This weekend could be the most important couple of days in Arsene Wenger’s life. That’s only partially hyperbole.
Arsenal aren’t in good shape going into the match against Manchester City on April 2, and not just because they’re coming off a disappointing loss against West Bromwich Albion. They’ve taken 10 points from the 7 games of 2017, which doesn’t sound particularly great, and gets even worse when taking into account their schedule.
Those points came from wins against Swansea, Burnley, and Hull, and a draw against Bournemouth. They’ve then taken no points at all from matches against Watford, Chelsea, Liverpool, and West Brom. It’s not exactly a stellar return.
More immediately, they’re on a terrible run of form numbers-wise. In the past 5, they’re more or less level for all shots taken (12.8 per game for – 12.4 against), but they’ve been performing worse than their opponents on shots on target by a distance: 4.4 for – 6.2 against.
Scheduling coincidences apply, but Manchester City have conceded 7.6 shots in total on average in the past 5 games. This comparison isn’t a particularly sophisticated piece of analysis, but it a) doesn’t look good and b) generally isn’t very good at all either. Conceding 6 shots on target a game is the kind of thing Sunderland does.
It’s not as if the figure is unfairly inflated by the games away at Chelsea and Liverpool – they conceded 6 at home to Watford, 4 at home to Hull, and 8 away to West Brom. They simply are not a tight defensive team at the moment.
Based on form, it looks more like a match between a mid-table team and a properly top 4 side. In City’s past 5, they’ve averaged a shot difference of +7 and shot on target difference of +1.8.
If you want a match that looks, on the spreadsheet, like a clash of the titans, you should turn away from the Emirates and focus on the Merseyside Derby instead.
Everton have had a nice run-in to the game, their last 5 including the 3-2 loss away at Tottenham Hotspur and 0-0 draw away at Middlesbrough, but then home wins against Sunderland, West Brom, and Hull.
They come into the Derby with the second most intense press in their past 5, behind only Manchester City on PPDA. While pressing, and counterpressing, may be a way to try and throw Liverpool off their game (although they’re a side built for a game of turnovers), Everton are away and have a game at Old Trafford three days later, so it seems unlikely that they will keep up that intensity for the duration of the Liverpool game.
Liverpool’s form is actually all the more impressive considering their recent games. In the past 5, on average, they’ve had a shot difference of +4.6 and shot on target difference of +2.6. But this run has featured games against Spurs, Arsenal, and Man City.
All 4 sides will be wary of league position coming into this weekend’s matches. Liverpool leapfrog City if they better the Citizens’ result, putting them into the most immediate sights of the chasing pack for 4th. Everton will also be aware – although it might be preying more heavily on Arsene Wenger’s mind – that if they better Arsenal’s result, then they go into 6th place, the Gunners pushed down to 7th.
Everton (as well as Liverpool) have played more games than the sides in the immediate vicinity in the league table, but the optics of Arsenal dropping to 7th – even if only temporarily – will stoke the fires and fire the cannons of protest and discontent among Gunners fans.
Brendan Rodgers never recovered at Liverpool after falling from 2nd to 6th; Mourinho didn’t survive Chelsea’s midtable adventures last year; and Manchester United dropping to 7th place under David Moyes was the signal that the Sir Alex Ferguson era of Red Devil dominance was truly over.
Arsene might think that it would give him comfort if Burnley beat Tottenham at Turf Moor on Saturday, a nice bit of schadenfreude and all that. But if results go Burnley’s way, they could finish the weekend in 10th place – and then the top half of the table could read: The Top 6, Arsenal, West Brom, Stoke, Burnley.
There will be some Greek or Norse myth about a revolutionary king who clung to power too long, only to see his kingdom devolve and decay, to be surrounded by wolves, thugs, and scoundrels. But by 6pm on Sunday, that ancient myth could be a modern morality tale.
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