Repeating History – 2003 or 2007?
Author: Emily Pulham. Published: 3 February 2020 at 8:09pm
Written by : Jonathan Lee
So 25 games gone, 24 points earned, and the (although more often than not lower) target of reaching 40 points to secure survival, with a challenging set of games on the horizon. Sadly, one win from our last ten home games has put us in deep relegation trouble and the only real surprise has been that it has taken this many weeks for us to finally fall into the bottom three.
Messrs Soucek and Bowen must seriously been wondering what they have got themselves into after the tame capitulation against Brighton and catalogue of defensive errors. Such errors from players throughout the season come from two things – a lack of confidence and a fear of failing, a deadly combination which once it gets inside a player’s mind is hard to shift – for that read Diop, Haller, Balbuena, Lanzini, Arthur; plus intermittent displays from the likes of Anderson, Fornals, Noble, Cresswell, Fredericks; and simply non-displays and non-appearances from the likes of Ajeti, Roberto, Sanchez, Yarmolenko and Wilshere.
Perhaps the introduction of Soucek and Bowen will have a positive impact on their new team mates, as opposed to them being dragged down to the levels we have seen in recent weeks, which is of course the danger – that they simply follow the masses and let their heads drop and step onto the field already mentally defeated. It is no time for pretty football now; if you have to win ugly, then you win ugly, you win and lose as a team, and never stop believing. But don’t think that for one minute we can write off the next half dozen games and then miraculously win 5 from the last seven or eight, against teams in and around us. Football doesn’t often work like that. The 2006/07 season was an amazing turnaround but based on what we have seen in recent months this group of players doesn’t have the personalities, or ability, to replicate that.
To have any chance of avoiding the drop, the form book will need to be turned upside down, and quickly. The season can possibly be split into two from now til May, the next seven matches, and then the final six games – 3 home and 3 away.
The next seven games are: Man City (A); Liverpool (A); Southampton (H); Arsenal (A); Wolves (H); Spurs (A); and Chelsea (H). The 3 home games left after that are: Burnley; Watford and Villa; The 3 away games are: Norwich, Newcastle and Man Utd.
None of those games, in the last stretch of the season, will prove to be a comfortable experience, and we certainly can’t bank on winning most of those encounters. As such, we will need to upset the form guide over the next seven games, and somehow, some way, win at least two. That would take us to 30 points. That would leave a slightly more achievable 3 from the last 6 still to be won, although even that is still a tough ask. That would take us to 39 points and almost certainly safety barring any silly maths working against us like in 2003.
The other candidates for the drop – and realistically there are only 5 (Norwich, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth and Villa) – also have a tough set of fixtures throughout February and March, so it may be the case that should we come out with very little in our next seven matches that we may not actually be cut adrift. But, and it’s a big but, every season one or two of the teams in trouble tend to find an extra blast of energy and luck from somewhere and upset the form book, so we cannot necessarily anticipate still being in touch. To keep our destiny in our own hands we need to beat at least two teams over the next couple of months – the Man City and Liverpool juggernauts in their own back yards would appear to be asking way too much, which leaves three London derbies, a rejuvenated Southampton and a classily efficient Wolves to gain those wins.
Can we really do the double over Chelsea? Can we possibly win away at Spurs in back to back seasons ? Do we really have enough to overcome Arsenal at the Emirates? Can we deal with Danny Ings and Adam Traore in the big open spaces of the London Stadium? To avoid the drop, two of these questions simply have to be answered by the players in the affirmative, as if we head into the last six games with say only 26 or 27 points (or possibly lower) and requiring a minimum of 4 wins, we can look forward to welcoming Rotherham to the London Stadium next season, making the long journey to Hull, and a mass exodus of first team players. And although we have bounced back almost immediately in seasons gone by, there is a strong feeling that might not be the case this time around should relegation follow.
By the time the home game to Chelsea has finished, we will have a better idea of the fate that awaits us. Hang onto your hats and keep everything crossed, it looks like being a mighty bumpy ride …