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The Table of Doom Update Arsenal Current 75 Max 93 Man City(a) Newcastle (a) Brighton(h) Man City Max 94 Brighton (a) Arsenal (h) Man Utd Max 83 Brighton(a) Newcastle Max 83 Arsenal(h) Brighton Max 76 Man Utd(h)Man City (h) Arsenal(a) Liverpool gone Tottenham gone And so the hapless Spuds are gone, hit by a tornado, juggernaut, hurricane, express train, tsunami and a Howe as six disasters fell upon them at the new, the shiny, and the emptying White Hart Lane. Champions league is looking difficult for them and I feel the only answer is to bring back ‘Arry. Harry Redknapp is the answer, Spuds. But don’t tell any Gooner I told you that, I might get lynched. If Harry Kane goes, life could get worse for the Spuds Brighton now look like kingmakers. They play Man Utd and could easily have won their FA cup semi-final. They were the better side and I think they will beat them at home, leaving the Mancs with a maximum of 80. Brighton are just hanging on to the Table of Doom but could have a big impact on Champions league places and the title. Once we destroy Man City in our next match Man Utd will have 80 max, in this scenario, leaving them almost gone from the table of doom. Then Brighton have Man City at home. They might just get something, they are a tough side home and away. And then they have us away. Beating them could be key if we are still in it. I reckon most neutrals want us to win. The City money machine is not popular. Nuke Hassle away is also going to be tough for us. Every game is going to be crucial. I hope we can stand up and be counted. This is a great season And if I could turn this season on its head, I feel we would have totally different emotions. If City had blazed out in front and we were coming up behind them now for top spot, winning all our matches like earlier and they were struggling a bit, and we end up a close second, ahead of Man Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea, the Spuds, and even the new moneybags, Nuke Hassle, we would be so happy. Some happy Gooners Oh, and by the way, if anyone had read my previous piece, The Art of Prediction, you would see that I was hit by the commentator’s curse. I said that we either win or lose, rarely draw, and now we have had 3 in a row. Let’s get back to being Arsenal, Mikel, I told you many times, the only currency you can trade in is wins. And let’s start by putting ourselves right back in it by beating City. Although, as I have said last week, it is common for teams to drop points in the squeaky bum part of the competition. Has this been the strangest season in the modern era? Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham all look pretty certain to finish outside the top four and Champions league places and only Liverpool have not gone through traumatic manager changes. I wondered if this is the first time only one of the top four remain from the previous season. I decided to go back to 1998 when Uefa changed the qualifying rules allowing multiple entrants from countries. Frankie ready for the boot So, in 2021, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea all qualified but Spurs changed with Man Utd. The world is as we expect. In 2020, we had the same top four, Liverpool, City, Man Utd and Chelsea. In 2019 we had Man Utd change places with Spurs. No surprises, so. In 2018, Spurs changed places with Chelsea. In 2017, Chelsea changed places with Man Utd. In 2016, we had 2 changes, Leicester won and Arsenal came second with Tottenham and City also there. In 2015, Chelsea and Man Utd for Leicester and the Spuds. Again 2 changes. A merry go round with the same faces In 2014, Liverpool came in for Man Utd. In 2013 we had Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd and Man City with Utd replacing Liverpool. In 2012 we had the Spuds come in for Chelsea. In 2011 they swopped places. In 2010 City was replaced by the Spuds. This was the last time City was out of the top four. Even this seismic event only produced 2 changes In 2009, Liverpool replaced the Spuds. In 2008, same again. In 2007, again the same. In 2006, the same. In 2005, Everton under David Moyes replaced Liverpool. In 2004, Liverpool had been in, alongside the 3 main contenders, Man Utd, Arsenal and Chelsea. In 2003, Newcastle were there instead of Liverpool. In 2002, Liverpool were there instead of Chelsea. In 2001, Leeds Utd were there instead of Newcastle. In 2000, It was no change. In 1999 we had Man Utd, Arsenal, Leeds and Chelsea. In 1998 we had Arsenal, Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea. In 1997, the first year of challenging for multiple entrants, we had Man Utd, Newcastle, Arsenal and Liverpool which is one change. Money is the deciding factor I am pretty certain if I went back further it would be similar. Only one of the current top four to remain has to be very unusual. Of course, Liverpool could make it in to the top four this year but they are 9 points behind Man Utd and Newcastle with Utd having a game in hand and only 7 matches for Liverpool to make up the deficit. It’s possible but unlikely. In fact the normal seems to be one change or no change since Arsene Wenger’s fourth trophy has been up for grabs. Leicester’s remarkable season and the one before produced 2 changes. Roberto De Zerbi has done an amazing job at Brighton One thing that has changed in football has been money. Big money brings Champions league and Man City, Man Utd, Newcastle and ourselves have big money at their disposal. So have Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. Villa, making a probably doomed late charge for CL, have billionaire owners. Brighton has more modest ownership and is the only one of the contenders who has. Also he is English, a rarity in the Premier league. Spurs have a quasi English ownership. I would love Brighton to do it but as I also want us to beat them we could make it even harder for them. As has Unai Emery at Villa The craziest year And so we are left with a crazy year. Liverpool, the mentality monsters, look very fragile. Chelsea spent zillions but are playing like headless chickens. Tottenham refused to back Mr Conte and he very definitely showed his displeasure in an unexpected outburst. It all seems to have gone wrong for them. Newcastle jumped up from 11th but spent a lot. Credit must go to Eddie Howe, an unlikely choice but it seems like an inspired one. And it is probably good to have an English manager challenging. Could Balogun make an impact? It makes me wonder about next year. 8 teams with big money, and Brighton, Brentford and Fulham looking good. Logically, Champions league is going to be a mighty battle next year. City, surely, will be there, but of the rest? Who knows? Maybe we could go astray because we have Champions league to negotiate. We need to strengthen, particularly at centre back and centre forward. Could Balogun make the grade? Maybe a top goalkeeper as well as Arteta doesn’t seem to trust Turner. But above all else, no matter what happens this season, we need our young boys to improve, we could do with some of the academy guys pushing for places, and we need to develop that killer instinct which makes us Arsenal. The process continues and long may it reign.
Where can we finish 2023 part 1? Palace (a), Leicester (h) Bournemouth (a) Fulham (h) Aston Villa (h) Man Utd (a) Everton (h) Brentford (a) Ah, the bane of a sportswriters life, predicting results when anything can happen on the pitch. But it never stops me, I will keep on trying to enlighten or infuriate you with my take on the scores and position we will be in if we get those scores. This year I will start with the first 8 matches as the new part of the season is far more difficult. The transfer window is not over and Fulham might buy Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo throwing all predictions into the wind. I know that this feature is among my most popular judging by readership numbers and I will give it a go again. And, in fairness, I haven’t done badly, normally getting within 3 points of our eventual tally. My Crystal Ball says Arsenal First up, away to Crystal Patrick which is my new name for them as our boy seems to have put his own unique stamp on the Londoners. Truly I wish him well and would love to see them challenging for a European spot but we owe them. We owe them bigtime a true splattering for heaping indignity on us last year and I won’t even mention the score because I certainly didn’t predict it. So, I would love to beat them 3-0 (blast, I mentioned the score) but I doubt it. Their addition of defender Chris Roberts from Bayern Munich and midfielder Cheick Doucouré from Lens seem to indicate a tightening in defence so I am going for 2-1 in our favour after a hard fought match. 3 points to the Arsenal. Can these 2 give us a winning mentality? Leicester at home. In general we have a good record against them but sometimes in recent years they have caused us big problems. Schmeichel and particularly Jamie Vardy give us headaches but Schmeichel could be gone by then as he is going for a medical to Lens. Vardy is a hundred years old, still a big threat and we never seem to find an answer to him, but we are at home and we win with Tielemans scoring for us even if he isn’t our player by then. A tight, scruffy affair gives us 1-0 to the Arsenal with six points and we are starting to dream. Finally we play well Bournemouth away and this is last years Brentford who sent us home crying. Can they do the same? It is hard to see with their buys so far as nobody seems to be frightening. I see us hitting our stride after two hard matches and giving them a tonking of that fabled 3-0 that Crystal Patrick inflicted on us last year. 9 points, top of the league and all bets are off. We are the Champions of the world! Fulham didn't sign these guys Fulham at home. They don’t sign Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo but Solomon, Paulinha, Mbabu and Šekularac look like interesting buys. But we are the Arsenal, we blast away the Fulhams of this world…it all goes wrong! We start off spinning the ball all around them, watching them jumping around like demented puppets as they somehow keep the ball out of the net but they score from nowhere. A penalty from Xhaka and he argues so hard with the ref he gets sent off. They score and we go to pieces, blundering around shellshocked, only occasionally doing good things with the ball but we don’t score. 1-0 to the Cottagers and they do a Brentford on us. Still 9 points but now the whole atmosphere changes. Gerrards Gougers make us work And so to Villa again at home. Coutinho, Kamara and Carlos look the pick of their signings and they will surely be better than last year. Our team come out as nervous and tentative as rabbits, but Gerrard’s aggressive style (read dirty) wakens our boys up. We don’t allow them to bully us and a couple of our strong experienced boys show we know how to deal with a professional style. A bad tempered match ends 1-1 and we go, battle weary, to 10 points. The early season optimism now replaced with a dogged determination to at least always put up a fight. Ten Haag - I like this guy. A bit of a Guardiola look? Ah, Manchester United away. My favourite fixture and I will be there again this year. Ten Haag is good, he will get them playing well and with purpose. He can’t fix all their problems straightaway but I expect them to make a good start to the season. A lot of players have been cleared out and Martinez, Eriksen, and Malacia should be strong signings. This time Arsenal play well, as both teams stroke the ball about very nicely. We scramble a late goal for 2-2 after a very entertaining game. 11 points means we are not far off the top and this game seems to put us back on track. Thanks Frank Everton at home. I always liked Frank Lampard but I don’t think he has managed to solve his problems with Richarlison gone and Tarkowski and McNeil in from Burnley. They are good players and will certainly fight but unless he can make some strong signings he may still struggle. And Arsenal add to his problems with our best game so far. 4-1 brings back that winning feeling and the mindless enthusiasm of our fans. 14 points, pushing towards the top and Arteta is a genius. Yes, throw up your hands, Frank Brentford away. This match destroyed our team last season. They showed up our weakness against professional teams. We were bullied, we were outmuscled and Leno never recovered. This is not the same Arsenal. We go at them but they give as good as they get. They are tight, organised and get good breakaways. Chances are few and our supposed target Aaron Hickey who went there instead, plays very well as if he has a point to prove. But it ends as a dreary 0-0 and we have 17 points. Aaron Hickey - Could he have starred for us? Worldbeaters? That puts us joint third but we are ahead on goal difference courtesy of our two good wins. And so, we enter the next phase a bit more realistic. Champions League is within our grasp but only occasionally have we shown glimpses that we can maybe do better, be a real winning machine like Man City or Liverpool. The many hard matches are a testing ground for character, for improving our players self-belief. Last year some of our players wouldn’t dig deep when it mattered. Some are now gone. Are they replaced by battlers? I am optimistic that we will do better this year. Of course those astute fans out there will realise that the three monsters and the Spuds who finished in front of us last season are not on this list. They are the testers. We need some points on the board before we tackle them. Up the Arsenal! RIP To King Terry Neill of which I have written about extensively in these columns. A real Arsenal man, he could be found around the Emirates on match days reliving his glory days. And he did mastermind that amazing victory over Manchester United in the 1979 FA cup final which cemented Liam Brady as one of our greatest.