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.
|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
|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.
- Why the media’s new statistical analyses of football is just a trick to stop you noticing what’s going on
- Yesterday’s game: how Arsenal won, and where the journalists got things wrong
- Brentford v Arsenal: past exploits and the Arsenal team news
- French authorities issue arrest warrant over awarding of World Cup to Qatar
- Brentford v Arsenal: the history and the build up, with some extraordinary odds