I thought it will be interesting to check how our performance compares to last year. There are two aspects to see. One is the start i.e. during the first 7-8 weeks. Second is the corresponding performance in the fixtures that we have played so far.
The following table provides a summary of our performances. The column 2009-10 has results from this season. 2008-09C has results from the corresponding fixtures from last year. So the 1 – 1 result is from our away game to Everton last year. 2008-09 shows the results from the first seven fixtures from last year. These fixtures are mentioned in the rightmost column.
As you can see we have improved our performance over last season on both counts. At the start we had two losses and a draw. These were against Fulham, Hull and Sunderland. This year we have lost to the bigger teams from Manchester and converted the loss at Fulham into a win.
We had lost to Citeh last year as well in the corresponding fixture. The score line and the performance this year were certainly an improvement. Saying that when we conceded four goals only highlights how bad we were last year even though we managed fourth place and a couple of semi-finals. So if we improve this year hopefully our end results should also improve.
This year we have also converted an away draw at Goodison into a comprehensive win. We have also notched up good wins over Wigan and Portsmouth whereas last year we only managed 1 – 0 triumphs. We have four points more than what we had in the corresponding fixtures and two more than the start last year.
The only negative aspect so far is that we have doubled our tally of goals conceded. But we have also significantly improved our goals scored. My guess is that Arsene thinks we just have to score more as the defence will anyway leak a few goals. As long as our attacking players are fit I think it’s an approach than can work well for us.
Now let’s see how the other top clubs have fared in a similar comparison
United have significantly improved on their start in terms of points. Last season they had two draws and a loss in the first six games. They had played a game less due to their involvement with the UEFA Super Cup (which they lost) and this season there has been one fixture more than what we had last year in the same time frame.
Interestingly, their loss came against Liverpool and a draw against Chelsea. I will be very keen to see if they can improve against the top sides. They have already improved one result against us.
The most important observation is their loss to Burnley. Last season they had a perfect record against the teams from the bottom half of the table. It’s gone already. They have also doubled their goals conceded tally. It will be a much bigger worry for them than it is for us especially with the loss of Ronaldo and Tevez.
For the sake of comparison I have used results against WBA for Burnley and Middlesbrough for Birmingham when looking at last year’s results. The teams that got promoted came up in the order Wolves, Birmingham and Burnley and last season’s table had Newcastle, Middlesbrough and West Brom going down. It’s not a perfect way to compare but it should suffice.
United have lost points against Burnley and Sunderland while gaining points against Arsenal and Spuds. I am not sure they can continue improving against the top clubs with the squad they have. If they lose more points to the smaller clubs we will certainly see a different title winner this year.
Chelsea have improved significantly in the corresponding fixtures. They had a draw at home to Hull and Spuds as well as one away to Fulham. All these have been converted to victories. They have also converted the home loss to Liverpool into a victory. The only hiccup has been the loss to Wigan.
But we must remember that they had a great start to the season last year as well. Everyone was going ga-ga over Scolari. But we all know how that ended. Much of their initial success is down to the form of Drogba. An injury to him or just a change of mood for the big Ivorian could result in a change of fortunes for them.
We have been hearing how strong their squad is and how they will win everything for the last three years. It hasn’t happened. I doubt this year will be any different.
Liverpool have the worst start amongst the top four. They have already lost more matches than they did in the whole of last year. But they have also converted home draws with Hull and Stoke into impressive wins. I think Benitez has finally decided that he will not focus on defence all the time. It will be interesting to see if they can convert more draws into wins or not. My guess is that Liverpool will win a few more matches but they will lose a few more as well. They are the most likely to go out of the top four.
Looking at these comparisons I am happy with our start. We need to improve and there can be no doubt about that. But I can definitely see Liverpool and United slipping more often. Chelsea are unpredictable but when the manager has communication problems with the team you never know how a long season will unfold. I think in May we may find the top four or even the top six to be a lot closer than last year.