How does the league table part way through a season predict the final position>

By Tony Attwood

OK we are still a little way away from the start of the new season (it is September 12 in case you missed the announcement) and even longer before the transfer window closes with international transfers needing to be done by 11pm on Monday 5 October, and domestic transfers by 5pm on Friday 16 October.  But really, the news is falling a bit thin at the moment even for the summer.

So I thought I’d resolve a little issue that had been on my mind for a long time:  how far do the early results in a season reflect what will happen later on in the season?

I was interested in this because in the years of Untold (launched January 2008) we’ve had a number of seasons where readers have kindly written in to say that this is the worst start of any Arsenal team ever and we are heading for relegation – which rather self evidently has never come to pass.

So I occupied myself during one of the passing thunderstorms by looking at the position of the club after 5, 10, 15 and 20 games in this century’s seasons, to see if we really do jump about from place to place in a dramatic manner.

In this table below the second column “Final” obviously shows where we ended up, and then the next four columns give our position after 5, 10, 15, and 20 games.

Finally there are the two columns showing the highest and lowest position achieved.  However the lowest position ignores the position in the table after just one game as that can be an extreme position on its own, often completely dependent upon who we played and how many players were still recovering from international gadding-about.

Season Final After 5 After 10 After 15 After 20 Highest Lowest*
2000/1 2nd 5 2 2 2 1 7
2001/2 1st 1 3 2 1 1 4
2002/3 2nd 1 2 1 1 1 4
2003/4 1st 1 1 2 2 1 3
2004/5 2nd 1 1 2 2 1 3
2005/6 4th 7 7 6 5 1 9
2006/7 4th 1 9 3 3 1 9
2007/8 3rd 1 1 1 1 1 7
2008/9 4th 1 3 4 5 1 14
2009/10 3rd 6 3 3 3 1 8
2010/11 4th 2 2 3 1 4

*Excluding the first game

This first table makes the point that even in the years of never coming lower than fourth and of winning the league a couple of times there is quite a range.   Take 2006/7, one of the years of coming fourth, Arsenal were ninth after ten games.

True in the years of winning the league we were never lower than fourth, although in the years of ending up third and fourth we could have spells of being in the lower reaches.

Here is part two

Season Final After 5 After 10 After 15 After 20 Highest Lowest*
2011/12 3rd 17 12 5 5 3 17
2012/3 4th 5 7 10 5 3 12
2013/4 4th 1 1 1 1 1 8
2014/5 3rd 5 4 6 6 2 7
2015/6 2nd 3 1 2 1 1 11
2016/7 5th 4 2 1 4 1 12
2017/8 6th 12 5 5 6 4 16
2018/9 5th 7 4 5 5 3 17
2019/20 8th 7 5 10 12 2 10

*Excluding the league table after just one game.

So what does all this tell us?  Largely that even looking at the table after 20 games, we do not get that accurate an indicator of where the club will end up at the end of the season – although it will tell us within four places.

In fact that four place move last season from 12th to 8th was the biggest place move this century between the 20th game and the end of the season. We moved from 6th to 3rd in 2014/15, but normally the difference between where we are in the 20th game and where we end up is between zero and two positions.   So take a look after 20 games, and normally that tells you pretty much where we will end up.

And although it is not revealed in this chart, in putting it together it is obvious that most seasons the lowest position of the season was after the second game.

But the biggest indicator throughout is a negative one.  Where we are in the league after five games is not much of an indicator of anything.   I suspect this is because of international duties for some players, and the time it takes to fit new signings into the team.

Even our position after 10 games is no sure-fire indicator of the final position.  We have risen from 7th, 9th and 12th to take a top four place from that position after ten matches.

What we can say is that this season showed the biggest jump from the position after 20 games to the final game: four positions.   So if we are more than four positions off where you would like us to be after 20 games, it might be a good idea to go on a prolonged holiday or sell your season ticket, because the chances of a major recovery thereafter looks slim.


One Reply to “How does the league table part way through a season predict the final position>”

  1. It seems to provide a strong endorsement of the impact that Mikel Arteta has had , that this last season showed the greatest improvement in the second half of the season. (Not that I needed convincing !)

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