In my last blog, less than a week ago, I called readers’ attention to the mainstream media’s deliberate lack of attention to Arsenal’s statistically significant 13 game unbeaten streak. After the club’s thrashing of Stoke last Saturday, some of us may have expected a change in tone, some token appearance of even-handedness and fairness. Such naivety and illusions were once again met by a wall of silence and indifference as the media decided that Chelsea (sorry Manchester City – you messed up), is the financial behemoth who, under a young, telegenic coach, will sweep all before them in the Premier League.
A sample of the Sunday-Monday headlines on their web sites tells the story.
According to the BBC:
The Guardian is equally on point:
Surprise, surprise ESPN FC has almost the same headlines:
How the mainstream media manages to maintain such uniformity in messaging is something that never ceases to amaze me. My only explanation is based on personal experience. As someone who works in a relatively closed field similar to journalism, where the few members of the profession socialize in a fairly incestuous circle, it has been my observation that one learns very quickly “to go along to get along”. Sooner or later one learns what is acceptable or not to the powers that be. One unconsciously acts and reacts in a manner and fashion similar to all the other members of the herd, which seems to be the case with football journos. Readers may have an alternative point of view.
Back to my theme, according to the English press, Arsenal going 14 games unbeaten merits Zip. Nada. Zilch.
Readers of this blog know that I have provided 20 years of Premier league data to demonstrate that, under Wenger, a 9-game and over winning streak by Arsenal is highly correlated to Premier League title success.
Is Chelsea’s 9 game winning run equally correlated? According to Goal.com (here), it certainly is. Based on stats provided by OptaJoe, they noted that this is the fifth time, a record for the PL, that Chelsea have gone on a nine game run and that …
“….they also won nine games in a row in 2007 and 2005 – on their way to the title.”
They then present a table which is supposed to prove their point (click on the link above).
On closer analysis I found the data is either riddled with bias or irrelevant to a season by season analysis. I had to rework it and add relevant information for your benefit.
|Date Last Game||Team||Winning Run||League Pos|
In four of the years listed by Goal the supposed streaks overlapped two seasons which I designate as not applicable (n.a.). Out goes one of their so-called Chelsea record-making sequence of wins. United and City are also inappropriately credited in one case each of a season- long winning streak.
Looking at the unbiased data, only Arsenal, under Wenger, has a consistent history of turning all winning streaks during a season into titles. Chelsea has done it two times out of three and the fate of their current sequence of wins is still to be decided. Poor old Liverpool has had some good runs but has never turned them into titles. Note Manchester United under Ferguson was never about winning streaks; it was a maximizing the points at home and never losing on the road.
Either the media is innumerate, as Goal evidently is, or they totally disrespect and underestimate the managerial history of Arsene Wenger. Because only a foolish or biased journalist would ignore how Wenger has made this team resilient and consistent in their performances so far this season. For all his Premier league opponents this is an ominous sign.
So what of Chelsea’s current streak? Is it all it is made out by the press? It certainly is noteworthy but looking at the data there is need for pause before premature predictions of glory.
Several things are obvious about Chelsea’s advantage over Arsenal:
- Mere 3 points difference.
- A 2.47 PPG is historically unsustainable. In the past 20 years the avg PPG for first half of the season is 2.19. It increases to 2.32 for title winning teams. Only one team has had a season-ending PPG above 2.47 and that is the great Chelsea team of 2004-05 which ended at 2.50. That team had the likes of Robben, Duff, Gudjohnsen, Drogba, Cole, Cech, Makelele, Terry, Carvalho, Gallas, and Ferreira either starting or coming off the bench. Who sees similar depth in quality and quantity currently at Stamford Bridge?
There has been a lot of push-back, even among my dearest colleagues at PA, to my assertion that the unbiased data is very predictive. The last three years has seen a progressive improvement in the quality of the Arsenal squad and in league position. I am yet to do a club by club comparison of results this year vs last year. But there is evidence that AFC is pounding those mid and lower level teams who they are expected to beat instead of dropping points as they did last year. AFC is also winning league games post Champions League fixtures rather than struggling for a draw if not losing. This is due to being able to heavily rotate the squad and not experience a drop in quality.
As I keep repeating, given the predictability of AFC’s performance and the resulting data, there is no reason to rely on hope and there is no reason to be in despair after a setback. The unbiased data is predicting a 1st or 2nd place finish in the league this season. Given the qualitative importance of Wenger as one of the pre-eminent football coaches in the world, this is a decisive advantage in AFC’s favour as the League enters the decisive homestretch next year.