A win against Aston Villa on Sunday sent Arsenal to the top of the Premier League table.
They could yet be usurped by Leicester City, who face Chelsea on Monday night, but the Gunners sit top with 33 points from the opening 16 games of the campaign.
Doesn’t that seem too few to win the league?
On Friday, Arsène Wenger spoke about the title race:
“If you look at the total now and if you extrapolate, it could be less than 80.
“It could be 70 or 80, something like that.
“[The total points will be lower] because of the quality of the competition and because of the intensity of the competition. The improvement of the teams that do not fight for the championship but can consistently beat the teams that do fight for it.
“I haven’t counted, I am looking more at ourselves, but you could say six to eight teams could compete for the title.”
Has he got a point?
The fewest points to ever win the Premier League was 75, which won Manchester United the title back in 1996. However, fewer than 80 points has won the league on just two occasions since, and both came in Wenger’s first two full seasons in England.
Arsenal won the league with 78 points back in 1997/98 before Manchester United reclaimed the title with 79 the following season.
Should Leicester win on Monday night they will have 35 points from the opening fifteen games. If they don’t, Arsenal will be top with 33 points. How low is that for this stage of the season?
Since 1999 – the last time fewer than 80 points won you the league – the team top of the league has had 33 points just once. In those 16 seasons, the average points won by the eventual Premier League champions has been 87.5 per season.
Even if Leicester win on Monday, their 35 points would’ve been good enough to have been outright top in 2001/02 and 2010/11, but not in the 14 other seasons since the beginning of the century.
Of course the second half of the season is long and can be subject to huge runs of form, so what about champions to be, rather than the league leaders after 16 matches?
The 2001/02 and 2002/03 seasons saw teams win the league from having just 30 and 29 points from the opening 16 games. However, both title-winning runs came in exceptional circumstances. In the former season Arsenal went on a record breaking run to win 13 consecutive games at the end of the 2001/02 campaign (the record was extended to 14 on the opening day of the 2002/03 season). No team in Premier League history has ever matched that winning streak. The same Arsenal team collapsed the following season, winning just four of the final nine league games to allow Manchester United to win the title.
Since Roman Abramovich arrived in England over a decade ago, teams have had fewer than 33 points and gone on to win the league just twice. In 2010/11, in the most open title race in a long time, Manchester United had 34 points from the opening 16 matches and won the league with a total of 80 points, the lowest tally since 1999.
The longer this season goes on, is seems more and more likely that a record low points total will win you the league.
Simply put, the league is better and worse than ever before. That’s not actually putting it very simply at all, so let me explain.
Let’s look at the top teams. Arsenal struggle to control games, Manchester United rarely look dangerous, and Manchester City play like 11 individuals with no real strategy. Liverpool and Tottenham lack the talented individuals to win the title. There’s no stand out side, no incredible squad that has everything – and that includes the right manager – to dominate the opposition almost every week.
At the other end of the table, Swansea have talented players like Gylfi Sigurdsson, André Ayew and Ki Sung-Yeung. Newcastle United have Georginio Wijnaldum and Ayoze Perez, West Ham United have Dimitri Payet, and Stoke City have half of a former Barcelona youth team.
Hell, even struggling clubs with past it managers like Chelsea have the likes of Eden Hazard and Cesc ‘cognitive dissonance’ Fàbregas.
With huge amounts of money in the Premier League – the most watched league in the world – top players are willing to come to England to ‘settle’ playing for a ‘lesser’ side. It means Crystal Palace can sign Yohan Cabaye and West Brom can sign Salomón Rondón.
With weaker top teams than ever playing in Europe every other week and losing players to injury thanks to the huge number of games, ‘shock’ results or ‘upsets’ are happening on a weekly basis, to the extent they aren’t even surprising anymore.
It’s partly because the top teams are the weakest they’ve been in 20 years but, on the whole, the Premier League is actually stronger than ever.
We’re on course for a team to lose seven games and still have a great shout of being crowned Champions come May.
So, what do the experts say? What do the number predict? Can you really win the Premier League with fewer than 80 points this season?
7 different methods of predicting the Premier League at the top (but a common picture is slowly emerging) pic.twitter.com/g19aS4JX6S
— AB (@behnisch) December 12, 2015
Well, evidently, for the first time since 1996, it looks like 80 points would have you running away with the title.
The betting markets are rarely wrong and think 77 will be enough, as does Michael Caley’s predicted goals model, which has been proven to be a better predictor of future performance than simply assessing actual goals or raw shot data. Goal Impact measures the influence each player has over games, and is predicting Arsenal to clinch the title with as few as 73 points.
It probably will be more than that – a few wins in a row for Arsenal or City would see their totals rise in these predictions – but the point remains that 80 points, for the first time in almost 20 years, will probably be more than enough to win you the league.
It’s obvious that the title race is wide open. These projections are far from iron clad, but there well worth paying attention to. Tactically, and in terms of talent, the best teams in the Premier League kind of sucks. That’s why it’s so entertaining.