Arsene Wenger has said the Premier League is a marathon not a sprint, ahead of the crucial Champions League tie away to Napoli. Despite approaching fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea in the league, Wenger is placing far more importance in the Champions League, where Arsenal can qualify first from their group with a draw in Naples.
There is far too much importance placed in the points gained from the big league matches, especially this season. But such has been the inconsistency of those who are considered title challengers – Chelsea conceding three in back-to-back games against Sunderland and Stoke; Manchester City still shaky away from home; and Manchester United fighting for a top four place as of now – that it is simply doesn’t matter how the title winner finishes first.
Arsenal have been criticised in the past for their inability to get maximum points from the “lesser” teams in the league, often failing to turn up mentally and with the idea that a win was already in the bag. But this season, Wenger has added urgency to his team. They’re no longer careless in their approach, for the most part going for the win from the off.
It’s the kind of results that do separate title winners from the chasing pack. Arsenal have taken points and even won at grounds where others have failed, and notably those with greater resources. If Arsenal fail to pick up maximum points against Manchester City and Chelsea over the next two games, it shouldn’t matter too much. Neither side is void of problems, while Arsenal have a cushion of five points on second and third placed Liverpool and Chelsea.
But does it really matter how the title is won? Is a champion any less a champion because they haven’t won all of the big games? Why should it matter as long as they do eventually finish higher than the rest due to a consistency that others failed to establish in low-key games?
Manchester United won the title in 2011 and yet lost away games against Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, while also drawing away to both Spurs and Manchester City. United didn’t have to win the individual sprints; over the course of the marathon, they were better than everyone else.
On paper, Arsenal are better than the teams they have beaten in the league this season. It was important, though, to take points from that position of superiority, where in the past they likely would have conceded late or simply failed to get out of the starting gate.
Arsenal don’t have to win each of the heavyweight match-ups this season. At the midway point of the season, Wenger’s side are showing a consistency that is lost on others.