Part of a narrative that has built up over recent seasons is that Arsenal has a particular problem with consistency of performance that others don't. This seems rooted in the times we have been seen to mount a credible title challenge which hasn't been sustained or we have exhibited potentially title winning form after a poor start. Look around some articles and discussion forums on different blogs and this is most often explained as a sign of the team's inability to deal with pressure. But how unusual is it to be much stronger or weaker in an opening half of a season than the second half?
That's what we have seen at times over recent seasons and I would expect many would see it as a more recent phenomenon perhaps illustrated by the fall off in the 2007/2008 season when Eduardo's leg was broken in Birmingham. It’s a tendency some see as a consequence of Wenger not investing sufficiently in the squad or lack of mental fortitude but in any event a characteristic primarily of the barren period of Wenger's tenure.
Is it a surprise then to learn that the three season's with widest margins of disparity in terms of points gained in the first half of the season compared to the second half are all in the more 'successful' early Wenger period? Not only that but of these three two were title winning seasons? All of which can be seen as below average starts. The widest gap between points won in each half of the season was in the 01/02 season when we picked up 15 more points in the second half than the first. In 97/98 we picked up 12 more and 98/99 14 more points.
But perhaps this is just a sign of us starting well and getting better? Undoubtedly we started some seasons well in the period from 97/05 when we last finished no lower than 2nd but the lowest first half points tally (32) in that period matches the lowest points tally for the first half of any season since. The average number of first half points is better during that time but only by less than 0.8 of a point. That margin might have been a little more telling though as it only needed an average of 84 points to win the title during that time but has needed 87.4 points since. This in itself can perhaps be seen as an indicator that the league has become more competitive at the top level since the earlier years of Wenger's Highbury successes.
If we weren't starting any better in that time we were generally ending the season better and in 4 of the 9 seasons from 97/05 we picked up more points in the second half season than we have since with the best ever tally being 01/02 delivering an impressive 51 points. A feat even the 'invincibles' couldn't match. The 01/02 side was remarkable in that they were a tad below average in terms of points won in the first half of the season. Not that it was all one way though as this early period also produced Wenger’s lowest points tally of 31 for the second half of a season.
The reality is that such simple analysis is flawed in the sense that no two seasons are ever the same and on a broader level the competitive landscape has constantly changed, and continues to do so, particularly from 2003 onwards. The two team domination of the period to 2005 has given way to at least a three team challenge and arguably as many as five. Nor does a competitive balance between two halves of a season ever remain constant. Three or four easier or tougher games in a 19 game sequence can easily result in fewer or greater number of points collected without indicating any genuine inconsistency in performance capability.
To the extent that such head scratching over points performances serves any purpose at all beyond idle entertainment we can take it a little further and break the season into three equal thirds of beginning, middle and end (with the last third unavoidably being 12 games instead of 13). Then looking at the average points per game measured in each third over the Wenger era we've averaged between 1.54 and 2.54 in the first third, 1.38 and 2.38 in the middle third and 1.25 and 3.00 in the final third with highs and lows spread throughout Wenger's tenure but with the greater spread in the final third when much is decided at both ends of the table.
Carry out the same exercise with our peers and you’ll find much the same variable patterns emerge. So what does it all show then? Nothing terribly informative it must be said. Perhaps that inconsistency in terms of performance sequences wherever it appears in the season is the norm and need not be a barrier to winning the title. While it makes sense to start, continue and end as well as possible performance wobbles are just part and parcel of the challenge. All that is really needed is that we be consistently less inconsistent than all the other teams - or mesmerizingly brilliant enough for a long enough period at some point in the season whether beginning, middle or end.
Mean Lean's Response
Excellent stuff and well researched. I have read plenty of people pointing the finger at our inconsistency in years gone by but what isn't taken into consideration is the level of competition in the Premier League. Many foreign players that come over to the Premier League comment on the difference between the English league and many other top leagues, the difference being that lower level teams are able to beat the top teams where as the level of competition just isn't there in leagues like La Liga. You can stick a quick hundred quid using WH promo that Barcelona and Real Madrid will win each week and chances are you aren't going to lose very often.
If consistency was easy to achieve then more than a handful of teams would have won the Premier League since 1992, unfortunately it is not as easy as flipping on a switch. Hopefully we now have a squad strong enough in most areas to be as consistent as possible and when our form deserts us, which it inevitably will, we have the resources to dig in and still collect points.
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