There are strict rules that clubs must follow in order to win the Premier League title, but Arsenal have clearly forgotten the majority of them in the 12 seasons since they last reigned in their Invincibles guise in 2003/04.
One of the golden ones is that you must under no circumstances whatsoever accept defeat in your Boxing Day fixture, a regulation that the Gunners not so much overlooked as brazenly flounced in flopping 4-0 at Southampton in their 2015 post-turkey assignment.
Just one team in 23 prior campaigns of Premier League football have shaken off such a setback to finish first, and that was Manchester United, the authority on title delivery, at their peak in 2002/03, topping the table for the eighth time in an 11-year span regardless of a 3-1 loss at Middlesbrough.
Arsenal have no such recovery stories with which to comfort themselves that what happened at St Mary’s wasn’t a crushing blow to their candidacy. On all three previous occasions that they claimed the Premier League, they were Boxing Day winners.
In 1997/98, they stirred following four reverses in six before Christmas to sink Leicester 2-1, kicking off what would become a season-transforming 18-match unbeaten run.
In 2001/02, Arsene Wenger’s men overcame an even sturdier obstacle in neighbours Chelsea, with a 2-1 victory again setting the tone for the five months ahead. Whereas they had lost three times at Highbury alone before Yuletide, they would not endure another domestic defeat at any venue that term.
In 2003/04, their game wasn’t the trickiest, as they welcomed newcomers Wolves, yet a run of three draws in four in advance had cost them top spot and stripped them of momentum. A 3-0 triumph remedied that and launched a sequence in which they collected 34 points from an available 36.
From that year onwards, 10 of the 12 Premier League champions have marked December 26 with a win, while the two exceptions compensated by at least drawing theirs. Arsenal are out to 11/8 to escape unpunished for putting the power of this trend to the test on the south coast.
Manchester City were the only of the top three to prevail on Boxing Day, thrashing Sunderland 4-1, and they are now 23/20 leaders again in the title betting despite trailing the north Londoners by one point and Leicester by two.
In addition to wiping out Arsenal’s points gain from beating them 2-1 last Monday, the Citizens transformed the goal difference situation, now boasting a four-strike advantage whereas they were previously three behind Wenger’s side.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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