The Return of the Premier League
The Premier League 2022-23 season is still a thing, believe it or not. You may have forgotten what the state of play is across the English top-flight this campaign, but fear not, we’re here to refresh your memory.
Can Arsenal Hold On?
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side find themselves atop the Premier League at Christmas this year, with a five-point advantage over Manchester City.
So how often does the team top of the English top-flight at Christmas go on to win the title at the end of that season?
Thirteen of the last 18 teams to be in first place on Christmas Day have ended the season as Premier League champions, including Manchester City last season.
But for Arsenal, their recent record of continuing their success after Christmas hasn’t been too great. On the last four occasions that they have been top of the English top-flight on Christmas Day (2007-08, 2002-03, 1989-90 and 1986-87) they have failed to win the title that season. The last occasion – 2007-08 – they finished that campaign in third place, five points behind champions Manchester United, despite holding a one-point lead over the Red Devils on Christmas Day in 2007.
This is the fifth time that Manchester City have not been top at Christmas under Pep Guardiola, but on two of the previous four occasions they have gone on to recover and win the title. In 2018-19 they found themselves four points off the top on Christmas Day but ended up winning the title by a point, while they won the title in 2020-21 by a mammoth margin of 12 points over rivals Man Utd, despite being in eighth place and eight points off the top of the league on Christmas Day in 2020.
A crumb of comfort for Arsenal is that historically, 37 points after 14 games is a good gauge of championship potential. All six teams with 37 points or more after 14 Premier League games have won the league that season.
This is also the best it’s ever been for the Gunners. Based on three points for a win, Arsenal have never won as many as 37 points after 14 games of a top-flight season, with 2022-23’s return one more than in 2007-08 at this stage (36). It sure is exciting times at the Emirates Stadium.
Good Form, Bad Form
Arsenal’s excellent recent form has helped them reach the top of the table, with their 16 points over the last six Premier League games the joint-highest in the league and four more than rivals Manchester City.
Having lost against Brentford in their last Premier League game before the World Cup break, Man City are looking to avoid losing consecutive league games for the first time since December 2018 when they travel to Elland Road to face Leeds United on 28 December.
Meanwhile, Arsenal return to action on Boxing Day with a London derby home game against West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners have won their last three Premier League games by an aggregate score of 8-0 – they’ve not won four in a row without conceding since April/May 2014.
Mikel Arteta’s side have won each of their last nine Premier League home games, with six of these coming this season. Victory here would equal their longest winning home run from the start of a top-flight campaign, also winning their first seven in 1934-35, 2005-06 and 2017-18.
Their opponents West Ham are on the joint-worst run of form across the last six games in the Premier League (four points) and have lost their last three Premier League games – they haven’t lost four in a row within the same campaign since back in August/September 2018. They won’t be looking forward to travelling to North London on Boxing Day either, having lost 11 Premier League away games in 2022 already, their most on the road in a single calendar year since 2013 (12).
Newcastle’s aspirations of Champions League football next season are very, very real. Third in the table, they have the joint-best points record over the last six league games (16 points) are on the longest current winning run in the Premier League (five games). They last won six in a row in the top-flight in March/April 2012 under Alan Pardew.
Another of the UCL qualification contenders, Chelsea, didn’t have much joy before the World Cup break. Graham Potter’s team have lost each of their last three Premier League games. They haven’t lost four in a row since back in February/March 1998 under Ruud Gullit (one game) and Gianluca Vialli (three games).
A fact that might provide some comfort to Chelsea ahead of their clash with Bournemouth on 27 December is that the Blues have lost their final league game in just one of the last 19 calendar years (W12 D6), going down 3-1 against Aston Villa in their last game of 2011.
The only other club in the Premier League who have had to wait as long for a win as Chelsea (six games ago) is Wolves. They have lost seven of their last nine Premier League games, taking just four points from a possible 27 (W1 D1). This is their first Premier League game when starting the day bottom of the table since their final game of the 2011-12 campaign (2-3 vs. Wigan).
Wolves are one of the four sides that have endured the worst form over their six games before the break for the World Cup in Qatar, winning just four points (W1 D1 L4), with just one of those points coming in the last five matches.
And based on historical data, being bottom of the English top-flight at Christmas is not a position you want to be in.
Since 1991-92, just three of the 31 clubs to be bottom of the league on Christmas Day have avoided relegation to the second tier at the end of that season – Leicester City in 2014-15, Sunderland in 2013-14 and West Brom in 2004-05.
Of course, we all know things turned out well for Leicester on that last occasion. They went on the win the Premier League the following campaign under Claudio Ranieri. Wolves for the 2023-24 Premier League title, anyone?
They face fellow strugglers Everton in their return to action on Boxing Day with a new coach in their dugout…
This will be new Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui’s first ever Premier League game in charge. He will become the 12th different Spanish manager to feature in the competition, and only one of the previous 11 has lost their first game in the competition – Unai Emery losing 2-0 to Manchester City with Arsenal in August 2018. With Wolves at the bottom of the table and just four points behind 17th placed Everton, a win would be most welcome.
However, none of the last 10 managers to take charge of Wolves in the top-flight have won their first league game (D3 L7 including caretaker managers). Lopetegui will be aiming to be the first manager to win his first top-flight game in charge of Wolves since John Barnwell in November 1978.
Gary O’Neil will be taking charge of his first Premier League match as Bournemouth’s ‘official’ permanent manager, following a solid spell as caretaker boss. He oversaw three wins and a draw in his 11 games in temporary charge, with the 13 points won just a point fewer than their next Premier League opponents Chelsea (14).
Nathan Jones took charge of his first match as Southampton boss in a 3-1 away defeat at Liverpool following his move from Luton Town at the start of November.
The meeting with Brighton at St Mary’s Stadium will be Jones’ first home Premier League game in charge. Just one of the last eight Saints managers to take charge of the club in the top-flight has won their first such home game (D5 L2), though it was the most recent one, with Ralph Hasenhüttl beating Arsenal in December 2018.
This is the Welshman’s first foray into Premier League management, and it’s a chance he deserves after a fantastic spell at unfancied Luton in the Championship. Across his tenure at the club from May 2020, only Swansea City (188) won more points in the second tier than his Luton side (182), while only seven clubs to have played 50 or more Championship games over that period averaged a higher points-per-game ratio than the Hatters (1.50).
Restarting the Haaland Machine
Turns out that signing Erling Haaland was a good decision.
Before the 2022 World Cup, the big Norwegian:
• Scored nine goals in his first five Premier League appearances; a new competition record, surpassing Mick Quinn and Sergio Agüero (both eight goals).
• Averaged a goal every 58 minutes in the Premier League (18 goals in 1041 minutes); the best minutes per goal ratio of any player to have scored 10+ goals in the competition.
• Was the first player in Premier League history to score a hat-trick in three consecutive home games in the competition.
• Became the first player in Premier League history to score in each of his first four away games in the competition.
• Became the first Manchester City player to score on both his Premier League debut and UEFA Champions League debut for the club.
Manchester City have 24 games left to play in the 2022-23 Premier League season, and Haaland needs just 16 goals to draw level with the efforts of Alan Shearer in 1994-95 and Andrew Cole in 1993-94 (34 goals) as the highest scoring players in a single Premier League campaign.
Stay injury-free and there’s an excellent chance he’ll surpass those efforts, which is even more impressive considering Shearer and Cole’s 34-goal tallies came in 42-game Premier League seasons. Mohamed Salah holds the record for the most goals in a 38-game season, with his 32 goals for Liverpool in his first season at the club in 2017-18.
Across all competitions, Haaland’s helped himself to 23 goals in 18 competitive matches for Man City this season.
The record in a single season by a player for a Premier League club is 44, set by both Salah in 2017-18 at Liverpool and Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2002-03 (both 44 goals). Haaland is already over halfway to that tally and it’s not even Christmas yet, but also his 23 goals is nine more than both Salah and Van Nistelrooy had after 18 appearances in their record-breaking seasons (14 goals).
Haaland’s record quest begins again on the EFL Cup on Thursday 22 December, with Pep Guardiola’s side hosting Liverpool, before they travel to Leeds United – a club close to Haaland’s heart – in the Premier League on 28 December.
You feel that Harry Kane would normally be happy with his return of 12 goals from his opening 15 appearances in a Premier League season. This tally equals his previous best at this stage of a Premier League campaign (12 in 2017-18), which ended as the only season that he’s scored 30 league goals and ended with 41 goals in all competitions.
However, with Haaland on the scene, the race for the Premier League Golden Boot has gotten a whole lot harder.
Kane is now just five goals away (195) from becoming only the third player in Premier League history to score 200 goals after Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney. After equalling Rooney’s England men’s record of 53 goals at the World Cup, Kane is now just 14 away from his Premier League total of 208 goals. The Spurs star still needs 65 goals to draw level with Shearer’s record-breaking 260 Premier League goals, but time is on his side and his eventual overtaking of Shearer feels inevitable in the next few seasons.
English captain Kane did break a Premier League record earlier this season, however, with his 195 goals for Tottenham being the record tally for a single club in the competition. He’s now just five goals away from bringing up the 200 in the competition for the club – a exceptional achievement in an age where club loyalty isn’t as strong as it once was.
With the Premier League returning next week, it feels like an ideal time to assess the overall performances of players in the competition. We can use our Opta Index scoring system to provide an answer to this question.
The scoring system, which takes hundreds of metrics into consideration to award either positive or negative points differentials based on playing position, scores players out of 100 for their performances over a single match or considering multiple matches across a season/tournament. Across the first four months of the season, you probably didn’t need us to tell you that Erling Haaland’s performances have been the most impressive of any player in the Premier League, but some of the other players within the top 10 might come as a surprise.
Haaland’s score of 92.1/100 is followed by Newcastle United defender Kieran Tripper on 87.3.
Tripper has been in exceptional form for the Magpies this season and is a key factor behind Eddie Howe’s side finding themselves in third place ahead of the World Cup break.
His 34 chances created are the third-most in the competition behind only Kevin De Bruyne (47) and Andreas Pereira (35), while only Ivan Perisic (17) has found a team-mate with a higher number of crosses in open play than he has (16). His total of 4.5 expected assists is behind De Bruyne’s total of 6.8, and is more than his actual assist tally of three in 2022-23.
Declan Rice – who impressed for England at the World Cup – has been one of the best ball carrying players of the Premier League season so far. He finds himself with the fifth-highest Opta Index score ahead of the return next week.
Rice has carried the ball for an average of 199.2 metres per 90 minutes in 2022-23, with only Rodri (201.3m) having taken it further when considering all central midfielders in the Premier League. However, Rice has the highest average carry progress distance in the English top-flight of all central midfielders this season (115.7m per 90).
Miguel Almirón also makes the top 10. The Newcastle star has already scored eight Premier League goals this season, which is one fewer than he scored in his four previous English top-flight seasons combined (nine) – seven of those goals have come his last eight Premier League appearances. Eddie Howe will be hoping that Almirón can pick up where he left off in mid-November.