Why Arsenal need to seize second place in the Premier League
PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 March 2015
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Even trailing a sequence of six straight victories in their wake, it takes a substantial leap of faith to envisage Arsenal snatching the Premier League title.
Despite that recent run of form – comfortably their best of the season – Arsene Wenger’s side are still seven points adrift of leaders Chelsea, who have a game in hand.
And, although the Blues have yet to visit Emirates Stadium next month, even Wenger concedes that the gap will almost certainly be too great for his side to close.
“Chelsea have a good security and at the moment I feel they have enough to be quite serene,” observed the Arsenal boss after Saturday’s 2-1 win at Newcastle.
“We have Manchester City in front of us but, if you look behind us, it is tight as well, so the important thing is to win our games. Chelsea have too much security.”
However, even if the Gunners’ dreams of a first championship since 2004 are unlikely to materialise, there is every reason for them to channel their efforts into a concerted challenge for the mantle of runners-up.
After all, a full decade has passed since Wenger’s team claimed second place in the league – or even came genuinely close to doing so and that, for a club who won three titles in the preceding eight years, is not good enough.
Sneaking into fourth place and the Champions League qualifying round might have been deemed acceptable during the years that Arsenal were financially hamstrung by their move to the Emirates.
But that is no longer the case. In recent times, the Gunners have forked out transfer fees in excess of £30m and £40m and there need to be some tangible indications of that investment bearing fruit.
Unfortunately, no such signs can be found in the Champions League itself – where Arsenal have just departed the tournament at the last 16 stage for the fifth year running and, arguably, against the weakest opponents they have faced in that time.
While last season’s FA Cup success was more than welcome – as would be a repeat performance this time around – the Gunners desperately need to show that they are making progress back towards the Premier League summit as well.
Another fourth-place finish this year would suggest stagnation rather than development. So Arsenal must seize the opportunity to elbow their way into at least the top three, or ideally the top two.
And, while Liverpool’s chances of a second successive runners-up spot cannot be discounted, the likelihood is that the Gunners will need to see off the two Manchester clubs to achieve it.
United, of course, lie in wait for Wenger’s side on the penultimate weekend of the season and no doubt will be determined to take revenge for their recent FA Cup quarter-final defeat at Old Trafford.
Next month, though, they face City and then Chelsea in successive games and overall their run-in suggests second place may be too tall an order.
City, on the other hand, will feel relatively confident about a schedule that includes home games against Aston Villa, West Ham and QPR and it is certainly not impossible to see them garnering another 20 points or so to augment their current total of 61.
That would leave the Gunners requiring seven wins from their last eight matches to have a chance of overhauling City – and recent statistics do give an inkling that they may need to top the 80-point mark to finish in second place.
Over the last five seasons, the Premier League runners-up have totalled an average of 81 points, while third place has usually been attainable by a more modest 75 or fewer.
So a top three spot may be more realistic for Arsenal this season. Make no mistake, however, that – not fourth – is the minimum they need for Wenger’s belief that his team are heading in the right direction to be taken seriously.