Arsenal grabbed a draw against Bournemouth with a 92nd minute equalizer after facing a 3-0 deficit. The Gunners showed great character to fight back, but their title hopes died at the Vitality Stadium.
Realistically, Arsenal were already serious long shots to win the Premier League. To have any chance at all they needed to win their next four games against Bournemouth, Swansea City, Burnley, and Watford. Now they find themselves fifth in the table and eight points behind leaders Chelsea.
Even before the match it was unlikely any team other than Chelsea was going to win the title. Only the Newcastle side of 1995/1996 has ever blown a lead of six points or more after 19 matches, as said in the tweet below. But any hopes Arsenal had of sneaking back into the race after a Liverpool draw the previous day and with Chelsea facing a good Spurs side the day after were crushed with their dropped points on the south coast.
Only one team has failed to win the league with a lead the same size/greater than Chelsea’s current one after 19 games (Newcastle in 95/96).
— OSC (@OneShortCorner) January 2, 2017
So Arsenal have dropped out of the title race… again. The reason often cited for Arsenal dropping out of title races is that they lack the character needed to sustain a title challenge for the entire 38 game season. But this Arsenal team doesn’t really seem to have that problem.
“It was a mental test, but we succeeded because we have great resilience in the team and great mental strength and that came out,” manager Arsene Wenger said after the Bournemouth match.
Heads don’t drop in this Arsenal side, in fact, outside of the EFL Cup where Wenger didn’t field his best side, Arsenal are yet to lose a game this season when conceding the first goal. In seven Premier League and Champions League matches where they’ve conceded the first goal they have wins against Stoke City, Southampton, and Ludogorets along with draws home and away to Paris Saint-Germain, away against Manchester United, and away to Bournemouth.
“It’s a great reaction from the team. We were 3-0 down but we found a way to play our game, open them up and score goals,” goalkeeper Petr Cech said. “We were decisive in the final third and we showed great character to come back.”
This Arsenal team has plenty of mental strength and character. They just aren’t the best team in the Premier League.
This season Arsenal have taken the sixth most shots in the Premier League, have had the sixth most shots on target in the league, and have conceded the sixth fewest shots in the league, according to Whoscored.com. Those just aren’t title winning numbers. Through the first 18 matches, their big chance difference was slightly better at fifth in the league, according to Objectivefootball, but that’s still hardly the mark of a title winning side.
This Arsenal team has problems, they have often struggled in midfield, especially without Santi Cazorla, they are impotent at creating chances without Mesut Ozil, and even when everyone is healthy they sometimes struggle to control games. There is a list of problems that exist in this Arsenal side, but lack of character or lack of mental strength don’t really seem to be on that list.
It would take a monumental turnaround in Arsenal’s performances and a collapse from Chelsea and the rest of the top six for the Gunners to win the title at this stage. But Arsenal’s mental strength or lack thereof isn’t what has dropped them out of the title race this season, it’s that they just haven’t been good enough.