ARSENAL’S north London derby defeat to Tottenham at Wembley has now left them eight points off the top four, and it’s their away form which is the main cause for concern.
Arsene Wenger’s side have picked up 32 points at the Emirates this season, the third-best tally in the Premier League, but their record of 13 points from 14 away games so far has proven to be their downfall.
The stark contrast between home and away form is nothing new either. Only Manchester City and Tottenham have a better home record in their last 26 fixtures.
However, Arsenal have averaged only one point in each of their last 26 away matches, which is less than half than Chelsea and Manchester City have accumulated in the same period.
And Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football experts have argued that it’s away games where the mentality of the big teams is truly tested.
THIERRY HENRY: It’s difficult to explain. You expect Arsenal to have a good record at home, you don’t expect Arsenal to get that many points away from home. It’s very low. We won the league twice unbeaten away from home. With all the flamboyant football we were playing, we knew how to go away and get a 0-0, winning 1-0, not conceding away from home. We knew at home we could open teams up. In 2001/02 all the games we lost were at home. You win the title away from home.
JAMIE CARRAGHER: I always felt as a defender, I earned my money away from home. If we were playing at home at Anfield, it was the attackers’ job to win the game and we just made sure everything was ok. I go away from home, I’m not expecting the attack to be playing out of their skin. It’s not easy away from home as an attacker.
Carragher has been critical of the mentality of Arsenal’s players for some time now and described their away statistics as “embarrassing”.
CARRAGHER: I’ve always questioned Arsenal’s mentality. But you’ve always felt they were good enough. I actually still question the mentality but they’re not good enough now. That’s the big thing. Arsenal are actually getting worse now. They’re not getting better. If you go back to the MNF we did against Crystal Palace at the end of last season, I called them cowards. Maybe afterwards when we calmed down a little bit, you reflect and think maybe that was a bit strong, but those stats back it up; 26 points from 26 away games is an embarrassment for a team who are supposedly one of the top teams in the country.
Arsenal signed Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang in January, but despite a late move for West Brom’s Jonny Evans, they failed to bring in any defensive reinforcements. However, the MNF experts were divided in their views on Wenger’s ability to spot defensive talent.
CARRAGHER: I look at Arsene Wenger saying he couldn’t afford Jonny Evans, but he could afford £50m strikers. It’s not about affording – he just doesn’t see it. I don’t think he’s ever spent big on a defender. Why didn’t he go for Virgil van Dijk? Liverpool have got the same problems. At least Jurgen Klopp is trying to fix it with Van Dijk. Why isn’t he going for those players?
HENRY: Maybe he doesn’t see it as a problem, when we all can see it is. Why didn’t he go for Van Dijk? In the history of Arsenal, Kolo Toure was almost nothing, Sol Campbell was nothing. I know we’re talking about other times and now people have a price which goes beyond what it should be. Does he know the qualities of defenders? Yes. That’s the story with Arsene. People always say he doesn’t want to pay big and he thinks some of the players are not worth the price that you put on the table. But it’s a new era. If you want someone good, you need to but £60m, £70m, whatever the position is. I think he finds that really difficult. He does it easily for a striker or a creative player but no disrespect to defenders but he is like ‘that might be a lot’.
Arsenal accumulated 75 points last season and became the first team in Premier League history to miss out on the top four with such a points tally.
They would need to pick up 30 points from their final 11 matches just to match last season’s total, indicating this could be the second season in a row Arsenal miss out on a Champions League spot.
They play Ostersunds in the last 32 of the Europa League on Thursday and both of our analysts believe winning that competition could provide their best route back into the Champions League.
HENRY: You still have some big teams in the Europa League, including Arsenal. Realistically, what they can achieve the most, I think, is winning the Europa League. I see that more happening than them finishing in the top four. Something incredible might happen but it’s unlikely. So are you going to focus only on the Europa League and let the league go? I don’t think you can do that. But you should go really strong on trying to win the Europa League. At the end of the day that brings you back into the Champions League, and it is a trophy.
CARRAGHER: I think it is virtually impossible for them [to reach top four]. They’re not catching Manchester United, it is very difficult to catch Liverpool because of the points gap and Liverpool’s next two games are two winnable home games against West Ham and Newcastle, while Arsenal’s next game is Man City. Tottenham are seven points clear of them and are the best team in the league – and have been for the past couple of years – in the second half of the season. And also the biggest reason is they’re not good enough. So they’ve got a points deficit and they’re not as good as any of those sides. They have to prioritise the Europa League because they won’t be getting top four.