Today will be the first of a few blogs written at key stages of the Premier League season using some research and historical precedent to assess Arsenal’s progress.
I am writing this one now as we are effectively at the quarter-way mark of the season after nine matches. Most of the teams including Arsenal will have played a few of their rivals and we are perhaps almost at the stage to take stock. I will revisit this after 19 games and, of course, the prognosis at the halfway point will have more validity.
I hope you are intrigued as to where I am going with this and are probably hoping it is more than just where the team in second after nine games had finished in the past. In fact, I will be using two key indicators based on 15 years of Premier League data. I believe it would be hard to argue with their significance.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious. A title-winning side will be built on a solid defence and they are highly likely to score considerably more than they concede! Not rocket science I hear you say, but let’s quantify those statements a tad further. Since the turn of the Millennium, only one team have won the Premier League after conceding more than 37 goals in the campaign. That was Man United in 2012/13 – but they did score 86 times.
Arsenal, after nine outings, have only conceded on seven occasions with a very settled back four and a newly-installed world-class goalkeeper. The only decision for Wenger seems to be between Gabriel and Mertesacker, but it is hardly a selection dilemma one would compare to a Djourou/Squilacci! On a pro rata basis, this would equate to a season conceding 30 which is title-winning defensive potential. So who joins us at this stage demonstrating surety at the back that hints at league winning credentials? The answer is Man City, Man United and, amusingly, Tottenham with eight, eight and seven respectively conceded. To just select two other teams to emphasise the point, I would look at West Ham, currently in the top four, and the defending champions, Chelsea. The Hammers have already conceded 12 times and over a season a team conceding 48 has never won the title. Chelsea have already shipped 17 so would need a remarkable return to form of an ageing defence to get back on track.
So it is a positive outlook for the Gunners, but that alone would hardly make us all excited. The other aspect we need to look at is the ‘score considerably more than they concede’ column. Not one single team has won the Premiership since 2001 without having a goal difference of 40 or better – it simply does not happen. A quick inspection of the current Premier League standings shows us that Man City, with a huge goal difference of 16, are the ONLY team on track for a 40-plus differential. So what of the other teams doing well enough in the goals conceded column? Well Tottenham can be discounted as challengers with a tiny goal difference of four which over a campaign would be less than half what it takes to challenge – they simply aren’t scoring enough. Man United currently have a goal difference of seven, which extrapolated would lead to a 38-game difference of 30 – not enough to challenge without some improvement.
After nine matches, Arsenal sit second to Man City with a goal difference of nine, which would equate to a campaign total of 38. No team had won the Premier League this century with a goal difference of less than 40, so there is some work to be done. Having conceded none and scored six in their last two matches, the trend for the Gunners is positive and they are the closest rival to the blue side of Manchester, both in league position and in showing the right traits to challenge.
The omens are healthy for Arsene Wenger’s men a quarter of the way through the 2015/16 season, and I will revisit this for a more meaningful assessment after 19 matches at the halfway stage, when the indicators will be perhaps more conclusive. In the meantime, if you wish to keep tabs, remember for a team empirically to have realistic title aspirations, they must be on target to concede 37 or less and to have a goal difference healthier than plus-40. Over 38 games, history tells us so and on current trend Arsenal are the only side close to being able to challenge Man City.
Let’s hope it continues looking this positive for the Arsenal.