10 years ago we annihilated all put before us, storming towards league victory without losing a single game. Arsenal’s start to the league this season has got people talking again and understandably so. A lot has changed since then of course such as our stadium, our squad and teams like Man City becoming title rivals when they were only promoted in 2002.
In 2010/2011, which was our last serious crack at the title in recent years, we ended the season with 19 wins, 11 draws and 8 defeats. We finished with 68 points (12 behind the winners Man United) scoring 72 goals, conceding 43 goals and keeping 13 clean sheets. This season we already have 11 wins and with 23 games left it is highly likely that we will win at least 8 more, meaning we are almost guaranteed to match our 68 point total of 10/11, especially with Podolski and Walcott returning to fitness.
Another positive this season has been our lack of draws, United have always been notorious for rarely drawing games and losing quite a few but still managing to better their opponents in the long run so lets hope we can adopt a similar attitude this season. Sometimes a draw is a great result, particularly away at tough venues and when you haven’t played well. Another positive sign is that we have managed 6 clean sheets so far and have only conceded more than 3 goals in a single game once so far, which is a good basis when compared to 10/11 where we managed 13 clean sheets but conceded 3 goals numerous times. A simple comparison and analysis will tell you that so far we are on track to better our previous league challenging total of 68, although we have done so in the past 2 seasons even if we weren’t in the title race.
Before the 10/11 season our last title charge was 07/08, the year that Arsenal fans still look back on with so much regret and regularly contemplate what could have been. Even with United at their ruthless best, we were top of the table storming through the league season until that dreadful day against Birmingham where we collapsed. Thanks again Gael. By the end of the season we finished with 83 points, an agonising 4 points behind United. Despite losing only 3 games (2 less than United) we drew significantly more which was the difference between the teams, had we turned 3 of those draws into wins we would have been Champions.
That season we scored 74 goals, conceded 31 goals and kept 15 clean sheets. Overall our season stats were superb and another comparison to this season will show that we may well be on our way to achieving similar stats having already scored 30 and only conceding 11, there seems to be a different style to Arsenal this season. We never used to be able to bring on 3 reliable defensive players to help us see out games but this season Monreal, Vermaelen and Flamini/Arteta have all been brought on numerous times to help us grind out results and to great effect.
Despite challenging in the 2 seasons mentioned, we ultimately finished empty handed. I feel the best way to analyse if we have what it takes to win this league is to compare ourselves to the most recent winners. Last season Man United were unstoppable, their defence was vulnerable but the brilliance of their strikers bailed them out in almost every game. United won 29 games in total (28 to win the title), drew 5 games (3 to win the title), and lost 5 games altogether (3 to win the title). United scored 86 goals (78 to win the title), conceded 43 (35 to win the title) and kept 13 clean sheets.
Now I may be overly optimistic but I think we are more than capable of achieving similar or possibly even better stats. We need to remember that beating our title rivals is a luxury and not essential. Chelsea beat Man City a few months ago but City are 1 point behind them. Nobody wants to lose big games and of course if the point difference is minimal then to win would be massive, but what good is it beating City if you lose to Stoke the following week? Consistency will be rewarded and United have shown that titles can be won even if you don’t beat all of the top 4 (08/09 season). There are more points to be won against the smaller teams than the big teams, plus the fact that your title rivals are guaranteed to drop points against each other.
In closing I feel that we need to just continue our attitude and focus on ourselves, 5 points clear is not an accident. We have the most wins and the least losses (besides Everton) and that is down to consistency. United beat us yet are 13 points behind which is all the proof you need that one off defeats even to big teams mean nothing if you win the next game. With Mourinho constantly changing his squad and City struggling away from home, dare I say we can even afford to drop points against them because previous results show they are less consistent but to get results against both would do us absolute wonders in the next 2 weeks and I feel we have the ability to do it.
Photo via Ronnie Macdonald – http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronmacphotos/