On the eve of this, my mid-season review of AFC’s performance in the Premier League, the prevailing mood in the media and blogsphere is of pessimism and despair. Arsenal had dramatically snatched a draw after falling behind 0-3 down to Bournemouth. Instead of joy and optimism that in 20 minutes the club had turned around a seemingly hopeless situation to salvage a point, the main theme was the Gunners was out of the title race as Chelsea look certain to open a 11 point lead.
After retrieving a three-goal deficit, it’s usual for some euphoria but that’s noticeable by its absence this morning. Anyone who had lingering hopes of the title has surely had them dispelled by now? It’s a draw which feels like a defeat or draw when so often a comeback of that magnitude feels like a victory. – ACLF
All in all a bad night for Arsenal, and a bad night for Arsene Wenger who, despite having the biggest, deepest squad he’s had in years, sees yet another season unfolding in pretty familiar fashion. The position we’re in is the same, the way we drop points is the same, the failings are consistent. – Arseblog
RIP Arsenal’s season. – 7amkickoff
Nothing sums up Wenger more perfectly than the game last night. All the chickens came home to roost as we tapped out of the title race and handed the momentum to proper managers. –le-grove
Based on Chelsea’s subsequent loss to Spurs this Wednesday evening, I can confidently predict that there will be a dramatic u-turn in the in the tone of these blogs by Thursday. Safe to say the euphoria of Chelsea failing to break Arsenal’s record of 14 straight PL wins will convince most of these fine bloggers that the 8 point gap is no longer insurmountable. Within 24-hours an impregnable Chelsea lead on Wednesday morning will become surpass able on Thursday.
Once again readers of PA will get a perfect lesson in how the majority, not all, of Arsenal bloggers, act in a fashion similar to the mainstream media, preying on the emotions of the Arsenal fans by using a short term setback to promote fear that Arsenal and Arsene Wenger have failed in their title bid. Mark you, it still early January with practically half a season to go. Most importantly, these conclusions are being drawn without presenting the unbiased data to support their point of view.
As part of my mission to educate myself and inform my readers about the importance of the unbiased data in making sense of football (as well as of politics and economics), in my very first blog at the start of this season, based on the most recent 8 years of PL data, I predicted the following 2016/17 league positions:
|My Prediction||Club||Time Series Projection|
Just a reminder, for comparison’s sake, the BBC pundits made the following forecast:
The ESPN experts were singing from the same hymn book:
After exactly 19 games the Premier League table top-6 reads as follows:
Leicester City and Crystal Palace listed for illustrative purposes only.
Contrary to all prior projections Chelsea and Liverpool are sitting atop the table in 1st and 2nd positions respectively. In contrast, Manchester City, the pundits most favored team because of their spending power and brand new celebrity manager, is sitting 5th instead of their projected 1st. Below them in 6th is United, the second most favored team of both BBC and ESPN journos. Yours truly is similarly off the pace as my prediction was for United and City to be 1st and 2nd respectively. Where I differ from the mainstream pundits is my minimum expectation of Arsenal coming 3rd. Most of the so-called experts have Arsenal at 4th.
Even though half-way through the season and the short-term results may look bleak, I stand by my earlier prediction based on the 20 year history of Arsene Wenger as manager:
Arsenal has finished an average of 3rd; no other club except Manchester United has a better average.
No other team has a better absolute deviation from the mean than Arsenal at 0.985, meaning that on the average the club’s position will deviate by less than 1. United is the next best at 1.28.
All other big -6 team have in 20 years finished lower than Arsenal; City fell away to as low as 47th, way down into the 3rd
Arsenal has never finished less than 4th.
Arsenal has never finished below Tottenham.
By comparing the performance of each top-6 club midseason this year to 2015-16, it is evident Arsenal remains the most consistent despite the absence since last October, due to injury, of arguably its most important player, Santi Cazorla. I have provided four years of data to demonstrate that Arsenal averages over 2.09 points per game (ppg) with Santi playing in comparison to a team average of 1.92 ppg. Seven games with Santi this season yielded a ppg of 2.7, nine games without Santi up to early December and the ppg dropped to 1.3, a fall of more than 50%.
Percentage Change in Key Performance Data Mid Season 2016 vs 2015
Leicester City and Crystal Palace listed for illustrative purposes only.
Main takeaways from the table on a club by club basis:
- Have made dramatic changes in all the key data categories resulting in a 145% improvement in their points haul.
- Have significantly improved in their scoring with 83% more Goals For as well as in their defending with 55% less Goals Against, the net result being a fantastic 583% improvement in Goal Difference.
- The challenge for Chelsea is this sort of exponential improvement is almost statistically impossible to sustain. The law of diminishing returns begin to set in after an optimal level has been reached. Furthermore, it is inevitable that over time competing teams will find ways to narrow the differences that have given Chelsea such a dramatic superiority in recent months.
- Long winning streaks are correlated with title-winning teams as evident from the data previously presented of Arsenal’s winning campaigns. There is however one major exception, i.e. Liverpool in 2014-15 who had an 11-game unbeaten run but failed to win the title after 2 grievous losses in the last month of the campaign.
- Apart from a 109% improvement in Goals For, their improvements in the various categories have been relatively less dramatic than Chelsea.
- A 43% year-on-year improvement in Points, while two-thirds less than Chelsea, is still significant. Can this level be sustained statistically?
- Only club whose points haul has remained substantially the same, a mere 3% improvement.
- Measureable improvements have been made in both Goals For and Goals Against. As a result goal difference has improved by 45%, the second highest of the clubs.
- Consistent marginal improvements are more sustainable over time in any physical endeavor. It is well known that Arsenal title challenges have in recent years been shot by mid-season injuries to key players. Should such injuries repeat themselves Arsenal will be struggle to earn more Wins and less Draws/Losses to sustain a serious title challenge.
As the table above illustrates consistency is not easy to sustain in the football, at least not in the Premier League. One year ago Crystal Palace and manager Alan Pardew were the toast of the town. Instead of 5th in the League they now have 48% less in points, fighting relegation at 17th place with Pardew sacked. Similarly, Leicester City, the defending champions were the miracle club, the so-called proof that a non-fashionable club can have sustained success amongst the big boys. Today they are in 16th position, recording a significant decline in all the data categories with 49% less points than last year. And we are told Claudio Ranieri is a genius.
Wenger’s consistency is easily disparaged; bloggers are quick to write him off at the first setback. The recent draw at Bournemouth was evidently due to having to play a team with barely 48-hours recuperation time from a prior demanding physical engagement, at least 24 hours less than the optimum time according to the scientific studies, a fact none of the bloggers quoted above gave any attention to.
It bears repeating. Woe to the pundits and bloggers who write-off Arsene Wenger despite 20 years of unbiased data showing a remarkable consistency by him as manager of the football club.