Arsenal’s three seasons of improvement is very unusual, but must be maintained



By Tony Attwood

In the last article I had a look at how clubs’ fortunes have changed in the last two seasons.  Now I want to go back a bit and look at the top eight Premier League clubs for 2021/2 compared with the top eight for 2020/21.   It turns out the clubs were exactly the same (just in a different order), which gave the feel of continuity and stability.  But can we see clubs constantly improving, or are they just going up and down like yoyos?

I thought it might be interesting to have a look because it might give an idea of whether Arsenal is breaking back into the top four for good (as they were from 1997 to 2016), or just themselves part of a three-year cycle yoyo experience.

This table shows the top clubs for 2020/21 and 2021/2 and looks at how they compared for goals scored (GF) goals against (GA), points and then the difference between the two seasons.   The Diff (difference) columns simply show the rise or fall of the column on the left.  Clubs alternate in colour just to make it easier to differentiate one from another.  


Pos Team GF Diff GA Diff GD Diff Pts Diff
2020/21 Manchester City 83 32 51   86
2021/22 Manchester City 99 +16 26 -6 73 +22 93 +7
2020/21 Liverpool 68 42 26   69
2021/22 Liverpool 94 +26 26 -16 68 +42 92 +23
2020/21 Chelsea 58 36 22   67
2021/22 Chelsea 76 +18 33 -3 43 +21  74 +7
2020/21 Tottenham Hotspur 68 45 23   62
2021/22 Tottenham Hotspur 69 +1 40 -5 29 +6  71 +9
2020/21 Arsenal 55 39 16   61
2021/22 Arsenal 61 +6 48 +9 13 -3  69 +8
2020/21 Manchester United 73 44 29   74
2021/22 Manchester United 57 -16 57 +13 0  -29 58 -16
2020/21 West Ham United 62 47 15   65
2021/22 West Ham United 60 -2 51 +4 9 -6  56 -9
2020/21 Leicester City 68 50 18   66
2021/22 Leicester City 62 -6 59 +9 3  -15 52 -14


So we can see that changes are normal, and the expectation that clubs tend to stay  where they were (as the media suggested last summer) is utterly false.

Of the top eight in 2021/22 five clubs gained more points than in 2020/21: Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal.   But of that group only Arsenal then went on and gained more points, once again, in 2022/23.  And it is those three years of improvement that currently marks Arsenal out from the rest.  No other club has achieved that.

Now of course one can’t go on gaining more points forever – there are only 114 points to be won, but this does make a very clear point: looking at the top eight clubs in 2020/1, Arsenal were the only club that did better in both 2021/2 and 2022/3,than in each of the previous seasons.

So why is that?

One might say luck, injuries, success of signings, changing manager, good runs (and the psychological boost that gives), plus the vindictiveness or arse licking of the media all play a part.

Wenger was also brilliant at maintaining a position of course.  Between 1997/08 and 2004/05 the club constantly came 1st or 2nd.  Then with the cost of building the Emirates reducing his ability to buy players between 2005/6 and 20015/16 he still kept the club third or fourth with a second place in the last of those seasons.

But that sort of stability was very unusual.  Since then only Manchester City has emulated that sort of continuity.

Now this is exactly the opposite of the reality the media portray, through their predictions in the summer of 2022 that the top four in 2022/3 would be the same as in the previous season.

But in fact the real challenge to clubs is to hold onto the position they’ve got.  

When Manchester City took the title in 2013/14, the following season they dropped from 86 points down to 79 in 2014/15 and then down to 66 in 2015/16.  What they got right was that having gained 100 points in 2017/18, they have managed to stay in the 80s and 90s in terms of points, rather than slip down.  But this is very rare and for most clubs to maintain their position, and so they quickly slip back down again.

Of course, Manchester City with its unlimited wealth are maintaining their position, having won the league five times and come second once, what have the other big clubs done?

In the next table, seasons in which a club has improved on its previous season’s points total are shown below in red.   Each club has had at least two improvement seasons: Arsenal have had the most with four.


Club 2017/18 2018/19 2019/20 2020/21 2021/22 2022/23 Avg
Arsenal 63 70 56 61 69 84 67
Chelsea 70 72 66 67 74 44 66
Liverpool 75 97 99 69 92 67 83
Man City 100 98 81 86 93 89 91
Man Utd 81 66 66 74 68 75 72
Tottenham 77 71 59 62 71 60 67
Variance 37 32 43 25 25 45


So what facts can we glean from this?

First the people who were calling for Arteta to be sacked after one and a half seasons are a danger to the club, and should be dunked in the river until they stop.

Second, no club is maintaining the very highest achievements all the time although Manchester City with an average points total of 91 are very obviously the club everyone else has to beat.

Third, Arsenal are the only club showing three consecutive years of improvement and the only club with four seasons of improvement overall, across the last six campaigns.

Fourth, clubs can collapse dramatically and quickly.  Chelsea got 30 points fewer last season than the season before.  Liverpool went down by 25.  And we should also note that Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham have all had three years of decline in the last six.

Thus all clubs have variance in the number of points they can get.   But we can see that Arsenal are on the way up but now need to aim for 93 points in the coming season.   True, Arsenal’s variance of 28 points between highest and lowest points total over six years is high, but Chelsea and Liverpool have both exceeded this.  Arsenal need to turn three of their defeats (eg Everton, Brighton and Forest) into wins.

We can also note that Arsenal’s rise in terms of points gained over the last three seasons is very unusual.  While some clubs like Liverpool seem to go jumping up and down the points totals without being able to stay at the top, we have not seen this sort of rise since the start of the Manchester City revolution.

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