Arsenal’s season got off to the worst possible start as they lost 2-0 at home to West Ham. Predictably, various fans and members of the British media treated the result as Armageddon, with former Arsenal favourite Ian Wright reportedly saying that Arsenal are “a million miles” away from winning the Premier League. Others tried to comfort themselves by repeating “37 games to go” over and over again, or bringing up other rivals who had previously started seasons slowly and had success. This article looks at why Arsenal can take some consolation in their opening day defeat by looking at the history of the Premier League.
Premier League Champions and Opening Day Defeats
Winning the league is generally associated with season-long dominance. Many teams have started slowly and nicked the title late on, but the best-rated teams, like Chelsea last year, have stayed on top all year round. However, plenty of league champions have lost their first game and even failed to win for the first few weeks. That is not to say that Arsenal were better off losing to West Ham, just that it’s not all over — as some are trying to make out — just because they are a point behind Chelsea with 37 games to go.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s first and last Premier League-winning campaigns started in defeat. In 1992-93, Manchester United lost their first game 2-1 away to Sheffield United and their second 3-0 at home to Everton. After a draw at home to Ipswich Town they won five consecutive games which, following a few further hiccups in October and November, gave them the momentum to win their first league title in 26 years. 20 years on, in Fergie’s final season, they started their title-winning campaign with a 1-0 defeat at Everton. The only other time United lost on the opening day was in 1995, where they lost 3-1 to Aston Villa and Alan Hansen infamously proclaimed “You’ll never win anything with kids.”
See? Being written off by pundits is a good thing. No other side has lost on the opening day, so if I may be allowed to open up the proverbial floor, let’s look at teams who either have not won on the opening day or lost games early on in the season.
Blackburn Rovers’ solitary Premier League title started off with a draw away to Southampton. After that, they won five of their next six matches and ended up clinching the league title in dramatic circumstances at Anfield. This is another case of a team struggling on the first day and then using that to build momentum in their following games. Arsenal themselves did that in 2013-14, but collapsed after injury problems in February and March.
Both of Arsenal’s “double”-winning sides under Wenger did not get their seasons off to ideal starts. The first team of 1997-98 drew their first match and found themselves far behind Manchester United until January. After that they won 14 out of 16 matches and wrapped up the title with two games to spare. The team of 2001-02 lost their first home game of the season 2-1 to Leeds United, but quickly started to dominate and won the league by seven points.
The list goes on. Many of the league champions in the last 23 years have suffered at least a few blips early on, but have bounced back from those blips very quickly. Historical statistics have no bearing on the present, but it is nevertheless worth noting that, were Arsenal to win the league this year, they are not alone amongst champions who have had poor results on the first day of the season.
Arsenal go to Crystal Palace next weekend, then play Liverpool at home the following Monday. They must use those two games to bounce back and start a winning streak just like they did after the 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa in 2013. Arsène Wenger reportedly gave his team quite a rollicking after yesterday’s defeat, and it is up to the team to make that blip into a blessing in disguise.