Arsenal travel to Italy to face AC Milan in the San Siro on February 15th, to play one of the first Champions League matches of 2012, as the second round and knockout phase gets underway. Of course, the second round is a great equaller, if the first is something of an easy ride (exceptions include Manchester this year). Arsenal, for instance, beat Real Madrid in the Bernabeu in 2006, a result for which the Champions League betting odds were slim.
The Bernabeu win in 2006 is remembered for the wonderful Henry strike, the resilient defending of the Arsenal side, and as one of the famous nights in the club’s history, not least because this game paved the way to the final of the Champions League for the first time for both club and Arsène Wenger.
However, what are the parallels in terms of the performances of 2006 and this year?
Though the club has somewhat changed in complexion since that year there are similarities, which may shed some light on the possible end scenarios for this season based on statistics for points and games played.
Firstly, and rather oddly, Thierry Henry is an Arsenal forward, scoring to the delight of the home fans, as against Leeds Utd in the FA Cup and Blackburn in the Premier League most recently.
Meanwhile, in the Premier League Arsenal have played 24 games this season and taken 40 points, lying in seventh position, below local rivals Tottenham. In 2006 at this stage Arsenal had also taken 40 points from 24 games, and were indeed below Tottenham (albeit by a margin of one point).
That season Arsenal played in the Champions League final against Barcelona, after just managing to scrape into fourth place, and the Champions League qualifying round. They finished on 67 points, whilst Tottenham finished on 65 – the latter taking 25 points from their last 14 games, whilst the Arsenal of 2006 took 27.
If Arsenal were to recreate this type of form it would be unlikely that they would finish above Tottenham this year, considering the 10 point gap, and they might struggle to finish in the Champions League qualifying places.
The fourth place finishers since 2006 are more likely to exceed 70 points, and where this has not been the case the total is within two or three points of this. As an average the points total needed for a safe qualification place is 70.2 based on the totals for clubs in that position since 2006.
|Season End||Club in Fourth Place||Points|
Considering the two tiered appearance at the top of the League, with Man Utd, City and Tottenham, and then Chelsea, Newcastle, Liverpool and Arsenal, it seems likely that the points total will be at the lower end of this spectrum, but less than 67 would be less feasible.
In this case Arsenal have a challenge on their hands to maintain strong enough form to requalify for the Champions League, but this is not impossible. Assuming the club require 70 points, they must take 30 from their final 14 games, an average just over 2 points per game.
Currently this season Arsenal have just under 1.7 points per game on average, and by way of comparison last year’s abysmal form saw them take just 19 points from the last 14 games. However, the years from 2006 are detailed below.
|Season End||Arsenal Pts from last 14|
From this small sample it is clear that last season was an anomaly, and in fact, on average Arsenal have taken almost 25 points on average from the final 14 games. We should consider here, that the current Arsenal side is a very different animal from that of seasons past, and it will be interesting to see how the race at the top of the table develops.
The win against Blackburn has shown promise, and the impressive form of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular provides some comfort, as well as the incredible performances this season by Van Persie. Arsenal need to continue this with a stern test at Sunderland over the weekend before the journey to Milan.
Without the basis of the league performance to qualify for the Champions League, the situation of top players like Van Persie in terms of contract extensions becomes increasingly untenable, especially after the problematic exits of both Fabregas and Nasri last summer.
However, all of this also places some emphasis on the tie against Milan. The club are not the force they once were, and a Fabregas inspired performance in 2008 led to a 2-0 win at the San Siro. If Arsenal can repeat that sort of win, it might provide the foundations for a sequence of wins which can take them at least past the probable 70 point baseline in the league.