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  • Writer's pictureWill Uglow

Two points dropped or one point gained? - How resilient are Premier League Champions?

Friday night's manic 3-3 draw between Arsenal and Southampton added further fuel to a debate that has already caught fire in recent weeks. Are the league leaders 'bottling' the title or not? For the third league game in a row, the Gunners were involved in the relinquishing of a two goal lead, although on this occasion they were at least on the right side of the story, having come back from 2-0 and 3-1 down. The picture wasn't as rosy for the Arsenal faithful after the previous two games, where potentially priceless 2-0 advantages had been squandered in draws at Anfield and the London Stadium. Momentum is now undoubtedly with an increasingly rampant looking Manchester City, having been afforded a route back into the title race by the Gunner's dropped points.

This debate beggars the question - just how resilient does a team need to be in order to become Premier League champions? Cliches, and accepted wisdom, conjour up images of teams with a fierce, never say die attitude, blessed with a penchant for last minute goals and digging out ugly results when their best football has deserted them. But is this always the case? Do title winning teams really accumulate a large portion of their points through snatching victory from the jaws of defeat? Are there any champions that have defied this stereotype, instead relying more on scoring first, with several surprisingly flaky results added into the mixture?

To get a better idea of how resilient a team has needed to be in recent years to emerge as the best in the land, lets take a look at the last 10 teams to lift the English top flight crown. By measuring the number of points gained from losing positions against points lost from winning positions, we can come to an accurate indication of how each team fared in terms of changing results that weren't going their way, and ensuring the results that were stayed the same. Regardless of whether Arsenal are looking back next month proud of their comeback against the Saints or rueing their inability to see out results in Merseyside and East London, the track records of recent champions should light the way for what they need to do for the remainder of the campaign;

P.S. For the sake of argument, results of games where teams have held the lead AND been behind only to eventually draw will be judged according to the final goal. For instance, if the title-winning team were the last to equalise, it's one point gained, whilst if they were last to concede, it's two dropped. Not the perfect criteria, perhaps, but these topsy-turvy ties didn't happen often, honest. What, you really want to know which games were affected? OK, if you must...

Man City 2-2 Sunderland - 2013/14

Leicester 2-2 West Brom - 2015/16

Leicester 2-2 West Ham - 2015/16

Swansea 2-2 Chelsea - 2016/17

2012-13 Champions: Manchester United

Points gained from losing positions: 29 pts

3-2 home to Fulham

3-2 away to Southampton

2-1 away to Liverpool

4-2 home to Stoke

3-2 away to Aston Villa

3-1 home to QPR

4-3 away to Reading

4-3 home to Newcastle

2-1 home to Southampton

2-2 away to West Ham

1-1 away to Arsenal

Points lost from winning positions: 6 pts

1-1 away to Swansea

1-1 away to Spurs

5-5 away to West Brom

Net points gained: 22 pts

Adjusted league position: 5th

United marked Fergie's farewell campaign in the most appropriate manner possible, not only clinching a 13th top flight crown under the legendary Scotsman's leadership but also recovering a scarcely believable 29 points from losing positions. The Red Devils salvaged points in 11 separate games, staging comebacks against over half of their opponents (poor Saints, newly promoted at the time, bit the bullet twice). What's all the more amazing is that United were behind in 11 of their opening 19 games, recovering to win 8 of them. A further 3 draws from trailing positions in the second half of the season led United to reclaim their crown from their Sky Blue rivals by a comfortable 11 point margin, coming back from a ridiculous 16 deficits in total (including 3 times against Newcastle on Boxing Day). In contrast, the men from Old Trafford dropped only 6 points from leading positions, none of them losses, the final instance coming in the incredible 5-5 final day draw at the Hawthorns where West Brom fought back from 3-0 down before Fergie rode into the sunset. The net gain of 22 points was enough to see United clinch a record extending 20th title rather than finishing 5th. Fergie time, indeed...

2013-14 Champions: Manchester City

Points gained from losing positions: 9 pts

3-1 home to Everton

2-1 home to Liverpool

2-2 home to Sunderland

3-2 away to Everton

Points dropped from winning positions: 10 pts

3-2 away to Cardiff

3-2 away to Aston Villa

1-1 away to Southampton

1-1 away to Arsenal

Net points gained: 0pts

Adjusted league position: 1st

Rather in contrast to their Mancunian foes a season earlier, Manuel Pellegrini's City side somehow managed to emerge as leaders of the pack despite losing as many points from winning positions as they managed to collect when trailing. City retaliated in just 4 games all season, although 3 of these were won and the 2-1 victory at home to Liverpool in December would prove crucial to the outcome of what was a memorable and fiercely contested title race. Ironically, Everton twice came close to assisting their Merseyside rivals, before succumbing to a comeback win both at the Etihad and Goodison Park. City's dropped points came mostly on the road, ceding leads at Cardiff and Villa in the early weeks of the season to fall to defeat, before Southampton and Arsenal snatched 1-1 draws after trailing. City would have finished on the same number of points had these not involved any comebacks fixtures, although an extra 3 points for Liverpool at the Etihad would have seen them emerge victorious by a point. Let's hope Steven Gerrard's not reading this...

2014-15 Champions: Chelsea

Points gained from losing positions: 16 pts

3-1 away to Burnley

4-2 home to Swansea

2-1 away to Liverpool

1-1 away to Southampton

3-1 away to Leicester

3-1 home to Sunderland

Points lost from winning positions: 15 pts

1-1 away to Manchester City

1-1 away to Manchester United

5-3 away to Spurs

1-1 home to Manchester City

1-1 home to Burnley

1-1 home to Southampton

1-1 home to Liverpool

Net points gained: 1pt

Adjusted league position:1st

Jose Mourinho's best sides have typically been praised for their pragmatism and defensive nous rather than outrageous comebacks, so perhaps its not surprising to see that his 2014-15 Blues brigade didn't rely too heavily on overturning deficits, salvaging points in only 6 games where they trailed, two of these after the title had been secured in prime-Jose, unfussy fashion. Chelsea did, however, show their comeback mettle in two of their opening four games as Diego Costa began life in England with a bang, but afterwards reverted mostly to Mourinho's tried and trusted 'have what we hold' mentality. This being said, what's particularly interesting is the amount of games where the Stamford Bridge side let slip a 1-0 lead. On no less than 6 occasions, the Blues were unable to hold onto a single goal advantage, including at Old Trafford (courtesy of a last gasp Robin Van Persie equaliser), in both clashes with title rivals Man City and home games against Burnley, Southampton and Liverpool, three sides that Chelsea had ironically beaten away from home after trailing. Throw in a madcap 5-3 defeat at Spurs on New Years Day 2015, and we have a side who would only have been one point worse off if no comebacks were involved.

2015-16 Champions: Leicester City

Points gained from losing positions: 13 pts

1-1 home to Spurs

1-1 away to Bournemouth

3-2 home to Aston Villa

2-2 away to Stoke

2-2 away to Southampton

3-2 away to West Brom

2-2 home to West Ham

1-1 away to Manchester United

1-1 away to Chelsea

Points lost from winning positions: 12 pts

5-2 home to Arsenal

1-1 home to Manchester United

1-1 away to Aston Villa

2-1 away to Arsenal

2-2 home to West Brom

Net points gained: 1pt

Adjusted league position: 1st

The Foxes' miracle run to a maiden league crown certainly wasn't straightforward, converting no less than 9 deficits into positive results and surrendering a lead a further 5 times. The early weeks of Leicester's title charge were virtually built on dramatic comebacks, with Claudio Ranieri's side recovering from behind in 6 of their opening eleven games to claim 10 points - their eventual title winning margin. This remarkable run included a late Riyad Mahrez equaliser against soon to be rivals Spurs, a 3-2 victory from 2-0 down versus Aston Villa and rescuing a draw when trailing by the same scoreline at Stoke and Southampton (in an era when both still had pretty decent sides...). The Foxes tightened up considerably as the finish line drew closer, meaning fewer rescue missions were required, but gritty comebacks against the likes of West Ham and Manchester United were crucial to achieving the impossible dream. These 13 points gained were almost cancelled out in games where Leicester surrendered the lead, however, most notably in both matches against eventual runners-up Arsenal, the Gunners overcoming a Jamie Vardy opener on both occasions. After defeat at the Emirates in February, though, Leicester dropped just 2 more points when leading, at home to West Brom, and showed more than enough resilience over the campaign's entirety to secure a staggering but surprisingly comfortable title triumph.

2016-17 Champions: Chelsea

Points gained from losing positions: 13 pts

2-1 away to Watford

2-2 away to Swansea

2-1 home to Tottenham

3-1 away to Manchester City

5-1 home to Sunderland

Points lost from winning positions: 7 pts

1-1 away to Liverpool

1-1 away to Burnley

2-1 home to Crystal Palace

Net point gain: 6pts

Adjusted league position: 2nd

Antonio Conte had a huge challenge on his hands in the summer of 2016, attempting to reverse the fortunes of a Blues side who had just finished a woeful 10th the previous season (surely, they wouldn't stoop so low again...). The Italian, however, quickly managed to assemble a devastating and dangerous side whose resilience was a key factor in overcoming the challenge of London rivals Tottenham. Then Blues set an ominous tone early on in the campaign by rescuing 4 points from losing positions in their opening 4 games, through comebacks away to Watford and Swansea. After this early burst, the Blues became less reliant on comebacks, until a crucial brace of games in the Autumn when consecutive deficits at home to Spurs and away to Manchester City were overturned. Barring that topsy turvy draw at the Liberty Stadium, Chelsea waited until the second half of the campaign to concede anything from a winning position, eventually giving away leads at Anfield and Turf Moor before an average Crystal Palace side somehow recovered from behind to win at the Bridge. Overall, however, Chelsea's resilience was not only evident, but crucial. Aside from dropping 6 points had these results been different, an additional three points for Tottenham at Stamford Bridge would have bumped Spurs above their capital rivals and seen them clinch their first title since the 1960's. Sorry, Spurs fans...

2017-18 Champions: Manchester City

Points gained from losing positions: 13 pts

1-1 home to Everton

2-1 away to Bournemouth

2-1 away to Huddersfield

2-1 home to Southampton

2-1 home to West Ham

Points lost from winning positions: 5 pts

1-1 away to Burnley

2-3 home to Man United

Net points gained: 8 pts

Adjusted league position: 1st

Logic would dictate that a side who breezed to the title by a staggering 19 points on the way to garnering a record points total and being branded the 'Centurions' didn't have to rely too much on overcoming difficult scorelines. And whilst that's largely true, Pep Guardiola's first title winners still managed to display their resilience on a number of occasions. Encouraging signs were there as early as August, when Raheem Sterling secured a point at home to Everton before a late winner at Bournemouth was enough to overcome Charlie Daniel's first half howitzer. There was then a crucial week leading from November into December when City, already with a sizeable lead at the league's summit but struggling for momentum, snatched victory when facing three consecutive 1-0 deficits against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham. The stuff of champions. What's perhaps more staggering, and telling of just how strong this side were, however, is that the Citizens lost a measly 5 points (of just 14 dropped all season) from winning positions. These rare instances occurred in a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor (what is it with Burnley and rumbling would-be champions?) and the famous Manchester derby where City somehow blew a potentially title-winning 2-0 lead to lose at home to United. Even if City had dropped these 8 points, the title would still have been secured by 14 points. Not a bad team...

2018-19 Champions: Manchester City

Points gained from losing positions: 4 pts

1-1 away to Wolves

4-1 away to Brighton

Points lost from winning positions: 9 pts

2-3 home to Crystal Palace

1-2 away to Leicester

1-2 away to Newcastle

Net points gained: -5 pts

Adjusted league position: 1st

In what was quietly one of the weirdest seasons in Premier League history, this one really goes against the grain. A year after reaching triple figures, City amassed another whopping 98 points, pipping Liverpool in what was an absorbing but strangely unrelenting, almost robotic, title race. What's all the more surprising is that only 4 of the Sky Blue's points were earned after being behind, away to Wolves early on in the campaign and the crucial final day victory at Brighton (even in this match, City were only behind for roughly a minute). Whilst this can mainly be attributed to Pep Guardiola's side being so exceptional that they rarely fell behind in the first place, it does seem staggering to comprehend, especially in the face of Man United's 28 point recovery haul from 6 years earlier. Perhaps even more peculiar is the fact that City lost from a winning position on no less than three occasions, at home to Palace and away to Leicester and Newcastle, all in the space of 7 league games between late December and January. The adjusted total would have left City with a record breaking 103 points, with the only reasonable conclusion being that this supposedly brilliant team bottled their own record from a year earlier. Come on lads, just 98 points? Pull your socks up!

2019-20 Champions: Liverpool

Points gained from losing positions: 19 pts

3-1 home to Newcastle

1-1 away to Manchester United

2-1 home to Tottenham

2-1 away to Aston Villa

3-2 home to West Ham

2-1 home to Bournemouth

3-1 away to Newcastle

Points lost from winning positions: 5 pts

1-1 home to Burnley

2-1 away to Arsenal

Net points gained: 14 pts

Adjusted league position: 1st

On their way to securing a long awaited first title in 30 years, Jurgen Klopp's relentless side well and truly lived up to the 'mentality monsters' tag bestowed upon them by their enigmatic manager. The Reds gathered more points from losing positions than Manchester City in the previous two seasons combined, emerging victorious in an impressive 6 games after trailing and securing a well earned late draw at Old Trafford. Some of those wins were crucial in establishing an unassailable lead over the chasing pack early on in the campaign, including the two games immediately after that draw with the Red Devils, overturning an early Harry Kane strike at Anfield before a week later Sadio Mane glanced home to complete a late turnaround at Villa Park. At the other end of the scale, the Reds were so adept at protecting leads that they very nearly completed a side mission of going through the entire campaign without surrendering as much as a draw after leading, before a 'Project Restart' 1-1 at home to Burnley (them again!) followed by a limp defeat at the Emirates saw them fail in their quest to become the, err, un-come-back-against-ables? Nonetheless, a final tally of 99 points remains a remarkable feat, and whilst Liverpool would still have been crowned champions without the additional 14 points, the road to glory would have been much more fraught.

2020-21 Champions: Manchester City

Points gained from losing positions: 8 pts

1-1 away to West Ham

1-1 home to Liverpool

2-1 away to Aston Villa

4-3 away to Newcastle

Points lost from winning positions: 13 pts

2-5 home to Leicester

1-1 away to Leeds

1-1 home to West Brom

2-1 home to Chelsea

2-3 away to Brighton

Net points gained: -5 pts

Adjusted league position: 1st

Returning to the summit of the English game after a year away, Manchester City continued in their apparent mission to prove that comebacks are overrated. The Citizens did at least improve on their paltry showing of just 4 points recovered in 2018-19, rescuing draws against West Ham and reigning champions Liverpool before a comeback victory at Aston Villa late in the campaign and a thrilling victory at St James' Park with the championship already secured. 8 points from trailing positions is still a fairly paltry return, however, with City also managing to throw away 13 points in a 5-2 thrashing at home to Leicester, 1-1 draws against newly promoted pair Leeds and West Brom and late season turnarounds against Chelsea and Brighton. The end result is a net total of 5 points squandered for Pep Guardiola's men, which would have seen them extend their title winning margin to an imperious 17 points over their cross city rivals from Old Trafford.

2021-22 Champions: Manchester City

Points gained from losing positions: 9 pts

2-2 away to Liverpool

2-1 away to Arsenal

1-1 away to Southampton

2-2 away to West Ham

3-2 home to Aston Villa

Points lost from winning positions: 2 pts

2-2 home to Liverpool

Net points gained: 7pts

Adjusted league position: 2nd

Something a bit different from City last season, and ultimately more crucial to the final destination of the title. In another tooth-and-nail fight to the finish with Liverpool, the Citizens finally channelled the do-or-die attitude they've so often sustained over entire title races into individual matches, recovering from behind 6 times to claim 9 vital points. Twice cancelling out the lead at Anfield in October to snatch a draw was followed up by a gritty New Years Day victory at the Emirates, before a comeback point at St Mary's was secured. City saved their best till last, however, recovering from 2-0 deficits in their final two games to earn a draw at West Ham and clinch the title with that dramatic, 'Aguerooooo'-esque, final day turnaround against Aston Villa. More remarkably, Guardiola's side dropped just two points from winning positions all season, in the April meeting with Liverpool that proved an exact mirror image of the Anfield fixture. For once, City's resilience was perhaps as crucial a factor to their success as their imperious playing style, the 7 points recovered from these fixtures proving vital to bringing the trophy back to the Etihad for the fourth time in five years.

So what have we learnt?

Quite simply, dramatic comebacks and last minute winners may not be quite the eternal deciding factors to season long title races as popular myth would have us believe. 7 of the last 10 title winners would still have emerged triumphant had they held onto every lead and succumbed to every deficit. This also isn't taking into account the records of the runners-up and other title challengers in these campaigns, who may have pulled up their own trees just to remain in the race or blown favourable situations themselves.

Of course grit, resilience and a never-say-die attitude are important tools in the locker for any team looking to emerge victorious ahead of 19 others after a long league campaign. No-one is saying that Man City would have won the title in 2012 without Super Sergio's late intervention, or that Man United overcame Newcastle's sizeable 1995-96 lead by fluke. But quite possibly the significance of these dramatic, nail biting momentum shifts get overblown in the excitement of the moment. We tend to forget that the best determiner for results is quite simply how good a team is. The league table doesn't measure momentum, only points. A 3-3 draw is a 3-3 draw regardless of whether your team has staged an incomprehensible comeback or collapsed from a seemingly unassailable position.

So what does this mean for Arsenal (and Man City) in the closing weeks of what has been a dramatic and unpredictable campaign? Keep level headed, don't look too far ahead and focus on one game at a time. Cliched, but true...

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