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By Tony Attwood
There is a rather curious piece in the Athletic which contains the lines, “Arsenal have been majestic on the road – but sloppiness at Emirates must stop,” and “Defensively, Arsenal seem far less shaky and susceptible to basic mistakes when playing away.”
With such wording Arsenal were singled out. There was no suggestion that other clubs might perform better away than at home, or indeed why we should expect it to be the other way around.
And that expectation is something we have looked at a lot on this site. The revelation of what was really going on arrived as you may recall, as a result of the matches played behind closed doors during the pandemic. Suddenly away form was much, much better – suggesting that referees were influenced by crowds.
Then research was undetaken, largely at London University but replicated elsewhere, which revealed exactly what was behind the fact that prior to the pandemic home teams won many more games than away teams, and why during the pandemic that was reversed.
So I found the Athletic’s view a bit confusing so I went and checked and constructed this little table below showing where teams are in a league table bsaed on home positions, and where on a table based on away positions. And then what the difference is between the two.
For if the Atheltic’s article was correct in its implication that Arsenal were unusual in performing with different effectiveness at home and away, most teams would have a similar position in the home and away league tables. If the difference for Arsenal was not unique, or at least very unusual, the whole Athletic article would be based on an utterly false premise, which would lead to the question: why?
Here’s what was found. The final column is simply the difference between the club’s position in the home and away table.
|Home pos||Team||Away pos||Positional difference|
|5||Brighton and Hove Albion||7||2|
|8||West Ham United||5||3|
Arsenal’s positional difference between their home form and their away form is six places – which is to say they are seventh in the league table based on home matches and first in a league table based on away matches.
Now the whole point of the Athletic article is that this is odd, unusual, and freaky, and that this shows that there is something wrong with Arsenal.
Suspicion is aroused however by the fact that this fundamental assumption remains just that, an assumption. And when football writers make assumptions one really does have to go and have a look and see exactly what is going on.
For it turns out that eight of the Premier League teams currently have a difference between their home form position and their away form position of six places or more. That is almost half of the teams have such a difference, and only just over half the teams have away and home form that is similar.
A quick look at previous seasons suggests (and I do admit that I have only had a quick look) suggests that this is not too unusual and that over time matters settle down so that by the end of the season the home and away form of each team relative to the other teams in the league becomes closer. It is just that at the beginning of the season, such differences as these appear.
Arsenal for example had the best away form last season, but only the third best home form. Fulham however were 12th in the home form table but sixth in the away form table by the end of last season. Wolverhampton were 11th at home but 18th away. And so on. This is nothing new.
As for the reasons, a lack of home form can be down to all sorts of things: barracking by one’s own supporters (which certainly Arsenal suffered from in the past) can cause this. But then so can the actions of referees.
Sadly, there is nothing to stop the same referee from seeing an individual club half a dozen times in a season. So let’s imagine a home team that last season got referees Robinson, Attwell, Harrington, Jones, Bankes and Oliver for their home games. And not just once, but let’s say they got Attwell, Jones, Bankes and Oliver three times each for their home games – something perfectly possible under current rules.
That would mean 14 out of 19 of their home games were in front of home-favouring referees. That would most certainly make a difference to their performance since all of these referees had an average performance of 60% or more of their matches being home wins.
And let’s imagine that four of their away games were with Kavanagh or Bond in charge – referees for whom over 50% of their games are won by the away team. That means approaching half of their league games are refereed by men who particularly favour one side or the other when it comes to home or away. Get the right referee and that’s one hell of a bonus before play has even begun, and only eight of the referees are involved.
Now I am not saying that any bribery or corruption is taking place – I am just saying that if by chance that group of referees were selected for a team’s games in this way, that team immediately has a huge advantage.
But this issue is ignored by the Athletic as all other media, and instead the Athletic is suggesting that Arsenal’s results have nothing to do with referees (since referees are simply never mentioned) but something to do with Arsenal making more mistakes at home than away.
Yet this home-away difference is there and has been for as far back as you want to check, among around half the clubs in the league. So why are they picking on Arsenal?
Certainly, when they say, “Mikel Arteta’s side have made seven individual errors leading to goals at the Emirates since the start of last season (the most in the league) compared to only two away from home,” that is most likely true (I haven’t checked, but I suspect they might be right). But it could well be that this is irrelevant and that the real cause is the referees that Arsenal get. .
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