Could Arsenal be about to join Spurs among winners of unwanted Premier League prize?

Dave Tickner
Spurs and other goal-difference champions.
Spurs and other goal-difference champions.

As you may be aware, there is currently a pretty close three-way fight for the Premier League title.

Simple maths and logic tells us that two of those three teams will end the season not winning the title. If Arsenal are one of those two poor sods who miss out there’s a very good chance they’ll do so despite scoring more goals and conceding fewer than anyone else.

As things stand, they’ve scored three goals more than anyone else this season and conceded six fewer. But that goal-difference advantage over Liverpool – second in both categories by a single goal from City – is all they currently have. It might not be enough. Especially with that run-in.

So let’s see if anyone else has suffered similar misfortune.

What we’re looking for here is ideally teams who have ‘won’ both goals scored and goals conceded without winning the title or failing that, being the best in one of them and having the best goal difference.

We present for you now the five most recent Premier League goal-difference champions (which is definitely a thing) who nevertheless managed to come up short in the far less important so-called ‘league’ table.


Manchester City 2019/20
Good one, this. First of all it’s what must now be considered a rare season where City didn’t win the league. Not only that, they never even came close. They needed a fast finish just to end up second and a mere 18 points behind Liverpool.

What they did do, though, was rack up a whole load of largely meaningless thrashings in that curious Project Restart summer to go past 100 goals for the season. For comparison, champions Liverpool managed 85 and nobody else reached 70.

City won eight of their 10 delayed summer games. And most of them were paddlings. In those eight games, they scored 33 goals. They beat Arsenal 3-0, Liverpool themselves 4-0, secured another 4-0 against a Watford side they’d beaten 8-0 in the season and a frankly silly four 5-0 wins over Burnley, Newcastle, Brighton and Norwich. Hats off to Bournemouth for only losing 2-1, frankly.

The upshot was City ending with 102 goals scored – 17 more than Liverpool – and a goal difference of +67 – 15 better than Liverpool – while never once for a single second being remotely in contention for the actual title. Only once in the seven times they’ve actually won the Premier League have they scored more.


Tottenham 2016/17
Of course the most recent team to both score the most goals and concede the fewest without winning the league is Spurs. Of course it is.

Regular readers will know we rarely need further encouragement to write about that Spurs team, because we’re enormously fond of both a) how stupidly good they were and b) how far away they nevertheless were from actually winning the league.

They never got close to Chelsea, who ended up winning by seven points.

But what irks us is that this team tends to get bundled in with the 2016 Spurs team, who absolutely did fall apart as Leicester completed the most unlikely of triumphs. This Spurs did not fall away. They never got close to Chelsea because of the Blues’ own relentless march through spring. Pochettino’s Spurs won 12 of their final 13 games of the season.

Crucially, after an emotional 2-1 win over Manchester United to bid farewell to White Hart Lane, Spurs ended what remains by far their best Premier League campaign with a pair of away games in the final week.

They beat Leicester 6-1 in a rearranged game on the Thursday, Harry Kane scoring four, to register their biggest ever away win in the Premier League. That was a record that would stand for very nearly three whole days until a 7-1 win at Hull. Kane only scored three this time.

Those seven Kane goals secured him the Golden Boot, while the 13 goals Spurs plundered in that final week took them past Chelsea (85) and Man City (80) to 86 for the season. The Alderweireld-Vertonghen axis had long since established itself as the Premier League’s best defence that season, Spurs shipping just 26 all season to end with a goal difference of 60 and a whole load of ifs, buts and maybes.

📣 Straight to the comments! Are Arsenal taking Spurs mantle as great losers? Join the debate here.

Tottenham 2015/16
Oh Spurs. These might be the most worra trophy trophies they’ve ever won. They weren’t quite the top scorers in 2015/16’s batsh*t nonsense – fourth-placed City took that honour – but they had the joint meanest defence alongside fifth-placed Manchester United while both outscoring and outdefending the two teams who finished above them, despite infamously shipping five goals on the final day as the banter fully took hold of them.

The 2015/16 table as a whole remains a gloriously ridiculous piece of Barclays lore, by the way. While nothing else within it is crazier than Leicester’s presence incongruously atop the whole thing, there is madness wherever you look. Most would remember the iconic Leicester, Arsenal, Spurs two-horse race at the top and would probably have a decent guess at City and United coming next in the table.

Who remembers Southampton being sixth, though? Hmm? Put your hands down, you massive liars. Not you, Southampton fans. You probably do remember.

West Ham were seventh, which seems broadly fine. Liverpool were eighth, which does not. Chelsea were 10th, which was a lot weirder an idea then than it is now; they were defending champions at the time. Sandwiched between those two stumbling giants were, of course, Stoke City.

And the madness persisted all the way down. Sunderland stayed up! The league didn’t totally lose the plot – Palace still finished 15th with 42 points to maintain some semblance of order – but the idea of Villa and Newcastle going down and doing it in the same season now seems like lunacy. The fact Sheffield United this season are going to get more points than Villa managed that year is head-spinningly absurd.

The only thing that allows it all to make sense is the reassuring knowledge that for all this nonsense going off up and down the league it all helped ensure the joke was, in the end, on Spurs.


Manchester City 2014/15
Another fast finish here from a side that never actually looked remotely like catching Chelsea at the summit. City won their last six games of the season, scoring 18 goals in the process thanks in large part to a 6-0 win over QPR.

That left them with 10 more goals than Jose Mourinho’s champion Chelsea side and, while Chelsea, Arsenal and Man United all conceded slightly fewer goals than runners-up City, nobody could match their now rather quaint-looking +45 goal difference.


Liverpool 2008/09
We have to go all the way back here to the days when Liverpool were desperately striving for that elusive Premier League title and had only 11 years still to wait. Sure that would have made it easier for them, had they known it was just around the corner. They lost out by four points to Manchester United in the end, despite losing only twice all season. Having also lost out on a title to Manchester City while losing only once, it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for them over these near-misses.

This one was a bit more self-inflicted, mind, with a damaging series of mid-season draws – notably seven in a 10-match run between November and January – seeing them lose their advantage over United and never regain it.

What they did do, though, was outscore everyone else – albeit with a relatively modest 77 goals – while conceding a mere 27 to finish with a +50 goal difference that left both champions United and third-placed Chelsea six adrift.