2013/14 saw Arsenal lead the league table for more time than any other club. 128 days in all. Which says a lot about the club.
But through most of the season the normal calls by the tiny minority for Wenger to go continued, with the mantra, willingly taken up throughout the media, that it was a certain number of years since Arsenal had won a trophy.
Then when it began to look as if Arsenal might win the FA Cup the story changed, first to, “but is the FA Cup good enough?” and then second to the notion that the heavy defeats of the season were “humiliating” and that “Wenger was to blame”. The AAA had found their way of by-passing logic. No matter what we won, Wenger should go.
The “humiliations” – just to be clear – were…
- 14 December 2013: Man City 6 Arsenal 3
- 8 February 2014: Liverpool 5 Arsenal 1
- 22 March 2014: Chelsea 6 Arsenal 0
What we never got was any recollection of the fact that in 2013 Arsenal were the best league club in terms of points, nor any notion of how long it was since other clubs had won a trophy. Indeed if the FA Cup was questionable, then surely the league cup even more so – take that out of the equation, and the amount of time since Liverpool had won anything was impressive.
Another factor noted was that Arsenal did well against lower teams but poorly against the three clubs that ended above them.
But were the “humiliating defeats” against the clubs above Arsenal really so important? In one sense no, because in each case we lost three points. But in another sense yes. As the following shows.
Here is how 2013/14 ended.
That’s how it ended. But it turns out the final table hinged on just three results. Not the defeat to Liverpool away, not the defeat to Chelsea away, but Man City home (a draw) and away (3-6 defeat), and Chelsea at home (0-0). Indeed as I will show below, even the defeat to Man C away could stand and we could still win the league.
All we needed was four goals.
However you do the analysis, everything for Arsenal hung on just three games. Change those results into two wins instead of draws, one win instead of a defeat and the table looked like this at the end of the season.
(Now before we go on, I know we were well-beaten in the City away game by three goals. But it was the game in which Koscielny got a horrible injury, and it is not impossible to imagine it having a different outcome. So let’s just try it).
If these three changes occurred this is what we would have found.
|1||Arsenal||1 defeat to victory, 2 draws to victories||86|
|3||Man C||1 victory to defeat 1 draw to defeat||82|
|4||Chelsea||1 draw to defeat||81|
And there you have it – Arsenal top. Turning the two draws into wins is not hard to imagine – indeed we’ve seen it so often – the game is ending as a draw and then one slip, one mistake, one lucky punt, one piece of genius, any of these gives a goal in the last minute.
The Man City away game requires a different set of events that day – and you may argue that this is just too unlikely. OK, let’s leave the defeat, but allow the two draws to be wins. Arsenal are now on 83 at the end of the season and Man C on 85. Turn Stoke 1 Arsenal 0 into Stoke 1 Arsenal 2. Arsenal back to 86.
Put that way and Arsenal merely needed to score four more goals last season. One against Chelsea, one against Man City, two against Stoke. Have Theo and Ozil in that team against Stoke and it could have happened.
Of course it didn’t. So what is the point of “what if?”
What if is interesting when one comes to think what to do next. If the what if questions suggest that Arsenal was really humiliated through the season, then tearing up the whole approach, sacking Wenger and starting all over again, would be the answer. But if Arsenal were very close, as close a four goals, then “what if” suggests that such wholesale changes may not be needed. Indeed, given the disruption a change of manager delivers, they could be a disaster.
Instead just a few more players to cope with the endless unpunished assaults on our players, could be the answer.
I think this approach shows just how close Arsenal were in 2013/14. Time will tell if we can build on that.