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The margin of error
The fate of the title remains in Arsenal hands but it's tighter than ever
After a few days of thinking about it all, and having already dealt with the disappointment of the draw against Liverpool, here is where I am with the title race right now …
97 points. 92 points. Second place.
In two of the last four seasons, Liverpool have amassed more points than Arsenal ever have in a league season and failed to win the title. In one of the others they picked up 99 points — the second-highest tally in Premier League history — to be crowned champions.
That is the bar that Manchester City have set and it is a bar Arsenal have threatened to clear all season long.
At 2.39 points per game, even when adjusted for the two points for a win era, Arsenal are performing better than in any season the club has ever played. Including 13 title-winning campaigns. At 2.39 goals per game, Arsenal are on course to score more than in any league season Arsène Wenger ever presided over. But it still might not be enough. Pep Guardiola’s perennial champions are giving chase, they’re in ominous form, and there is absolutely no margin of error.
It’s the sort of thing that can send the fanbase into a tailspin. Since losing to City and momentarily relinquishing top spot (albeit with a game in hand), Mikel Arteta’s players have rallied to win seven in a row before consecutive away draws. The nine-game stretch has seen Arsenal win all four home games, play five times away and take 11 from a possible 15 points, and they’ve averaged three goals per game along the way.
It is crazy to think that run of results, under immense pressure with City in pursuit, could be considered not good enough but that’s the level now demanded to win the league. Arsenal have done incredibly to build such a cushion that even two draws, in games where the team have led by two goals, have not been fatal. Imagine how deflating it would be to have had those draws send us behind City. But the players still have everything in their own hands, they have just lost their margin for error.
And that margin could not be finer. Its’ foundations were the injury-time winners against Manchester United, Aston Villa, and Bournemouth. If Jorginho’s late strike at Villa hits Emiliano Martinez and bounces out for a corner instead and if Reiss Nelson’s first touch in the 97th minute against Bournemouth isn’t perfect, then we would already be talking about another league title for City.
Likewise, Trent Alexander-Arnold’s nutmeg on Oleksandr Zinchenko missing the Arsenal left-back’s heel by millimetres, or Saka’s almost inexplicable penalty miss, could be the moment we look back on as the reason we did not quite do enough.
And I think that is the hardest thing to process right now; this title will be decided by margins so slim that pain and regret is all but guaranteed.
The truth is, if Arsenal can hold their nerve and grab any kind of result at City, winning the other six remaining games would to clinch the title. After the draw at Liverpool, the ‘easiest’ path to the title was to draw at City and Arsenal could then afford to draw one more game. That other game (those other dropped points) has now already happened and Arsenal still need a result at City anyway.
For all the talk about Rob Holding and Reuell Waters, or whether Thomas Partey should play right-back, or if Arsenal should now throw in Jakub Kiwior on his unfavoured right-side, or whether William Saliba can play again this season, it will all come down to a matter of inches, a missed tap-in, or a bad VAR call. Accepting that does not make it any easier but I think it has at least calmed me down. Until Friday’s game against Southampton kicks off.