Why this season will be better than last for Arsenal



by Tony Attwood

That question of what happens next is one that fascinates most of us who look at historical context.  We have been showing of late that contrary to the belief of almost all journalists, most of the time, the top four or top six clubs one season, are not the same top four or top six the following season.

But last year of course Arsenal were not only top four, they were second, so what actually happens to the second-placed team?    The Athletic beat us to it with this one, although in my view their look at the detail is unusually limited (and dare I say a trifle misleading) for them.  However, they do have an amusing part in their article by looking at what happened to Arsenal in history after they have come second in the past.

It has happened nine times starting in 1926/27 when Arsenal came 11th the following season (although the article fails to mention that in that following season Arsenal reached the cup final for the first time ever – and in those days the Cup was considered at least as important, if not more important than the league).  Before last season, the previous occasion in which Arsenal came second (2016/17) Arsenal had the lowest number of points of any second-placed team in the last ten years, and then dropped down to fifth the next year. 

But out of those nine occasions in which Arsenal have come second previously, they then came first (three times) or second (twice) the following season. (Data from 11v11). So going from second to winning the league has been achieved by Arsenal.  But here I want to try this out a different way, looking not just at Arsenal but at clubs generally.

Over the ten seasons from 2012/13 to 2021/22 Manchester City and Liverpool have each come second three times, Manchester United have come second twice, while Tottenham and Arsenal have both come second once.  So just five teams have come second in the past decade.   

But what really stands out is the massive variance from season to season.  The number of points the second club came behind the first ranges from 1 to 19.  The number of points achieved by the second-placed team ranges from 71 to 97.  The number of points the following season achieved by the second-placed team ranges from 58 to 99.  And the position of the second-placed club the following season ranges from 1st to 6th.

In fact the only thing that can be said with any chance of being right is that having come second one season that club will very likely finish somewhere between 1st and 6th the following season.

Thus coming second actually tells us nothing, and the Athletic’s final comment in its review of coming second, “If they thought last season was tough, this is going to be the biggest season of their lives,” really doesn’t have any statistical credibility at all.  Maybe it will be tough.  Maybe not. 

Shame on you, The Athletic, for coming second can lead to the club getting more points the following season (as happened four times out of the last ten years), or fewer points (obviously six times).

And that change in points can be anything from going down 22 points (Liverpool) or even 25 points (Liverpool again) to going up eight points (Manchester City).   It can lead to winning the league the following season (Manchester City twice, Liverpool once) to ending up sixth (Manchester United twice and Liverpool once).

In other words clubs that come second don’t tend to drop any further than sixth and can on occasion go on to win the league the following season.

Only three clubs have gained more than Arsenal’s 84 points of last season to come second, and the following season they have come 1st, 3rd and 5th – so even the number of points gained by the second-placed club doesn’t tell us much about what will happen next.

In fact there are too many variables in trying to gauge exactly what will happen next.  Nothing is given, and the reason is almost certainly because of whether the club in reaching second expended all its energy and/or money in coming second.   At first glance, it looks  (but have not had time to research in detail) as if the clubs that come second and then use the same team again the following season slip back down.   Those that build on their achievement by developing the team further, are likely to stand a chance of coming top the following year as Manchester City and Liverpool have done.

And that, I believe, gives Arsenal a real chance of making this season, better than last season.


Season 2nd Team Points second club behind top club Points of  second team Points following season Place following season
2012/13 Manchester City 11 78 86 1st
2013/14 Liverpool 2 84 62 6th
2014/15 Manchester City 8 79 66 4th
2015/16 Arsenal 10 71 75 5th
2016/17 Tottenham 7 86 77 3rd
2017/18 Manchester Utd 19 81 66 6th
2018/19 Liverpool 1 97 99 1st
2019/20 Manchester City 18 81 86 1st
2020/21 Manchester Utd 12 74 58 6th
2021/22 Liverpool 1 92 67 5th
2022/23 Arsenal 5 84



4 Replies to “Why this season will be better than last for Arsenal”

  1. and it looks like FoLo via the mediator of Gary Neville are now admitting that the FA and PGMO are conspiring to screw over Arsenal. Classy stuff guys!

    “I spoke to a non-league coach,” Neville said. “And they had a briefing in pre-season about touchline behaviour and they said that Arteta was a big reason that it was brought in, because of last season’s behaviour.”

    Now this is probably Gary Neville inhaling his own wind, as the saying goes, but it is telling, is it not?


    and here is the archive, just in case the authorities amend the article to say something else…


  2. Tony

    One of the parameters, you, I, and a few others here on Untold used to predict last seasons heroics was how well we had played in the last two thirds of the previous season. As you will certainly recall we were in fact the 2nd best team in the league. On that basis you predicted 3rd and I predicted 2nd.

    As it turned out we were pretty close. As such, that method of prediction has at least some credibility, so I took look at the last two thirds of last season to see if we could get any pointers for this one, and this is what I found. (previously posted a couple of weeks ago)

    Man City 60 points

    Arsenal 53
    Man Utd 52
    Liverpool 51
    Newcastle 50

    Now assuming it’s amore reliable method than asking Mystic Meg, it appears we are in for one hell of a battle, unforetuneately for 2nd.

    Still, we have been known to defy expectations before.


  3. I wonder what Howard Webb actually does at PGMOL. I thought new rules were supposed to be approved by IFAB. Apparently not.

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