by Tony Attwood
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It is getting harder to win the Premier League. Over the past five seasons the average number of points needed to win the league has been 95.2 points. In the five seasons before that the average number of points needed to win the league was 86.4 points.
Indeed the difference between the top club and the fourth-placed club is growing as well. In three of the past four years, the gap between top and fourth has been between 25 and 33 points. In the previous six years, the gap was between seven and 20 points.
So what is causing these changes to happen, and also, what is the implication for Arsenal?
Getting to fourth place, and thus getting into the Champions League has been achieved by getting anything between 66 points and 79 points – a huge variation. Arsenal this season will end up with either 66, 67 or 69 points – good enough on only a couple of occasions in the past decade.
However, a more interesting measure comes with comparing the fourth-placed club in the league (the club occupying the final Champions League spot) and the 18th club in the league (the highest placed of the three to go down to the Championship).
The gap between fourth and 18th over the past ten years has varied between 29 points in 2016 and 65 points in 2020. And indeed there is a pattern of the gap growing over the years. Four of the biggest gaps between fourth and 18th have occurred in the past five years.
What this suggests is that the top clubs are constantly pulling away from the lower clubs with the top three clubs having lost just 11 games this season between them. The rest of the league have all lost 11 games or more each.
This is starting to give the Premier League a look which is increasingly like that of other countries. Of course, the Premier League is not yet like France where PSG has won the league eight times in the last ten years, nor Germany where Bayern Munich has just won the league for the 10th successive season. But that is undoubtedly the direction in which we are heading.
Maybe (because the Premier League itself doesn’t have the will to do anything about it) we will end up with two clubs heavily financed by nations with no human rights and which use football as a way of sportswashing their image. Maybe it will be three. But what will go is the old notion of English football in which the club that wins, doesn’t win all the time.
To illustrate this point, consider this: since Arsenal’s unbeaten season in 2004, the league has been won by Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester and Manchester United. That is five clubs in 17 years.
That might not seem too threatening, but if we look at which clubs came second across those 17 years the only other name to add is Arsenal who came runners-up twice. If we include third place again we add only one more club: Tottenham Hotspur.
So in 17 years the top three positions have been occupied by seven clubs. That is 51 positions (first to third across 17 years) occupied by seven clubs. The direction of the league is obvious.
Thus we might ask, what happens when a league is utterly dominated by just a few clubs and most clubs know their only target is either a) survival or b) mid-table security.
An example of what happens can be seen in Germany. Bayern Munich sauntered to their 10th successive title, but hardly anyone outside the diehard Bayern fans was interested. All interest was focussed on the final day, at the foot of the table where, if Stuttgart could beat Koln, they would stay up.
Now to understand the passion here you need to know that VfB Stuggart is a membership-based club with over 72,000 members, which not only has its football team, but also amateur teams playing in many other sports. It also maintains a social department, the VfB-Garde which has the aim of preserving the traditions of the club, cultivating friendships with other clubs, organizing anniversary, memorial and funeral ceremonies and promoting the feeling of togetherness among the older VfB members through trips and meetings.
As a result of this, and perhaps a sense of boredom about the fact that we already know who will win next season’s league, a lot of people in Germany like VfB Stuggart. Which is why the final match of the season, which Stuggart had to win to avoid relegation, was the key match of the day. Bayern were ignored. Everyone watched VfB Stuttgart.
My point is that my impression of Stuttgart is that people care about their club – which is different from the way most people think about their favourite English team.
Indeed I think we lost the “caring” in the Premier League a long time ago, and the takeover of the league by vast sums of money is sending the league in the same direction as the German league. Except – we don’t have clubs that are part of their community, in the way that Stuttgart is.
We’re going down the German route at the top, but without the caring side that Germany also has within its football. And that, I feel, is not good.
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