The turn of the year is an interesting point in a Premier League season. After the hustle and bustle of the chaotic holiday period, teams can take stock and set their goals for the remainder of the season. A strong start to the year provides momentum to potential title challengers before the final push during the latter stages i.e. the infamous squeaky bum time. Here’s a look at the stats to see which of the top 3 have enjoyed the strongest start to the calendar year.
Breaking down a Premier League season into various sections for statistical analysis usually doesn’t yield much in the way of interesting results. We know when a team is hot or cold, and to break the season into sections can be either arbitrary or problematically selective. But in the case of the 2014/15 campaign, which once belonged to Chelsea but has begun to resemble a legitimate race, examining trends that began in 2015 is actually pretty fascinating. In this post, I’ll look at the current top-three of Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal with an eye on how they’re trending league play since the beginning of January.
I’ll start with the simplest trend, which is points amassed. And rather than mention it in each successive category or analysis, I’ll start by saying Chelsea has played one fewer match than its opponents—or nine (with one to make up) in comparison to the 10 played by Man City and Arsenal. Make of that what you will with regard to the following, but looking at club results at the EPL website, you’ll find the following records:
- Chelsea 5-3-1
- Man City 4-3-3
- Arsenal 8-0-2
While Chelsea’s relative slide and Man City’s failure to capitalise have been obvious, I’d be willing to bet that those records since January 1 will surprise all but the most attentive fans. Add it all together and Arsenal is leading with 24 points to Chelsea’s 18 and Man City’s 15. The Gunners have closed six points in 10 games, with nine left to go and a seven-point deficit; only of those nine, one is an opportunity at home against Chelsea. Believe it or not, that actually puts Arsenal on pace to catch the Blues, provided it wins the head-to-head tilt.
In fact, even the betting oddsmakers are beginning to provide a shred of support for the idea that Chelsea’s presumptive title isn’t quite as secure as it once was. According to a weekend review of Premier League action on Betfair after Chelsea failed to earn three points against Southampton at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s odds to win the EPL are now at 1.11. They’re still very strong, but not quite the even odds they’ve had at points this season. Meanwhile, Man City and Arsenal are listed at 19.5 and 26.0, respectively. Those aren’t good odds, but they’re nowhere near the 50/1 or 100/1 long shots you start to see when a race is all but wrapped up. With those numbers, Arsenal has gained ground of late.
But what exactly is helping Arsenal, beyond the basic fact of points amassed? Really, it’s hard to say what’s changed other than Santi Cazorla’s exceptional play in increased minutes since the loss of Jack Wilshere, and the slow but sure coming of age of Danny Welbeck. Additionally, Arsenal appears to be defending better than it has, arguably in years, with only seven goals allowed in 10 matches this calendar year (to Chelsea’s nine and Man City’s 11), making for a dominant +15 goal differential. But a closer look at the stats shows that one of the main differences accounting for the surge in Arsenal’s overall quality is how it’s starting matches.
Looking at a head-to-head comparison of Chelsea and Arsenal at Soccer Stats, there’s actually a startling pattern emerging in how each club starts its matches, or at least performs in the first half. To put it mildly, the Gunners struggled mightily to begin strong in league games for much of the season and held a halftime lead in only five of its first 19 matches, through December. In this same span, through the same number of games, Chelsea held a halftime lead 11 times. However, since January 1, these statistics have all but reversed: Arsenal has had the lead at the midpoint in eight of 10 league games thus far in 2015, with Chelsea having done it in five of nine. To clarify, here are the percentages:
- Arsenal Pre-2015: Halftime lead in 26% of matches
- Chelsea Pre-2015: 58%
- Arsenal In 2015: 80%
- Chelsea in 2015: 55%
Naturally, 2015 offers a smaller sample size thus far, but those numbers represent an incredible turnaround for Arsenal. The Gunners are jumping out to early leads, largely because their attacking players are making the most of their opportunities (Arsenal’s possession in 2015 has held up with its average over the entire season, more or less). Chelsea, meanwhile, has remained respectable in this regard while still allowing opponents the chance to remain in games much later.
Of course, this trend doesn’t tell the whole story. Sometimes, it’s merely intangibly improved play that accounts for a shift in the standings or a winning streak for a given team. But as Arsenal gains ground on Chelsea, various stats and trends show that they’ve clearly been the best team of the top three in 2015.