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|
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.
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.
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