On Sunday, I wrote that if Arsenal beat Tottenham at their ground, I might start to allow myself to believe the Gunners could win the Premier League. My instinct is to hold back hope until after the Manchester United match and at least one of the Manchester City matches, but at this point, I think I have to start contemplating that it could happen!
Did I miss any qualifiers or hedging statements in that paragraph?
Look, Arsenal could lose at home to Manchester United and both matches against Manchester City and fumble away control of the title race. They could stumble elsewhere in the second half of the season. But what have they done this season to make you think that’s how it’s going to go? They’ve passed every test set them. We’ve ourselves conditioned to feel as if Arsenal are going to do something wrong. But so far, every time out, they’ve done the same thing right — play well, win games.
More likely to derail things is a key injury, but there isn’t much Arsenal can do to control that. They could sign a reinforcement or two to minimize the dropoff from one, but if one of the starting XI gets hurt, the quality is going to go down. So we’re going to breeze past that, for now.
Eight points clear of Manchester City and nine clear of United is a lot of points. I feel as if people don’t fully comprehend that because it’s three wins-worth of points. But at the rate at which top clubs pick up points, making up that kind of gap is hard. Not impossible, but difficult. And Arsenal have played just 8 matches at home, the fewest in the Premier League. They’re 7-1-0 at the Emirates this season. If the schedule can favor somebody in the title race, you have to give Arsenal a slight edge.
Right now, Arsenal are picking up about half a point over City in every match. On rough math, that would have to completely flip over the remaining 20 matches (so City picking up a half point more than Arsenal every match) for City to catch Arsenal. Those two head-to-head matchups probably decide the league, and the Gunners have the enviable position of needing the draw, not the win.
For reference, 538 has Arsenal at 55% to win the title, Manchester City at 38%, United at 5%, and Newcastle at 2%. Until now, even with Arsenal topping the table, I’ve thought the title was Manchester City’s to lose. I’m not ready to say it’s Arsenal’s to lose, but I’m forced to admit that it’s at least tossup at this point.
Yikes. I’m nervous. I still don’t think it’s going to happen. And I’ve knocked on every piece of wood around me as I’ve written this. But man, the numbers — I don’t hate them.