By Tony Attwood
I was interested in the headline “Arsenal’s sorry state reflected in recent global rankings” in
The story included such statements as “Arsenal has been in a state of decline for a long time now and a new ranking has shown how bad it has gotten.”
And “Arsene Wenger oversaw some of the club’s best years, but before he left the club was in a sorry state.”
It got me wondering about how you can compare then and now. The obvious way – the way most people use, is the position in the league. But anyone who has bothered with this sort of analysis for more than a few seconds, will know that league position actually doesn’t tell you everything about how the club is doing.
To explore this, in the chart below I’ve taken all the Premier League seasons in which we have played 38 games and ranked them in order by the number of points gained, not the position in the league, in order to see what the great seasons all have in common.
2020 was, as we know, our worst season since the PL entered its current phase of a 38 game season. We came eighth. It was one of the worst (but by no means the worst) in terms of defence, but it was the second worst in terms of goal scoring (only 1995/6 was worse).
There was a sign of hope. Aubameyang scored 29 goals – but as we will see, having even the top scorer in the league, doesn’t guarantee success.
This last season was thus our second worst ever PL performance in terms of goals scored and our third worst ever defensive performance. Only 2018 and 2019 were worse. It was our worst ever in terms of points total in the 38 game Premier League series. It was our worst ever for games won in the modern PL era.
Here is the table sorted by points gained, starting with the lowest.
|2006–07||38||19||11||8||63||35||68||4th||Robin van Persie||13|
|2010–11||38||19||11||8||72||43||68||4th||Robin van Persie||22|
|2011–12||38||21||7||10||74||49||70||3rd||Robin van Persie||37|
|2008–09||38||20||12||6||68||37||72||4th||Robin van Persie||20|
Yes, two of the great seasons (2002 and 2004) we not only won the league, we also got our highest number of points (87 and 90) for an Arsenal team in the PL era. So the obvious is true – get the most points, win the league. Nothing new there.
Except… here are a few oddities.
In 1997/8 we won the league with 78 points. In 2013/14 we got one more point and came fourth.
In 2000 we came 2nd with 73 points. In 2014 we got six points more and came fourth.
This past season, with all the media and some fans united against the club, with its two managers and multiple changes, that saw us get not just our lowest position but also our lowest number of points – seven fewer than any other season in the chart. So of course points and position are related – but not exactly.
What about goals scored? In 1998 we won the league with 68 goals scored. In 2018 we scored six more and came sixth. So that’s not a key indicator on its own.
Having a top goalscorer is no sign of success however – although it helps. In our top four years in terms of points we have always had a 30+ goalscorer. But in 2005/6 Henry was the league’s top scorer with 33, and we came 4th.
The fact is that all these different factors help: good defence, top scorer, more points, but they are not of themselves guarantees of success, nor is the opposite a sign of decline.
Taking a further look at goals scored, I have highlighted in bold the eight top goal scoring seasons – those in which we knocked up over 73 league goals. Our league position ranged from first to sixth. The range of goal scorers was varied as well. Consider this:
In 2018, we got 74 league goals. Top scorer was Lacazette with 17. We came sixth. In 2012 we came third with the same number of goals. This time the top scorer was the league’s top scorer – Van Persie with 37. Having a single player who knocks in lots of goals is not necessarily a help.
As I said, all the factors noted here help – and that includes a club which is itself united at board and executive level and which takes the fans with it. Once the fans get going with the cardboard waving and plane banner flying, there is no chance of improvement.
Clearly as these figures show, Arsenal need to improve all round. And the basic facts are we need to win at least 20 games, and keep defeats down to under 10.
It is not about goals scored or goals conceded. If we want to be back in the top four we need
- A united fan base
- 20+ victories
- Under 10 defeats
Beyond that there is no simple solution. It is not a case of having a top scorer or any other simple solution. Football is much more complex than that.
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