Arsenal Fan's View: Why Clubs Are Playing It Safe In The Premier League

It's been a record low-scoring start to the season. But could things be about to turn around?
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It's been a record low-scoring start to the season. But could things be about to turn around?

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For years, Sky have hammered into us that the BPL is the best, the most exciting league in the world. When Ronaldo joined Real Madrid, followed by Cesc Fabregas, Modric and Bale, the exodus of some of the finest talents was excused as La Liga was only a two team league. Then last season, the Bundesliga staked a claim for being the best league in the world. In spite of all this, Sky maintain that the BPL - where every team can beat another and games are fast paced, physical and thrilling - is still the best league. Of course they would, they paid £2.28bn for 116 games for the next three seasons.

The start of the 2013/14 season has in everyone’s opinion, bar Roy Hodgson, been a drab affair. The most bandied around stat has been goals per game, where the BPL has lagged far behind the other major European leagues.

Goals per game in the major leagues:

The drop is also clear when comparing this season to the previous 5 years:

So why has this drop off occurred? If you listen to the Sky pundits, they would have you believe that this is due to the raft of managerial changes and large amount of transfer activity that occurred this season. However, in pre-season, Serie A had 6 managerial changes, the BPL and Bundesliga 4 each, while La Liga saw a massive 11 changes. I think therefore, we can safely discount this theory. The transfer theory is harder to test since it is not as simple as just looking at transfers in and out. It also depends on how early players were brought in (and therefore, how long they had to bed in), how many new signings are played in each game as well as the amount of training sessions they have had which differs due to things like international fixtures and injuries. It is subjective, but I do feel that this effect has been hugely overstated when compared to other seasons.

I feel that the true reason for the rather…tepid start to the season has been nervousness. When you look at the table, there are about 6 teams fighting for the top 4. When you consider the relegation fight towards the end of last season, it was only a few weeks from the end when Norwich were being mooted as possible candidates. If we assume that the 7 teams that finished from Norwich to Sunderland (11th to 17th) and the 3 newly promoted teams are likely to all be wary of relegation then perhaps this season starts to make sense. Note that I am not suggesting all these teams are relegation candidates, but given the stakes (£63m in TV money) it is likely that managers and chairmen alike are stressing the importance of steering clear of danger. Given the close nature of the league this season, when even newly promoted teams have spent amounts never seen before, no one wants to fall behind early on. A draw against a team who 30 weeks down the line is likely to be fighting with you, at this point in the season is a good result- see Sam Allardyce after Southampton: “It’s a great point.” Similarly, the highly anticipated, and incredibly boring Chelsea game against Manchester United was about not losing the match or ground on the opposition. It was more important for both managers to not lose than to win.

Hopefully, as the season matures, teams who are finding themselves towards the foot of the table and those who trail at the top will start taking greater risks to win. However, I think it will take a couple more weeks of drab football before the table organises itself in a way which will force teams to go out and try to win. I shall leave you with one thought however. In a statistical sense, the ‘expectation’ for goals/game is 2.646 based on the previous 10 years. If this season is to meet this, we are in for a treat when the goals start flowing.

Follow me on Twitter @VVijaay

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