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Last Chance: Stats and Projections for Sunday

It's the last day, and Tottenham Hotspur are playing one of the two meaningful remaining games. Is there a chance they'll vault into the Champions League? SPOILER: Yes, there's a chance.

Laurence Griffiths

Right around the 55 minute mark in the Arsenal-Wigan match on Wednesday, somewhere outside of Sturbridge, my internet radio fuzzed out and only returned a few minutes later. At the time, Wigan Athletic were actually taking the game to Arsenal, sounding like a club with a chance at stealing points on the road and maybe living to fight another day for Premier League survival. I spent a few happy moments considering the possibility over some light static, but then my internet radio was nice enough to snap back into place in time for Arsenal to reestablish their dominance and clearly earn all three points. With Arsenal's victory, the bottom three are locked into place just as much as the top three.

Now it's down to us and them, and Tottenham Hotspur stand a point behind Arsenal heading into Sunday. We will need help from Newcastle United, who just clinched their safety on Sunday, in order to break back into the top four. Spurs have one advantage--playing at home rather than on the road definitely gives us an advantage in the projections.

There isn't much point to publishing a projected table. Everyone projects to take between zero and three points from their remaining game. The top and bottom threes are settled. The only big issue left to settle is 4th place. Spurs have a roughly 36% chance of finishing fourth, while Arsenal have a 64% chance at qualifying for the Champion League.

Match Projections

Club G GA W% D% L%
Arsenal (@ NEW) 2.5 1.7 52% 20% 28%
Tottenham (v SUN)) 3.0 1.0 77% 13% 10%

Sunderland are not good, Tottenham are very good. The match is being played at White Hart Lane. This should be a gimme. Spurs have been known to lose a gimme, of course. Arsenal haven't been known to drop points in quite a while, but if Newcastle show up to play, they are a decidedly non-terrible side with a dangerous attack. (The less said about their defense, now anchored by third-string keeper Steve Harper, the better.)

Since Spurs can't make the Champions League unless they win and Arsenal draw or lose (barring a swing of 16 or more goals), the numbers for what happens based on game outcomes are pretty straightforward here.

Outcome W D L
Arsenal (@ NEW) 100% 23% 23%
Tottenham (v SUN) 47% 0% 0%

I mentioned earlier that Newcastle are reasonably dangerous, if they show up to play. This is one of the big questions this weekend, as Newcastle could show up higher than the Mayor of Toronto and still play Premier League football next season. The exact extent of the "nothing to play for" effect in the Premier League is something I want to study in more depth over the summer. I found that teams who rated 100% safety with no shot at European football appeared to underperform expectations on both attack and defense by about 10%. The sample was tiny, though, and there's also a risk I was picking up regression to the mean rather than a real effect. (Clubs like West Bromwich Albion, who ran out to a fast start, weren't actually as good as their first ten games, and should be expected to drop a few more points late in the season, for instance.)

So this week I've got a table of altered stats, but they are not juked. These are numbers based on different possible "nothing to play for" effects. All of the altered stats are a little worse than the basic ones.

Effect 0% 10% 25%
Arsenal 64% 67% 73%
Tottenham 36% 33% 27%

Even at a very high level of effect, there's still a non-negligible chance of Newcastle stealing points at home while Tottenham get their win. It's more like 1-4 than 1-in-3, but it's still entirely possible. One of the reasons the nothing-to-play-for effect isn't that huge, here, is that it affect Sunderland as much as Newcastle. So Spurs become progressively more likely to get their necessary win as well.

I'm telling you there's a chance.