Sport is all about opinions. This can be particularly the case when it comes to football. Watching matches is great but many fans arguably spend more time talking about their team than they do actually at the match. There are countless debates to be had but we’re leaving Messi versus Ronaldo, Man City versus Liverpool and all the rest for another day and focussing on the teams from the English capital. In this article, we will answer the rather simple question: which London side has the best record in the Premier League?
One might well argue that this is not a matter of opinion but one of fact but as with many such debates, the answer depends on the question. What metrics are we using, what defines “best record”? Is it the most points won, the most goals scored, the average league position or simply which side has won the most titles? We’ll look at all those issues and more, including success in the cups, and life before the Premier League, and then we’ll make our conclusions.
We are quite possibly going to upset many fans here by restricting our analysis to just two teams. London has 13 football teams by some reckoning (this rather illustrates our earlier point: do we mean professional men’s teams only? Do we mean Greater London?), and the majority of those have at least played in the Premier League. However, with due respect to top-flight stalwarts like West Ham, Crystal Palace and, yes, Spurs, there are two that stand well clear of the others.
Arsenal vs Chelsea
Arsenal and Chelsea are the only two London football clubs to have won the Premier League. On just about any other metric you could care to consider they have performed significantly better than all the rest, including Spurs.
Tottenham are unquestionably our London Premier League bronze medallists. They have been ever-present in the new iteration of the top flight since its inaugural season in 1992/93. In addition, they have been involved in the odd title race, at least into the early days of spring at any rate. What’s more, they have finished in the top four (peaking in second in 2017) six times since 2010, frequently finishing above at least one of their big London rivals. But the fact is they have never won the Premier League. In fact, their last league title came way back in 1961 and in the Premier League era their only real silverware has been a brace of League Cups.
Once again apologies to Spurs fans; in the Blue corner, we have Chelsea, whilst in the Red corner we have Arsenal. A battle of north versus west, the Gunners versus the Pensioners. Just who has the best Premier League record?
Premier League Titles
At the time of writing, the 2021/22 season is drawing to a close and we can safely say that neither of our London giants will be adding to their collection of Premier League titles. However, to keep things nice and neat and consistent, all of the stats mentioned in this feature will be up to and including the end of the most recent full season, 2020/21, unless stated. So, back to the task at hand, have Chelsea or Arsenal won the most EPL titles?
Arsenal – 3 PL Titles
By the standards of some of the oldest clubs in English football, Arsenal were late bloomers when it came to collecting silverware. They won their first major trophy in 1930, the FA Cup, winning their first top-tier title the following season. They were then very strong either side of the Second World War, before enjoying another good spell just in time for the start of the Premier League era.
They actually won the penultimate version of the old First Division in the 1990/91 season but claimed their first PL title in 1998 under Arsene Wenger. The Alsace man delivered further Premier League glory in 2001/02 before an incredible 2003/04 campaign that saw the Invincibles go the entire season undefeated. At that point in time, it would have taken a brave punter to back them to wait for 20 years (probably) or more to claim their next title but that is what has unfolded, meaning the Gunners have three Premier League crowns to their name.
Chelsea – 5 PL Titles
Chelsea were “only” founded in 1905 and their record prior to the Roman Abramovich era, which began in 2003, was rather modest. The Russian oligarch paid £140m for the club, about the same that Barcelona paid Liverpool for Philippe Coutinho! Prior to his lavish spending, the Pensioners had just one league title to their name, won in 1955. However, they did not have to wait long for Abramovich to deliver success.
With a then-genuinely-special Jose Mourinho at the help, the Blues won their first PL crown in 2004/05, defending that the following season. The Portuguese came and went but they won the title again in 2010, this time under Carlo Ancelotti. By 2015 Mourinho was back at Stamford Bridge, winning more silverware, including the title in the 2014/15 season. Abramovich continued to show no hesitancy to pull the trigger and sacked Jose once again but the Russian got the result he wanted as they won the Premier League title again in 2017, this time under Antonio Conte. If you’re keeping up, with all that, then that is five titles, meaning a 5-3 win for the Blues over Arsenal on this, our first point of comparison.
Seasons in the Premier League
Longevity has to count for something and so the next metric is how many seasons both sides have spent in the Premier League. This is rather an easy one to assess and, indeed, is one area where Spurs are right up there with their more successful London rivals. All three, along with Everton, Liverpool and Man United, are PL ever-presents.
All six of those sides were founder members of the Premier League back in 1992 and all six have participated in every season to date. At the time of writing, Everton are in serious danger of relegation so that six might slip to five ever-presents once the 2022/23 campaign begins. Either way, Chelsea and Arsenal cannot be separated in terms of their PL longevity.
When it comes to seasons in the top flight overall, however, Arsenal have a very significant edge over their rivals from the west. Only three sides, in fact, have participated in the highest division of English football for more seasons than Arsenal. Between 1888-89 and 2021-22, Everton lead the way, playing in the top tier for 119 out of 123 seasons, with Aston Villa next on 108 and Liverpool on 107. Arsenal are fourth on 105 but you have to go way down to ninth position to find Chelsea on a rather distant 87 – only one more than Sunderland in fact.
If we look at consecutive seasons in the top flight that Arsenal are even further ahead. There are many of us who can remember a time before the Abramovich millions, or even billions, when Chelsea were not a top-tier team. However, if you can recall the days when the Gunners were down in the old Second Division you must have been eating your greens because that was way back in 1915, though due to the war they were not promoted, or at least didn’t play in the top flight, until 1919. In contrast, Chelsea were outside of English football’s elite as recently as 1989.
In conclusion, when it comes solely to the Premier League we would mark this round as a tie. However, using the pre-Sky era as a tiebreaker, we have to award the round and the kudos to Arsenal.
Most Points Won
Who has won the most Premier League points overall between these two sides? Points win prizes but whilst we’d no doubt rather win the league once but be second in terms of overall points, than have never won it but be able to boast this accolade, it is still very much worth considering. Some would argue that this is the most important metric, in fact, and in many ways, it could be argued it is the fairest assessment of who has “the best Premier League record”.
How much importance you assign to it is probably a personal issue, related to your interest in stats and numbers, and quite possibly whether these particular stats make your team look good or not. Nonetheless, let’s take a look.
As things stand both of these clubs do superbly well when it comes to the all-time Premier League points table. These figures are correct as of 3rd May 2022, with the teams at the top of the table having played a varying number of games in the current season and thus overall. As we can see, it is actually astoundingly close between our London rivals, especially considering we are looking at performance over a “season” of some 1,148 games!
All-Time Premier League Table (Correct as of 3/5/22)
Incredibly, after 103,320 minutes (plus stoppage time) of football, Arsenal and Chelsea are separated by just five points. The other interesting thing to note is that Man City have now overtaken Everton to sit sixth on this all-time table, despite having played in far fewer seasons than the ever-present Toffees. How long will it be until they move past Spurs?
In terms of points won we could well declare this a tie, given both teams are averaging 1.86 points per game. But we don’t like ties, so we’re awarding another round to Arsenal here, with their 1.8597561 points per game giving them the edge over the Blues who accrue points at a mere 1.8554007 points per game, the slackers!
What About Goals Scored?
If we add a few more columns to our table above we can get an even more detailed picture of how these sides have done in the Premier League. The table below shows goals scored, goals conceded and overall goal difference.
|Place||Team||Points||Games Played||Goals Scored||Goals Conceded||Goal Difference|
Man United remain well clear on goals scored and goal difference, despite their relatively woeful post-Ferguson travails. However, in terms of our London rivals, Arsenal have scored 45 more goals than Chelsea, conceded 20 more and, therefore, have a goal difference that is superior by 25. Another round to the Arsenal!
Whilst some will point to the overall points as being the fairest way to compare Premier League performance, there could be an argument that says this places too much importance on times during which one or other side was especially good, or especially bad. Perhaps it is fairer and more thorough to look at the Premier League records of both Chelsea and Arsenal on a season-by-season basis to see who comes out on top. The table below shows how each of our sides have fared in all of the complete seasons between the Premier League’s inception and the conclusion of the 2020/21 campaign.
|Season End||Arsenal Position||Chelsea Position||Winner|
Overall this gives us a clear picture of the classic “game of two halves”, with Arsenal the superior side in the early years of the EPL and then Chelsea dominating once Roman’s Rubles came onto the scene. The Gunners had the better league position in 11 of the first 12 years of the new top flight, whilst Chelsea have finished higher up the table in 15 of the most recent 17.
That gives Chelsea the win by 16 superior seasons to Arsenal’s 13 and means another point to Chelsea in our Premier League analysis of the best London clubs. However, there is yet another way we can consider this data and that is in terms of the average finishing position in the Premier League. The lower the number, the better the side has done. Before we do that though, let’s summarise the info above with some key points.
- In 29 complete seasons, Chelsea finished higher 16 times
- Arsenal performed better in 13 seasons
- Obvious split between 1993 to 2004 and 2005 to the present day (Abramovich bought Chelsea in July 2003)
- Both sides have won the league and finished inside the top four numerous times
- Arsenal have finished 10th or worse twice
- Chelsea have finished 10th or worse on five occasions
Average PL Finish
Chelsea have the edge in terms of the number of higher finishes but does their poor record in the new league’s early years mean they have a worse average (mean) finishing position than their north London rivals?
Well, taken across all of the 29 complete seasons we have for comparison, Arsenal’s average league position at the end of the season is 4.03. And, Chelsea? Well, as one might expect given the overall standings, there is not much in it. However, in keeping with the overall points tally, once again, it is Arsenal who edge things, because Chelsea’s average finish is 4.66! One more point to Arsenal!
It could, quite probably correctly, be argued that European success is not relevant to the argument about which London side has the best Premier League record. However, we’re offering a good analysis, and thorough. Good analysis, and thorough (kudos to anyone spotting our obscure Big Lebowski reference, the film premiered at the Sundance Festival on 18th January 1998, when Chelsea were four points clear of Arsenal in fourth in the table).
Anyway, leaving 1990s film classics aside, a team is, at least on some level, representing the Premier League when they play in Europe. Moreover, their Premier League performances are what qualify them to play in Europe in the first place, so aside from our overwhelming thoroughness, how Chelsea and Arsenal have done in Europe is at least of some relevance to this debate.
Given the successes they have enjoyed domestically, neither club has exactly thrived in Europe. Since the Premier League era began, we can see that Arsenal have never won the European Cup/Champions League. In fact, they have never won the top continental trophy in their entire history. Chelsea have won it twice and in fact their European success over the last decade or so has propelled them from continental nobodies into probably the third tier, or possibly second, when it comes to overall European success.
Arsenal: European Finals
The Gunners’ sole major European success came in the early days of the Premier League era when they lifted the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994. In addition, they also won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1970, though this holds less prestige. In European terms they are very much a nearly side, having made a number of other finals but being beaten when it matters most. They have been runners-up on the following occasions:
- 1980 Cup Winners’ Cup – Beaten by Valencia on penalties
- 1994 European Super Cup – Lost to Milan
- 1995 Cup Winners’ Cup – Lost to Real Zaragoza in the last minute
- 2000 UEFA Cup – Lost to Galatasaray on penalties
- 2006 Champions League – Lost 2-1 to Barcelona despite leading with 15 minutes to go
- 2019 Europa League – Hammered 4-1 by none other than Chelsea!
If we discount the Fairs Cup and Super Cup, the Gunners have made it to six major European finals and won just one. A number of those defeats were heart-breaking in a range of different ways and whilst narrow defeat stings, getting thumped 4-1 by your best London rival might well have hurt the most.
Chelsea: European Finals
As noted, the Blues have been far more successful on the wider European stage and they have won a total of six major trophies, plus a further two Super Cups (and the Club World Cup too in 2021). When they won the 2013 Europa League they became the first English club and just the fourth side overall to have completed the European treble of (in old money) the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup. With the last of those competitions no longer extant, that is a list set to stay at four for evermore.
- 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup – Beat Real Madrid in a final that required a replay
- 1998 Cup Winners’ Cup – Defeated Stuttgart 1-0 in the final
- 2008 Champions League – Lost on penalties to Man United after infamous slip by John Terry
- 2012 Champions League – Beat Bayern Munich on penalties
- 2013 Europa League – Beat Benfica 2-1
- 2019 Europa League – Beat the Gunners 4-1
- 2021 Champions League – Beat Man City 1-0 thanks to first-half Kai Havertz strike
Looking back over the finals of both teams we can see what fine margins often separate a side from glory and misery in the biggest games. Nonetheless, for all the ifs and buts, Chelsea have a far superior European record and so they score the final mark in our comparison.
Arsenal v Chelsea: Who Has Best Premier League Record?
Having first discounted a number of London side from our analysis, most controversially (though not really especially controversially) Spurs, we were left with Arsenal and Chelsea. We have compared these two huge London rivals in a number of different ways when it comes to their Premier League record and their success in Europe. A summary of this can be seen below:
|Premier League Titles||3||5||Chelsea||1-0 to Chelsea|
|Seasons in Premier League||Ever-present||Ever-present||Draw||1-0 to Chelsea|
|Seasons in Top Flight||105||87||Arsenal||1-1|
|Total PL Points||2135||2130||Arsenal||2-1 to Arsenal|
|Goals (Scored/Conceded/Difference)||2010/1141/+869||1965/1121/+844||Arsenal||3-1 to Arsenal|
|Who Finished Above Who?||Arsenal finished above Chelsea 13 times||Chelsea finished above Arsenal 16 times||Chelsea||3-2 to Chelsea|
|Average League Position||4.03||4.66||Arsenal||4-2 to Arsenal|
|Major European Trophies||1||6||Chelsea||4-3 to Arsenal|
There you have it: Arsenal have the best Premier League record of all the London clubs. The numbers don’t lie and as the old saying goes, there is the truth, the whole truth and then there is the really true truth that is painted by statistics. Oh, hang on, sorry Arsenal fans, that’s not the saying after all.
“Lies, damn lies and statistics”, that’s the one. It is unclear who first said this but in this case we have to say that it reflects our pained, detailed and thorough research. You may beg to differ, but if we were a fan of either of these sides it would be trophies that would concern us most. And, Chelsea clearly lead the way in that regard, both domestically and in Europe.
What’s more, perhaps the other most important stat, though of more relevance if these two were real rivals like Arsenal and Spurs, for example, is who finished above whom. In 16 of 29 seasons, it was Chelsea who held the bragging rights over Arsenal in terms of their Premier League finish.
Moreover, if we return right to the very beginning and our question, “Which London club has the best Premier League record?” then we can see that if we consider all of the London clubs in a mini-league of their own, once again it would be Chelsea who come out on top. In 29 complete seasons of the Premier League, the following have all finished top of a hypothetical London League:
- Chelsea – 14 times
- Arsenal – 12 times
- Spurs – Twice (1995 and 2018)
- QPR – Once in 1993
So, in the second – and conclusive – conclusion of this feature, Chelsea actually have the best Premier League record of all the London clubs!