Sunday, 30 December 2012

From the archives: goalfest in the Premier League

Yesterday evening saw one of the highest scoring English Premier League matches of all time. Arsenal's 7-3 drubbing of Newcastle joins just three other 10-goal games, although Portsmouth's 7-4 victory over Reading in 2007 remains the outright claimant for this particular accolade.

This was just one part, however, of a Saturday chock-full of goals, with a total of 35 scored across the eight matches played. This put me in mind of an article I wrote for Significance early in 2011 about an even more extraordinary day of football. Back then, Arsenal and Newcastle were at it again, with the latter's stunning four-goal comeback contributing to a whopping 41 scored across that day's eight Premier League games. In the article I used this as an excuse to show off the Poisson distribution, demonstrating how goals scored in football matches can be modeled surprisingly well by what is ultimately a (fairly simple) mathematical formula.

The remaining two matches of that particular weekend of football only produced two more goals, bringing the total for a complete 10 match 'round' of Premier League fixtures to 43. Based on the Poisson distribution (and assuming an average of 2.6 goals per game) I estimated there was a roughly 1 in 720 chance of seeing at least that many goals in a set of 10 games. This weekend's football was almost - but not quite - as remarkable, with six goals today bringing us to a total of 41 across 10 matches. Based on the same theory, this works out to a 1 in 250 occurrence.

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