As the league takes a break for the FA Cup, I thought I would look back on this time last year and see whether our season has been as poor it feels. And it surprised me to find that after 20 games we have accrued just three points less, 36 compared to 39.
Optimists will reckon that shows things aren’t as bad as we all fear and we've done well to recover from a terrible start; pessimists would say it shows we underperformed last season as well as this. Realists, meanwhile, will be rational enough to point out that assuming we don't suffer another Spring meltdown we could actually finish with a better points total come May.
But what does that matter when the gap between us and top spot is expanding? Last year our 39 points put us in third place and five points from the summit after 20 games, this time we find ourselves fifth and lagging behind by 12 points.
Our decline has been accentuated because the best of the rest have all performed better – Man City and Spurs are respectively 10 and seven points better off compared to their 20-game totals last season. Even Chelsea and Man U, who are generally thought to be having off seasons, have two points and one point more.
Goals, goals, goals
My calculations were nicely timed with a piece on the club website yesterday which assessed our 2011 performance. I like to think I’m pretty up to speed on most Arse facts and figures but I was stunned to see the gaps between our top scorers – Robin Van Persie weighed in with 42 in all competitions during 2011. He was followed by Theo with eight then Arshavin with five.
Staggering. Of course I knew RVP had had a stand-out calendar year but it never really dawned on me that almost NOBODY ELSE scored.
I ventured on Monday after the Fulham defeat that the longer we fail to recover our October/November form, the more it will feel like Van Persie’s goals were the source of our up-turn in fortunes rather than the result of it.
Well, I think the chasm shown in the goal scoring chart lays that debate to rest – when it comes to attacking, we’re a one-man team.
In my season review back in May (highly recommended for anyone who likes a juicy AFC stat, if I may say) I talked about how we were failing to score enough goals, particularly at home. The 20-game totals show things have not improved, with six goals less being scored at Ashburton Grove, though having played one game less.
Relying so much on one man is certainly not the way to address that shortfall and it shows how the reputation we have earned for adventurous football is becoming more misleading by the year (our goals scored per game average has dropped again so far this season to 1.6 – for comparison, Man City’s average is 3.1, Man U’s is three and Spurs’ is two).
The possible temporary signing of Thierry Henry might help but we need to make our formation work for us more, so we develop a goal threat throughout the team and that requires money to be spent
Our current points total show we've managed to survive the sale of Fabregas and Nasri and may even end the season with the same number of points achieved with them last year.
Not a disaster but let's show some ambition. We need proper investment, either in this window or more likely in the summer, otherwise the gap between us and the rest will get bigger and our chances of staying in the Champions League elite will disappear.