Without confidence you are twice defeated in the race of life. – Marcus Garvey
So, in contrast to the pre-game optimism that Arsenal was a sure thing to the title, a metaphysical force which had swept up even of the most virulent doom-mongers such as Pedro of LeGrove and Phil of Angry of N5, in less than a week normal service has returned and the usual suspects have dismissed any talk of Arsenal’s title-winning ambitions. Post game, after the loss to West Ham. Twitter was awash with recriminations and witch hunts. As I write more is to be expected from the mendacious minions of the mainstream media who must sow tales of woe and doom to a gullible public who have been programmed to treat every win or defeat as a sure ticket to heaven or Armageddon. A measured, detached reaction to one unusual event does not sell newspapers or websites, a fact well known to those who make the bottom line the primary measure of success of their publication.
For us at PA and elsewhere, given our attachment to the fortunes of our football club it is understandable that most of us are super-happy, and twitter-bubbly after a win versus a 180 degree different reaction to a loss. In fact our feelings after today’s setback will be exacerbated by this being the first game of a new season their being such expectations fuelled by the mainstream media.
But our emotional highs and the lows have no bearing on the eventual position of the team. Two years ago we had a horrible opening-day loss to a Aston Villa with a virtual revolt in the support base as the black scarfers, bin-baggers and assorted malcontents went on the warpath, demanding Wenger be sacked. Yet the club ended the season in 4th place with 72 points and most importantly winning its first significant trophy in 9 years, the FA-Cup.
This setback vs West Ham is no different.
Despite the defeat, this team is statistically on track to compete for the PL title. This group is essentially unchanged since it went on a title-winning run since January of this year amassing 14-Wins, 3-Losses and 3 draws with 39 goals For and 13 Against. This is an average of 2.25 points per game. Projected over a 38 game season this yields a total of 86 points. For comparison’s sake, Chelsea won the title by earning one point more.
Of course there are those who will argue that performance over a past season has no bearing on the next. That is like saying Chelsea winning the title 2014-15 season has no bearing on those making predictions they will win in 15-16. No such departure from logic by the good and great in the Guardian on August 5th:
Last season Chelsea were unparalleled in attack until mid-January, and unbeatable in defence thereafter. In short they weren’t just the best team in the division – they were the best two teams in the division, and despite a lack of summer signings whichever one turns up this time must be favourites once again. – Simon Burnton
Chelsea carried all before them last season and demonstrated an ability to grind out results as well as scintillate. The rest have been playing catch-up ever since but, if José Mourinho’s transfer dealings serve to reinvigorate, the champions should remain a step ahead. – Dominic Fifield
Or from the BBC’s Alan Shearer, two days later:
But Chelsea are still the team to beat because of their experience and I also think they will be better than they were last year when Diego Costa was injured a lot last season and Cesc Fabregas did not play his best football from February onwards.
Unable to disprove the fact that Arsenal’s form in 2015 has been compelling, there are those who prefer to argue that Arsenal will implode as they often did in the past 10 years. Arguably most of these failures were due of the plague of injuries which have weakened the past squads at critical junctures in past seasons, the splintering in two places of Eduardo’s foot in 08-09 being the most egregious example.
This I agree will be the most important impediment to Arsenal sustaining its form throughout this season. That was the experience in the first half of last season when injuries to Giroud, Debuchy, Ozil and Koscielny put paid to any serious title challenge, despite the consistent run starting in January when most of these players resumed playing. The club is certainly aware of the need to curb this problem with the appointment of one of the leading experts, Shad Forsythe, to oversee player fitness.
Interestingly, despite the frequent assertions of many that the manager must be mishandling the players resulting in so many injuries, an actuarial study has found that injuries is the price of success for top teams like Arsenal:
Success comes with a particular price for teams who earn the right to play in European club competitions. A player who plays for a team that finished in the top seven places in the previous season is more likely to suffer an injury than a player from a lower team. This is exacerbated for teams finishing as champions and runners-up. What is more, players in the more successful clubs take longer to heal, with those from the top four being out of action for longer than the league average. – Actuarial Post
While Premier League history does show a pattern of the eventual champions starting off their campaign with a victory, the most successful team, Manchester United with their 15 titles, had a recent tradition of starting slowly and building up an almost unstoppable head of steam. Most have forgotten that in their 12-13 campaign they had a loss on opening day, and that their 3 previous title winning campaigns were on the back of draws at the start.
Clearly there is no historical basis for the writing off our league chances because of one aberrant performance. Rather it is a timely opportunity for Wenger to give the players, especially those who are senior members, a kick up the backside for seriously under-performing.
As Andrew Nicoll (@anicoll5) so pointedly reminded us “One down, thirty seven PL games to go.”