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|
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.
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