Arsenal have a big game at the weekend against direct top 4 rival Leicester City. If they lose this match, there is a nine point gap (depending on what Chelsea do, but they are heavy favorites hosting Crystal Palace) between Arsenal and the top four places, and with this being one of the easier parts of the Arsenal schedule, clawing back those points will be an uphill battle.
In his pre-match press conference, Unai Emery tried to downplay the exact magnitude of this match, trying to rationalize that every match is “must -win”.
“Must-win? Yes. We need to win and it’s very important for us tomorrow. But our mentality is every time to play first, using our best structure and organization to be strong and also our individual players to user their quality to win. But in our mind, for each match is only to win.”
Looking at this, I see a few things that stand out. One is that one of the things that hasn’t been very obvious is Arsenal “playing first” in the sense that Arsenal impose their style on the matches that they have played recently. The structure and the organization have also been lacking. You really only have to look at the statistics to see that Arsenal are not exactly a defensively solid team.
The last part is probably closer to the truth of the matter. Emery generally sets out to nullify (poorly, on current form) the other team, keep things close and hope for one of our very talented players provides a spark of individual quality to nick a win.
How must-win is this match?
I ran multiple simulations looking at how a win, loss or draw would affect Arsenal’s top four chances for the rest of the season. Before this match, Arsenal have, by my math, a 24.3% chance to finish in the top four. The betting markets are the most positive, with Arsenal at about 28% to 31% (5 to 2 were the lowest odds I found for them with 9 to 4 the highest) to finish in the top four, and on the other end, FiveThirtyEight is the most pessimistic, giving Arsenal just a 15% chance to finish in the top four.
In my model, a win improves Arsenal’s chances to just under 34%, which would be essentially even with Leicester City. A draw has Arsenal lose some ground but just barely tread water at 23.5%. A loss would make things very hard for Arsenal, dropping their chances down to 17% - and having watched Arsenal play, I feel that would be very generous if Emery doesn’t make some big changes at the club.
Overall my model sees this as a match between two fairly even teams:
And for fun, here is a look at the rest of the matches for the weekend.