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Is there a top four threshold? How many points does Arsène need for Champions League qualification?

April 20, 2013

Following Arsenal’s draw with Everton in midweek the battle for fourth place has only intensified. Arsenal are in action today against Fulham, and though they have been on an impressive league run, taking 13 out of a possible 15 points in the last five games, they remain partially dependent on the results of Tottenham and Chelsea to ensure another year of Champions League football.

Previously we’ve looked at the predictions for fourth place and the historical data on the points needed to remain in that position. An interesting question arises in this situation, which is whether there is a real threshold which must be exceeded in order to take fourth.

The data show that over the past seven seasons the mean points total for clubs finishing fourth has been 70, but this ranged from 67 to 76. Indeed, the lowest points tally of 67 in this period was Arsenal in 2006. The difference is small and if you remove the outliers then we are essentially looking at a four point range for this position for most of this period.

Premier League Year End

Club in Fourth Place

Final Points

2012

Tottenham

69

2011

Arsenal

68

2010

Tottenham

70

2009

Arsenal

72

2008

Liverpool

76

2007

Arsenal

68

2006

Arsenal

67

However, if we are looking for the real threshold for fourth place, surely we should be looking at the performance the fifth placed teams to give us an idea of the real minimum which needs to be exceeded to finish higher than fifth.

In fact the points totals for teams finishing fifth in the period from 2006 to 2012 has always been between 60 and 67 points, and once again if the outliers are removed we are looking at a very small variance of three points, indicating that the fluctuations are small and that the data are relatively consistent over this period.

Premier League Year End

Club in Fifth Place

Final Points

2012

Newcastle

65

2011

Tottenham

62

2010

Man City

67

2009

Everton

63

2008

Everton

65

2007

Tottenham

60

2006

Tottenham

65

As the mean points for finishing in fifth place approximate to 64, we should then look to this figure as the total to exceed to finish in fourth place, therefore in an average season we might expect teams accumulating at least 65 points to finish fourth.

This season seems to be one of those which will be more competitive and the points total may be higher as Tottenham are on 58, Arsenal 60 and Chelsea on 61 with up to 18 points available (in the case of Tottenham and Chelsea who have six games to play).

Chelsea currently average approximately 1.9 points per game, Tottenham 1.8 and Arsenal 1.8. When this is used to estimate the points across the remaining games Arsenal and Tottenham are both placed on 69 points, and Chelsea 72.

The end-game?

3

Chelsea

72

4

Arsenal

69

5

Tottenham

69

This suggests that the race for fourth should be one of the most intense of the previous seven years, and that goal difference may be a deciding factor.

On the other hand, statistics and data cannot tell the whole story, and this is very much a predictive model, rather than an indicator of reality.

Tottenham themselves still have to play Chelsea who are the current incumbents in third place and also in touching distance, so the final outcome is far from certain. Undoubtedly, the fact that several of these teams are yet to play each other or close competitors, could skew the final result.

However, the model once again does suggest that 70 points would be enough to secure fourth, André Villas-Boas may yet be proved correct. This also shows that the points tally for each position is remarkably consistent. Today’s match against Fulham will provide further data which will go toward proving or disproving this idea.

Long odds on Arsenal bringing home the Champions League

February 27, 2013

Football is a strange game. Some Arsenal fans might be at least considering placing a long shot bet on the club overcoming Bayern Munich in the final leg of the Second Round. There are pretty long odds on them achieving this feat though, with the Gunners currently rated around 11/5 to beat Bayern, furthermore they are priced at 33/1 to win the Champions League on many football betting sites. Most would agree that both are almost unfeasible this season, especially given the currently porous defence and the difficulty of winning away in Europe.

Of the two options, Gunners fans would be better off betting on them beating Bayern than winning the trophy. The German side are favourites and carry an impressive lead into the second leg, but for this tie Arsenal at least represent an interesting outside bet.

The odds on Arsenal achieving Champions League football for next season are even more interesting though. Arsenal face Tottenham next in the league and though Tottenham sit in third place, two above Arsenal, the game is relatively evenly matched. If Arsenal can overcome Spurs and then Everton they’d greatly increase their chances of making it to fourth or even third place and securing that qualification spot.

Betting on the Tottenham game sees odds of 21/10 for an Arsenal win and 13/10 for Tottenham, clearly the home advantage and improved position favour Spurs, but this doesn’t mean that a win is out of the question. Only time will tell whether Wenger can inspire his side to success, if this happens it would have a greater impact than simply ensuring a higher league finish.

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Is the glass half-full or half-empty? The true nature of Arsenal’s season

February 27, 2013

Arsenal Football Club is in the midst of a particularly turbulent period at the moment. The declining status of the team has been well documented, and inevitably the key fact presented by critics is the ever-increasing number of years without a trophy win.

This has increased from five years to six, seven, eight, until the point where Arsenal supporters no longer expect the side to challenge for the league title each season. Finishing in the top four and perhaps winning the FA Cup is the pragmatic aspiration, and probably closer to the truth.

That there has been a decline in the strength of Arsenal as a footballing force is undeniable. In 2004 they were the Invincibles, having assembled one of the finest sides Europe has produced. A series of failed title attempts followed the next generation with the slow break-up of the young team developed to succeed that pinnacle reached in 2004.

The change in circumstances has generated questions over the ability of Wenger to lead the club into the future, and led some to call for his dismissal. As might be expected it takes some adjustment to move from winning titles to simply scraping into Europe each season, though this is now a reality.

However, it should be noted that the current side is one in transition as Wenger continues the reconstruction process. Arsenal do not possess the team they once did, but Wenger has ensured that there are the building blocks of a much improved side in place.

Not only has he ensured that, but when the constraints Wenger has been working within over recent years are analysed it could be argued that Arsenal have performed better than should be expected.

Furthermore, it is regularly forgotten that the team built around Fabregas was challenging for the title until the final run-in over three seasons, 2007-08, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

In Mid-April 2011 Arsenal sat in second place, six points behind Man Utd but with a game in hand with seven to go. With seven games remaining in 2010 Arsenal were two points behind leaders Man Utd, and with eight to go in 2008 they were only three points behind Utd.

The key point is that though the final league standing has been third or fourth, Arsenal have still challenged for silverware over a number of years, whilst maintaining a place in the Champions League and running at considerably lower cost than rivals who have grown in the era of billionaire owners since 2003.

When viewed in the context of other contenders, very few are as consistent: Liverpool have dropped further and further off the pace after challenging for the title in 2009 and are now regulars in the Europa League. Tottenham have so far failed to build on one season in the Champions League, though they are improved this season. Football post-2003 and Abramovich is a different world and the increased amounts of money make maintaining consistency considerably more challenging when not competing on that unsustainable front.

Arsenal may have seriously struggled the past two seasons, but when placed in context Wenger has performed a minor miracle in pulling together this side and ensuring that Champions League football is still played at the Emirates. Even after a disappointing season Arsenal still now sit within two points of Chelsea in fourth and four of Tottenham in third.

Clearly, fifth place is not desirable, the loss to Bayern was disappointing, and that to Blackburn in the FA Cup was unacceptable, but it could be worse. This is where the glass half-full, half-empty idiom has relevance.

Arsenal’s performances have worsened over the past two seasons, and this is part of a longer term trend, which ultimately led to the break-up of a highly talented side that never fulfilled its potential. However, Wenger still has the team in touching distance of fourth place, even after the difficulties faced over the previous years. Few clubs have managed this and in the meantime the foundation of the next generation of players has been lain in the form of Wilshere, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Calls for Wenger’s dismissal are misguided, the club have taken the right position in backing the manager and stating that they are willing to finance a wholesale improvement of the squad.

Wenger is one of a select few managers who has been able to ensure European competition and therefore, not just income but a selling point for top quality players, and this will also be true for the coming summer.

Even if Wenger failed to bring Arsenal to a fourth place finish, what other manager would be available to take up the helm with the gravitas to bring in top players without Champions League football to offer?

Arsenal are clearly at a turning point, a pivotal moment, where the downward spiral of previous seasons can be arrested or will move further from control, retaining the right to play in the Champions League will be crucial in deciding this.

Strangely, Gary Neville’s well rounded opinion in Tweets with Piers Morgan best sums this up. His extended conversation provided some excellent insight, and think what you like of him as a player, but when providing comment Mr. Neville is positively cultured in comparison with the tabloid-type rubbish from Piers Morgan.

Gary’s later exchange highlighted some very salient points and he is completely correct when he refers to cycles:

“You will look back in twenty years time and state it was the most important 8 years in Arsenal’s history by doing the stadium..and making sure they were set up and haven’t stood still like some. United did their stadium over a period of many decades! Arsenal are sustainable, make profit, have cash and have gone about their business well. Step back slightly to move fwds (sic)!

it’s not perfect but its cycles! Arsenal are set up and in a world of bust clubs/banks etc. they have done the right thing…Others that look good now will have suffered in that time! Trust me!”

Indeed, Arsenal now stand at the beginning of a new cycle and though there have been several tough years it could be worse. There may be no prospect of silverware this season, but the potential to provide upward momentum is there.

After the result against Tottenham in the coming derby there will be much more clarity about the chance to provide the base for this new cycle to blossom. The glass might be more half-full than half-empty, no?

Get all of the latest live football scores from the Premier League. Make sure you come and check out the www.footballscores.com results site today!

Arsenal vs. Blackburn: The return of the Cup

February 16, 2013

Arsenal face Blackburn today as FA Cup action returns to the Emirates. Arsenal now enter into a crucial run of six games which may well define the club’s season as all three competitions are up for grabs in the next month.

Wenger is clear that the team will retain focus, due to the fact this is a cup tie, even though there will be the inevitable distraction of the big Champions League game against Bayern on Tuesday.

“If you play a cup game you know if you win you are through. But if you play a championship game it’s just the usual thing and you could already have your mind on Tuesday night. I don’t think in a cup game it pays a big part in it.”

Indeed there’s much riding on this period. The FA Cup was the last trophy the club won before they entered the current drought, and there are many who regularly suggest this might be Wenger’s best chance of silverware. This season that is as true as ever, and a triumph of this type might prove to be a catalyst for this embryonic Arsenal side.

Kicking off at Blackburn Arsenal will enter 540 minutes of football in which the club will being playing for the FA Cup, Champions League and Premier League position, with games against Tottenham and Everton. Within four weeks we will understand this team’s chances of success this season, and with it the potential of the longer term impact, whether negative or positive.

In that context, this match will set the tone, and will be important in maintaining confidence ahead of this difficult run.

Blackburn sit at eighth in the Championship currently, but have been through a raft of changes since the buyout by Venky’s, and are still a different animal to that led by Steve Kean last year. Now on their third manager of the season they are attempting to build stability at the club in the shape of new manager Michael Appleton, incidentally the only manager to have been in charge of three different teams in the FA Cup in the same season.

Results against Arsenal prior to their relegation last season were mixed, with a 7-1 at home, but the early season 4-3 defeat away (which incidentally saw the only goal during Chamakh’s long drought). Arsenal need to ensure that defensive brittleness does not occur this time round.

Thomas Vermaelen should return to the side after his injury problems, but Wilshere may not start due to a thigh problem. We may well see further changes as some names are rested ahead of the Bayern tie, and others get a run out in preparation.

Arsenal are on odds of 1.28 to win against the Championship side, and indeed have never lost to a lower league side in the FA Cup under Wenger. However, all too often this team has provided surprises, as Wenger mentioned, retaining focus will be key.

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This period has defined Arsenal’s season over the last few years, and inevitably will do so this time around. Ultimately the team must take one game at a time, maintain focus and aim to fulfil their potential. Blackburn are the first test.

What difference do two seasons make? Arsenal’s average team age vs. Manchester City analysed

September 24, 2012

Arsenal have moved into a new phase of Wenger’s tenure, with a fourth generation team emerging over the past two seasons.

The early games of this season have seen an altered Arsenal, seemingly rebalanced following the additions of Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud over the summer.

It is clear that the team and transfer policies have changed since losing Cesc Fabregas, but how does this reflect in the team’s ages?

Much was made of the young team that Arsène assembled, built around a core of players such as Fabregas and Van Persie, who joined the club close to the middle of the last decade. Those searching for sports betting action might have predicted a successful future for that team, but successive failures led to their dismantlement.

The transfer market strategy for new additions over the last two seasons has not had the same emphasis on youth.

Comparing the line-ups: 2010 vs. 2012

In this light we’ve compared Arsenal’s line-up age versus Manchester City on Sunday, with the team which lined up against City away, just two seasons ago, in October 2010:

2012

2010

Vito Mannone, 24 Lukasz Fabianski, 25
Per Mertesacker, 27 Johan Djourou, 23
Laurent Koscielny, 27 Sebastian Squillaci, 30
Carl Jenkinson, 20 Bacary Sagna, 27
Kieran Gibbs, 22 Gael Clichy, 25
Abou Diaby, 26 Alex Song, 23
Mikel Arteta, 30 Denilson, 22
Aaron Ramsey, 21 Samir Nasri, 23
Santi Cazorla, 27 Cesc Fabregas, 23
Lukas Podolski, 27 Andrey Arshavin, 29
Gervinho, 25 Marouane Chamakh, 26
Mean Age: 25.1 Mean Age: 25
Modal Age: 27 Modal Age: 23

The 2012 team has a mean age of 25.1 years. However, just three of the players were younger than 24, and the modal value is 27. This is indicative of the number of more experienced players in the squad.

Meanwhile, the mean age of the 2010 team is similar, at 25 years. However, five of the 11 players were 23 or younger, and the modal value of 23 reflects this. This is indicative of the focus on young players in the squad.

A More Mature Arsenal

In terms of mean age the sides don’t look so different. However, the distribution of age groupings between the two line-ups are rather different, and this has an impact on the mean. In fact the age distribution pattern is almost the reverse for each match, as outlined in the graph below.

In October 2010 Squillaci, 30 and Arshavin, 29 were the two older players who skewed the mean score, which hides the fact that the team had five players either 22 or 23 years old.

Indeed, the Modal value for age is just 23 in 2010, which indicates that Arsenal started with a much younger group of players in general.

In summary, the key group of players within the current Arsenal squad consists of players around 27 years old, meaning that they have several years more experience than the team which started two years prior composed most frequently of players around 23.

In general terms it can be argued that players reach their peak around 28, meaning that this side consists of players closer to realising their full potential, but also with the ability to provide support to a smaller group of younger players existing within the side.

Squad Changes

In 2010 Arsenal won by three goals against a Manchester City side which looked more similar to the team which lined up today, though not without it’s own changes.

To emphasize the drastic change that the squad has been through, not one of the players who started the match just 23 months ago played in the game yesterday.

Of those one is away on loan and four have now been sold, two of whom, Clichy and Nasri, went to Manchester City themselves, the other two to Barcelona – Cesc and Song, whilst Denilson is on loan at Sao Paulo.

In fact, only four of the players who started against City in 2012 had been at the club longer than one full season.

British Talent

A final thought regarding the patterns present here. None of the Arsenal players who started against City in 2010 were British.

Of the line-up yesterday there were three British players, these were also the only three players under 24: Ramsey, Gibbs and Jenkinson (though he has joint Finnish nationality).

This is another indication of the slow shift in selection. Though Wenger has always emphasised developing young players, this is the first time he has been able to bring a large group of talented British players into the first team.

Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott can also be included in this group of young UK talent, all under 24 years of age.

Ultimately, this exercise only provides a snapshot of the state of the team, however, the patterns are telling, and describe a group which has undergone a deep transformation. However, the start to the season has been more promising than expected given the summer departures of Van Persie and Song.

The dynamic has changed, but the information paints a picture for the future of the club. The more experienced players brought over the past two summers may well enable the smooth introduction of this core of young talent to sustain the club in the years to come.

How do you think Arsenal’s team has changed? Get involved in the comments.

Related: How did Arsenal’s deadline day transfers perform last season?

Into the unknown: Arsène’s fourth generation

August 29, 2012

At the commencement of the 2011-2012 season Arsenal’s trophy drought stretched to seven years. The longest period of time without silverware since the infamous wait after the 1971 double win.

As a club, Arsenal have been through two seasons of complete change and transition. The world has watched as the team that Wenger built around Fabregas to succeed the Invincibles has slowly disintegrated, the lack of success and silverware haunting many of the third generation Wenger side, based so strongly on young players developed for years within the club.

All the Invincibles are gone and the ‘Third Generation’ has now receded into history with the departures of first Van Persie to Man Utd and then Alex Song to Barcelona. Indeed, it is probably true that the best three players have left the club within the space of a year, as Fabregas, Van Persie and Nasri departed. Furthermore, with the departure of Song, Arsenal have lost another key player.

According to Jeremy Wilson in the Telegraph this means that:

“In the space of just three days, Wenger sold the two outfield players who he selected most often last season and who finished first and second in the most recent player of the season poll.”

The loss of such players would be a blow to any squad, but the exodus may not halt there.

Speculation surrounding Theo Walcott, also means that another of the longer term members of the squad may leave before Friday, considering that according to the latest reports Walcott’s party has failed to agree a new contract after lengthy negotiations. It wouldn’t be unfeasible to rule out a now customary summer approach by the Premier League winners.

Arsenal will surely sell rather than wait until Walcott’s contract expires in 12 months and miss out on a proper transfer fee to offset the £12-15 million paid for his services to Southampton as a 16 year old in 2006.

That whole generation built around Fabregas, may be looked back upon as a lost team of underachievers. It is clear is that that team was extremely talented, but through circumstance never won the trophy which could have turned them into another generation of legends to follow in the footsteps of the Invincibles.

Some of the failings of that team may lie in the fact that the transition from the Invincibles team was made extremely rapidly, at a time when other teams such as Chelsea were becoming increasingly competitive, and outspending Arsenal by far.

However, the focus is now very much on the present as this season is pivotal for Arsenal, as further key players leave. Those who remain need to carry the flame of the club, and Arsène Wenger’s vision of football.

This Arsenal side will take some time to gel and develop as members of the previous side including Van Persie, had up to eight years to develop and learn how to play together. Arguably, the lack of trophies means over that period mean that the squad was ready to be shaken up, though Wenger would never have wanted to lose so many key players so rapidly.

However, from the ashes of that project Arsène has produced the building blocks of the next. Arsenal now look to a rejuvenated squad blended with experience and added grit. In the long term the club should look forward to a backbone of Szczesny, Vermaelen & Koscielny, Wilshere, Arteta and Cazorla to take the team into the future.

Meanwhile in the short term, much of Arsenal’s progress will now depend on mentality and how well the new signings can adjust and gel. Further key acquisitions in defence or midfield would bolster the side.

Six out of eleven starters for the first game against Sunderland arrived at the club either this summer or last, that’s almost 55%. Against Stoke there were seven, which takes the percentage of relatively new players close to 64%. Compare this to Utd who fielded four players who joined in the last two years as they won 3-2 against Fulham on Saturday. This means that much of this season will be spent developing understanding within the team, and an understanding of the best XI.

Over the course of the summer the Olympics demonstrated just what a difference psychology and mentality can make. Those who succeed in sport are those with the talent, but also belief that they can win, and determination to take this through to execution. Maintaining this mentality within a squad of players is even more challenging.

Wenger will not want the club to get into a dangerous situation where the best players leave each season, and go on to win trophies elsewhere. With star players lining up to leave, Arsenal run the risk of becoming a perennial selling club, unless they can buck the trend in terms of performance. Though this will depend on the development of the new squad: The unknown element of the Fourth Generation

The backline is clearly stronger than it has been in previous years, though injuries are the concern in midfield and the best combination upfront remains to be seen. Giroud and Podolski have both shown promise, but will most probably be utilised in different circumstances, whilst Cazorla looks like a quality player.

Furthermore, the promotion of Steve Bould to Assistant Manager has led to many hopes that Arsenal will improve on the 49 goals conceded last season.

Attack may be more concerning to fans, and should Walcott leave, this might worth some late investment, bearing in mind that on top of Van Persie’s departure the likes of Chamakh, Park, Arshavin and Bendtner will most probably move on too.

The departure of Van Persie and possibly Walcott, combined with the lack of goals against Stoke and Sunderland so far this season, highlight goalscoring as a key issue, for which the newer players will have to step up to the mark.

These are interesting times for the team as they refocus and look to settle as a new team. Transition is a testing time, and even more so when the previous project did not fulfil its potential. Arsène handled the crisis situation fantastically well last season, and ensured that he did not have to worry about even qualifying for the Champions League.

However, silverware should be a key target now. There is the possibility that this could come in one of the cup competitions. Any trophy win could provide the spark to help imbue the winning mentality at the club once again.

Get involved! What are the major issues you think this side will face this season? Comment below.

Related: How did Arsenal’s Deadline Day Transfers Perform 2011-12?

How did Arsenal’s deadline day transfers perform this season?

May 28, 2012

The summer of 2011 saw more significant departures than arrivals at Arsenal, namely in the transfers of Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona, and Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy to Manchester City. By the final day of the transfer window the club had only strengthened modestly, bringing in Gervinho early on followed by the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson on a free transfer, and the young talent Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton at the beginning of August.

Cue the 8-2 collapse at Old Trafford on 28th August, when a stretched squad and inexperienced team crumbled on the pitch after a difficult midweek Champions League qualifier at Udinese. Arsenal had managed to regain entry to the Champions League, but their league form was disastrous, finishing in the top four an unlikely hope.

Wenger and the club had to take action as the team entered some of the darkest days of his 16 year reign. Fans were calling for change, and Arsenal, not known for excessive transfer activity, went into overdrive.

mikel-arteta-arsenal

Five new signings arrived in less than 24 hours, and the mission to save the season commenced. Mikel Arteta, Yossi Benayoun, Per Mertesacker, Ju Young Park and Andre Santos were all brought in rapid succession, to the shock of Arsenal fans. However, successful were each of these last-minute signings? What was the impact of this last, frantic set of negotiations, and how has this shaped the club? I now aim to investigate their contribution to the club’s eventual recovery and third place finish and the meaning for Arsenal overall of this marked change in policy…

This is an excerpt from my latest article, continue reading the full piece here.

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