Note to all readers: I have only considered Premier League fixtures. Also, lots of credit must go to Opta Stats.
More than a decade has passed since Sylvain Wiltord’s title-winning goal at Old Trafford. As a reflection of the fact, the goal-scorer, Wiltord, has since retired from football, along with Fredrik Ljungberg, whose shot was parried on to the path of the Frenchman by another Frenchman, Fabien Barthez, the man between the Manchester United sticks that day (apologies for that rather long-winded sentence).
Since that day, Arsenal have had little or no success at Old Trafford. In fact, since that season, Arsenal have just won once in 10 fixtures. While that is not entirely abnormal (United themselves did not manage a single victory at Stamford Bridge in the league for 10 years before last weekend’s triumph), what is a rather strange statistic is that Arsenal have just managed a grand total of 5 goals in 10 visits since Wiltord’s winner in 2002. Two of those five goals came in the infamous 8-2 mauling last season while one of the other three goals was actually a deft little flick off the wrists by former Arsenal player Emmanuel Adebayor.
Since the Premier League came into being from the 1992-1993 season, Arsenal have bulged the back of the net at Old Trafford a meager 10 times (12, if you want to count the own goals of Nigel Winterburn and Abou Diaby) in 20 visits. That is an alarming record for a club like Arsenal. You don’t expect a club like Arsenal to have such a feeble record at the ground of one of their foremost rivals. They are not a Fulham, with all due respect to Fulham (Incidentally, Fulham have a decent goal-scoring record at United, having scored thrice at The Theatre of Dreams in the 2003-2004 season). This bizarre statistic can be put down to a rather simple fact that the major Arsenal goal-scorers since the turn of the millennium (Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie), between them, managed to score only thrice since the beginning of the 2002-2003 season at Old Trafford (In the 10 matches that have been played there, the above mentioned players managed 17 starts between them). Henry hasn’t scored a goal at Old Trafford since 2001. Van Persie scored his first and only Old Trafford goal (for Arsenal, that is. Haha) last season. Bergkamp has never scored at Old Trafford for Arsenal – a statistic he shares with Pires.
The last time Arsenal scored thrice at Old Trafford in the league, if my amateurish research is correct, was in the Old First Division in the year 1970-1971, when Arsenal ran out 1-3 winners. Even Fulham (they are an example that I am using because they are the sort of established mid-table club who pundits always maintain are poor travelers) have scored a brace thrice in the Premier League years at Old Trafford. Arsenal (surprise, surprise) have managed that feat only once; last year when they lost by six goals.
Now is there a sort of a fragile mentality that Arsenal seem to develop whenever they visit Manchester United? Actually, the statistics show that Arsenal have not been far better at Emirates or Highbury. They have most definitely not enjoyed hosting Man United as much as the Red Devils have relished welcoming the Gunners to Old Trafford.
Premier League records
While Arsenal possess a much better record at home (they have managed at least one goal against United in 17 of the 20 League matches that they have played at home against United), they have let their foremost adversaries from the North score in 15 of those 20 matches. Just chew on this statistic: Arsenal, when playing at Old Trafford, don’t score 55% of the time; but United, while playing at Highbury or Emirates, don’t score only 25% of the time.
What further paints a disturbing picture from an Arsenal point of view is this: Arsenal, in 20 attempts while playing at United, have scored 10 times. United, in these 20 matches, have scored 33 goals. That means there are 3.3 Manchester United goals for every Arsenal goal. Or 1.65 United goals and 0.5 Arsenal goals per league game. For those of you who are into betting, you might as well win yourself some money after backing Arsenal to lose even with a one-goal head-start.
That statistic clearly represents why Arsenal have managed to win only 15% of their showdowns away at Manchester United; who, on the other hand, fair much better at Arsenal’s home – a win percentage of about 30%, which is a 100% improvement on Arsenal’s away record.
At Highbury and Emirates, Arsenal do marginally better but nowhere near the total monopoly that United enjoy over Arsenal at Old Trafford. In 20 games at North London, Arsenal have scored 29 goals compared to the 26 goals that United have scored over the same period. That is 1.11 Arsenal goals for every United goal or 1.45 Arsenal goals and 1.30 United goals per league game. A much closer affair.
Late last year, Arsenal had gotten into a terrible habit of conceding before fighting back to win at the death. I say this is a terrible habit because taking the lead and controlling possession is a style that suits Arsenal: as opposed to conceding early and then stretching the play until the end, leaving themselves vulnerable on the counter. If I remember correctly, Arsenal had gone on a streak of six consecutive victories after falling behind last season. In recent meeting between Arsenal and Manchester United at Old Trafford, it has to be said that Arsenal have done the opposite: take the lead before conceding the equalizer and the winner. The two times that Arsenal have managed to score first since September 2006, the Gunners have managed to lose both. In the 2007-2008 season, an Adebayor goal was cancelled out by a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, before a Owen Hargreaves free-kick gave all three points (and possibly the title) to Manchester United. In the following season, an Andrey Arshavin thunderbastard was cancelled out by a Wayne Rooney penalty, before an Abou Diaby own-goal settled the points. Arsenal have also conceded lots of penalties to Manchester United at Old Trafford: six penalties since the 2003-2004 season. That’s more than the number of goals Arsenal have scored at Old Trafford in that time. This is not me highlighting any conspiracy, but further underlining Arsenal’s jitters at Old Trafford.
How do these stats compare with Arsenal’s record at the away grounds of other established Premier League powers? To make the research more meaningful, I also included the likes of Everton and Tottenham, along with Chelsea and Liverpool.
In 51 away matches since the start of the 2002-2003 season, Arsenal have won 15 matches (surprisingly, they managed a rather handy five wins at Goodison Park in this 10-year period). Exclude Everton from the equation and Arsenal do not fare as well: 10 wins from 41 matches at a rather poor 24.3%. Tottenham have, for long, been said to be helpless against Arsenal (The annual six points malarkey and so on), but the statistics paint a different picture. Arsenal haven’t won at White Hart Lane since the 2007-2008 season. In fact, they have managed to win only 20% of their games away at Tottenham in the last 10 years, losing 30% and drawing the rest.
Ever since Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea became a buzzword for attrition, Arsenal have found little or no joy at Stamford Bridge. In the three years that Mourinho managed his team against Arsenal at the Bridge, Arsene Wenger managed to draw twice and lose once. But the overall record at Stamford Bridge in the last decade is rather good considering that Chelsea have been dominant and had Didier Drogba – a win percentage of 30 (all three victories when Drogba was not part of the team)
Liverpool and Arsenal have played out some epics in the Old First Division as well as in the Premier League. In the last 10 years, this fixture has seen a Peter Crouch hat-trick, an Arshavin foursome, and a van Persie brace among other things. But quite surprisingly, Arsenal have enjoyed the upper hand: Liverpool have not won at Anfield since that Crouch hat-trick.
In summation, the statistics say that there will only be one winner two hours after lunchtime on Saturday: Manchester United. But like Andrew Lang, a Scottish literary critic, said:
‘An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts – for support rather than for illumination.‘
P.S. All statistics were compiled when Chennai was being browbeaten to the ground by tempests and thunderstorms, so I request a margin of error approaching 5% on account of power-cuts and me cowering in terror at the lightning.