Last season the table after 3 games was headline news. But probably not this season

By Tony Attwood

Last season after three games the media predicted Arsenal’s total decline.  In fact we ended up fifth.  Which suggests that predictions made from a selected number of matches can be interesting, but need to be dealt with cautiously.   Winning the opening two league games is not that common for Arsenal as we have seen, but these comparisons with the past can be interesting, if dealt with properly (rather than media-ly)

So we thought we might first do this the other way around.  First by reducing our target down to coming fourth, which is the target all the media has said we will fail to reach, and looking at other clubs in recent seasons that have come fourth and what they have achieved after two games and three games in the next season.

4th placed at end After 2 games After 3 games pos
2021/22 Tottenham H 5th (6 points) 1st (9 points)
2020/21 Chelsea 4th (7 points) 1st (6 points)
2019/20 Chelsea 11th (3 points) 9th (4 points)
2018/19 Tottenham H 6th (4 points) 7th (4 points)
2017/18 Liverpool 2nd (6 points) 1st (9 points)


So what this suggests is that this stage in the season does not give a consistent clear view of what team might end up in fourth.   Twice it has been the team that started out with three wins (2021, 2017), once the club that was in ninth after three games, and once the club in seventh after three games.    The poisition after two games as a guide to who will get fourth place is even less relible – the club that finally makes it could be anywhere from fourth to 11th after two games.

So why bother with projections that don’t work?

The answer is that last season we spent quite a bit of time looking at the result over recent games as a guide to what would come next, and that proved quite reliable.   While the first three games for Arsenal last season turned out to be no indicator at all of what would come next, other sequences in the season were quite helpful if one bothered to look.

So that raises the question: does trying to find regular patterns in football to predict one season from previous campaigns actually work?  And the answer is yes.  It is not a perfect system of course because form changes, but it gave us a good idea of how teams were progressing.

Thus while much of the media ceaselessly talked about the first three games of the season, football moved on and other sequences became more relevant and more reliable for predictions.

We know for example that over the last 35 games of last season the table looked like this.


# club  P W D L F A GD Pts
35 27 6 2 89 25 64 87
35 26 7 2 88 25 63 85
35 22 3 10 61 39 22 69
35 19 10 6 70 32 38 67


If we now add in the two games from this season we get


# club  P W D L F A GD Pts
37 29 6 2 95 25 70 93
37 26 9 2 91 28 63 87
37 24 3 10 67 41 26 75
37 20 11 6 73 34 39 71


Of course I am thoroughly aware that the league table that gets written into history is the one after every club has played all 38 matches.  But that didn’t stop half the world (it seems) copying out the league table after three games.  That table was relevant after three games, but as a form guide it was pretty rubbish after that.

Taking the last 37 games played Arsenal are over that run of games, the third best team in the league – and indeed will still be the third best team in the league after the last 38 games are measured.

It doesn’t win us any trophies, but it ought to give us positive thoughts as to what will happen this season.  Arsenal’s team is clearly stronger and better equipped than it was last season as is reflected by that table over the last 37 games.   With a spot of luck that position could well be maintained over the rest of this season, until we get to the point that with the last 38 games we are measuring, we are indeed looking at a complete season.

We’ll also try and keep an eye on how this season compares to last.  In this table pg = per game.

Team W D L F A GD Pts
Last season AFC 22 (58%) 3 13 61 (1.60 pg) 48 (1.26 pg) +0.34 pg 1.82 pg
This season AFC 2 (100%) 0 0 6 pg 2 pg +2.0 pg 3.00 pg


So once again, as a guide to how we are doing it still seems to me that we should be aware that the endless harping on about the first three games of last season was no different from analysing the last 35 games or any other number you choose.  It was selected by journalists because it was an easy way of making Arsenal look bad – and by and large that’s their job.  A broader picture gives a much more positive view of Arsenal – but as we know, the media hate that.

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