A key factor which many people consider when placing a bet is form. When betting on horse races for example, a quick glance at a given horse’s recent results is without doubt an action undertaken by most punters. It’s tempting to think along the same lines when betting on football matches, but there are enough other variables when thinking about a team’s starting eleven, squad members and the added pressure of performing before tens of thousands of vocal supporters to make form just one small piece of the puzzle when making an educated guess as to a match’s outcome.

Form is an undoubtedly an important factor, but not in the sense that a run of good or bad results is destined to continue. Rather, a run of easy wins can easily make a superior team grow complacent, while a run of bad results can make a team hunger for victory at all costs. The most important role form plays in football is the effect that it has on a team’s motivation.

A good case in point would be Arsenal’s run of results through the early part of the 2011/12 season. During a poor run of results that included losses to rivals Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, as well as a memorable 8-2 demolition away to Manchester United and a shock 4-3 defeat to a Blackburn Rovers side who were themselves mired in a nightmare run of results, Arsenal managed a laboured win away to Italian side Udinese in a Champions League qualifier.

Why were they able to get the job done against a team that finished fourth in the previous season’s Serie A, with all the added difficulty of playing in front of a hostile crowd in another country, yet go on to concede four goals against one of the Premier League’s worst performing teams just three weeks later?

The answer is simple; the motivation for picking up the win was far greater in the Champions League qualifier. A loss would’ve meant the first season in years without top-flight European football at the Emirates and would’ve been a disaster for team and supporter morale. The Udinese clash was an absolute must-win game, of far greater importance to the club than any of the games in which they suffered defeat.

Arsenal’s losses to Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham would also, on the basis of their form remaining consistent, have made them heavy underdogs when they travelled to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge near the end of October. The Gunners instead turned on the style and picked up three points in a thrilling game that ended 5-3. It’s reasonable to assume their previous bad results had left the team desperate to prove themselves against top class opposition.

Motivation is an even clearer factor in derby games, which so often produce surprising results. Betting on a game to produce over 2.5 goals would’ve yielded a positive result in any of the last six clashes between Arsenal and Tottenham, with both sides typically pushing their attacking flair to the maximum in these matches. Conversely, no team has won by a margin of greater than two goals in a Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool since 2006, with these games typically proving tight, regardless of how either team had been faring form-wise.

The atmosphere of a big derby game can often produce stunning results, such as Manchester City’s 6-1 demolition of their cross-city rivals in the 2011/12 English Premier League, or Barcelona’s 5-0 destruction of Real Madrid in the previous season’s La Liga. In terms of head to head form and the comparative strength of either side, neither of these results would appear likely, yet such was the hype surrounding both clashes that it would undoubtedly have proven worth it to take a chance on outlandish high odds predictions in both cases. These freak results naturally take most punters by surprise, but it makes the follow up clashes somewhat easier to predict.

The six “El Classico” games that followed Real Madrid’s humiliation at the Nou Camp saw just one game in which either side won by a margin greater than a single goal, whilst four of these six matches ended in draw. It would seem likely that United will similarly respond to their devastating 6-1 loss to City with far tighter results in future clashes between the Manchester rivals.

Measuring motivation is far from an exact science but it’s worth taking the time to weigh up both a team’s overall form and head to head form against their opposition, as well as – perhaps most crucially – the importance of a given game’s result. If a team that has already secured progression from the group stages of the Champions League or World Cup collide with a team on the cusp of progression, it’s definitely worth assuming that the team that needs points will be far hungrier for victory. Likewise, clashes between already qualified teams typically produce dire, low scoring games in group competitions, with Brazil and Portugal’s 0-0 draw in the 2010 World Cup being a prime example.

It’s a simple fact that some football games mean more than others. Bearing this in mind is crucial to making an educated guess and taking a punt on a outcome that has a good chance of actually occurring.