By Tony Attwood and a calculator*
Arsenal’s declared aim this season was to get into the top four and so once again start earning the fortunes that arise from the Champions League for next season. Anything beyond that would be a bonus.
This might now seem to represent a rather modest ambition, or indeed a lack of ambition, given that we are top, but given also that we have just had six seasons in which we ended up outside the top four, maybe modesty becomes us.
In recent posts we’ve been trying to see whether the table after seven games really can tell us very much about how the season will pan out. For example…
- Comparing 2022/3 to Wenger’s title seasons: more points, more goals, more wins
- When did Arsenal last have 18+ points from 7 games – and what happened?
- What does Manchester City have that Arsenal does not have?
But then we thought, let’s go back to the fundamental aim of this season: getting into the top four. And thinking about such an achievement doesn’t actually mean we are not being ambitious – after all nothing that Untold publishes is actually going to affect the club. But it might tell us if we are on track.
First off we have to admit that there is nothing set in stone to say that just because teams in the recent past have reached fourth place after having just 11 or 12 points from the first seven games, a club getting 18 points from the first seven games must end up in the top four.
But the figures from across recent years do suggest that is so. Tottenham who crept into the final champions league spot last season had only 12 points after seven games, as did Chelsea the season before. Prior to that going back to 2019/20 Chelsea gained the fourth Champions League spot having had just 11 points from the first seven games, and Tottenham did the same in 2018/19.
Of course one of the problems of understanding what happens to a club with 18 points from seven games is that it doesn’t happen very often. Liverpool did have 21 points in 2019 having won all their opening seven games and went on to win the league, so they certainly made it into the Champions League.
And both Manchester City and Liverpool did it in 2018 and were the top two by the end of the season.
A similar situation occurred in the season before, as in September 2017 Manchester City and Manchester United were in the top two spots with 19 points, and went on to be the top two at the end of the season.
However, although being top of the league after seven games and having got 18 points does seem to guarantee ending up in the top four, it doesn’t actually guarantee that the club wins the league. In 2016 Manchester City were top with a record similar to Arsenal’s today…
But they didn’t win the league, the final table resolving itself as
All of which suggests that we should not get too excited. Being in the position we are in has, in recent years, been enough to get the club into the top four by the end of the season. But it is no guarantee of winning the title. But then I am not sure anyone is actually thinking that.
As for the last time a club had 18 points from the first seven games and DIDN’T get into the top four by the end of the season, I’m sorry to say I can’t tell you. I’ve checked back to the start of this century, and it certainly has happened. Whether it happened in the last century, I can’t say because I am running out of time. But this century’s records suggest it would be very odd and unusual for Arsenal not to be in the Champions League next season.
I also had a quick peek at recent records of clubs that have been relegated from the Premier League while doing this little sort-through of the data to see if the clubs that were in the bottom three after seven games go down. The answer is yes, quite often, but not all of them.
Last season Burnely and Norwich were in the bottom three after seven, and descended at the end. Also in the bottom three though was Newcastle, who then somehow seemed to get a load of money (I can’t think where from) and bought their way out.
In 2020/21, once again, two of the bottom three after seven games went down, (West Bromwich and Sheffield United). Burnley escaped, but only for one more year.
In 2019/20 the bottom three after seven games were Aston Villa, Newcastle United (them again!) and Watford (again). Watford went down the other two survived.
So yes, looking at the table after seven games and trying to predict the future is possible, but not 100% accurate. A club on 18 points very likely indeed to be in the Champions League next season. A club in the bottom three after seven games maybe has a 50% chance of survival.
* The supercomputer has been returned to the Ministry of Defence.
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