Depth, novelty and Europa hassle: Five reasons why Arsenal won’t win the Premier League
Absolutely confident everyone will take this entirely in the spirit in which it’s intended, so here we go: five reasons why Arsenal won’t win the league.
Don’t start. Please don’t start. The very existence of a piece with that title is a huge compliment. It means things are going tremendously well. Essentially, if someone tells you in August that in March we’ll be doing a ”Five reasons why you won’t win the league’ piece about you then you should be delighted. It means it’s all going splendidly. There’s a reason we’re not doing five reasons why United or Spurs or Liverpool or Southampton can’t win the league, and it isn’t because of The Conspiracy.
Also, by the time we’d actually scraped together five increasingly flimsy reasons we were actually more convinced that Arsenal actually are going to win the league than when we started. So there’s that.
1) Depth charge
Not as bad a problem as it was, but Arsenal still don’t have the depth or breadth of squad that the Manchester Citys of this world possess.
The bench against Fulham did herald a welcome return to something approaching meaningful options, but that Arsenal starting XI still features a couple of irreplaceables and a couple more very nearly irreplaceables. The January arrivals helped, and with Gabriel Jesus resurrected there are few concerns in the attack. The alacrity with which Leandro Trossard has adapted makes missing out on Mykhaylo Mudryk and getting Brighton’s Belgian instead one of the most serendipitous moments of Arsenal’s entire season – but further back there remain areas for concern.
The midfield demonstrably doesn’t function as well when Thomas Partey isn’t there, while the central defensive cover is questionable. And any injury to Aaron Ramsdale will force Arsenal to use timid, bewildered hologram Matt Turner in goal. If I were an Arsenal fan, that’s the one that would keep me awake at night.
2) Novelty value
This is still all very new to Arsenal and their manager. Having Zinchenko and Jesus around helps but it’s still definitely a factor. Even the maths is simple: if having a couple of Manchester City players around makes you better at doing title run-ins, then imagine having a whole squad of them. That’s what Arsenal are up against. The Gunners’ mentality monsters have coped with some wobbles recently, but those wobbles have been quite dramatic. Can they keep going to that well? We also think, and admittedly this might just be because we don’t trust him or his hair, that Arteta isn’t coping with it all quite so well as his players. And if that is the case, is it more likely that his mania rubs off on them than the other way round?
3) City slickers
Arsenal have been almost unimprovably good this season, and Manchester City have been by their own absurd standards a bit shit. And Arsenal haven’t managed to shake them off. City are absolutely the sort of pricks to just go and win all their remaining games. They’ve done it to Liverpool, they can do it to Arsenal.
City being distracted by the Champions League but winning Champions League knockout games 7-0 also feels like the most double-edged of swords for Arsenal. They do not need City hitting one of those 12-game streaks of unstoppable footballing perfection. This is many words to make the obvious but necessary point: Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are remarkably good at winning title battles.
4) Away days
There are worse run-ins knocking around than Arsenal’s. They’ve already played the teams in third and fourth home and away, with nine points gratefully received. But City have also ticked off those four fixtures as well as fifth-placed Newcastle, and the biggest threats Arsenal do still have to play, they have to play away from home. Arsenal still have to go to Anfield, to the Etihad, and to St James’ Park. Especially Anfield, but especially the Etihad. Mikel Arteta would give his hair for a point at the Etihad we reckon, but even that may leave him needing four points from those other two trips. Arsenal certainly have the capability but even as they falter, Newcastle remain unfeasibly tough to beat and it is often (though assuredly not always) the sight of the very best opposition that causes Liverpool’s muscle memory to kick in.
5) Euro trash
Arsenal haven’t won a European title in nearly 30 years and overall possess a disappointing record in continental competition for a club of their stature, and this year’s Europa League looks distinctly winnable because Arsenal are demonstrably the best team still in it.
That said, there must be a bit of a temptation to sack it off because it’s going to make April an absolute bollocks. If the Gunners get past Sporting on Thursday night – and they probably will after a 2-2 draw in Lisbon – then Arsenal are going to be playing eight games in April, including those pivotal league games at Liverpool and City as well as Chelsea at home.
The second leg of the Europa quarter-final, if Arsenal get there, will be on Thursday April 20. That has significant repercussions: the league game against Southampton is currently scheduled for Friday April 21, giving Arsenal a lovely five-day window to prepare for the City game with its potential title-decider status. If the Southampton game moves to Sunday 23 because Europa, Arsenal lose that two-day advantage. The obvious counter is that City remain very much in Champions League contention and absolutely can’t sack that off, but there is little doubt the rigidity of the Thursday-Sunday-Thursday-Sunday Europa schedule knacks your timetable more than the Champions League with its Tuesday/Wednesday flexibility.