The league season is a long one and most clubs suffer a dip in form at some point during the 10 months of football.
Arsenal fans will be familiar with that feeling when the team go through that patch when the usual flow and understanding between the players seems to evaporate and matches we would normally win with ease suddenly turn into insurmountable obstacles.
And many fans seem certain that November is a cursed month for our club. As you can see from the graph below, this certainly seems to have some basis in fact for this season.
Arsenal’s performance in the League – with 2 draws and a defeat – appears dramatically worse than that in the other months, but 16 games is far too small a sample (by contrast, Arsenal gained 9 points from 3 games in November 2005), so I have analysed the Club’s results since we last won the Premier League to find out…
Is the Curse of November real?
For the purposes of this article, I have only taken into account Premier League matches since August 2004. Cup matches are not evenly distributed across the season, so to remove that inconsistency, I decided to ignore the results of all Cup games for my initial analysis.
In the 47 matches played in November, Arsenal have an average point return of just under 1.5 (1.489), while we gained a full half a point more PER GAME (1.997) in the 387 played in all the other months combined.
Our November win percentage (W 20, D 10, L 17) is only 43%, whereas we have won 59% of our non-November matches (W 227, D 92, L 68).
We scored fewer goals (1.79 goals per game) in November than in the other months (1.94) and conceded 1.32 per game as opposed to 0.96 outside November.
These bare results would seem to suggest that the perception is correct – November IS a worse-than-average month for Arsenal. But…
Is November Arsenal’s WORST month?
From the above results, it seems we are relatively slow starters, motor through the Autumn and tend to struggle most in the Winter months, but the differences between the other 9 months of the season are fairly small. November stands out as clearly the worst month for Arsenal.
Examining more than a decade’s results would suggest that, statistically, this is a significant difference. The obvious question which follows is…
WHY is November so bad?
I don’t have a foolproof or statistically reliable answer to this question, but I can suggest some reasons:
The Champions League:
We generally play 2 CL games each November – always difficult, demanding, and sometimes dispiriting and distant away – matches which are bound to take their toll on the squad’s energy and confidence. However, we also usually play 2 CL matches in October, which is one of our best months in the League.
Other cup games:
Only League Cup games affect November and there is usually only one match during the month (and only in those seasons when we reach the 4th round).
These games usually take place instead of League matches in the calendar (as opposed to CL games, which are additional midweek commitments).
In other words, I very much doubt they have a significant impact on our overall performance in November.
The quality of opposition:
This ought to even itself out over time, but oddly, we do face slightly tougher opponents in the League in November than in any other month! Our November opponents finish, on average, 10th in the table, whereas our October opponents finish on average closer to 12th. As you can see from the graph below, there does appear to be a relationship over this 11-year period between strength of opposition and average points gained.
For this season, I have adopted the league table as at 18 December 2015 to give each club their final position.
It has been well documented that Arsenal’s record against fellow top 4 teams is poor. Perhaps we have played them more often in November?
8 of our 38 fixtures each seson are against Chelsea, Man Utd, Liverpool or Sp*rs – our perennial “big” rivals (others have come and gone over the period of study). You would therefore expect 21% of the matches in a given month to include one of those 4.
14 of our 47 November matches have been in this category – a touch under 30%. To counter this, howevet it should be pointed out that we have never played Man City in November since their financial doping began.
It is therefore difficult to say that it is these “big games” that are causing our November blues.
Home or Away:
Over the period studied, Arsenal have performed much better at home (2.21 points per game) than away (1.67). Again, the fixture calculator has been unkind to Arsenal in November, during which month only 45% of our games have been at home.
However, I suggest that this has not necessarily affected our performance as there is, perhaps surprisingly, no significant correlation between the proportion of home games in a given month and average points obtained. As if to prove this point, only one month, March, has seen fewer home games (43%) than November and as we have seen, that is one of our most successful months.
Ah – the big one. I have been unable to find any reliable information as to whether our perennial injury problems peak in November, so I am unable to comment. Perhaps my friend Ahmed Nada (@GizaGooner – who has written on this topic here) can enlighten us!
Gooners’ paranoia is, in this event, justified. Arsenal genuinely DOES have a significantly worse record in November, although that doesn’t mean it is going to be true every year, so any betting losses you incur are yours and yours alone!
As for why, well the fixture computer is partially to blame, and it certainly feels like injuries come thicker and faster at that time of year, but I have been unable to find any other reason. I would welcome your thoughts – please comment here, or let me know on FaceBook or Twitter.