The game against Southampton last Saturday was one of the most enjoyable visits to the London Stadium this season. The 3-1 victory was well deserved and a fair reflection of the game despite the visitors having the lion’s share of possession which can be a very misleading statistic. No points are awarded for having the ball; only the result counts. We had more shots, plus more shots on target, and this led to more goals and a very welcome three points. With some of the other teams at the foot of the table also picking up points the relegation battle is intensifying with just ten games of the season to play (Villa have eleven).
It still seems likely to me that the three relegation slots will be occupied by three of the six teams currently propping up the table, although Newcastle, who are just above the bottom half dozen, could still play a part with a poor run, especially if some of the lower teams collect more than a point a game average in the run-in.
It is at this stage of a season when you are involved in the skirmish to avoid the drop into the Championship that you start to look at the remaining fixtures for your club, and also for the others in contention, to assess your chances of staying up. I keep hearing pundits saying that West Ham have a tough set of fixtures until the end of the season so I thought I’d compare them to those of our competitors at the foot of the table.
Of course there is no scientific way to work out what will happen, and there are so many variables. But for a bit of fun the first assessment I made was to look at the current league positions of all the clubs that we still have to face and give each match a score based upon the degree of difficulty. So, for example, a fixture v Liverpool would score 1, Man. City 2 etc., down to Norwich 20. Therefore based on current league positions it would give an indicator of the difficulty of matches outstanding. This made interesting reading. The score for Villa had a proportional adjustment as they have 11 games remaining.
Newcastle 116, West Ham 111, Norwich 105, Watford 103, Brighton 83, Villa 82, Bournemouth 74.
Using this formula, it would suggest that Bournemouth, Villa and Brighton have the toughest run-in. Bournemouth and Villa already occupy relegation slots so would appear to be in the greatest danger, along with Norwich who still have points to make up. However this doesn’t take into account fixtures against teams who may be in a prominent league position but have little to play for. These may be easier games than those against clubs at the bottom fighting for their lives.
So, how many games do the bottom seven clubs have against teams who are also in the bottom seven? Are these games tougher or easier? Certainly getting three points in these games in some ways is more important because it means that the opposition (who are the key rivals) don’t get any.
Newcastle 5, West Ham 4, Norwich 3, Watford 3, Brighton 2, Villa 2, Bournemouth 1
And will the FA Cup have any influence? Both Norwich and Newcastle are still involved at this stage. Will their involvement hinder or improve their chances of avoiding the drop?
Liverpool and Manchester City are way ahead of the rest of the league, so games against those two sides might be the toughest of all. But they might not if those teams relax because of positions already certain or involvement in Europe. Newcastle, Brighton, and Bournemouth still have to face both clubs. Watford, Villa and Norwich still have an outstanding fixture against one of them, whereas West Ham don’t have to face either in their final ten games. Sometimes, fixtures against mid-table sides with little to play for are the ones that you want in the last few games of the season.
So what does all this prove? Well, nothing really I just had a look for a bit of fun. Of course, as I said there are still so many variables in the remainder of the season and I haven’t even mentioned coronavirus yet.
One interesting fact is that the bottom 7 all have away games this weekend, and I believe the following weekend they will all be at home. Based on league positions alone then Bournemouth would appear to have the hardest game at Liverpool (1st), Villa are at Leicester (3rd), Brighton are at Wolves (6th), Norwich at Sheffield United (8th), West Ham at Arsenal (10th), Watford at Palace (12th), and Newcastle at Southampton (13th). I guess that we would all be happy with one point, and any team that picks up a win would gain an important advantage over the others.
The current form table (last 5 matches) has Bournemouth 7pts, West Ham, Watford, Villa and Norwich all 4 points, Newcastle and Brighton 3 points. Newcastle and Brighton are the only teams not to have won at least one game in the last five, but conversely they have more points currently than the other 5.
Current relegation odds vary slightly from bookmaker to bookmaker, but the following are average figures. Norwich 1/12, Villa 4/7, Bournemouth 8/11, West Ham 7/4, Brighton 9/4, Watford 3/1, and Newcastle 6/1.
So, having looked through all this, what do I think will happen? Lots can happen in the weeks ahead, but my feeling at this stage is that Norwich, Villa and Bournemouth will be playing Championship football next season, and apart from those, Brighton will be very involved in the scrap to survive. In my opinion West Ham and Watford will pull away from trouble, and Newcastle probably have enough points in the bag already. But we can never be sure with our team though, can we? I’ll probably need to review my prediction soon!
Arsenal are not the team they once were and are no longer anywhere near the invincibles of a few years ago. However we should not underestimate them, as although they do have defensive frailties, they are more than capable of scoring goals. My spies tell me that Tomas Soucek has made an excellent recovery from his injured hip and is likely to play a part. Will the manager keep the same team that played so well to defeat Southampton last week? Or will he revert to a more defensive formation? We have lost our last five Premier League games away from home, so I suppose we should be grateful if we can get anything at all from this game. It’s about time we won another away game. Perhaps we can sneak it 2-1?
After collecting from a 90/1 bet on West Ham last weekend, I’ll give the bookmakers a chance to get some of their money back! The bets I quite like the look of for this game are:
West Ham to win the game – 9/2;
West Ham to win 2-1 – 16/1;
West Ham to win 2-1 with Bowen scoring the first goal as he did last week – 110/1;
West Ham to win with both teams to score with both Antonio and Bowen on the scoresheet and Ogbonna to receive a card – 150/1.
All longshots but a bit of fun to add to my enjoyment of the game (I hope!)