Why did Arsenal do better away from home than at home this past season?

By Tony Attwood

In this past season Arsenal won 42% of its home games and 53% of its away games.  This was in total contrast to the figures of recent years.

Indeed going right back to the earliest days of the league, almost all clubs regularly did better at home than away.

In the table below we have the points, goals scored, and goals conceded.  I’ve included 1895/96 at the end as a typical example of the early years of Arsenal in the second division – a year that shows similar results to 2017/18.  The years do fluctuate but before 2020/1 I have not been able to find a single season where away is a better hunting ground than at home.

Points Goals scored Goals conceded
Home Away Home Away Home Away
2020/21 46% 54% 44% 56% 54% 46%
2019/20 64% 36% 64% 36% 50% 50%
2018/19 64% 36% 58% 42% 31% 69%
2017/18 75% 25% 73% 27% 39% 61%
2016/17 60% 40% 51% 49% 36% 64%
2015/16 56% 44% 48% 52% 31% 69%
1895/96 72% 28% 79% 21% 34% 66%

The odd year in all this, is this past season, although there is a little touch of the problem in 2019/20 with the last 11 games in the league being postponed because of the pandemic until they were played from 17 June to 26 July without crowds.

Arsenal suffered four defeats in this period in the league and all were away from home, thus confirming the general trend of the year.

On 7 March, the date of the last game before the postponement of the league, Arsenal had a very normal looking trend of seven wins, five draws and three defeats at home, with two wins, eight draws and three defeats away.

The reason, as you will know if you have been following Untold, is the refereeing.  I won’t go through it all again as all the articles covering this are still on the site, but basically it has been shown through experimentation by academics working with professional referees, that referees are strongly influenced by the home crowd.

The difference affected most clubs throughout the Premier League this past season as this table shows.  Only two of the top nine don’t have an away benefit.  Normally all of the top nine would have a home benefit.

    Home Pts Away pts Away benefit
1 Manchester City 41 45 +4
2 West Ham Utd 34 31 -3
3 Tottenham 33 29 -3
4 Chelsea 33 34 +1
5 Liverpool 33 36 +3
6 Manchester Utd 31 43 +12
7 Leeds Utd 29 30 +1
8 Leicester City 28 38 +10
9 Arsenal 28 33 +5

This is the only season in which this has happened.  Previously almost every club has done better at home than away, and the main explanation that has been proven through experiment is that of the home crowd has an influence on the referees.

But this past season, if the away table only had been used to measure clubs, Arsenal would have fared slightly better, rising from eighth to seventh.  Leicester would have been big gainers while Tottenham would have sunk down to 11th in the league.  Southampton who actually finished 15th would have been relegated.

Here’s the away table for 2020/1

    P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 14 3 2 40 15 +25 45
2 Manchester United 19 12 7 0 35 16 +19 43
3 Leicester City 19 11 5 3 34 20 +14 38
4 Everton 19 11 4 4 23 20 +3 37
5 Liverpool 19 10 6 3 39 22 +17 36
6 Chelsea 19 10 4 5 27 18 +9 34
7 Arsenal 19 10 3 6 31 18 +13 33
8 West Ham Utd 19 9 4 6 30 25 +5 31
9 Aston Villa 19 9 3 7 26 19 +7 30
10 Leeds United 19 10 0 9 34 33 +1 30
11 Tottenham Hots 19 8 5 6 33 25 +8 29
12 Newcastle United 19 6 4 9 20 29 -9 22
13 Burnley 19 6 3 10 19 28 -9 21
14 Crystal Palace 19 6 3 10 21 34 -13 21
15 Brighton and Hove 19 5 5 9 18 24 -6 20
16 Wolverhampton W 19 5 5 9 15 27 -12 20
17 Fulham 19 3 9 7 18 25 -7 18
18 Southampton 19 4 4 11 19 43 -24 16
19 West Bromwich A 19 2 5 12 20 37 -17 11
20 Sheffield Utd 19 2 1 16 8 36 -28 7

So why, in this past season, did most teams do better away from home, rather than better at home, as has been the case every season back to the 19th century?

The first step of the answer was the LSE academic research which revealed just how much referees are influenced by the crowd.  This research used experiments with professional referees in which some refs watched a monitor with the game shown but no sound on their headset, while others had the sound of the home crowd on the headphones.  The game was stopped at each incident and the ref had to make a decision; bias towards the home side with the home crowd noise was easily evident but not in silence.

But if it was only the crowd that was causing the bias surely clubs should have performed as well at home as away, rather than the bias reversing to give an advantage in most cases to the away team.

The most likely answer is psychological, both in terms of players and the referees.

For the players, playing away without a crowd gives a release from the jeering and catcalls of the home crowd.  That must give a lift to players of the away team who are unpopular with the home crowd.  An extreme case was the Stoke City crowd reaction to Aaron Ramsey.

For the home club, playing without the normal support removes some of the familiarity of the ground.  I recall Lee Dixon saying once that he knew exactly where to stand for the famous back four line of defence when the opposition were taking a goal kick, because there was a season ticket holder who always dressed in the same way, and Dixon would line himself up with that man.

That’s one small example, but there must be many that make the home ground more familiar and the home crowd more supportive.  Take that away, and it is all slightly unnerving; indeed the same is true in all human contexts.

In fact, as many film makers have suggested, if one builds a prison as a replica of the prisoner’s home bedroom, but then make tiny changes to it, that is the fastest way to breakdown the prisoner’s resistance.  We are, psychologically, very protective of and dependent upon, what we know from regular experience.  It is also an explanation of why we hold on to habits even when they are counterproductive.

So there we have it in three simple steps

  1. The referees are normally biased towards the home team if the home crowd give their support to the team.  Without a crowd, that bias is removed and the away team can feel a sense of release and freedom at not facing such a biased referee.
  2. A change of routine and environment always affects human behaviour and makes individuals slightly more hesitant.  Normally that works against the away team, but without a crowd in the ground it can work even more against the home team since the environment does not feel like “home”.

Of course this research raises a huge issue about refereeing standards, showing again that the PGMO “98% accuracy” claim is mindless gibberish and total tripe.  But I’ll leave that for another occasion.

The proof that something is seriously wrong with football refereeing and reporting

4 Replies to “Why did Arsenal do better away from home than at home this past season?”

  1. Never having attended a game either at Highbury or at The Ems, but having heard of it ‘library ‘ like atmosphere , I would hazard the guess that the players are not in favour of the the deafening silence ! And probably the players also detest the furling of nonsensical banners and the holding up of those ‘OUT’ posters. Not to mention the nauseating trauma of watching overhead planes bearing even stupider messages .

  2. This entitlement joke always makes me laugh .

    A DEA officer stopped at a ranch in Texas , and talked with an old rancher.
    He told the rancher, “I need to inspect your ranch for illegally grown drugs.”

    The rancher said, “Okay , but don’t go in that field over there.”, as he pointed out the location.

    The DEA officer verbally exploded saying, ” Mister, I have the authority of the Federal Government with me !”
    Reaching into his rear pants pocket, he removed his badge and proudly displayed it to the rancher. “See this badge?! This badge means I am allowed to go wherever I wish…. On any land! No questions asked!

    Do you understand ?!!” The rancher nodded politely, apologized, and went about his chores. A short time later, the old rancher heard loud screams, looked up, and saw the DEA officer running for his life, being chased by the rancher’s big Santa Gertrudis bull……

    With every step the bull was gaining ground on the officer, and it seemed likely that he’d sure enough get gored before he reached safety. The officer was clearly terrified.
    The rancher threw down his tools, ran to the fence and yelled at the top of his lungs….. “Your badge, show him your BADGE!!”

  3. Not sure there is any significance to losing more away from home when every game home or away is in front of no audience. Not sure if we have pushed harder at home for a win and been hit on the counter. Leicester game comes to mind.
    With the way that English football has over-implemented VAR unlike anyone else – we have had our fair share of bad luck. The gap between winning and losing has often come down to millimetres.

  4. VAR is the biggest pile of bullshit ever to enter the game. Arms in a natural position???
    Proximity of player to the ball kick or deflection!! Offside phases before incident????
    Clear and obvious to whom??? When the man in the middle is part of the team in Stockley Park, who is really officiating? PGMOL stink more than any pile of festering dung.

    There are so many smells in this pile that any can be sold as Perfume de Paris.

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