Mikel Arteta is trying to put that right, but finds his team in sixth place which, at best, is only going to be good enough for a place in the Europa League — where the Gunners were marooned for the past four seasons.
But ESPN can reveal that without the decisions of the VAR, Arsenal would already be sitting pretty in fourth spot and dreaming of that place back among Europe’s elite.
This season we’re looking at all VAR (video assistant referee) decisions across the Premier League, and seeing how they might have affected the outcome of games.
It’s not just about the number of times a team gets a favourable VAR call or about how many goals are affected. What’s more important is when these VAR decisions take place, how they might have changed the course of the game and, crucially, whether that impact would ultimately have changed the final score.
ESPN brings you the VAR Effect Table. We’ve taken all 76 VAR decisions in the Premier League so far this season and calculated how they might have changed the outcome of matches. We’ll continue to track VAR throughout the season and find out who the true winners and losers are.
How we work out the VAR Effect Table
We take only the first VAR overturn in each game, because the calculation considers that any subsequent VAR incident wouldn’t have happened because the whole direction of the game has been altered. (Think of it like a Marvel timeline, or the plot of any time travel movie.)
The VAR decision is then reversed to the original on-field call — so if a goal is disallowed for offside, it’s given as a goal.
If a penalty has been cancelled, it is considered to have been awarded and scored, unless the team in question has a penalty-conversion record below 50% over the season. For instance, so far this season Arsenal have missed three of their four penalties, with West Ham (2 out of 5) the only other club to have missed more than one. If below 50%, a penalty may be judged to have been missed.
If a team has been awarded a goal through a penalty or an incorrect offside through VAR, the goal is disallowed.
We then take into account a series of factors before settling on a predicted outcome:
Team form: Results in the previous six matches give an indication of how a team has been playing generally.
Time of incident: For instance, if an incident happens late in the game, it’s less likely that the scoreline would change again after this point.
xG at time of incident: This allows us to take into account which team has been creating the better chances and is in the ascendancy.
Team strength: As well as form, a team’s general strength plays a part. This takes into account league position, and a team’s goal-scoring and defensive records across the season.
Impact of incident: For example, a red-card decision being reversed may change the outcome of a match.
These results have then been used to modify the table and work out what impact VAR has had on teams’ positions this season.
The table shows each team’s position after the amended results, with the arrows indicating if their league position is better or worse without VAR. It’s worth noting that not all teams have played the same number of games at this time due to COVID-related postponements.
The big winners without VAR
Arsenal certainly take some of the headlines with their climb into the Champions League places, though they are only one point better off because they have also had a key decision in their favour.
The only other result-changing VAR decision came against Manchester City on New Year’s Day. Arsenal were leading 1-0 when the VAR gave the champions a penalty for Granit Xhaka‘s foul on Bernardo Silva. It was a game they would go on to lose. The Gunners were playing well when the penalty was awarded, and calculated by the VAR Effect to go on and win without the intervention.
Newcastle are four points better off without VAR, which lifts them above Norwich City and out of the relegation zone. Among the key decisions that affected results were goals awarded to West Ham (when Newcastle were leading) and Tottenham (when drawing), and an injury-time penalty given to Southampton (when leading).
The survival hopes of Burnley also look a little better as they have three additional points, lifting them off the foot of the table and above Watford. As well as getting the point against Arsenal, Burnley also had an added-time winner away to Leicester ruled out for offside by the VAR.
The gap between leaders Man City (-1) and Liverpool (+1) closes slightly, with the Reds now seven points off top spot rather than nine.
Brentford are a little more comfortable, two points and two places higher up the table. The only other teams to see their points tally increase, by one, are Leicester.
The big losers without VAR
Not too many teams, at this stage, can consider VAR to have changed their season for the better, though new Watford boss Roy Hodgson would find the task of staying up much tougher without VAR for his predecessors.
Most importantly, Watford were losing at Everton when Joshua King‘s goal was allowed due to an incorrect offside flag. The Hornets were losing at the time and it proved crucial, as they then went on to win the game 5-2. Watford lose three points and drop to the foot of the table, but it gets worse as the gap to safety and 17th place increases from the two points it is today to eight, which would seem insurmountable with over half the season played.
Wolverhampton Wanderers are also three points worse off, but their league position of eighth is unchanged.
Aston Villa and Crystal Palace both drop two points and two places in the bottom half of the table. That would be worrying especially for Patrick Vieira’s Palace, who would be just six points above the relegation zone.
Manchester United, who gained from Everton’s disallowed winner, lose a point and a place, as Arsenal climb above them.
There is also a loss of one point for Tottenham Hotspur, who have several changed results. As well as the allowed Kane goal in the win at Newcastle, the England captain also had a goal ruled out in a match Spurs drew at Southampton.
Southampton are the only other team who lose a point without VAR, and that sees them fall two places into 14th.