Becoming top scorer in the English Premier League provides entry into an elite club of international superstars such as Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba and Ruud van Nistelrooy, joining other legends of English football Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Nine games into the 2012/2013 season, I conducted an analysis on Arsenal’s shooting (mis)fortunes so far. This revealed that had Arsenal not sold last year’s top scorer in the league, and had he scored one goal in each of four key games so far, the team would sit at the top of the table at that point. Robin van Persie’s goals last season (2.85% of all Premier League goals) were a lifeline for Arsenal and may just be the difference between the two Manchester teams this time around.
Van Persie is already looking like he has the potential to become the third player to retain the Golden Boot, after Shearer and Henry, and one of only five to have won it more than once, alongside Hasselbaink and Didier Drogba. He also has the chance of becoming only the second player to win it with two different clubs after Hasselbaink.
The only player currently topping van Persie’s count for this season is Miguel Michu of Swansea, who currently has twelve goals after sixteen games. However, it has been twelve seasons since a player not from Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea has won the golden boot (Kevin Phillips of Sunderland back in 2000).
Worryingly for other title contenders, United now possess the two highest scorers in the league last year in van Persie and his new strike partner Wayne Rooney. Between them they totaled fifty-seven league goals last term (5.35% of all goals). Since van Persie’s arrival however, Rooney has assumed a deeper role on the field, allowing his (slightly) more prolific partner to go forward. This, coupled with injury has resulted in Rooney only scoring six goals so far in comparison to van Persie’s eleven. The golden boot is amongst the only accolades yet to elude Rooney, but few back him to claim it this season.
Manchester City’s strike force on paper at least is most likely to challenge van Persie for the top spot. Sergio Agüero was the third highest scorer last season and if he can recapture that form and stay fit, he may run van Persie close. After almost leaving City last season, Carlos Tévez is their most prolific striker so far this season, and the 2011 joint winner could again be in contention. Edin Džeko is just one league goal behind Tevez, but is unlikely to become top scorer from the substitute bench. The currently sulking Mario Balotelli is an outside bet for the award.
Emmanuel Adebayor, out of form and favour at Tottenham, would have to improve dramatically on his so far underwhelming season to be in contention again, as would last year’s top-scoring midfielder Clint Dempsey. Jermain Defoe on the other hand has looked sharp so far, and is perhaps the most likely of those outside Manchester to take the award.
Newcastle United’s strike force last year was crucial in their climb to fifth place. Papiss Cissé scored thirteen in fourteen games at the end of last season, but has managed just two in the same number of games this year. Demba Ba, who started last season well but was eclipsed by the arrival of Cissé, will most likely be Newcastle’s top scorer, but has yet to prove that he can remain consistent for a whole season.
Luis Suarez has found form at Liverpool, but is literally their only striker, and surely cannot maintain his solo efforts over a whole season. Fernando Torres is Chelsea’s best bet, but Rafa Benitez has his work cut out in trying to squeeze goals out of the underperforming centre forward. Arsenal remain without a natural goal-scorer, Theo Walcott looking like their most lethal threat this season, but he may leavein January, and as such has not held down a starting position.
Although we have not yet reached the midway point of the season, baring injury, van Persie seems the favourite to take home the golden boot for a second time, but does this have an actual bearing on the league table? In the past ten seasons, the top scorer’s team has failed to win the league on four occasions. In the ten before that, it was seven meaning that in just nine out of twenty seasons the team with the highest scorer has won the league.
Thus, history shows that a prolific goal-scorer does not always win you the title. Manchester United would have been much less likely to win in 2008 without the thirty-one goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, but Thierry Henry was top scorer in 2005 and 2006 and could not stop Chelsea claiming the top spot in either.
The statistics do suggest however, that having more than one player in the top ten league scorers vastly increases the likelihood of winning the league. Having proven goal-scorers amongst your ranks is a must for Premier League success. Out of the all time top one hundred Premier League goal-scorers, twenty-three are still playing in the top division. Four of these play for Manchester United, three for Tottenham, two for each of Chelsea, Man City and Liverpool. None play for Arsenal. Arsenal did not win the league last year because they over-relied on van Persie, and did not have enough strength or depth. His departure to United strengthens an attacking side that only narrowly missed out on the league last year, and already boast Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández, who chipped in with nine and ten goals respectively last season. Therefore, though van Persie could not make the difference at Arsenal, this year he could very well be the difference for United.