How does this season compare with recent years? Are we making progress?

by Tony Attwood

If you are reading Untold regularly, or even from time to time, you’ll know that I think that the extreme criticism of the manager and team that has been going on in the media and some blogs, is not only factually wrong, but also is hurting the clubs.

Any player that might be thinking of transferring to Arsenal, and any parent who is interested in having his or her son join Arsenal as a youngster is not going to be impressed by the constant negativity of the media about the club – especially if they are tempted to believe any of it is true.   Likewise the constant harping on about the failings of the club at every level can do nothing to boost the morale of the team.

But at the same time I have been wondering just how bad this season, with its endless demands that Emery and a number of players, should go, has been in comparison with the past.  So I have been doing occasional comparisons with seasons both across the past century (as part of the “100 Years in the Top Division” series) and for recent years.

Now with six games gone it is possible to get a bit of perspective of this season against the openings of the last nine seasons to give a better overview of now against recent times.

Below is a chart showing where Arsenal were after six league games in this and the previous nine seasons, plus a note in the last column of where we ended up in the league at the end of the season.  That last is an interesting point, because it is a key to understanding whether we actually can take the first six games of a season as at all indicative of where we might end up.

But before I come to that here are a couple of interesting thoughts.

Our best season in the past ten (in terms of where we ended up in May) was 2015/16 when we came runners up.  At this stage in the league, after six games, we had 10 points and were fifth.

Our second best season was 2014/15 when we ended third in the league.  At this stage after six games we were fourth with 10 points.

So this season having 11 points after six games, one might think that is not too bad.   Except that last season we had 12 points at this stage and ended up fifth.  Our best season in the last ten years after six games was 2016/17 when we were third at this stage and ended up fifth.

The best seasons at this stage are highlighted in bold and the best in terms of the end of the season are in red.  As you can see there is no overlap between the two groups.

Season  Pos after six P W D L F A GD Pts Final
2019/20 4 6 3 2 1 11 10 1 11
2018/19 6 6 4 0 2 12 9 3
12 5
2017.18 7 6 3 1 2 9 8 1
10 6
2016/17 3 6 4 1 1 15 7 8
13 5
2015/16 5 6 3 1 2 5 5 0
10 2
2014/15 4 6 2 4 0 11 7 4
10 3
2013/14 1 5 6 0 1 13 7 6
15 4
2012/13 7 6 2 3 1 10 4 6
9 4
2011/12 13 6 2 1 3 9 14 -5
7 3
2010/11 3 6 3 2 1 16 7 9
11 4

So points after six games don’t really give us much of a guide at all.  Nor does goal difference.  In 2011/12 we had a GD of -5 at this stage and finished the season in third.   In our runners’ up season we had a GD of zero.   Our best season in terms of goal difference after six games was 2016/17 with +8.  We came in fifth.

All of which suggests that trying to say how well we will do after six games is rather futile.  But that is what people are doing when calling for Emery to go.

The second point I would make here is that this run of final positions which gives us an average finishing position of fourth, has only happened in two eras: under the reign of Wenger, and prior to that in the 1930s.  Just two periods in Arsenal’s history.   We live in abnormal times.

(George Graham is sometimes quoted in this regard and he was manager from 1986 to 1995 and included seasons of slipping down to 6th, 10th and 12th).

But why is it that six games at the start of the season don’t help us make a judgement as to where we are going to end up?

First and most obviously, because 85% of the matches are still to be played.

Second because of the “runs” that clubs can get.  Look at any season and almost any club, there will be a run of some sort or another.  A run of six consecutive victories or 20 games without defeat lift the club to the heights, and of course negative runs too.  These runs may start because of good or bad luck or poor refereeing decisions (for or against the club), or a couple of injuries disrupting the team, but then become self-perpetuating as beliefs or doubts settle into the team.

Aside from comparing results year by year the only other element we can add into the mix is how many games each team have played against the clubs that ended up in the top six last season.

There are obviously 10 of these games a season for each club, which means that after eight games we should have played two such matches.  Indeed Arsenal already have.

Looking at the other clubs in the top six last season we can see:

  • Tottenham have played two (two draws)
  • Chelsea have played two (lost two)
  • Manchester United have played one (won one)
  • Manchester City have played one (drawn one)
  • Liverpool have played two (won two)
  • Arsenal have played two (drawn one lost one)

Man City and Man Utd are thus one game behind in matches between the top six.  And not only are those games tougher than the rest, they also affect the rest of the top six clubs, since clearly at least one of the teams is going to drop points (if there is a winner), or both the teams will (if it is a draw).

The only conclusion that we can draw from six games is – that six games don’t really tell us much.  But the little they do tell us is that this is a season, much like those that have gone before in the last ten years in which it would be a bit silly to start making changes to the management or playing staff based on the results thus far.


10 Replies to “How does this season compare with recent years? Are we making progress?”

  1. Oh come on Tony. Why use facts to back up your assertions?! Everyone knows that unsubstantiated moaning based upon what happened at a particular moment in time and the ramblings of deluded pundits is a far more valid point of view…………..

  2. Where will Arsenal finish in the PL table at the end of this season is what no Gooner can say with accuracy but can predict it. One thing about Arsenal finishing in the PL table this season that us Gooners can predict with pinpoint accuracy is, Arsenal will finish in the top-six places in the PL table at end of the season. This is because they have never fail to finish in the top-six places in the PL table for the past 24 seasons.

    But personally, I think Arsenal who have collected 11 points so far in their campaign from the 18 points on offer can still win the PL title to finish 1st on the table at the end of the season if they can collect up to 90 points which will give them 101 points from the remaining 96 points they are hauling. And why shouldn’t they be able to collect up to 90 points in their remaining 32 Premier League matches to play, if they are determined to win the PL title this season? But not only be aspiring to finish in the top-four.

    After all, i believe Arsenal have the necessary tools required to win the PL title this season on ground. More so, as these tools are now being enhanced with some top quality injury returnees who are back to the 1st XI team for selection that should boost the 1st team performances outstandingly in the PL matches from now on till the next January window when the team could be revamped again with more new top quality player signings to further enhance the team performance towards winning the title in the final few months of the season.

  3. Tony……….in the chart, you erroneous mixed up the P W figures for 2013/2014. It should read P 6 W 5 D 0 L1.

  4. OT: Arsenal Women – Champions League

    It’s about 3 hours until the women kickoff at Meadow Park. The officials are from Romania (ROU). I believe the game is available on the Internet, if you run Windows, Mac or trust “Apps”.


  5. The main problem this season haven`t been our points, but rather how we are playing.
    One can argue that we have a couple players out that would strenghten our starting 11.
    However, it is a long season and we will rarely have the “best” 11 every match. That said,
    there doesn`t seem to be much structure in how we set up as a team, which is costing us bigtime.

    Our midfield must be the easiest to bypass in the entire league, which shots against should confirm.
    I blame this on the manager and not the players. Against Forest the structure of the team looked as good
    as any game we have played this season, let`s hope we have a positive game against Man Utd.

  6. OK Freddie, a different opinion fair enough. I would emphasise not the fact that we had a number of players out, but rather that we lost the entire defence for the opening of this season. Kos, Bellerin, Holding, Tierney. Bringing in new players always takes a while to have them bed down, and for the midfield in front of them get used to who is where and what he does. With the money available I think the manager made decent decisions, and has encouraged the youngsters, thus giving hope to other young players that Arsenal will give them a chance. But we’ll see by the end of the season.

  7. A person has to start from the assumption that the goals against data for all the teams in the EPL, comes from a single distribution. If you do this, you find that the average number of shots against per team is about 60. The standard deviation about that mean is about 40. With a standard deviation that large, a team would have to be giving up significantly more than 140 shots in order to be considered unusual. It’s the same old problem, there isn’t enough data to support the conclusions many people come to.

  8. Doing a short Monte Carlo study, assuming shots are Poisson distributed.

    Out of 20k trials (where a trial is 20 teams playing 6 games), the lowest number of shots against seen was 33. There were 8 occurrences less than 36. The highest number observed was 103, and there were 7 that were larger than 99.

    So, what we see for Man$ity is entirely consistent with what just about the rest of the league is doing.

    Arsenal and AVilla need not be different either. There are distributions similar to the Poisson which have either more or less variance than a Poisson has.

    There could also be some real effects distorting the data. Referees could allow or disallow shots, which would bias totals up or down depending on the situation. Or, players believe the medja nonsense that Arsenal is noticeably worse than any other EPL team in defence, and so they just try more often when playing Arsenal. I have no idea what might explain AVilla.

  9. One gets the feeling that if the team is allowed to work quietly to pull together the disparate parts into one cohesive, efficient team, the season could turn out to be very successful one. But the incessant and over the top criticisms of the manager and the players for every lapse will not help the team. One fan referred to the appointment of Xhaka as a ‘dark day for the club’, I mean, such hysterical nonsense is par for the course.

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