End of January: what does the league table today tell us about the end of the season?

By Tony Attwood

In recent years the league table at the end of January has given us a rough guide as to where Arsenal will end up by the end of the season, as the table below shows.

The second column here shows us the position of the club on 31 January for each year covered.  In only one of the seasons in the chart, our position on this day (6th in 2019) was the position we ended up in at the end of the season.  But there’s not been a change of more than three places in the years covered between this day and the final league table.

Year Pos P W D L F A GD Pts Final position
2020 10th 24 6 12 6 32 34 -2 30
2019 4th 24 14 5 5 50 33 17 47 5
2018 6th 25 12 6 7 46 34 12 42 6
2017 3rd 23 14 5 4 51 25 26 47 5
2016 3rd 23 13 5 5 37 22 15 44 2
2015 6th 22 11 6 5 39 25 14 39 3
2014 2nd 23 16 4 3 45 21 24 52 4

In summary, the changes are:

  • Up by 3 places = 2015
  • Up by 1 place = 2016
  • Same position = 2018
  • Down by 1 place = 2019
  • Down by 2 places = 2017, 2014

Of course what has happened in the past is not an absolute predictor of the future, but on the other hand the past can give us an idea of what we might expect – which is to say that a move between our current position and our final position of more than 3 places would be exceptional.

Obviously this is not just because of Arsenal’s performances, but because other teams have been buying new players and preparing themselves for the future, just as we have.  No one is going to let us saunter into the top four or top six when they could grab a European place from us.

So on the basis that this is not going to be an exceptional year our final position will be somewhere between 12th and 7th.

Certainly what we can see is the huge gap that has arisen between the number of points achieved by Arsenal this season and that of other seasons.  We are nine points below our second worse season of 2015 when we were sixth but eventually climbed back to third. We are 22 points worse off than where we were in 2014, a season in which we finished fourth.

Now that fourth position is interesting because that was the era of fans stating that “Fourth is not a trophy” when writers on Untold had the temerity to say that our long run of appearances in the Champions League was something to be cherished, not decried, on the grounds that it brought in a load of money.

Looking at the other figures in the chart above it is clear that our problem is not that in defence (although listening to many Arsenal supporters with their talk of Mustafi and Xhaka one might be excused thinking this is the case) it is the problem with attack  We have scored 18 goals fewer than by this stage last season.   What we must hope is that the attack really can return to form in the final part of the season and drag us up to sixth in order to qualify for the Europa League again.  But looking at recent seasons, that seems unlikely.

It is also interesting that Arsenal’s problems are following the problems that other clubs have had who have taken the same route: spending a huge amount of money last summer and changing managers.  Splashing out money on players and changing managers normally does not take teams up the league table – quite the opposite in fact if we look at the top six spenders from last summer.

The current league table shows us just how many points we need to gain to get up to sixth and a guaranteed place in the Europa, and this is where there is a glimmer of hope

Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Liverpool 24 23 1 0 56 15 41 70
2 Manchester City 24 16 3 5 65 27 38 51
3 Leicester City 24 15 3 6 52 24 28 48
4 Chelsea 24 12 4 8 41 32 9 40
5 Manchester United 24 9 7 8 36 29 7 34
6 Tottenham Hotspur 24 9 7 8 38 32 6 34
7 Wolverhampton Wanderers 24 8 10 6 35 32 3 34
8 Sheffield United 24 8 9 7 25 23 2 33
9 Southampton 24 9 4 11 31 42 -11 31
10 Arsenal 24 6 12 6 32 34 -2 30

We are only four points off the 34 points that Tottenham have in sixth.    The problem however is that just as we are hoping to improve, so are the three teams above us.  On the positive side Wolverhampton and Sheffield United, although with better goal differences than us are only four or five points above us.  But to climb up the table enough to qualify we need four teams to stand still as we move up.

It is not going to be easy to get that higher position and thus get back into the Europa next year, but it is still not impossible.  We just have to emulate 2015, and then a little bit more.

But who actually qualifies for Europe?  Apart from the obvious fact that the top four in the PL get a place in the Champs League it is a bit complicated.  The FA Cup winners and the league’s fifth-placed side go into the Europa League groups, with the Carabao Cup winners entering the second qualifying round.

However because the FA Cup and League Cup winners are often already qualifiers that can mean that the sixth placed team in the league can creep into the Europa.  But also the Champions League and Europa League winners get an automatic place in the following season’s Champions League group stages.  And obviously we are a long way from knowing who those teams are going to be – although last season they were both English clubs.

One change in recent years is that you can no longer qualify for Europe by losing the FA Cup or League Cup final.

The most teams that can qualify for Europe from England is nine, as far as I can work out.  If an English team wins the Champions League and Europa League and neither qualifies for Europe through league position or winning a cup – then nine Premier League teams would qualify for Europe with five in the Champions League and four in the Europa League.

Which is rather unlikely.  We need league points, and for the upstarts to slip backwards.

8 Replies to “End of January: what does the league table today tell us about the end of the season?”

  1. Tony

    As you know I have been contesting your thesis regarding spending for a while.

    I conceded that short term high net spending doesn’t work, but I contested that long term high net spending almost always does.

    I still stand by that, but I will concede that things are different now to what they were 10 years ago, even 5 years ago, but there is a good reason for this however, and that is because rather than simply having 3 mega spenders, considerably outspending everyone else on a long term basis, we now have many more clubs high nett spending, and high net spending over a number of years.

    In fact the average annual nett spend across the entire division over the last 5 years is £30 Million nett per club, per season.

    I have produced a table bellow in order of their average annual net spend over the last 5 years, along with their current position in the premier league and the relationship between the 2, and to be fair to you Tony it certainly indicates that high spending is now less likely to reap the rewards it once did.

    1 – Man City £100M 2nd -1
    2 – Man Utd £75M 5th -3
    3 – Everton £55M 12th -9
    4 – Arsenal £49M 10th -7
    5 – Brighton £39M 15th -10
    6 – Aston V £38M 16th -10
    7 – Wolves £34M 7th —-
    8 – West Ham £31M 17th -9
    9 – Chelsea £27M 4th +5
    10 – Bourne £26M 18th -8
    11 – Liecster £22M 3rd +8
    12 – Newcastle £21M 14th -2
    13 – Watford £19M 19th -6
    14 – Liverpool £18M 1st +13
    15 – Spurs £17M 6th +9
    16 – C. Palace £11M 11th +5
    17 – Burnley £10M 13th +4
    18 – Sheff Utd £7M 8th +10
    19 – Soton -£2M 9th +10
    20 – Norwich -£10M 20th —-

    And it does clearly show that 7 of the top 8 nett spenders are bellow where they should be, ranging from by just 1 place in Man City’s case, to 10 places in Brighton and Villas cases’

    But with 8 clubs now spending over £30 Million nett per season the sheer numbers of high spenders means many more will fail than succeed.

    Also there is the problem of playing catch up. These new (last 5 years) high spenders are starting from a position, player quality wise, far inferior to the likes of Man city, Chelsea, Man Utd etc.

    And even when you look at Liverpool, yes they have a relatively low Nett spend, lets not pretend they are not mega spenders, it’s just they have been trading their extremely high value assets really well. They have still had a Gross spend in excess of £500 Million over the last 5 years.

    Chelsea have a Gross Nett spend North of £600 Million these last 5 years.

    Even Liecster. A Nett spend of £22M looks quite modest, especial when compared to where they sit in the table, but much like Liverpool and Chelsea this doesn’t mean they are not mega spenders, in fact over the last 5 years they have grossed almost £400 Million, but they’ve done it well.

    To use an analogy (I love an analogy) they’ve clubs have been trading Porches, for Rollers, for Lamborghinis etc. until they got the balance right, and they’ve done it well and ended up with teams of high end cars that work together well, but the overall Nett spend is relatively low.

    Brighton, Villa, Everton and the like started their spending when they had a team full of Fords, yes the odd BMW, but also the odd Nissan Cherry. To upgrade that has cost them a fortune, but despite the high Nett spend they’ve still only ended up with a team full of BMW’s. Yes a lot better than when they started but still simply not good enough.

    My point is, yes some teams are underachieving given their out lay, but when you look at what they are up against with the established top clubs, though not all spending significantly high in terms of Nett spend, lets not pretend they are not spending absolute fortunes to maintain their status.

    This is the top 5’s Gross spending:

    Liverpool: £470 M
    Man City: £818 M
    Liecster: £382 M
    Chelsea: £656 M
    Man Utd: £610 M

    Given those eye watering amounts of money I contest it’s pretty hard to claim they are not spending money, and lots and lots of it.

    But that doesn’t mean other factors don’t come in to play.

    It’s no coincidence the top 2 have arguably the best 2 managers in the World currently. Not only that they’ve been with their respective clubs 4 and 5 years respectively.

    Man Utd have failed dismally to replace Sir Alex.

    We are still waiting to see if Arsenal have successfully replaced Wenger.

    Others have a revolving door policy with regards to managers. This rarely works. Chelsea being the exception.

    You need a bit of luck too, with injuries, playing teams out of form and not in form etc.

    The effect of refereeing and VAR should not be under estimated.

    So of course, with so many clubs spending lots of money you need more than just that to get that crucial edge.

    In conclusion what I would say is:

    – Yes high spending, especially just short term, is now not quite the guarantee of success it once was, since so many are doing it.

    – But NOT high spending means you are almost certain to fail.

    – When you do high spend you have to continue to do so over a number of years, and do it well.

    – Once you get your squad upgraded your Nett spend may possibly reduce, depending on how well you trade your assets, but to have any chance of maintaining your position at the top, your Gross spend has to remain high, extremely high.

    On the back of all this I think you can only conclude that to stand still, not to continue to invest in your squad, not to spend lots and lots of money, is a guarantee of failure, even though it may not be the guarantee of success it once was.

    Lets talk about Arsenal and money.

    Will we win the league with this squad ?

    Even with all the great players we have? All the youngsters we have coming through? A very promising new manager?

    I would love to think so but honestly, I doubt it.

    And that means one thing. If we want to win the premier league, or even one day the champions league, we need to upgrade the squad, and that means spending money, and I contest, lots of it.

  2. There was a news article I posted not too long ago (10 days?), which talked about Capital 23 (I think). I commented that the article sounded to me of “economic bubbles that might burst”. In any event, I guess 10 or more years ago, there were only very limited things than a football team could mention to a banker when looking for money to buy players. Apparently Capital 23 was on the first to consider other things as increasing the value of a football team, and hence allowing for increased lending to clubs for buying players. This might be driving the increased spending you are seeing Nitram.

    At the end of the day, I think the people most likely to profit from lending increased money to football clubs; are the lenders. But, I still think this can also end up with bubbles bursting, and groups of teams and lenders getting wiped out.

  3. @Nitram
    the analogy of the cars works well.

    Let’s take a hypothetical situation. Arsenal were to sign Lambo Mpappe (spelling?), and sold, say, Porsche Aubameyang. That would be an upgrade on the squad, IMO. It wouldn’t guarantee an improved league position (Mpappe mightn’t get as many goals as Auba, he might get injured, disrupt the dressing room, Spurs might sign Neymar and Griezmann, who knows.
    But signing Mpappe even at the cost of losing your top scorer would, IMO, make sense.
    With Mpappe in the side, Arsenal’s current squad just might win the league, in the same way Maradonna took an average Napoli to the title.
    So signing Mpappe wouldn’t guarantee anything and might result in a lower league position. But it would still be the right call. And it could only be achieved by a huge spend.

  4. Well,

    I feel CNN has summed-up the reasons from a club perspective in their piece about the winter transfer window :

    “Given both Tottenham and Manchester United linger just six points outside the final Champions League place, the outlay for any signings — desperately overpriced or otherwise — will pale in comparison to the revenue gained for competing in Europe’s premier competition.”

    Football is maybe a showbusiness to fans…it is as well a huge betting machine for owners and punters…

  5. Dublin Gooner and Chris.

    Also buying Mbappé would send out a huge signal of intent and may attract other marquee signings.

    But of course as you suggest, it’s not just about signing him. There are other factors to take in to account. We have to pay his wages and that may restrict us from buying some else. His high pay may upset others.

    So would it be worth the gamble? Is it even a gamble? Would it be a no brainer?

    First of all it depends just how much he cost us.

    What his wages were?

    If he delivered on a personal level.

    It’s arguable if signing him delivered a title or a Champions league, £150 M and a Million a month wages would of been a bargain.

    If we were to move up to a CL spot. Possibly worth it.

    If we moved up to a EL place. Disaster.

    If we stayed put. Calamity.

    The bottom line is, whatever we or any other club does, whoever they sign, it has to be done without risking the clubs long term stability. No short term gain is worth doing a Leeds.

    As for Man Utd.

    Basically they have a bottomless pit of money so whatever they do it involves very little risk in real terms.

    As for Spurs. Well I have been saying for a long time that they have been massively over achieving, which is why I said I was surprised they got rid of Pochechino.

    Over the last 10 years they have a Nett spend in the region of a mere £35 Million.

    Even their Gross spend is not huge at a meagre £535 Million over 10 years.

    Given their average finishes and a CL Final, I think that is a fantastic return, The only thing is of course they still haven’t actually won anything, and of course their recent regression may just be a sign that their frugality is finally catching up with them.

    But what all that means is they MUST have some money to spend without taking any undue risk, even with the stadium debt hanging over them.

    As you say Chris, when it comes to all this it is all a massive gamble.

    Lets hope our lot get it right.

  6. @ Nitram,

    well, considering the decade Arsene Wenger spent not spending money, what Sp*rs did pales in comparison, but yes, they are overachieving. Had one or 2 of their star players been injured a few times, it would be another story… but then they are not Arsenal and benefited from different refereeing rules… ;=)
    Which just makes that decade Arsene Wenger accomplished the more incredible.

    In the end it is a rat race, and some form of poker.
    I much prefer the NFL logic with a salary cap and the draft that even out the playing field.

  7. Great points Nitram.
    Smart spending on the long term can yield results.
    Stupid spending, or having a clueless manager, can guarantee problems. Look at ManU whose clueless director & managers at different times are simply wasting money. What’s the use of buying Pogba when you can’t manage him? Liverpool have been buying smartly and are seeing the results.

  8. Chris

    “….considering the decade Arsene Wenger spent not spending money, what Sp*rs did pales in comparison”

    Indeed but spurs have done well. Compare these 2 periods of austerity for both clubs.


    Seasons 2003-2004 through 2012-2013

    Nett spend: £3.1 Million PROFIT per season.

    Finishes: 1-2-4-4-3-4-3-4-3-4 Average = 3.2


    Seasons 200-2010 through 2018-2019

    Nett spend: £0.4 Million LOSS per season.

    Finishes: 4-5-4-5-6-5-3-2-3-4 Average = 4.1

    So yes Wengers achievement was the better of the 2 for 2 reasons.

    1) An actual Nett profit of £3.1 Million per season compared to Spur’s small loss of £0.4 Million per season.

    2) A Nett finish of 3.2 compared to 4.1. Basically an average of 1 place better.

    But the biggest difference is how Spurs have been admired for what they achieved over those 10 years whilst Wenger and Arsenal where betrayed as failures.

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