Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Can Arsenal Finish Ahead of Spurs This Season

It's been almost 17 years since Arsenal's closest rivals have managed to finish above them in the top flight of English football. Back in 1995 Arsenal finished a lowly 12th in the Premier League, as their efforts were concentrated on retaining their European Cup Winners Cup crown. Spurs managed to finish five places above them that season, and Arsenal lost the Cup Winners Cup final to a last minute goal against Real Zaragoza.

A little over a year later Arsenal welcomed Arsene Wenger to the helm, and they have always looked down on Spurs in the final table since then. Even in the season before Wenger arrived Arsenal managed to finish above Spurs, but it was only by a slight margin. Since Wenger has been in charge Arsenal have managed to finish anywhere from two points to 45 points ahead of Spurs.

What is noticeable is that the gap has been shrinking in recent seasons. For the first nine seasons under Wenger that gap was never less than 20 points, and it even reached 45 points in 2004. That was the season Arsenal went unbeaten in the league, and doubled Spurs points tally for the whole season.

Only once before during all of those years have Spurs looked likely to finish ahead of Arsenal, but thanks to some dodgy lasagna and serious bottling Arsenal overtook them on the final day in 2006. Of course Arsenal had other things on their mind that season, as they made it all the way to the Champions League final before losing to Barcelona. The proper order was restored over the next two seasons, as Arsenal finished well ahead of Spurs again, and celebrated St. Totteringham's Day nice and early.

In the last two seasons the gap has been uncomfortably close for Arsenal, as they fell away badly at the end of each season. Arsenal started this season very badly, but they managed to regroup and looked to be on an upward spiral only a few weeks ago. They have a current injury list that any club would struggle with, and it seems to have caught up on the team.

With the season more than halfway completed Arsenal find themselves fifth in table, and more importantly 10 points behind Spurs. There's no doubt that Spurs are overachieving so far this season, but Arsenal are also underachieving for a club of their stature. Spurs have a very tough schedule coming up over the next few weeks, and their ability to challenge at the top will be severely tested.

I wish I could say that I was confident of Arsenal finishing above Spurs this season, but all the signs at the moment point to the opposite. Certainly the trips to Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal, as well as a home game against Manchester United in Spurs next six games will be a real test for them. If they can falter in those games there might just be some light at the end of the tunnel for an Arsenal team which is seriously faltering itself.

The real big difference for Spurs this season has been the loan signing of Manchester City's ex-Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor. City still pay a large portion of Adebayor's wages which is a matter for the Premier League to look into for future loan signings I would imagine. I can't see how it can be considered fair for City to subsidise another Premier League team just because money is no object to them.

Besides Adebayor's loan signing Spurs also made a very shrewd signing at the very end of the transfer window in August 2010. Harry Redknapp has always had a reputation of being a "wheeler-dealer" in the transfer market, but the capture of Rafael van der Vaart was a great move for Spurs. They got him at a price which was almost unbelievable for a player of his proven quality too.

Of course Redknapp's "wheeling-dealing" may come back to haunt him very soon when he faces prosecution next week for tax evasion. His trial is set to last two weeks, and it will be interesting to see how that affects the club on and off the pitch. Obviously I'm hoping for the full force of the law to come crashing down on him, but I have a feeling he will weasel his way out of it somehow.

It certainly promises to be a very eventful few weeks for Spurs on and off the pitch, and their ability to stay the pace will be tested from all angles. I would love Arsenal to be standing by waiting for them to slip, and ready to step in with a  devastating run of form. It's very hard to see that happening at the moment, and until some of the injured players return they will continue to struggle I think.

Ideally I would love to see some genuinely top class players signed before the transfer window closes to give the team the boost it so obviously needs. If that means the chances for some more established players are limited then it doesn't really matter because some of those players are simply not performing at the moment.

If I was told right now that Arsenal would be guaranteed Champions League qualification by winning their final game away to West Brom on May 13th I would be delighted. Even if it meant Arsenal finished behind Spurs I could live with that, as long as Champions League football is obtained for next season.

I am sure that Arsenal will rebuild and regain their former strength, and Spurs will slip back to their rightful position of also-rans. I'm just not sure it will happen this season, but that may be the medicine Arsenal fans have to swallow.

That's it for today. 

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See you tomorrow.

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