How the first 8 games predicts the outcome of the league across the last 6 years

By Tony Attwood

It is a central assumption on the part of journalists and bloggers that they can look at Arsenal’s current form and tell us what changes are needed to make the club more successful.

And this is based on… well, presumably their superior knowledge; the knowledge that the highly paid team of directors and senior managers at the club don’t have.  The implication being that if only the pundits were allowed to run the club then we’d be ok.

But there is an assumption here: the assumption that we know what changes actually need to be made, because it is possible to draw conclusions about how the team is going to perform through the season, by watching just eight games.  Thus they can say, “Arsenal’s defence is woeful and needs to be improved if we are going to make the top four,” and so on.

But really, can one judge how the team is going to perform through the season, based on the first eight games?  And if so, can one judge what changes are needed to make things better?  In short, does the first eight games really tell us where the team is going?

To find out I decided to look at how our position after eight games related to our final position in recent years to see what patterns emerge.

8 October 2018: 4th. Final position: 5th

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 8 6 2 0 21 3 18 20
2 Chelsea 8 6 2 0 18 5 13 20
3 Liverpool 8 6 2 0 15 3 12 20
4 Arsenal 8 6 0 2 19 10 9 18

Despite being a position lower than this season, Arsenal had three points more and a much better goal difference of +9 due primarily to a much higher scoring record – which suggests that we need to change our forwards!

20 October 2017 final position 6th

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 8 7 1 0 29 4 25 22
2 Manchester United 8 6 2 0 21 2 19 20
3 Tottenham Hotspur 8 5 2 1 15 5 10 17
4 Watford 8 4 3 1 13 13 0 15
5 Chelsea 8 4 1 3 13 8 5 13
6 Arsenal 8 4 1 3 12 10 2 13

Here the position of sixth after eight games in 2017/18 was the final position, but the points difference after six gameswas down, to two lower than now.  On that basis we should be able to make fourth, given that we are performing better than Watford did.

18 October 2016: final position 5th

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 8 6 1 1 19 8 11 19
2 Arsenal 8 6 1 1 19 9 10 19
3 Tottenham Hotspur 8 5 3 0 13 4 9 18

This is where we can really see the lack of predictive information that eight games give us.   Arsenal were second, only by virtue of having conceded one goal fewer.   But not only were any hopes of winning the league dashed as the season wore on, so were hopes of continuing the record breaking run of the most consecutive seasons in the Champions League for an English club.

One might think that this 2016/17 collapse is enough to show that what happens at this time of year is not a reliable predictor of where the season will end.  But let’s go back another year, to the most successful season in league terms recently, 2015/16.

15 October 2015: final position 2nd

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 8 6 0 2 19 7 12 18
2 Arsenal 8 5 1 2 13 7 6 16
3 Manchester United 8 5 1 2 12 8 4 16
4 Crystal Palace 8 5 0 3 11 7 4 15

We were second after eight games, and ended the season in second.  And what is interesting is that we were only one point above the current Arsenal position this season, as we sit in third.  On that basis we need hardly any changes in order to get our required Champions League spot.

20 October 2014: Final position 3rd

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Chelsea 8 7 1 0 23 8 15 22
2 Manchester City 8 5 2 1 18 8 10 17
3 Southampton 8 5 1 2 19 5 14 16
4 West Ham United 8 4 1 3 15 11 4 13
5 Liverpool 8 4 1 3 13 12 1 13
6 Manchester United 8 3 3 2 15 12 3 12
7 Arsenal 8 2 5 1 13 11 2 11

Another interesting history of eight games in – it wasn’t that we were being defeated all over the place but rather that we kept drawing games.  The goal difference was the same as this season after eight games, and yet we climbed up to third by the end of the season.  Again suggesting that requiring wholesale changes to the team and management because of just eight games, is not that sensible.

20 October 2013.  Final position 4th

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Arsenal 8 6 1 1 18 9 9 19
2 Chelsea 8 5 2 1 14 5 9 17
3 Liverpool 8 5 2 1 13 7 6 17

This was the one table that we have led after eight games in the past six seasons, and we ended up fourth.   Yet we had the equal highest number of points after eight games of any of the years analysed.

Which makes it all very confusing.  Here’s the story summarised…

Season Points after 8 games Final position
2019/20 15
2018/19 18 5th
2017/18 13 6th
2016/17 19 5th
2015/16 16 2nd
2014/15 11 3rd
2013/14 19 4th

The fact is that neither our number of points at this stage nor our position in the league at this stage tell us much about the final outcome.

And this is not least because the number of points needed to get into 4th place in the season varies enormously from year to year.

The highest number of points gained by the 4th placed team in the years we have been investigating here is 79, gained by Arsenal in 2013/14.  The lowest number is 66 gained by Manchester City in 2015/16.  In short there is a difference of 13 points across these seasons in terms of the points needed to qualify for the Champs League.

So, you might well now be thinking, where we are after eight games tells us virtually nothing about the end of the season, so what was the point of all this?

First, it shows that anyone making a prognostication based on eight games is talking through her or his hat.  The lowest number of points Arsenal has gained after eight games in the last six years (11) resulted in our second highest position in the league at the end of the season (3rd).   The highest number of points gained after eight games (19) resulted in final positions of 4th and 5th.

So clearly we can’t draw conclusions on the number of points nor the position in the league at this time, as long as we are in the top seven in the league after eight games.

Tactics, injuries, freaky results, strange referee decisions, pure chance, January transfers, player illness, managerial changes and the form of all the other teams, may all play a part in determining Arsenal’s final position.

So what we can clearly conclude is that simplistic calls for a player to be dropped or a new man to be signed are what they have always seemed: ludicrously simplistic solutions to incredibly complex issues.  Solutions that seem rather unlikely to have a major impact.

And this is the main story: journalism and blogging always seeks to make football simple: the sort of thing that amiable souls like Paul Merson and the rest of them can comment on in a very simple way.

Of course this doesn’t mean that predictions cannot be made – but it seems unlikely that we can make any interesting predictions based on eight games played.

One Reply to “How the first 8 games predicts the outcome of the league across the last 6 years”

  1. The ONLY thing that is predictable,season on season, is that the whiners,moaners and pseudo-FIFA Football managers ALL know better than Emery and company and will tell us so each season regardless of reality. The ONLY person I listen to and whose opinion and analysis I respect is Adrian Clarke, who is both an ex-Gunner and a very astute analyst. The rest of the media,punditry and pseudo-supporters I assign to the bin.

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