The Strange Case Of Arsenal F.C.
Our story begins at a large stadium in North London.
In the spring of the 2007-2008 Premier League season, the fans that occupy the stadium were forced to sit through horrific and unfamiliar sights. Two draws to Birmingham, a draw to Wigan, a draw to Aston Villa, a loss to Chelsea and a loss to Manchester United.
An unfortunate fate had befallen Arsenal, who sat atop the league table for most of the first part of the season.
Puzzling draws and bad losses to their closest competitors took what had been a very good football team for the first few months of the season down to third place in the league table.
Arsenal fans were left wondering what sort of foul potion the team had ingested to make them produce such poor form and results.
In the off-season, the brilliant mind behind all of the recent success at the club was given the task of ensuring that Arsenal would not regress back to the ugly form that they showed at the end of the campaign.
Arsene Wenger brought in talented reinforcements to help the club continue playing the beautiful, effective football that he teaches. Unhappy and unwanted pieces were jettisoned to keep the ugly beast from rearing its head again.
Fast forward to the opening match of the 2008-2009 campaign. Arsenal is ugly yet effective in victory over West Brom. Wenger's centerpiece signing of the summer, Samir Nasri, nets the only goal of the game. The Gunners are riding high on the belief that they can put the poor finish of last season behind them and mount a serious title challenge.
One week later, Fulham sends Arsenal crashing back to earth with a surprise 1-0 victory. The ugliness that permeated the end of Arsenal's last season was back. Fans were calling for more transfers before the window closed and pundits were left wondering if Arsenal could ever mount a serious title challenge without splashing more cash around the market.
Then as suddenly as the doubt popped up, it was silenced by convincing results against Newcastle and Bolton, a team that traditionally causes Arsenal to revert to its primal self. Most recently, Arsenal's beautiful side could be seen in the 6-0 demolition of Sheffield United in a Carling Cup tie.
This past weekend, the dark side of Arsenal's footballing personality showed up once again.
Premier League newcomers Hull City were able to walk out of the Emirates with a 2-1 victory. Hull players scored all three goals. Hull leapt to sixth in the table while Arsenal fell to fourth place, ahead of West Ham on goal differential.
If Arsenal keep suffering from a Jekyll and Hyde multiple personality disorder on the pitch, their silverware drought will continue.
Great teams can absorb a couple of losses and draws during the season en route to winning a title. Manchester United won the Premier League last season despite having more losses than any other team in the top four. Of course, the Red Devils also suffered fewer draws than any of the top four which shows that in games they needed to win, they didn't drop points.
When Chelsea last won the title in 2005-2006, they had five losses on their record but only four draws. This allowed them to collect 91 out of 114 possible points, an impressive haul of over 79 percent of all points available at the beginning of the campaign. To put that in perspective, this is one more point than Arsenal managed during their unbeaten Premiership season.
Teams know that the odds of going through an entire season unbeaten in the Premiership as Arsenal did in 2003 are extremely low. The quality at the top of the table is very high and there are bound to be slipups due to fatigue, injury, etc.
Teams also know that they can't leave points on the table when they are playing lesser competition. Manchester United suffered two losses to Man City last season, but when they went up against teams like Wigan and Fulham, they went home with the full three points more often than not.
This is Arsenal's problem. They actually perform very well against the top four teams in the Premier League but too frequently have hiccups against lesser competition. Arsenal always has the edge in talent over teams not in the top four, but talent does not always translate to victories because of their inconsistent forms.
If Arsenal hopes to banish the Mr. Hyde that showed up at the end of last season, they need to find consistency and they need to do it quickly. Arsenal is still in the title race despite two bad losses already, but if those keep piling up, the Gunners could find themselves struggling to qualify for next season's Champions League.
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