This is Arsenal’s worst position for over a quarter of a century.

By Tony Attwood

The aim in this little piece is to compare how Arsenal are doing after 29 games this season compared with recent seasons.  And as you can see from the headline, it turned out to be a rather negative analysis.

When it started it seemed like a really simple thing to do, but what exactly are we comparing?  The first column compares the position in the league at this stage of the season, the third column looks at how many points we were away from the top of the league, and the fourth column shows how far away from the much derided fourth we have been.  And then the rest of the table follows the normal pattern of a league table.

The bottom line gives the average across these ten seasons.

Arsenal after 29 games, year by year…  The seasons in red are our three best seasons.

Pos Season Pts From top Pts from 4th W D L F A GD Pts
9 2020/21 (4) 29 -9 12 6 11 40 32 8 42
9 2019/20 (3) 42 * -8 9 13 7 40 39 1 40
5 2018/19 (2) 17 -6 17 6 6 61 39 22 57
6 2017/18 (1) 33 -6 13 6 10 52 41 11 45
5 2016/17 18 * -7 16 6 7 61 36 25 54
3 2015/16 11 -4 15 7 7 46 30 16 52
3 2014/15 7 * +3 17 6 6 56 30 26 57
3 2013/14 4 * +3 19 5 5 53 28 25 62
5 2012/13 24 +2 14 8 7 55 32 23 50
3 2011/12 15 +3 17 4 8 58 39 19 55
5.1 Average 20 pts -18 14.9 6.7 7.4 52.2 34.6 17.6  51.4


  • Rows in red are the best three seasons
  • * = won the FA Cup.
  • (1) Last Arsene Wenger season
  • (2) Unai Emery season
  • (3) Emery/ Ljungberg/ Arteta season
  • (4) Arteta season

So, after 29 games, since 2010/11 we have been anywhere from 2nd to 9th and anything between 5 and 42 points behind the leaders.  Here are our best and worst seasons after 29 games, and below that the average.

Pos Season Pts From top W D L F A GD Pts
9 2020/21 29 12 6 11 40 32 8 42
3 2011/12 15 17 4 8 58 39 19 55
5.1 Average 20 14.9 6.7 7.4 52.2 34.6 17.6  51.4

And so what can we conclude from the past ten years?

The “points from the top” is not a very helpful column since several times over the years we have had a club that has strode away from the pack, and there has been no chance of anyone catching them.

As a result The “points from fourth” column is probably the most telling, not least because it resonates with the AFTV and Black Scarf slogan of “Fourth is not a trophy” but also rather than being a place greeted with derision, sneers and insults, it is now a target – albeit a target we are not reaching.

And the rather horrible fact is that we are at this moment at our worst position across the last decade.  All those managerial changes, transfers, planes flying over the top of the stadium etc  etc, have taken us to our worst position in relation to reaching the top four.

In terms of points gained by this part of the season, we are two points better off than last season, but that is about all we can say.    We are 15 points behind where we were in the one complete season Emery was given as manager.   In fact only one season in the last ten years exceeded that achievement – but Arsenal then sacked the manager.

The one thing we can say is that we have got the defence in order – we have the fifth best defence in the league, and have conceded the same number of goals as Manchester United.  And yet, and yet, one of the main topics in the wild, rambling discussions is the urgent need to deal with the defence!  Bellerin must go,  Calum Chambers and Rob Holding “have tried their best” as one blogger condescendingly put it, David Luiz has been torn into.

But the key point surely is the goal difference – this year and last season have been by far the worst for this.  As indeed has the goalscoring.  We are anything between six and 21 goals behind what has been achieved in the past.

Can it all be put right?

Well, there is something.  After the process of having three managers in four years, we seem to have abandoned that lark, just as all those “Wenger out” cardboard cutouts have gone.  Maybe some stability might help us get through.  But what we have to notice is, these last two seasons have seen us in the worst place at this stage of the season since… February 1995

Pos Season Pts From top Pts from 4th W D L F A GD Pts
9 2020/21 29 -9 12 6 11 40 32 8 42
10 1994/95 28 -11 9 10 10 32 32 0 37

So, yes, it could be worse.  But that was 26 years ago.  1994/5 was the season that George Graham was kicked out and Stewart Houston came in on 21 February 1995… after 29 games – the same number as we have just played.

Here is the league table at that moment.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Blackburn Rovers 28 19 5 4 61 25 36 62
2 Manchester United 28 18 6 4 51 21 30 60
3 Newcastle United 28 14 9 5 47 30 17 51
4 Liverpool 27 13 9 5 46 22 24 48
5 Nottingham Forest 29 13 7 9 41 32 9 46
6 Tottenham Hotspur 27 12 7 8 45 38 7 43
7 Leeds United 26 10 9 7 34 28 6 39
8 Sheffield Wednesday 29 10 9 10 38 38 0 39
9 Aston Villa 29 9 10 10 41 38 3 37
10 Arsenal 29 9 10 10 32 32 0 37

So we aren’t as bad as we were when George Graham went.  But really, what we absolutely must not do is change managers again.  It can work (as Mr Wenger showed when he finally arrived) but as the last few years have shown, it is not guaranteed.

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3 Replies to “This is Arsenal’s worst position for over a quarter of a century.”

  1. When I look back I don’t compare results only with circumstances that have happened . Man Utd were managed by one man for over twenty years the same as us and since losing them both clubs have struggled .
    Man Utd are now on their forth manager and more than likely changed all the back room staff each time , stability and consistency within the club disappears .
    Every new manager has there own ideas of how they want the club to progress which is hopefully is agreed upon appointment , a time structure to get to where they need to be , players and money , it’s then how they are judged .
    Unfortunately I couldn’t see a path or plan nor could others with what Mr Emery was trying to achieve , after the first year things went backwards , had trouble scoring goals and couldn’t keep them out .
    So from low expectations after Mr Emery , Mikel Arteta won a FA Cup and tightened our defence within 8 months along with contending with a pandemic .
    The start of the next season started with great expectations only for MA and the team to lose their way , but as we know he was given time to get out of a bad 2 months and as we can see now we are slowly progressing to be a great club again .
    So after a long time of stability and consistency is it inevitable you get worse before getting better .

  2. This is an interesting piece, but there are three things the methodology should account for but does not.

    First, ‘average’ is not a valid measure, what should really be calculated it the mean position, because that adjusts for aberrant seasons like the last two, and gives more weight to more frequent positions, which were further up the table.

    Second, the team position is only a valid measure at 19 games and 38, because it is only at that point that all the teams have played similar opponents the same number of times. At nineteen games, teams havep layed every other opponent, regardless of league position, once. It is not exactly the same because home/and away can be a factor, but the halfway point is usually relatively accurate predictor of final league position. At 38 games, everyone has played everyone else twice; home and away, the true measure of relative quality.

    For example, Aston Villa is being lauded for their fine performance, and for a team just up, they have done well; but the position in the table is not reflective of where they will finish because nearly all of their remaining fixtures are against team above them in the table; likely losses or draws, as opposed to teams lower in the table, which are likely draws or wins.

    Finally, points and points from the top are not valid measure of relative quality of performance of a single team (Arsenal in this case) year to year for two reasons; first, teams vary year to year; all of them. Last season Liverpool had an unusual season and ran away with the league. Man City did something similar the year before – Arsenal’s points and points form the top were artificially inflated (as were all other teams by comparison). Similarly total points is a function of the relative strength of the entire league. One or two very high-performing teams or on e or two very low performing teams can skew the point totals of every other team. League position at the midpoint and end points of the season, however, takes those variables into account and the measure is the relative quality of each team against each other team.

    Arsenal have two games remaining against teams they are, statistically, likely to lose to, and seven likely wins. Based on an analysis of every other team in the top 10, Arsenal are most likely to finish 8th, with 7th a very real possibility. Higher than that would require an extraordinary series of performances by the Gunners (something this team has not shown the ability to do) and a collapse of not one or two, but three teams that have, thus far, outperformed Arsenal. That seems unlikely.

    On the bright side, Arsenal are likely claw their way above Tottenham. With luck, the Gunners may top Everton to finish seventh.

    There is also a very real chance that Arsenal, thanks to a series of beneficial draws (Man U. v. Inter Milan and their own draw against Salvia Prague, and Ajax v. Roma)in the Europa League, have a better than the odds suggest chance to win the Europa League and sneak into the Champions League that way.

    The questions is – does this make for “progress” for a team that was so furious with twenty years of top four finishes and Champions League football that they fired their manager after two seasons finishing 5th and 6th?

  3. Being mean about average is not fair!
    However there are several aspects of the game that impact results, particularly the officiating on field and through VAR, both controlled remotely without transparency. The football teams that we play against are neither the issue nor the cause, the officiating team and the media team are.
    When Arsenal have to defend by interceptions only in non contact fashion, there is an obvious unfairness there. This is due to the consistent issue of cards to Arsenal players for ‘touches’ to opponents. The substancial fines by the FA and others for uttering the truth. There are several instances of VAR being invisible or completely wrong that have not been addressed by the ‘powers that be’ or the media.
    Until the FA are replaced by a democratically elected board and the appointment of officiating is transparent and have to report to a responsible authority, football will remain corrupt.

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