What does Arsenal’s first match actually mean for the rest of the season?

By Tony Attwood

Of course we want to win, but does the first game tell us anything?

Is it important to get off to a flying start?  That is what the media says and last season they gave Arsenal absolute hell because of the loss of their first three league matches, although the run of eight league games without defeat which followed those first three games got virtually no mention in the media as a rather good sequence.

So we know that we cannot rely on the media to give us any sense of perspective whatsoever, and indeed we can’t really expect them to give us any statistics, so as always we’ll have a go of providing a spot of information, and as a result, balance.

Here are the details of the first match of the season for last ten seasons, followed by the final position Arsenal achieved in the league table.

Date Match Result Score Final position
13 Aug 2021 Brentford v Arsenal L 2-0 5
12 Sep 2020 Fulham v Arsenal W 0-3 8
11 Aug 2019 Newcastle United v Arsenal W 0-1 8
12 Aug 2018 Arsenal v Manchester City L 0-2 5
11 Aug 2017 Arsenal v Leicester City W 4-3 6
14 Aug 2016 Arsenal v Liverpool L 3-4 5
09 Aug 2015 Arsenal v West Ham United L 0-2 2
16 Aug 2014 Arsenal v Crystal Palace W 2-1 3
17 Aug 2013 Arsenal v Aston Villa L 1-3 4
18 Aug 2012 Arsenal v Sunderland D 0-0 4


In the past ten years we have lost the first league game of the season five times, and at the end of those seasons we have come 2nd, 4th, and 5th (the latter three times).

In the same ten years we have won four of those opening games and come 3rd once, 5th once and 8th twice.

And finally, in the past ten years, we have drawn one of those opening games, and came fourth.

So on this historical basis losing the first match could be seen to be a better result than winning since our average final position across the last ten years when we have won the opening league game is 6th.   Whereas when we have lost the opening league game the average final position is fourth – which is our oft-quoted target.

But let’s go back a bit further

Date Match Result Score Final position
1997/8 Leeds v Arsenal D 1-1 1st
1998/9 Liverpool v Arsenal D 0-0 2nd
1999/2000 Derby v Arsenal W 1-2 2nd
2000/01 Arsenal v Liverpool W 2-0 2nd
2001/02 Arsenal v Leeds L 1-2 1st
2002/03 West Ham United v Arsenal D 2-2 2nd
2003/04 Arsenal v Everton W 2-1 1st
2004/05 Arsenal v Middlesbrough W 5-3 2nd
2005/06 Chelsea v Arsenal L 1-0 4th
2006/07 Manchester City v Arsenal L 1-0 4th


So in this ten-year spell, we won four of the opening games of the season, drew three and lost three.

  • In the seasons we won the opening game we came second three times and won the league once.
  • In the seasons we drew the opening game we won the league once and came second twice.
  • Finally, in the seasons we lost the opening game we won the league once and came fourth twice.

In short the opening game of the season tells us very little, but the media love to believe that it tells us all about the future – just as they think the transfer window tells us everything we “need to know” (to use their favourite phrase) – at least on the basis that they often talk of little else.

The media’s coverage of the first game of the 2003/4 season (in which we were unbeaten) was totally negative despite our opening with a win, and the BBC’s report spoke primarily of “more red card shame as Sol Campbell was sent off,” not of the fact that Arsenal won.

There is little mention that Everton also had a player sent off, or of the goals from Henry and Pires that won the game, but instead the BBC told us, Arsenal “will face further questions about their record of 51 red cards under boss Arsene Wenger.”  Indeed Arsenal were (according to the BBC) lucky, as  Everton “started brightly and should have taken the lead after only six minutes.”  (Oh lucky Arsenal).

So there was talk of Arsenal’s “week of disciplinary woe” and barely a mention of two serious penalty appeals for Arsenal (both rejected, although finally the ref agreed with the third appeal.  Of Arsenal’s style and quality at the start of the Unbeaten Season, there is not mention.  Everton on the other hand “set up a grandstand finish”.

And while Arsenal’s sending-off made the headlines, Everton’s dismissal is just a footnote.

Since nothing has changed we may expect more of  the same from the media over this Friday’s game.  In fact I think we could probably write a report on the game from the media’s point of view, even before the match kicks off.

Of course I want Arsenal to win, but at least I’ll have a consolation if they lose.

3 Replies to “What does Arsenal’s first match actually mean for the rest of the season?”

  1. But for this season we need some that can motivate the fans of which is non other than a win ta the start of the season. because it counts at the end of the season, last year can testify to that.

  2. My feeling is that this young team will be wanting to prove that and see that the pre-season was not just a mirage and that they can compete. They will be motivated to do well but will also need that success to kick on. It will be another season of teams trying to kick us off the park. It was no mistake that Roy Keane used the word soft to describe us because of our relative youth. It was a dog whistle for the other teams to sharpen their studs.

  3. If they come out on the front foot they’ll be alright but it will be hard away to Palace. Also, depending on the team selection, there could be a lack of cohesiveness integrating all the newcomers. Pre-season friendlies do not tell you too much. I’m interested to see what the ref will let Palace get away with. Which segues to GoingGoingGooner mentioning Roy Keane’s comments on Arsenal being soft and blowing the last CL place “after being 4th most of the season”. I don’t recall them being 4th most of the season but Keane can’t be wrong could he? As far as soft goes he got away with more in a match than the entire Arsenal side. Soft because they don’t kick the opponent off the pitch. Soft because they can’t play on a leg broken in three places. Soft because if they dare to look at the opponent it’s a whistle or a card. As I said above, let’s see what the ref let’s Palace get away with.

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