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October 2016
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The sprint and the marathon. How much Arsenal’s start tells us about where they will finish.

By Tony Attwood

When Arsenal lost to Liverpool on the opening day the knives were out.  Losing on the opening day was a disaster said the doubters.  That’s it.  All over.

But just as people have said that only teams that spend loads of money do well, (the stats show that there is little relationship between spending and success) or those that bring in the top scorer in the league (ditto – little relationship between having him and winning the league), so I wondered.  Did winning the opening matches really make for winning the league?

Here’s our form in the opening eight games over the years.

Season 1st game Wins after 8 Draws after 8 Losses after 8 Pts after 8 Pos after 8 Pos at end
2016/17 Lost 6 1 1 19 2/3 2
2015/16 Lost 5 1 2 16 2 2
2014/15 Won 2 5 1 11 6 3
2013/14 Lost 6 1 1 19 1 4
2012/13 Drew 3 3 2 12 9 4
2011/12 Drew 3 1 4 10 10 3
2010/11 Drew 4 2 2 14 3 4
2009/10 Won 6 0 2 18 4 3

Now the startling fact is that this is the same start as we had in 2013/14, where in fact we were first at this moment.  (Had Theo’s shot not hit both posts and gone out we would have been top).

And by one point it is better than the previous best season – 2009/10.  And given that I am writing this before the monday night game, I don’t know if we are second or third after everyone has had their first eight games.  We can lose the first game, but then tot up six wins and a draw, be first and end up fourth.  Or we could be three points worse off, be second and end up second.

This is not a modern phenomena.  As I work through my series on Arsenal in the 30s on the Arsenal History Society site, it is clear that the same sort of thing could happen then as now.  Suddenly in mid season everything could go right – or wrong.  Sometimes it is injuries but sometimes it just happens.

In the years leading up to 1934/5 – the last of the three championships Arsenal won on the trot Arsenal had developed a way of winning away, almost as much as they won at home.   It was all based on Chapman’s counter attacking system and it worked a treat.

But in 1934/5 it all went wrong.  By the end of 1934 Arsenal had won only one game away.   Then they went on a staggering run, winning every match in January without conceding a goal, including three away wins.  Their two rivals (Sunderland and Manchester City) slipped up, and Arsenal roared through once more.

In short, stuff happens (to use the polite version).

But what comes across most of all is that this doesn’t tell us too much.

The Telegraph has done an analysis of the average record of the eventual champions after seven games, and it is won 4 drawn 2 and lost 1.  Arsenal’s position was won 5 drawn 1 lost 1.  A little too good to be champions!  Teams that are unbeaten after seven games tend to end up in fourth.   

But “tend to” is the key.  Obviously in the unbeaten season, we didn’t.

The point here is that the opening games in the league are not a true indication of what happens next, because all hell can break lose at any time.  Injuries can hit, disasters can strike, a bad run sets in and teams don’t find a way out.

So one can’t even say, “but obviously it would have been better to have won the first game”.  Not necessarily.

One thing Mr Wenger did was to allow players time to come back after the Euros.  He was heavily criticised for that, but the fact is that in terms of results it has turned out very well.  Yes Man City went off on a sprint, but they’ve been hauled back of late.  We took a hit and got going.   All this stuff about one defeat and that is it, is rubbish.

Over the last five matches Arsenal are of course the form team.  Tottenham and Liverpool (before tonight’s game) are just behind with one draw and four wins.

After that it is Southampton, Man City and Palace with three wins, one draw and one defeat.  Can we tell much from this?

Obviously it is better to be near the top than near the bottom, regularly winning rather than the reverse.  But really you can’t predict too much from eight games.

  Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 8 6 1 1 19 8 11 19
2 Arsenal 8 6 1 1 19 9 10 19
3 Tottenham Hotspur 8 5 3 0 13 4 9 18
4 Liverpool 7 5 1 1 18 10 8 16
5 Chelsea 8 5 1 2 15 9 6 16
6 Everton 8 4 3 1 12 6 6 15
7 Manchester United 7 4 1 2 13 8 5 13
8 Southampton 8 3 3 2 10 7 3 12
9 Crystal Palace 8 3 2 3 11 9 2 11
10. Watford 8 3 2 3 13 13 0 11

As the table shows at this moment there is one goal difference between us and Man City, but they shot out of the blocks at full speed and some said they were unstoppable, what with THAT manager and all THAT money.  Turns out they can’t even match us on an unbeaten season.

And don’t forget, four of those goals against us came in one match.

Recent tales from Untold and the Arsenal History Society

Wenger ponders whether Yaya Sanogo will ever really be good enough for Arsenal. 

How Arsène Wenger’s faith in Theo Walcott is paying off this season

Granit gets 3, and what would it have been like if we had signed Icardi?

Parliament is going to propose that corruption in football is investigated by…. The FA!!!

Referee Appointments and Results Matchweek #07 complete with video evidence

Arsenal – Swansea 3-2, good play, nasty tackle and character shown

Arsenal in December 1934: two steps forward, two steps back.

Former Arsenal player John Barnwell talks about his years at Highbury

10 comments to The sprint and the marathon. How much Arsenal’s start tells us about where they will finish.

  • Blacksheep

    I think it’s very easy to look at the first home game and think Arsenal were awful and/or Liverpool were brilliant. In reality both sides defended badly and both attacked with verve. We made mistakes and so did they and yes we lacked a bit of composure at the back which Mustafi has improved. If we had bought him earlier would we have done better? Maybe but there’s no guarantee because as a German international I suspect he would have been eased back as all the players were who went the distance at the Euros.

    That game is no indicator of how the season will pan out (for us or Liverpool!!!) But more importantly our form and City’s and others demonstrates that the pundits know jack sh*t as well. They wrote us off immediately and peddle the same tired rhetoric about not spending money and having no leaders.

  • The league table is still accurate after a 0-0 draw in what was billed by Sky as the most amazing and exciting game of the century.

  • James

    Two posts tonight, but everyone must be asleep after the dross at anfield.

  • Robert

    OT. A Terry Pratchett quote from Jingo that you might usefully adapt, Tony:

    “Sergeant Colon had had a broad education. He’d been to the School of My Dad Always Said, the College of It Stands to Reason, and was now a post-graduate student at the University of What Some Bloke In the Pub Told Me.”

    Swop Sergeant Colon for Pundit X or Critic Y, and Bob’s yer uncle.

  • Gord

    Bob’s my uncle? You’re my uncle? 🙂

    I guess we are in the middle preparing for the next game, which is Ludogrets at Wenger Stadium.

    What is it with the medja and the “Player XYZ _warns_ team mates about …” articles?

    Do we have?

    Pee Wee Herman warns Mr. Bean that rabbit jokes are no longer funny.

    Bugs Bunny warns Daffy Duck that Elmer Fudd thinks it is duck season.

    John McCain warns Donald Trump not to step on spiders.


    Apparently Kim Little has come back to Arsenal Ladies from Seattle Reign. Seattle Times said it was an “impressive multi-year contract”, but didn’t give specifics (that I noticed anyway). also has a blurb on this.

    Welcome back Kim.

  • Menace

    Isn’t it great to compete with those that put their money where it makes most noise. Arsenal were 6/1 at the start of the season. Then one match later 12/1 & very quickly were 15/1 & 16/1. It was a great time to make money. Knowing how good Arsenal are it was easy to bet a load of money at those 15/1 16/1 odds. The odds have now dropped to 5/1, so there are 10 points available to take as profit now. There is nothing better than winning a few quid off those that put you down. It is not a game to get involved in if you do not understand the risks. You need to be able to lose without emotion.

    Following a football team is more than emotion. It becomes a passion. There are many who will try to get to you by laying one on you (as per the soccer pundits). There are those like Alexis that have had more than one laid on them & those that police the game ignore the offence. It is sinful. It is where lack of human decency is exposed. There are many who cannot accept emotional expression & look to incite bile rather than empathise with the individual. William Gallas was moved to tears when blatantly cheated by poor officiating & had to tolerate media goading because of it. Few if any of the media cared about the ‘fairness’ of the officiating then & that remains the same now What grates more is that fans blinded by their ignorance & guided by media turned on their teams captain.

    It is a truth that still lives in Arsenals support today. Some fall under the aaa & others float around waiting to exude their aroma as soon as the team makes a mistake.

  • para

    The liverpool game we lost, we did not play bad unlike some other games we lost, and for anyone to damm the team for that is wrong.

    It was clear in spite of the result, that we had a different team, a team that allows us as spectators to relax a little more during games unlike the panicky nail biting last “10 mins” of other games.

    There is a different aura around the team now and i’m sure even “blind” can see that. A strength that will see us through.

    So lets all wish for no long term injuries and no incidents that will de-rail Arsenal, and before you go to sleep every night, visualise Arsenal lifting the PL cup, you know how it looks, just picture this as your last thoughts before sleeping. 🙂

    I need to say that we have to stop bullying the AAA, after all we should know better. We are acting like bullies in the school yard towards the AAA.

    We should not make fun of their deficiencies in understanding Arsenal, they cannot help it, so we like the good people we are should really take them into care and give them the help they really need instead of “bullying” them! Shame on us!

  • Robido

    The extreme aaa must be in a bit of a quandry. Those who just want Arsene out can only now fully support him and the team and hope we win the league so he goes out on a high.

  • Sammy The Snake

    Let’s remember that our first game against Liverpool could have gone either way. And we are on a great run in all competitions:

    Leicester – Draw
    Watford – Win
    Southampton – Win
    PSG – Draw
    Hull – Win
    N Forest – Win
    Chelsea – Win (And how sweet it was!)
    Basel – Win
    Burnley – Win
    Swansea – Win

    And our next 5 games look winnable on paper (all fingers crossed) if Arsenal play as well as they have recently.

    Then we hit our usual November tough-patch: Sp#rs, ManU, PSG. Good results here should set us up well for the season.

  • Goonermikey

    Mie Dean this week. How things can change!

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