be one of this year's stronger teams. Turns out those expectations were, shall we say, overblown? Unrealistic? Anyway, one of the stronger teams from last year has made Arsenal's struggles look easy, as they currently sit in 12th place - albeit only three points back from 8th placed Arsenal. The problems they're having this year don't look unfixable, but they also don't look like they'll be fixed quickly, and they may go get another manager before they start to get fixed.
Southampton: Currently in second, but nobody thinks they'll stay there. They're on an amazing run right now, though, with four wins in a row and five wins from six, which should at the very least cement a European place for them, if not one of those top four spots, if they can stay as solid as they have been.
Manchester City: Third place right now, but most expect them to overtake Southampton and claim second as their own. They're too deep of a club not to, and with only a point separating them and the Saints, this will be one of the most interesting storylines of at least the rest of this calendar year.
Manchester United: They're in a bit of a transition year, again, after hiring Louis van Gaal to take over for David Moyes. They're...not great; they are having an Arsenal-level injury crisis at the moment, forcing them to field a team of 14 year olds, but even at full strength they have a defense that needs a fair bit of help. They'll probably stay in the top 6 at least, and without Europe on the calendar this year be a strong contender for a top four spot.
Newcastle: Yeah, I don't get it either, but there they are. Pardew has turned them around more completely than anyone thought possible; five wins in a row, 16 points from their last 18, and there they are in fifth place. Can they sustain that pace? Almost certainly not, and I think they'll fall to the Europa League places in the next few months.
Swansea: A very solid, yet somehow underrated, team. They're one point ahead of Arsenal right now and poised to make a run at a European spot; they may just get that last Europa League place.
West Ham: Level on points with Swansea, but for me they don't radiate the same energy of "we belong here" as the Swans do. I don't know why, but of all these teams I see West Ham as the best candidate for a free fall to mid-tableness.
Spurs: fart noise
I know there's no science or data behind any of this, and it's mostly just me thinking out loud. I guess my point is that, overall, the Premier League's not-title-contending pool is weaker than it has been in years; while Arsenal are certainly contributing to that weakness, it also plays a bit to their advantage, because if Arsenal can finally put together even a decent (much less good) run of games in the next month, they could solidify a top four spot and open a bit of a gap between themselves and the rest of the chasing pack. I mean, granted, so could almost any of those teams, but I have to believe Arsenal can put together that run; otherwise, what's the point of being a fan?