The 2012/13 Premier League season is about to come to a head. After a number of ups and downs there are now just 12 games remaining and Arsenal sit in fifth place. While Arsenal are not contenders to raise the trophy, they are very much in the race for a top four spot and qualification for next year's Champions League.
But that race is tight. Very tight. With six more points, Arsenal would be in third place and with six fewer, it would mean seventh. We asked our panel to consider Arsenal's run-in and predict how things will go in the remaining three months.
Question: How will Arsenal finish this season in the Barclays Premier League?
After 26 league matches, seven Champions League ties, seven domestic cup fixtures and roughly 4,000 minutes of football, the season has come down to the final 12 games in the league.
In fifth in the Barclays Premier League after the whole of Matchday 26, Arsenal cannot simply just take care of their own business, they must also keep a keen eye on the teams nearest to them in the table for that coveted top-four spot. Seven points separate third-place Chelsea from sixth-place Everton. Here's a quick look at the remaining fixtures:
Chelsea: 6 home, 6 away | 6 matches against the top half of the table, 4 against the top six
Key matches: @ Man City, vs. Tottenham, @ Liverpool, @ Man Utd, vs. Everton
Finishing point total: 72, 3rd
Tottenham: 7 home, 5 away | 7 matches against the top half of the table, 4 against the top six
Key matches: vs. Arsenal, @ Liverpool, @ Swansea, @ Chelsea, vs. Man City
Finishing point total: 68, 5th
Everton: 6 home, 6 away | 6 matches against the top half of the table, 4 against the top six
Key matches: @ Arsenal, vs. Man City, @ Tottenham, @ Liverpool, @ Chelsea
Finishing point total: 63, 6th
Arsenal: 6 home, 6 away | 5 matches against the top half of the table, 3 against the top six
Key matches: @ Tottenham, vs. Everton, @ Swansea, vs. Man Utd
Arsenal have the most favorable schedule of the four teams highlighted here. Six of their final 12 matches will be played at home, while they play the fewest number of games against teams in the top half of the table (5) and teams within the top six (3). Further, Arsenal will play matches against each of the current bottom five, including finishing the season with three successive games against teams fighting off relegation. While the teams at the bottom will have something to play for, it’s my belief that they’re there for a reason, making them still the most desirable opponents.
Now out of the FA Cup and unlikely to advance past Bayern Munich, finishing in the top four is the only priority for Arsenal. The recent run of form has been sub-par but a home date with Aston Villa could be a perfect lead-in for the North London Derby. Should Arsenal return to form against The Villans, they could go to White Hart Lane and completely turn their season around.
Taking the remaining schedule, even the fact that Arsenal have dropped, on average, nine of their final 15 points of the season over the past four years into account, I believe Arsenal realize the urgency, come together as a club, end on 71 points and finish in fourth place.
I like Josh's analysis on the Premier League. One of the key factors for me is that Arsenal have traveled to the tough regions and stadia in England already (Brittannia, Stadium of Light and St. James' Park). That could be crucial down the stretch, especially with the physical play on offer at those places. He's right that Arsenal have the easier run in.
I felt that Arsenal would go deeper in the FA Cup by reaching the final. Arsène Wenger's decisions on who to play in the Capital One Cup show that there was desire to try and win a trophy this season. The FA Cup had been the Club's best chance at silverware, but I thought it would end up as the same story: a day late and a dollar short. Sadly, I was right, but I didn't think it would have come so soon.
On the Champions League. I am resigned that I have to agree that Arsenal are going out. If Gibbs were available yesterday's match might have been closer to a coin flip as Vermaelen would have been in the middle, but in the end it is the lack of out right attacking that cost Arsenal.
I love the purity and simplicity of the League title race: every team plays every other team twice, home and away; three points are awarded to the winning team, zero points for the losing team, and one point each in the case of a draw. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins. Sure, there's some other stuff in the case of a tie on points but that's the basic way the whole thing works.
And now we enter into the final 12 games of that system, the last third of season with Arsenal and Tottenham locked into a battle for the all important Champions League spot. Critically, the two teams face each other in what is looking like a decisive match on March 3rd. A "six pointer" as the pundits like to say.
I think Tottenham is going to struggle against West Ham this weekend. I also think Arsenal are going to beat Villa. That would close the gap to two points between the two teams and if Arsenal can beat Tottenham at their ground, the race for fourth will be in our hands and not Tottenham's.
I do hate trying to predict outcomes regarding this Arsenal team because we never know which bunch will show up to play from one day to the next. For me, the Premier League is always the top prize each season as it is the purest judge of which team has been the best over the course of the entire season, for the reasons Tim noted. But how we'll finish in that competition? It seems a bit of a toss-up, if I'm honest.
In my heart I can't fathom not qualifying for the Champions League next season. This team, even on a bad day, is capable of better than fifth in the league. I don't know if this Arsenal team is better than the current incarnation of Tottenham, however; they don't have a manager with one eye on the England job to twitch away the season, and have better depth in all areas than they did last year. However, I look at Chelsea like a wounded animal. A team with that much talent assembled, and they are possibly the one team in England more inconsistent than Arsenal. This is a team that will drop points down the stretch, and if Arsenal can finally round themselves into form, they are a team that can be overtaken.
Having been trounced at home in the Champions League by a rather obviously superior Bayern side, I think we can put all hopes of advancing in that competition to once side. Yes, I am aware there is a second leg to be played, and yes, I understand that "anything can happen in a cup competition." I am not ruling out possibilities. There is a possibility that Arsenal will win 4-0 at the Allianz Arena, just as there is a possibility that Martian death rays will disintegrate me as I write this. The likelihood, however, of either of those eventualities is exceedingly remote.
When Arsenal were eliminated from the FA Cup, I was angry because yet again, Arsenal had failed to so much as get out of second gear, and were, again, summarily punished--a lesson we have not learned in years of repeating the same mistake. After being beaten 3-1 at home by Bayern, all I could feel was sadness, because Arsenal gave their absolute best, and were found quite severely wanting.
In terms of the league, Josh has outlined how imperative consistency will be for this Arsenal side if it wants to end the season in the top four. Yes, it is a silly race to be a part of considering the lack of silverware it entails but it is what it is at this point of the season and I just want this side to finish the season as strongly as it possibly can. With less distraction because of the lack of midweek fixtures, it will be important for the team to focus entirely on making up ground in the league. The derby against Tottenham will prove to be one of the most important games this season, if not the most important. A positive result on the day (like last season) will do wonders for the team’s confidence and demoralize our rivals.
I do think however, that we should not underestimate sides like Reading, Aston Villa, Norwich, QPR and Wigan, who are all in the relegation battle. They will essentially be fighting tooth and nail at this point of the season to stay out of the relegation zone and any sign of weakness from this Arsenal team could prove detrimental.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Broadband Ltd.Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 21 Feb 2013