Arsenal Can’t Win the Title–Too Many Tough Away Matches. Or

Can They?


In truth, we should just play the games and get our answer afterwards. Of course, since we can’t do that right now, and, because Gooners need answers, we must speculate.

Some might say, “Hey we’re top of the table, so why not?”  If that’s you, you probably cannot consider yourself a true purveyor of Gloom and Doom.  Those words both rhyme with Goon(er).  Must all Gooners be Doomers?

While I’m a firm believer that low expectations are the key to happiness, I also believe that being overly pessimistic isn’t absolutely necessary.  It may help prevent against jinxes and what-not, but, if that’s the factor which makes you throw in the towel , I have to say I don’t think you’re quite ready for full Would-Be-Wenger certification.

Even tough-guys know that Jinx is a pussy cat…


Brace yourself, Fokker, here it comes… the away fixture list:

January 13: Liverpool

January 17: Stoke City

February 7: Bournemouth

February 28: Manchester United

March 5: Tottenham Hotspur

March 19: Everton

April 9: West Ham

April 23: Sunderland

May 7: Manchester City

Look at that list!!  Seven of our remaining (nine) away matches are against teams in the (current) top eleven!!  That’s it, it’s done.  We’re done.  Better if we just could forfeit those matches and try to win the home games and maybe catch a break in the FA Cup…Assuming we can get past Sunderland next Saturday.

In truth, it IS a daunting schedule.  ALL of those teams have taken some major scalps already this season except perhaps Sunderland.  Even that one is trouble.  We play them near the end of the season when they may be scrapping to stay up.  Remember that the Black Cats took points from us at the same time last year–in our stadium.

That’s where the doom ends…at least for this article.  Here comes the spin… And, it has to do with tactics

But wait, Arsene Wenger doesn’t do tactics… OK, that’s it for the doomers…

More serious observers will have noted that, in fact, Wenger–or at least his team–can alter playing strategies.  In fact, some of our most notable victories this past year have come by ceding possession and playing on the break–a tactic which, I believe, is easier to employ in away stadiums.

The blueprint, of course, was Manchester City away almost a year ago when Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla marshalled the troops with a double defensive midfield formation which got us a very big result.

But they’re both injured.  (Ugh, those doomer voices aren’t quite silenced…) True dat, as the kids say, but Le Coq is up and running again and could be available for the majority of the away matches.  Santi is further off but we should remember who we didn’t have for that ManCity game.  At that juncture, Mesut Ozil was almost back from injury and Aaron Ramsey was only fit enough for a bench appearance.

But they’re both “attacking” midfielders.  (Shut up, I say, but the voices of doom might have a point…)  To answer, I say (DM/RB) Flamini, (RB/CB and now DM) Chambers, PLUS, El Capitan (Mikel Arteta, the original and older but better coiffed, Santi, perhaps…) and a certain Egyptian who might borrow his solidity from the pyramids famous in his country of birth or from the Swiss Alps where he’s been plying his trade.  By the way, El Capitan, where I’m from in the mountains of California, looks like this:

Regardless of who plays, I think, with the correct team mentality, i.e. tactical approach, this Arsenal squad has a very good chance to get some results from these matches.  Home teams, if given the ball, naturally want to venture forward with it.  That’s just how things work.  Home crowds get excited when their team has the ball (and nervous when they don’t) and players play to those emotions.

Another factor could be set pieces.  With Ozil delivering and big fellas like Giroud, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gabriel attacking them, we suddenly can play for these moments.  (Being the least cynical team, i.e., bottom of the league in fouls committed, might help too.)  With those same players defending, and clean sheet record-holder Cech wearing the gloves, we might nick some points by gaining a positive differential in goals from these plays.  Regardless, they are always nervy moments in the home stadium so another element which should help on our travels.

In fact, we might wish to worry about OUR home matches for these very same reasons.  For that, just see my match previews, where I always worry…

Would we be playing for nil-nil if we set up to play on the break?  I don’t necessarily believe so, but a few results of that sort wouldn’t kill us either.  The league is such that almost every match is tough and there’s enough talent up and down the league (thanks to that big television contract, equally distributed to all 20 PL clubs) that, as we’ve seen, almost ANY result is possible in almost any match.  It’s true, teams will wear down and have bad patches where they will really struggle–especially on the road. Still, overall, I think, things are changing.

Here’s one I wrote way back in September.

Four rounds of league play had been completed and this was the stat:

Home Teams: 40 played, 9 Wins, 13 Draws, 18 Losses.

In other words, the away team, at least based on that sample, was twice as likely to win their matches (!!!)

I’m sure things have leveled out (and, like Pony Eye would say, reverted to the mean).  If anybody can find (or compile) the stat, I’d love to know.  The earlier sample, I think, however, does say something: things are simply different than they used to be.  This article, by my favorite US-based stats people, still applies.  It’s worth a read, in my opinion.

Home-Field Advantage Doesn’t Mean What It Used To In English Football

I realize that people cling to their outlooks and the narratives which support them. If you prefer nothing but doom and gloom, have at it.  Nonetheless–if that’s not your bent–I’d encourage Gooners to keep an open mind.

I think a move or two here in the transfer window and then a bit of luck with the bounces of the ball and with injuries (or lack thereof–believe you me, I’m touching all the wood I can…) and maybe with the guys who’ve got the whistle in their mouths, and this Arsenal team can build upon the lovely team spirit we’ve already shown to face up to these tough away fixtures and do enough to at least give it a real go for the league title.

It won’t be easy and yes, we’ve got a lot of top half teams to play in their stadiums, but, perverse as it may seem, it might just work to our advantage.

Besides, who wants easy, anyhow?  The bigger the mountain, the sweeter the view from the summit, when you (finally) get there.

What do you think, fellow Kampers?

by 17highburyterrace

17 thoughts on “Arsenal Can’t Win the Title–Too Many Tough Away Matches. Or

  • Great analysis…

    Already…Arsenal are the second best away team…only to Leicester City. And second best home team only to Man City.

    Okay…we’re playing Man City away…they already lost to Liverpool and West Ham(who hasn’t?).

    Man Utd couldn’t beat Chelsea, Man City, West Ham at Old Trafford…I very much doubt they’d beat today’s Arsenal.

    Tottenham lost to Newcastle…and Arsenal would be tougher, much tougher.

    Everton this season has been losing pretty much to everybody at home and Arsenal won’t be different either.

    Liverpool? Arsenal, despite the wobble against Southamptom won’t lose to present Liverpool and despite the 5 – 1 bashing of two seasons ago, Anfield has always been dear Gunners’ good hunting ground.

    So? Let the matches come!

  • Definitely agree with you that we sometimes play better away from home because we focus more on the counter than trying to control the game. A stat I would like to see is average passes in a move before a goal. I am guessing it would be around 6. Above some number of passes in a move the chances of scoring a goal certainly decrease as the defense has time to set.

    Arteta is a spent force. I would play Chambers before him.

    I hope Wenger plays a b-team for the FA cup game. We have won the last two, so we should not be accused of not respecting the competition if we field a weaker team.

    80-85 pts. will probable take the title this year. We could lose up to another 5 games as long as draws are kept at a minimum.

  • You have a point though – 4 of the teams we play away have worse home records than their away records:

    January 13: Liverpool
    January 17: Stoke City
    February 7: Bournemouth
    March 19: Everton

  • Guys,

    We can have good away games if we get the defensive formation sorted out.
    Cech have saved us a few crucial goals but if Kos does not get back quickly enough we are in for a hard time.

    And 17ht, I believe we have touched all the trees in the forest to ensure injuries do not mount, but you never know what will happen.
    Liv is a good team, but they are facing a crisis now. Unless they buy someone in to settle their messy defense we might have a chance in our coming PL match.

    The only team that we might be facing a backlash is Manu**, which we scored 3 fantastic goals in quick succession in our home game. West Ham and Sunderland are good teams too, so we have to be compact and consistent for the games.

    However, I am more concerned about the games until March, as we are not in good form away, and we will have a stable DM pivot back in the form of Santi and Le Coq. We are having Alexis back soonest, so we will see the team dynamics back, and if Elneny fits in perfectly like Alexis did, we will be more or less be in a good situation, unlike last week where I almost had a heart attack while watching the game on tv.


  • Thanks for the Stats TT and welcome to BKesque…

    I think your stats represent the league to this point (10 home games/week x 20 weeks = 200 games played). I knew things would normalize but I’m still surprised just how close it is. We might be getting to a point that–between Television coverage of ALL matches, the refs have to call things a bit closer to how they actually happen. Not quite, of course, but gettting closer…

    Thanks again…

  • HT,

    Great post summed up by the Latin adage ….. ” To the stars through bolts and bars!!”. No dreams, no platitudes, just hard facts. Billy the Kid was the best gunslinger ever in the Wild West, because he was able to face the hard facts. They said he was the only one of all of them who accepted emotionally that his next gun duel might be his very last. It equipped him with ice-cold nerves, which never degrades performance and so he was able to walk out of duels unscathed.

    Thank you HT for bringing us face to face with these hard facts. We have to look them straight in the eyes and plan accordingly and my tiny contribution is that in such a grueling race our 12th man can be the critical factor. Support our team. We are in a good place.

  • Good morning…

    First off, there’s a message for FL08 at the bottom of the previous post attempting to clear things up on that one…

    On this one, as always, I hope for a few more comments… Ah well…

    JK, You’re right, Kos pushed up and made some bad final balls vs Newcastle but I’m less concerned that it will be a continuing and detrimental feature of our play. He was trying to make things happen and, in the end, it’s no surprise (to me at least) that his kick grabbed us the full points.

    PE, Your writing is always a pleasure…and, if I’m reading you right, I agree, about the need to make a full emotional commitment to the cause. Sometimes I feel that Gooners are so ready for disappointment that they don’t allow themselves to dream. It makes a certain sense to protect oneself in this manner, but, I think, the reward is all the sweeter, when it is deliberately sought rather than stumbled onto… On the other hand, What (TF) do I know?… I also agree about the 12th man but that requires supporters to admit that they want glory for the team rather than to see their (more logical or at least clever…) ideas about failure realized…

    Finally, a less positive way of putting things is that Arsenal, for the moment at least, are not quite up to winning enough points by playing according to our usual reputation of ‘intricate passing and possession-first, attacking football.’ As such, the counter attacking game (parking a bit of a bus ourselves) might be the ticket, esp. in these tougher away matches…

    Anyhow, I’m just trying to get a discussion going as it’s a long 5 days until our next match and even longer until our next really critical (i.e., league) match…And maybe the days feel longer when the transfer window is open and we’re getting no (firm) news even if we sense wheels might be in motion somewhere behind the scenes…

  • Nearly had me there, 17 !……for a moment I thought you were joining the Doomer brigade !…..the fcukers, they are a jinx on our team and need punishing in my Temple of Doom !. hahaha
    Really enjoyed the read and we/anyone could use stats to make our opinions look good whether a Doomer or an optimist !
    I have a gripe about this so called tactical thing of sitting back and counter attacking, to me it is bollox of the highest degree and may I say that it`s not an attack on anyone, but lets look at it with a common sense head !……….no team ( especially Arsenal, who pride theirselves on keeping hold of the ball ) gives the ball to the opposition and says..” here it is, you keep it and attack us and if we`re lucky enough to get it back we will try and attack you, but if we fail miserably we will give it back to you again !”. The only reaon we sat back against Mansour City and any other team we had less possession against is because we couldn`t get the fcuking round thing off of them !…..remember … it`s a simple game !……..lucky for us and especially for teams that dont have much of the ball, the game isn`t decided on possession and shit happens ( thats when we have 70% and all the shots and still lose ) .

  • Hello, people! 🙂

    Lovely write-up, 17. 🙂 It seems Coutinho will miss the game against us. He did his hamstring tonight against Stoke and so did Lovren. They can’t be back next week, can they?

  • @17 – I didn’t have time to reply on the whole leopard spots thing.

    I actually think that Arsene really knows tactics well. He has shown it many times, in the recent years I will just mention the run-in in 2012-13 when he did Bayern at Munich, Borussia in Dortmund in 2013-14, Manchester City in 2014-15 and Bayern (again) in 2015-16. What I think Arsene won’t change is his approach to the market. Arsene the economist and Arsene the footballer have been in a symbiotic relationship ever since the beginning and that’s how Arsenal got a stadium without leaving Top 4.

    Anyway, back on topic. Arsene knows how to deal with Klopp – he has beaten him three times, drawn once and lost twice. I think we can do Liverpool, especially if Coutinho’s hamstring injury is a serious one.

    The trip to Stoke is a different story. They are no longer Tony Pulis’ mean defensive machine where Rory Delap’s throw-ins are top of their creativity. Maybe that’s why two of our most convincing victories in 2015 were the ones against Stoke. In both of those (home!) games we swept them aside and we should have won 10:0 in our last duel. The problem is, we haven’t beaten them at their Orc Asylum since “that” day.

    Bournemouth are a rather naive side defensive-wise and that’s good thing for us. We could have easily put at least five past Boruc and their set-piece defending is simply awful.

    Manchester United – we haven’t lost there in either of our two visits in 2015. The only problem with that fixture is that we play Barcelona before United.

    Spuds – again, the main problem is fixture congestion. We play them just a week after United and three days after Swansea at home.

    Everton – we haven’t won there since Vermaelen’s header sealed our 1:0 victory, Van Judas created the goal.

    West Ham – they have beaten us this season and their manager looks like Klopp is supposed to be for Liverpool.

    Sunderland – on paper, the easiest one. But we know the drill…

    Man City – if this one decides the title-winner, I will probably die before the game. We haven’t lost five in a row against them.

  • Interesting to see Mikel Arteta getting 45minutes alongside Alex Iwobi, for the U21’s yesterday…

    Preparation for Arteta to start against Sunderland this weekend?
    Maybe alongside Chambers in front of the back-four?

  • ‘Morning folks… We’ve finally made it to ‘hump day’ (which I think must be a US only concept)… At the moment there’s very little Arsenal news–nothing about our Egyptian MF signing and not much about team news ahead of the Cup match. Sunderland being mired at the bottom is causing Allardyce to have quite a moan about PL scheduling, however…

    TA, I thought you had a post coming but I may be off on that account… Also, I’ll try to remember to look at the comments from new folks and get them out… Sorry…

    Regarding this one, (as some of those new comment writers noticed…) the real subtext was about our style of play which I think has been evolving but will probably get even more extreme with the change in our central MF personnel. Maybe I should say “devolving” because we’re definitely moving away from the stereotypical possession based football associated with our team and towards playing more on the break. With Alexis coming back in (but not Santi…) we might rely on the quick move from back to front even more. Does anyone else find their hearts in their throat when Alexis (and Ramsey…) puts his head down and starts pushing the ball forward from deep in our own half?…

    There are some better articles which look at these questions including one by Jon Wilson in the Guardian today (asking what exactly is ‘attacking football’…) and a very good one on the site where I used to comment (You Are My Arsenal) which breaks down the enforced switch from CoCa to Flambo at the rear of MF… Worth looking at, IMO…

    In the end, of course, we play each match OGAAT so tactics will ALWAYS be changing–based on the opponent (and their tactics) and the players we have available and maybe how the fixtures are coming at us… In that regard, patterns of play–let alone results–seem hard enough to predict, I think…

    But still we do… Are we close enough to the next one to start speculating?

    I need help trying to figure out what Wenger will do this weekend? We’re the Cup holders (x2) but our squad is awfully stretched and we’ve got two (difficult) league matches later in the week. Do any of our main attackers (Giroud, Theo, Ramsey, Ozil, Alexis) get full rests or must they suit up and take bench seats (at least) so that if the kids (and the aged–Flamini and Arteta, at least) cannot get the goals they can come in? Will we go for big rotation at the back even though it bit us (badly) in those early CL matches? Am I wrong or is the very worst case scenario a replay up in the Northeast?…


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