It’s now been five long years since Arsenal last played in the Champions League, and in fact this season is their first without any type of European football since 1995-96.
Mikel Arteta tries to turn the situation around but finds his side in sixth place which, at best, will only be enough for a place in the Europa League – where the Gunners have been stuck for the past four seasons.
But ESPN can reveal that were it not for VAR decisions, Arsenal would already be sitting well in fourth place and dreaming of regaining that spot among Europe’s top flight.
This season we take a look at all the VAR (video assistant referee) decisions across the Premier League and see how they may have affected the outcome of matches.
It’s not just about the number of times a team receives a favorable VAR call or the number of goals affected. What is more important is when these VAR decisions take place, how they could have changed the course of the game and, above all, if this impact would have ultimately changed the final score.
ESPN brings you the Table of VAR effects. We’ve taken all 76 VAR decisions in the Premier League so far this season and calculated how they could have changed the outcome of matches. We will continue to follow VAR throughout the season and find out who the real winners and losers are.
– JUMP TO: Winners without VAR | The losers without VAR
How we construct the VAR Effects Table
We only take the first VAR reversal of each game, because the calculation considers that any subsequent VAR incident would not have happened because the entire direction of the game was changed. (Think of it as a Marvel timeline or the plot of any time travel movie.)
The VAR decision is then reversed from the original on-field call – so if a goal is disallowed for offside it is given as a goal.
If a penalty has been waived, it is considered awarded and scored, unless the team in question has a penalty kick conversion record of less than 50% over the season. For example, so far this season Arsenal have missed three of their four shots on goal, with West Ham (2 of 5) being the only other club to have missed more than one. If it is less than 50%, a penalty can be considered missed.
If a team has been awarded a goal by an incorrect penalty or offside by VAR, the goal is disallowed.
We then consider a range of factors before settling on a predicted outcome:
Team form: The results of the previous six matches give an indication of how a team has played in general.
Time of incident: For example, if an incident occurs late in the game, the score is less likely to change again after that point.
xG at the time of the incident: This allows us to take into account which team has created the best chances and is gaining momentum.
Team Strength: In addition to form, the general strength of a team plays a role. This takes into account league position and a team’s scoring and defensive records throughout the season.
Incident impact: For example, an overturned red card decision can change the outcome of a match.
These results were then used to modify the table and determine the impact VAR has had on team positions this season.
The table shows each team’s position after the modified results, with the arrows indicating whether their league position is better or worse without VAR. It should be noted that not all teams have played the same number of games at present due to COVID-related postponements.
The big winners without VAR
Arsenal are certainly making headlines with their rise in the Champions League places, although they are only one point better as they also made a key decision in their favour.
In September, they were leading at Burnley when Aaron Ramsdale conceded a penalty that could have cost them the win – but VAR came to the rescue.
The only other VAR decision that changed the results came against Manchester City on New Year’s Day. Arsenal were leading 1-0 when VAR awarded the champions a penalty for Granit Xhaka’s foul on Bernardo Silva. It was a game they were going 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 interference.
Newcastle are four points clear without VAR, lifting them above Norwich City and out of the relegation zone. Among the key decisions that affected results were goals against West Ham (when Newcastle were leading) and Tottenham (when they drew), and an added time penalty awarded against Southampton (when they were leading).
Burnley’s survival hopes also look a bit better as they have three more points, lifting them off the foot of the table and above Watford. As well as securing the point against Arsenal, Burnley also had an injury-time winner at Leicester ruled out for offside by VAR.
The gap between leaders Man City (-1) and Liverpool (+1) is narrowing slightly, with the Reds now seven points from first place instead of nine.
Brentford are a little more comfortable, two points and two places higher in the standings. The only other teams to see their points increase, by one, are Leicester.
Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea, Leeds United, Norwich City and West Ham United have unchanged point totals.
The big losers without VAR
Few teams, at this stage, can consider VAR to have changed their season for the better, although new Watford boss Roy Hodgson would find the task of remaining without VAR much more difficult for his predecessors.
More importantly, Watford were losing to Everton when Joshua King’s goal was allowed due to an incorrect offside flag. The Hornets were losing at the time and that proved crucial as they went on to win the game 5-2. Watford lose three points and fall to the bottom of the table, but the situation worsens as the gap to safety and 17th place grows from the two points it is today to eight, which seems insurmountable with more half of the season played.
Wolverhampton Wanderers are also three points worse off, but their position of eighth in the league remains unchanged.
Aston Villa and Crystal Palace both drop two points and two places in the bottom half of the table. It would be worrying especially for the Palace of Patrick Vieira, who would be only six points above the relegation zone.
Manchester United, who won from the denied winner of Everton, lose a point and a place, as Arsenal climb above them.
There is also a one point loss for Tottenham Hotspur, who have several modified results. As well as the goal given to Kane in the win at Newcastle, the England captain also had a goal disallowed in a Spurs draw at Southampton.
Southampton are the only other side to drop a point without VAR, dropping them two places to 14th.