How many points do Arsenal require to ensure a top four finish?
As this season moves into the final stages Arsenal finds itself in a rather stronger position than that of a month ago. Since losing to Tottenham in the North London Derby the club have not lost a game, and have taken nine out of nine points in the league over five weeks.
April 10th, 2013
However, having managed to pull themselves into contention for a Champions League qualification spot, how many points will they really need from the remaining matches to ensure they achieve this?
Whilst the side were able to see off Swansea and cruised against Reading, the match at West Bromwich Albion proved to be rather more challenging.
Previously in this column I wrote that “the coming run of fixtures may appear less daunting than those already played, but football is never that simple.” Those words couldn’t be truer as the difficult final third of the game against West Bromwich revealed.
Arsenal was lucky to get away with the three points from the game after the dismissal of Mertesacker and subsequent penalty. It’s these types of situations and gifted goals which the team have suffered from so heavily in the past.
In contrast, it should be noted that currently the club has conceded only 34 goals; with over 80% of the season completed there may well be an overall improvement in this area on the 49 goals conceded last season. This might even vindicate the promotion of Steve Bould to Assistant Manager which led many to hope that Arsenal would improve on their defensive capabilities.
Arsenal now has two home matches in quick succession, but both could prove testing. Firstly, a Norwich side currently on an indifferent run of draws, but one that has caused Arsenal problems before. Norwich will be playing for Premier League survival, and this scenario can often provide a shock result when it comes to this point of the season.
This will be followed up by a crucial midweek game against Everton, directly below Arsenal in the table. As a ‘six-pointer’ Everton will see this as their final opportunity to make a real break for the top four and close the gap between the two clubs. Everton caused Tottenham trouble at White Hart Lane in their recent 2-2 draw, and more of the same should be expected.
Nevertheless, Arsenal moves into this period just a point behind Tottenham, and with a game less, meaning that this is very much within their hands, but only if they maintain a tight grip.
On Saturday I made the comparison to last season at this stage, where Arsenal were placed third, on 58 points, equal to Tottenham in fourth. This year the points gap is one greater in Spurs’ favour, but having trailed behind at times, the similarity in the situation is intriguing.
Tottenham themselves still have to play Chelsea who are the current incumbents in third place and also in touching distance, so the final outcome is far from certain.
In past years I’ve conducted analysis of the final run of games and the amount of points Arsenal might require to finish in fourth place or higher. André Villas-Boas is probably correct when he says that Tottenham would need 70 points to finish in the Champions League qualifying spots, something which I covered in a previous article analysing league position and points.
Over the past seven seasons the mean points for a club finishing fourth have been 70, and ranged from 67 to 76. Each season is outlined below.
|Premier League Year End||Club in Fourth Place||Final Points|
Indeed, the lowest points tally in this period was Arsenal in 2006, with 67 points, and based on the performance of the teams finishing in fifth place, though precarious, might even be the absolute minimum requirement for fourth. Over the same time period teams finishing fifth have acquired between 60 and 67 points. In reality the points accumulated by the fifth placed team are the actual threshold for qualification.
|Premier League Year End||Club in Fifth Place||Final Points|
With seven games remaining, Arsenal currently have 56 points and so based on this analysis it could be argued that they will require a further 14 out of 21 to hit the 70 target. Villas-Boas is also aiming for the same target, and so Spurs would require 12 from the 18 they have remaining.
Over the last seven games between 2006 and 2012 Arsenal have averaged approximately 12, but have managed up to 16 points from those games in that period. Fascinatingly, since 2008 Arsenal’s points tally from the last seven has dropped significantly, though they did manage to buck the trend and take home 12 last season.
Ultimately statistics and data analysis can only inform and provoke a discussion around this topic. This type of article can provide a model for the points threshold for Champions League qualification, the approximate range now seems well established. Technically it is possible for Arsène’s side, but ultimately this will depend on performances on the football pitch. What is the probability of Arsenal pulling off another comeback as they have done so many times in recent years?
James writes about Arsenal and football data analysis on a variety of sites and is the editor of Arsespeak.com where you can find many more in-depth analytical articles on tactics, statistics and players.