How well are we doing after 22 games, statistically speaking?

We are approaching the end of January and still remain top (albeit on goal difference) amid two consecutive draws against Liverpool and Stoke. Now, let nobody tell you that ‘Arsenal are starting to bottle it again’, ‘that was four points dropped’, or ‘potential champions need to be winning those games’, etc- something along those lines.

Make no mistake that we picked up two good points in two of the toughest grounds to visit in this league. Even though, in hindsight, one can probably argue we should have seen the game out at Anfield, draws at places like Stoke and Liverpool are not the type of results that will lose the league for us. Also keep in mind that we’ve made it through those two difficult games with the barebones of our squad and we’ve still managed to grind out results. With most of our injured players bound to come back within the next month, it gives me optimism that this can be our year.

Every once in a while, we get those weird seasons where some things just don’t make sense. A couple of them that I can remember was 2010-11 season when Man United won the league with 80 points and probably the worst ever away record from a league winning team, and 2011-12- Man United throwing the league away with 8 points ahead and only a handful of games to go, Man City’s last game against QPR, ourselves losing 8-2 at Old Trafford and still finishing third, etc. But I think this season has surpassed any sort of standard that’s been set by previous freak seasons and there’s probably more stuff that’s still going to happen. Leicester still being near the top, Chelsea lingering in the bottom half of the table, City’s hugely underperforming squad, seeing players like Shaqiri and Afellay at Stoke, and unexpected results weekend after weekend are all evidences of a new model of craziness we’ve not seen in the Premier League before.

I’d like to think that the Premier League began a new era after the Invincibles season (2003-04) because the season after that marked the end of Arsenal/United dominance and also the traditional big four (Arsenal, United, Chelsea, Liverpool) and introduced new title challengers such as Man City and Chelsea while other midtable teams like Tottenham and Everton started to become stronger.

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Comparison between average statistics of the past 11 Champions and Arsenal this season after 22 games

I did a small analysis of how we compare against recent Champions (from 2004-05 to 2014-15) after 22 games. Maybe unsurprisingly, our statistics are below the standards that recent history has set and, in particular, for four main categories- goals conceded, goals scored, total points and average home points. There has been exceptions; Man United only scored 39 goals after 22 games in 2008-09 and a 2.5 home average in 2006-07, and on more than one occasion teams have had conceded a handful more than 21 goals. However, the thing is we probably top most of those categories in the league this season, maybe with the exception of goals scored. So even though it seems like we’re up against recent history, we’re really not. Due to the nature of this season, whether it be us or City (or even Leicester) that wins the league, the 2015-16 Champions are going to be setting new lows for those aforementioned categories in recent history anyway.

Next, I’d like to compare those similar stats from our current season against the three previous seasons we’ve won the league (1997-98, 2001-02, and 2003-04).

Comparison between average statistics of Arsenal’s previous league winning seasons and Arsenal this season after 22 games

Comparison between average statistics of Arsenal’s previous league winning seasons and Arsenal this season after 22 games

It’s hard to believe that the league was won with only 78 points in 1997-98, but there’s a very good chance it may happen again this season. Looking at the table above, although it’s probably harsh to compare our current stats against the Invincibles season, I think we’re doing okay so far. We’ve either met or bettered most of the categories above from the previous title winning campaigns such as goals conceded, clean sheets, average points per game (PPG), and even total points if you ignore the 03-04 season tally. Probably my worry is the average away points up to now, which stands at 1.75. With the amount of tough away games we still have coming, it’s hard to see us improving that stat much during the rest of the season. More interestingly, you can see that we’ve performed better in the last 16 games than in the first 22 in terms of PPG in all three title-winning campaigns (resulting in a positive difference in PPG). As mentioned, with our squad nearing full strength very soon, I certainly expect that to be the case again this season.

Comparison between average statistics of Arsenal’s recent seasons and Arsenal this season after 22 games

Comparison between average statistics of Arsenal’s recent seasons and Arsenal this season after 22 games

Lastly, let’s change perspective and observe more closely to the present. Above is a comparison of our recent league performances (from 2004-05 onwards) after 22 games with this season’s stats. Simply put, if you compare the recent seasons’ average stats to this season’s, we’ve marked an improvement in every single category bar one. Those stats definitely signal remarkable progress from previous seasons and solidifies the belief that this might be our best chance to end our league drought.

The only category where we have not improved upon from previous seasons is ‘goals scored’. And I’d like to justify some reasons why it is not always a bad thing to have scored fewer goals than recent seasons. First, we’ve become more conservative than previous seasons and know when to see out a game instead of looking for another goal. I understand that we conceded late against Liverpool recently but it’s not due to our players being naive and bombing forward in the 89th minute. Every single Arsenal player was in their own half and seven outfield players in the box when Allen scored that day. Compare that to when Tottenham scored their fourth goal in that 4-4 draw in 2008. Adebayor didn’t come back to his own half and only THREE players were in the penalty box because the team was pushing for a 5th goal up to the last minute of injury time.  My point is that we have improved as a team in managing games recently as compared to before and getting rid of that sort of naiveté is a reason why we haven’t scored as many goals as before. In fact, out of the 6 goals that we’ve conceded this season after 75 minutes (Chelsea away, Leicester away, Bayern away, Man City home, Southampton away, Liverpool away), the one at Anfield is the only goal that has cost us dropped points.

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Comparison between Arsenal’s defensive positioning in the box against Tottenham (2008) and Liverpool (2016)

Second, in addition to seeing the game out, we’ve learned to win in different ways. We’ve got probably one of the best back five units in the league and that means sometimes a goal is enough to win a game regardless of whether we’re dominating or not. Third, other teams are improving. We all know about the TV money and the league’s inferior sides flexing their muscles against big teams on many occasions. Therefore, defending a lead, whether it’d be 1-0, 2-0, or even 3-0, has become more important than extending it because the other teams now have players to punish every mistake you make and that can suddenly turn a game.

Lastly, we’ve had Santi, who pulls all the strings in the midfield, out for three months and our top scorer from last season, Alexis, has been either fatigued or injured for most of the season so far. Our inability to call upon those two have also no doubt contributed to our lack of goals this season. Once those two, along with Wilshere and Welbeck, are back, I expect us to score more goals than we have done so far on average.

Looking at our current season statistics and comparisons with past and recent seasons, I’d say that we are definitely on the right track. But we can improve, mainly in three areas. First, we can score more goals, which I think we will to do once our creative players rejoin the team. There were games this season where I wondered if we could have won if we could have found that little extra within us (i.e. a goal) – such as Norwich away or Tottenham home. At the end of the day, even after the rant I had above about us defending better and not needing goals, clean sheets win points but goals win games. Secondly, we have to improve our PPG in the next 16 games as compared to our first 22 (2 PPG). History shows we’ve won the league three times by upping our level in the later part of the season. The past four times we were in a position to challenge for the league (2007-08, 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2013-14), we’ve fallen way short after around the 22nd game, as seen in the table above. Therefore, we need to show that we’ve learned from past mistakes and can’t let something similar derail us again this season. Lastly, we’ve got to improve on our home form. Whether you look at the stats in context of this season or previous seasons, a return of 2.3 PPG at home is pretty low for any team challenging for a league title. Especially this season for us, due to the difficult away games coming up, we need to pick up as many points as possible at home because our home form could be the difference between finishing 1st and 2nd. Here is me hoping we can do that, starting with Chelsea this coming Sunday.

 

 

Soe Latt Naing

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