The fixture list for Arsenal includes Premier League matches and Cup competitions. The following provides a lay of the land for Arsenal competition during this season.
This year, Arsenal will compete in the FA Community Shield, Barclays Premier League, UEFA Champions League, FA Cup, and Capital One Cup. It also competes in a thing called the Emirates Cup, sort of a meaningless pre-season competition at the Emirates….that Arsenal rarely manages to win (at least as far as I can tell based on my more limited attention to this cup). The point is likely to get game ready for the Premier League.
FA Community Shield is the game that precedes the start of the Premier League season. The previous year’s winner of the Barclays Premier League plays the previous year’s winner of the FA Cup. This year, it features Chelsea and Arsenal. Chelsea won the Premier League last year, and Arsenal won the FA Cup. FA Community Shield tends to be light of some of the best players as they continue to vacation following Copa America and similar national team competitions over the summer. As a result, it’s also somewhat meaningless (unless your team wins, naturally). The excitement of the Community Shield is mostly that it’s the first competition after a football-light summer.
Barclays Premier League is the top division of English football, representing the best 20 clubs as determined in most recent season play. Each team plays all 19 other teams twice, home and away. The winner of the Premier League is the one that amasses the most points across the season, with 3 points awarded for a win and 1 point for a tie. Losers get nothing (as in life). The first tiebreaker for teams with equal points is goal differential (goals for minus goals against).
The three teams that have the worst records after the season have to drop to the English Football division just lower than the Premier League, the Championship. And each season three teams come up from the Championship to the Premier League. The top two teams come directly and the remaining team that’s promoted comes up through a playoff of the teams ranked 3-6. Underperforming in the Premier League thus becomes infinitely costly for the teams, as they lose TV rights dollars, ability to attract/retain players, audience. And outperforming in the Championship produces the reverse.
Not only is the league exciting in terms of who wins, it is also exciting in terms of who performs badly enough to go down to the next division. The bottom of the Premier League tends to be tighter than the top and there often is drama until the end about who will ultimately be relegated to the Championship. There is also usually some drama about which teams will earn Premier League places 2-4. They will qualify for the UEFA Champions League. Barclays Premier League runs from August to May. The best years are the ones in which the last game of the season settles most of the positions for best, top 4, and bottom three. Rare and beautiful. Many screens are required to follow the drama because that day, every single game starts at the same time.
UEFA Champions League is a quasi-league (that’s more like a cup competition) involving the 32 best clubs in Europe based on their placement in the various European leagues. The top three teams from the previous season’s Barclays Premier League automatically qualify and the 4th place team must play in a qualification round to be part of the 32 clubs included. Last season, Arsenal finished third in the Premier League, so it automatically qualified for the Champions League this year. Play for this competition is interspersed during the normal league season, from September to May. The competition begins with 4-team group play in which each team plays the other three teams, home and away. The same point system as Premier League is applied (3 for win, 1 for tie, 0 for loss, goal differential is first tiebreaker), and the top two teams in each group progress to the round of 16. At that point teams play the top or second-placed team from a different group, both home and away. The winner on aggregate score goes on in the competition quarter finals, and semi finals. In the rounds beyond group play there is a bonus for away goals scored. The Champions League final is a single game that occurs on May 28, 2016. The very last gasp of the season.
Arsenal usually manage to stay afloat until the round of 16 at which time they lose badly at home and then put on an amazing away match to come up just short. Alas.
But not this year. Naturally.
FA (Football Association) Cup is one of the oldest (if not the oldest) football competitions in the world. There are few restrictions in terms of the English clubs that are eligible to compete, so competition includes teams of all levels. It is a single-elimination competition. You lose; you’re out. There are many multiple rounds of competition and the draw for each round is unseeded; there is no attempt to pair weak with strong to produce the best competition in later rounds. The luck of the draw determines whom your team plays and where, home or away. However, teams from the highest divisions don’t join the competition until later rounds. Premier League teams join the competition in Round 3. At that point, the weakest teams have mostly have been eliminated, but there is still a tremendous amount of diversity in team quality throughout the competition. The unseeded nature of the competition produces the effect many refer to as the “magic of the cup.” David meets Goliath and sometimes prevails. To up the magic quotient, the semifinals and final match are held at the legendary Wembley stadium, the week after the last game of the Premier League season when we fans are experiencing mild symptoms of football withdrawal. Arsenal was the FA Cup winner in 2015 and 2014, breaking a massive trophy drought.
Capital One Cup is the English League cup, featuring the top 92 teams based on placement in the top divisions of the football league, including the Premier League. It is also single elimination except in the semi final round, where two legs are played, home and away. Top divisions and teams playing in the Champions’s League enter the competition in later rounds. As cups go, it’s the one that the bigger teams seem most willing to take chances on player selection, fielding a team of young players or players who otherwise don’t see much of the light of day. If they manage to beat the competition, good enough. If not, it’s often seen as one less competition capable of producing injuries and fatigue. (This is also somewhat true for the FA Cup. Teams try to calibrate exactly how much they need to do to pass the competition, and sometimes fall short.) Nobody seems to beat themselves up too much over exiting the Capital One Cup, although Arsenal had a pretty dramatic failure in the Final a few years ago. That was quite memorable. Chelsea won it last year.