Saturday 17 February 2018

Like clockwork every year - Here's why Arsenal are always so bad in November

Mezut Ozil of Arsenal and Laurent Koscielny looks dejected during the Uefa Champions League match between Paris Saint Germain and Arsenal at Parc des Princes on September 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport) (Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images)
Mezut Ozil of Arsenal and Laurent Koscielny looks dejected during the Uefa Champions League match between Paris Saint Germain and Arsenal at Parc des Princes on September 13, 2016 in Paris, France. (Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport) (Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Charlie Eccleshare

As the clocks go backwards at the end of October each year, so invariably do Arsenal.

The recurring themes of Arsene Wenger's reign are well-documented, but one of the more curious trends is Arsenal's annual struggle in November.

During the Frenchman's 20-year tenure, Arsenal's points per game ratio in November is far worse than in any other month, and way down on their average for the rest of the year. 

Over the course of 78 Premier League matches in November since 1996, Arsenal have picked up 1.59 points per match, with the next lowest 1.88 in August, and the average for the other nine months 2.03.

It's a significant statistical difference from a substantial sample size, and follows two of Arsenal's traditionally strongest months of September and October (2.14 points per game and 2.15 respectively).

So, why do Arsenal fare so badly in the 11th month of the year?

Injury problems

One of the biggest issues Arsenal tend to face in November is a glut of injuries. Last year the Gunners began November with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and David Ospina all missing, and Per Mertesacker admitted after a 1-1 draw with Tottenham that the stretched squad were "a bit knackered".

Injuries at Arsenal are of course not unique to November, but they become harder to absorb a few months into the season when overworked players begin to feel the effects of a busy start to the campaign.

It was in November last year that Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez suffered injuries (the latter unquestoonably linked to an excessive workload), and the season before Jack Wilshere was ruled out for most of the campaign after damaging ankle ligaments against Manchester United.

It's perfectly possible that the same will happen again this season. Injuries in the advanced midfield positions and up front have reduced Wenger's ability to rotate as much as he would have liked, and Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Thewo Walcott have only missed one match between them in the last eight Premier League and Champions League fixtures.

Fixture pile-up

On average Arsenal only play more matches in April and December than in November, and this could be a contributing factor to why they traditionally struggle. Their opponents will of course also be playing more league matches, but Arsenal will always have the greater November workload given their Champions League and often League Cup commitments.

A vicious cycle then develops whereby Arsenal are playing more matches but with fewer available players, which means less rotation and greater risk of injuries.

Strength of opposition

Part of the reason Arsenal have struggled in November in recent years has been down to the fact they've been playing harder opposition, against whom they have typically struggled.

Since the start of the 2006-7 season Arsenal have on average faced at least one of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham or Liverpool in November. The one occasion Arsenal didn't face one of their main rivals in November over the last 10 years was in 2011, when their points per game rocketed up to 2.33.

Ominously for Arsenal, this November includes matches against  both Tottenham and Manchester United.

Key matches

November always includes must win matches for Arsenal in the Champions League, which further reduces Wenger's ability to rotate his squad.

With European matches needing to be prioritised, Arsenal's league form has often taken a hit in November in the last few seasons. Of their last eight league November league matches immediately after Champions League games, Arsenal have recorded just two wins.

What to expect this year

Difficult league matches against Tottenham and Manchester United, coupled with the potential Champions League group decider against Paris Saint-Germain, provide reason to believe Arsenal could be in for another difficult November.

Injuries are also starting to mount, though Walcott and Cazorla are due back soon and Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey have both returned in the last week.

Wenger is aware of how tough this month could be for his team. "We now have a difficult November. By the end of the November we'll know more about ourselves," he said on the weekend.

"I believe we are more mature than previous seasons, yes, but that's what we want to show over a longer distance, and that's what is at stake."

Arsenal's least favourite month begins on Tuesday with a relatively straightforward looking trip to Ludogorets, before the real business begins with the north London derby on Sunday.

How Wenger would love a win to start burying his team's November hoodoo.

Telegraph.co.uk

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport