Being an Arsenal fan these days, you get used to ups and downs more than a professional roller coaster rider. Not only has every season been a hill in itself, but each season is riddled with bumps, peaks, and valleys. It might sound like deja vu, but this season seems like the most topsy-turvy yet. The first game of the season was an absolute blast with the new record signing spearheading a brilliant attacking team. But at the same time, costly errors and sketchy defending nearly cost Arsenal the game. Throughout the season we’ve seen each side of the Gunners pop up from game to game. Immediately after the win, sure enough, Arsenal was exposed by Liverpool and then couldn’t muster much of anything against Stoke.
Unsurprisingly, the club has been anything but consistent all season. It’s hard to think that the same team that manhandled Spurs in November, scored 3 goals in at least 9 league games, and powered through the Europa League, could also lose to Man City badly three times, get knocked out of the FA Cup by Forest, and struggle against several weaker sides. Sadly, this appears to be par for the course at this late stage in the Wenger era. After 4 straight losses, the team has had a revival of sorts, beating Watford and handling AC Milan with ease. The real question is, which Arsenal will we see finish out the season?
Arsenal has been known to take a dip in form after the holiday break. This could possibly be explained by fixture congestion, but this problem seems to be exclusive to Arsenal when talking about the top English clubs. Other teams are in Europe and other competitions, but the other top clubs don’t have a predictable, annual rough streak. Last season, Arsenal lost 5 games between the end of January and the middle of March. The prior season Arsenal could only muster 2 wins from 9 games in the same time span. These runs of form cost the club significantly no matter how well they performed before and after. That bad run of games during the 15-16 season is clearly what cost Arsenal the title when it was up for grabs.
But, Besides the dreaded wintertime slump, Arsenal is also known for finishing the season on a high note. For the past five seasons, Arsenal has had a higher points/game mark after March than earlier in the season. For example, Before April last year, the team averaged 1.74 points per game in those first 27 games. But, in those last two months, they averaged 2.27 points per game. You’d have to go back to the 11-12 season to see the last time Arsenal’s form dipped after March.
Perhaps this late improvement has to do with the team typically exiting European competition before April? While everyone wants to stay in Europe as long as possible, it does have a side effect of reduced rest for league games. Losing in the round of 16 all of those past 5 seasons meant that Arsenal didn’t have to go through several more weeks of intense Tuesday or Wednesday night games in addition to weekend league games.
But this season, the club is in the middle of its most important tournament in years. The Europa League is the holy grail here, guaranteeing Arsenal a Champions League invitation if they can lift the trophy. It seems like forever since the Gunners last made it this far in European competition (12-13 season to be exact). This is a truly unique position for Arsenal in that it might actually be smart to set the Premier League on the backburner for the most part. Arsenal definitely doesn’t want to drop below Burnley, but there’s not much room upwards to fight for. If the club can maximize player rest by alternating duty in the Premier League without sacrificing enough points to drop a spot, they might just be able to ride this 3 game wave and score tickets to the Champions League next year. What do you think? Which Arsenal will show up starting in April?