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By Tony Attwood
The last time Arsenal came runners-up in the league was in 2015/16. Leicester won the league and Arsenal got 71 points – a league total that hasn’t been beaten by Arsenal since then… until this season’s 84. Which is the club’s best since the unbeaten season. The goals scored in the league totalled 88 – the highest number in 59 years – and of course, in 1963/4 they played four more games.
All of which makes this season just finished sound rather jolly, so I thought I would ask just how jolly, in comparison with whatever I could find to measure it against.
The Athletic, in its team of the year has three Arsenal players: Saka, Odegaard and Saliba. One other club has three players in its team of the year, and that is Manchester City with the obvious Haaland, plus Rodri and Stones. Which rather obviously means six of the chosen XI are from two clubs. Brighton, Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle get one each, which says quite a bit about how the journalists feel two teams are pulling away from the rest.
Interestingly, 90min who we often quote, also had three Arsenal players in the team of the season: the same three. But although they choose three Manchester City players, it is a different three: Nathan Ake, Kevin De Bruyne, and Ilkay Gundogan. And that’s the worrying sign – they have so many good players the journalists can’t even agree which ones to pick.
Now the BBC do it a different way announcing, “Statisticians Opta have come up with a Premier League team of the season using their stats from the campaign.” This time only two Arsenal players make it: Odegaard and Zinchenko. There are four from Manchester City.
OneFootball revealed a FIFA 23 Premier League team of the season with 41 players in it. Seven of them are from Arsenal, but only six from Manchester City. The Arsenal men are Ramsdale, Magalhaes, Saliba, Zinchenko, Odegaard, Martinelli, Saka.
Now my point in going through these (and you will be pleased to know I’m stopping the lists here), is that not only did Arsenal and Manchester City dominate the league, they are also dominating this list of “top” players.
And not just dominating but almost dominating to the point of elimination all the other teams. With six players out of 11 in the lists where publications select a team, that means 55% of the players come from 10% of the teams. And when the Fifa 23 selection was reduced from its 41 players to 11 there were seven players from the top two clubs, leaving the remaining 18 Premier League clubs to fight over the last four places.
Now this is perhaps not too surprising given how the top two clubs dominated and I wondered how often we have seen this in the past and what has happened thereafter. And of course obviously, we think at once of last season which showed a similar effect. Here’s 2021/2
But as Liverpool has shown, being part of a two horse race doesn’t guarantee anything for next season. Going back to 2020/1 there were gaps but they were smaller
In 2019/20 Liverpool were out on their own winning the title by 18 points, but the trend in recent years has been for the two-horse race to be what we find in the PL.
In fact, the last time we didn’t have that two-horse race effect was 2017/18 when Manchester City won the league by 19 points. Indeed the last time the Premier League (known throughout the media but not in many other places as the “most competitive league in the world”) really had a season in which several clubs were seriously competing for top spot was way back in 2013/14 which ended with Manchester City winning, and Arsenal in fourth, but with the gap between them being on seven points.
Indeed in the last ten years, the average number of points achieved by the winning team is 91.2, the highest being 100 (Manchester City in 2017/18) and the lowest being 81 (Leicester City). This season having the top scorer in the league playing for the champions is rather unusual.
So pulling a range of data together what can we say as to how a team has to perform to win the Premier League based on the evidence from the league itself since 1996 when it became a 38-game programme.
- The most wins: 32 (3 times)
- The lowest number of defeats (0) – you know about that one
- The most goals: 106. Three times teams have scored 100+
- The fewest number of goals: 68 (Manchester United)
- The best defence: 15 (Chelsea)
- The worst defence: 43 (Manchester United)
- The best goal difference: 79 (Manchester City)
- The fewest points: 81 (Leicester City)
So now we know what Arsenal have to aim for next season.
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