Arsenal are top of the Premier League at half-way point in the season and are on track to reach 100 points, the all-time highest point tally in the league. At the speed they’re going, they’ll beat last year’s total score before the end of March. It’s a remarkable achievement for a side who haven’t made the top four since 2016, and it marks steady progress under Mikel Arteta: eight to five in first place.
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But while he and the players are rightly getting heaps of praise and likely rewarded with contracts and bonuses, the Kroenkes, who own the club, might want to consider a bonus pot for another part of their workforce: sports science, fitness, medicine and physiotherapy teams. Because, simply put, where Arsenal are now is amazing and almost unprecedented.
This is by far the most stable starting eleven in the league. Seven players have started every single game this season. Of the others, Martin Odegaard missed one, Thomas Partey three and Gabriel Jesus (who is injured) five. Oleksandr Zinchenko also had a significant injury layoff, missing eight starts. All in all, the 11 players who have started the most games for Arsenal this season have started 91.9% of their games, making them the most stable side in the league.
(Explanation of table: “Players” refers to the number that started each PL game this season, “Total starts” refers to the total starts of the top 11 starters divided by the total number of possible starts, and “% “ refers to the percentage of all total starts of the top 11 starters)
What does this key figure “well-established team” tell us? For one, they’ve largely avoided injury and Arteta was so pleased with their performances that he saw no need to tinker with the team. And maybe that’s how they developed a lot of chemistry and cohesion.
Obviously, a “well-established team” does not necessarily correlate with success. Everton are the seventh-biggest team in the league and they have the fewest points in the table and have just sacked their manager, Frank Lampard. It’s also worth remembering that this isn’t a “holy grail” of a metric, as there are factors well beyond your control.
Sometimes players are injured early in the season, arrive at the end of the transfer window when the season has already started, or leave in January, affecting the numbers. Some, like Gabriel Jesus, are hurt in international ministry. Some managers may choose to rotate and rest players more than others – particularly when involved in European competitions such as the Champions League – have a deep squad or simply like to adapt their team to the next opponent in hopes to gain an advantage. Manchester City, which is below the league average (78.7%) at 77.7%, is an obvious example.
And above all, it is a physical sport where impact injuries can occur at any time. While there are experts out there who will tell you that you can reduce soft tissue injuries if you know what you are doing, they too can be unpredictable. There’s definitely a factor of luck and statistical variance involved, and from the outside, without access to the players or their medical records, it’s extremely difficult in the vast majority of cases to say definitively whether an injury could have been avoided. However, as a lagging indicator in understanding a team’s success, it is valuable.
It’s a bit tautological – most managers won’t tinker with a team that’s doing well – but most fans would agree that Arsenal, Newcastle United (89.1%), Brighton (84.7%), Fulham (84 %) and Crystal Palace (85.5%) meet or exceed expectations this season. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they represent the top 5 in this metric. Chelsea (last at 69.5%) and Liverpool (74.6%) underperform in terms of results, so it’s probably no surprise that they’re also well below the league average.
Now remember that this is a single point of view and not an exact science. Brentford are also below the league average (77.3%) but sit eighth in the table and are enjoying an excellent season relative to their resources. It’s not like they’ve been plagued by an injury epidemic – although they’ve injured a whole host of would-be starters like Kristoffer Ajer, Pontus Jansson, Aaron Hickey, Christian Norgaard – it’s perhaps more than their style of play and the approach of Thomas Frank can absorb injuries better.
Likewise, Nottingham Forest are four points clear of the relegation zone – probably higher than you would have expected at the time – and yet only Chelsea have a lower score than them (70%). You can probably attribute that to the huge number of transfers they made over the summer, the fact that many of these newcomers came in late in the window and understandably it took manager Steve Cooper a while to figure out his best XI.
OK: back to Arsenal, where Arteta clearly has priorities. Of his top 11 starters, only two (Granit Xhaka and Gabriel) have started more than three Europa League games. Only one, William Saliba, played the League Cup against Brighton as they were defeated 3-1 and only three featured in the 3-0 FA Cup third round win over Oxford United (Bukayo Saka, Gabriel and Gabriel Martinelli ). They play Manchester City in the FA Cup on Friday and I wouldn’t blame him for keeping his starters again.
There’s no question that this approach has produced results for the Gunners. Likewise, they know that history and the odds suggest they won’t be largely injury-free for the remainder of the campaign. Nor can they assume that one or more of Arteta’s automatic decisions in the starting XI will not suffer a sudden loss of form and result in a change – which explains why they have invested around 50m this transfer window to strengthen the defense (Jakub Kiwior ) and attack (Leandro Trossard) and, if the reports are correct, they can bring a third reinforcement. (Hell, before they settled on Trossard, they were ready to go even bigger to sign Mikhailo Mudryk.) Not to mention the fact that if they go deep into the FA Cup or the Europa League, they will , want their best XI out there.
Has luck helped Arsenal have the luxury of a permanent league line-up? Secure. But also the medical science of sports and the fitness staff, the professionalism of the players and Arteta’s decisions in relation to priorities.
What matters is that they recognize this and do their best to address it.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/blog-marcottis-musings/story/4860985/arsenal-most-settled-premier-league-team-key-to-title-chase Arsenal most settled Premier League team key to title chase