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Are we unique in doing so well after Christmas, and why 8 goals would sort it

By Tony Attwood

Nitram posed the question: “is this imbalance between the 1st and 2nd halves of seasons unusual, or do all clubs by and large experience similar imbalances?”

It’s a good question, and one that I had never thought about before.   So in this little piece I set out to discover the answer, and then see where that leads.  

Here is the league table from 1 January this year.

Team W D L F A GD Pts
1 Liverpool 16 9 6 1 37 20 17 33
2 Manchester United 16 10 3 3 33 24 9 33
3 Leicester City 16 9 2 5 29 20 9 29
4 Everton 16 9 2 5 26 20 6 29
5 Chelsea 16 7 5 4 31 18 13 26
6 Aston Villa 15 8 2 5 29 16 13 26
7 Tottenham Hotspur 15 7 5 3 26 15 11 26
8 Manchester City 14 7 5 2 21 12 9 26

Would anyone have looked at that and predicted that Manchester City would be the run away league winners this season?   I am really not too sure anyone would – and even if they did, not that they would be 13 points clear with two games to go.

So maybe big turn arounds, like that of Arsenal’s performance since Christmas Day, are actually more common than we realise.

Let’s go back and try and find out…

2020:  Liverpool were 10 points clear on 1 January and won the league by 18 points.

2019: Liverpool were 6 points clear on 1 January from Tottenham Hots in second place.  Man City won the league and Tottenham ended up fourth, 27 points behind the winners.

2018: There was no turnaround.  Man City were 12 points clear of Man Utd in January and 19 points clear at the end of the season.

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2017: No turnaround here either.  Chelsea were six clear on 1 Jan and seven clear at the end of the season.

2016: Arsenal were top of the league on 1 January, on goal difference.  But Leicester won the league by 10 points with Arsenal in second place.

So there seems to be no rule.  You can have a season like this one where the team lying eighth at the start of the new year rushes to the top in the second half.  Or there can be a season where the same team runs away with it from the start to the end.  So never give up hope – at least not on 1 January.

But let’s try another approach: where were the winners the season before they won?

Season Winners Place previous season
2020/21 Manchester City 2nd
2019/20 Liverpool 2nd
2018/19 Manchester City 1st
2017/18 Manchester City 3rd
2016/17 Chelsea 10th
2015/16 Leicester 14th
2014/15 Chelsea 3rd
2013/14 Manchester City 2nd
2012/13 Manchester United 2nd
2011/12 Manchester City 3rd

So there is a tendency to approach winning the league by being second or third the season before winning the title.   In the ten seasons listed above the winners have been top the season before just once,  On four occasions they have been fourth, and on three occasions they have been third.

We can take it that although there have been two exceptions (Chelsea rising from 10th and Leicester from 14th) normally it is a top three finish that precedes a title.

So an assault on the title normally means coming second or third the season before.  (Incidentally it has nothing much to do with winning the FA Cup the season before either).

Clearly from this we can conclude that for Arsenal to get towards winning the title again Arsenal first needs to be getting into the Champions League places.

Which is very odd because it was doing exactly this year after year that created the uprising among Arsenal supporters which led to the “fourth is not a trophy” slogan which was a significant part of pushing Mr Wenger out. 

If Arsenal can push back into the top four next season it means turning three or four defeats of this season into victories.  Defeats such as four from this group.

Date Match Res Score Competition
9 Nov 2020 Arsenal v Wolverhampton Wanderers L 1-2 Premier League
13 Dec 2020 Arsenal v Burnley L 0-1 Premier League
19 Dec 2020 Everton v Arsenal L 2-1 Premier League
2 Feb 2021 Wolverhampton Wanderers v Arsenal L 2-1 Premier League
6 Feb 2021 Aston Villa v Arsenal L 1-0 Premier League

What is interesting with these five defeats they were all by one goal and came in two bursts.  One goal in each of those would have obviously given us five more points which would mean we would be sixth – back in the Europa League.

Two goals in three of those games and one goal in the remaining two would have given us fourth place.  So that’s how far we are away.  Eight goals.

Now our top scorers this season in the Premier League have been Lacazette 13, Aubameyang 10, Pepe 6, Saka 5, with several players on two. I think we can expect all of those numbers to be exceeded next season which could give us the eight goals we need.

Each of those players getting two more across the whole season would take us back to fourth is not a trophy.  Which would be good as long as that is not immediately seen to be not good enough and the manager is thrown out and down we go again.

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1 comment to Are we unique in doing so well after Christmas, and why 8 goals would sort it

  • Nitram

    Thanks for putting this together Tony.

    So broadly speaking it seems we are not unique.

    2 vastly different halves to seasons happens, but so does consistency across an entire season, all of which suggests there are many factors that feed into seasonal patterns, such as form, injuries and luck.

    As for the prelude to winning the title being a top 2/3 finish, that seems logical. It would be very odd for also rans to suddenly become champions. Why would the same team of players suddenly improve that much ? Yes a new manager can improve a team but as we’ve seen with Klopp, and even Pep at City with bucket loads of money, it takes time to mould champions, and it’s a gradual process. And yes the addition of players can help but again improving the overall quality of the squad takes time.

    But you did cite 2 exceptions, but even one of them, Chelsea, it was more the 10th place finish was the oddity, having won the title the season before, rather than the winning of the title afterwards being an oddity.

    All of which suggests that judging Arteta so harshly after such a short time is premature at best, and given our upward trajectory extremely disingenuous.

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