Fast finish as vital as good start in Premier League

Inside the numbers A strong end to the season helped a number of Premier League clubs, writes Thomas Woods.

A familiar scene in the closing games of the season was Arsenal players in despair as their title challenge fell apart in meek fashion.
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Starting the season with a bang is all very well, but the old adage that titles are won by your performances after Christmas rings very true.

Chelsea scored 14 goals in their first three games this season and looked guaranteed to retain their title but were hurt by a mid-season slump.

They finished the season strongly to get within reach of the title before falling away again with just a point from their last three games. The same cannot be said about other teams.

Winning games at the start of the season is all about grinding out results and attempting to find some fluency. However, when the end is in sight, mental factors come into play, as well as fatigue, especially if a team is in the latter stages of the FA Cup or Champions League.

Teams have to pay more attention to what their rivals are doing. Some have games in hand, some have points on the board. Nerves start to affect players. Being able to cope with the pressure of being in a title race is what separates contenders from achievers. Manchester United have it and Arsenal do not.

At the start of February, Arsenal were in contention for four trophies. A month later they were out of three of those competitions - Carling Cup, FA Cup and Champions League. By mid-April the league was out of sight, too.

This is a perennial problem for Arsenal. At a time when they should be hitting fifth gear, they stall. Only once in the past five seasons have they averaged more than two points per game in the last three months of the season. The result of such end-of-season fragility is a the lack of a new trophy in the club cabinet the past six seasons. They even managed to throw away automatic Champions League qualification, too.

In fact, in results since March 1, Arsenal would be 14th in the table. They won just two games from 11, and earned just 1.09 points per game. They even have a negative (minus-one) goal difference.

Telling, too, is the fact that the three relegated teams - Birmingham City, Blackpool and West Ham United - are those with the worst form since March 1.