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Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal prove that possession isn’t everything.

By Tony Attwood

Football is tribal, and oh how we like to laugh when misfortune befalls the neighbours.  And equally how they love to laugh at us.  So it goes.

But at least for some Arsenal and Tottenham fans (and I count myself among them) there is still enough civilised behaviour left within our souls that we can chat together away from the ground, and admit our own positives and negatives, and even on occasion feel the other side’s pain.

Never was that more so than at the end of last season when Tottenham, having got the fourth spot that they were naturally so anxious to achieve, had the place in the Champions League removed by Chelsea’s penalty shoot out.   I can’t imagine how I would have felt, had it been Arsenal.

But in the post-match chat this last weekend something else came up.  Something quite strange.

You see, Tottenham had a whopping 59% of possession and double the number of goal attempts as Fulham got – and they lost.   That looks fairly odd.  But consider this:

Swansea had 57% of the possession – and they lost to Arsenal.  And Liverpool had 52% and got beaten 3-1 by Southampton.

The only redeeming point in Arsenal’s favour (apart from the result, obviously) was that almost twice the number of goal attempts as Swansea, and when it comes to shots on target Arsenal won the competition 6-0.  Tottenham had three shots on target, Fulham 2.

Which just about goes to show that possession statistics are fairly pointless, and even shots on target don’t amount to much when trying to sort out the real result.  Clearly if you reduce the opposition to no shots on target you are not going to lose – but as Fulham showed, if you have two shots on target and one of them goes in, you could be on your way to a victory.

And as a result of all that action we now have this…

3 (4) Chelsea 29 16 7 6 58 30 28 55
4 (3) Tottenham Hotspur 30 16 6 8 51 37 14 54
5 (5) Arsenal 29 14 8 7 55 32 23 50
6 (6) Everton 29 12 12 5 46 35 11 48
7 (7) Liverpool 30 12 9 9 57 39 18 45

So it is still not in our hands – Tottenham have to lose when we win – and we have to win our game in hand, to start making it look happier from an Arsenal point of view.   Of course that is possible – just as it was possible for Tottenham to lose at home to Fulham.  I just didn’t really expect it.

But one has to have faith, otherwise the whole thing seems a bit pointless.  Indeed I read in the Guardian today that the Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson has said that his club’s bid for European football is far from over despite the defeat at Southampton.

For Liverpool to achieve this, they need for their side to win three games that Arsenal simultaneously lose, and for Everton to lose at least their game in hand.   I think this is going a bit too far.  Arsenal’s future in Europe is not wholly in their own hands – but surely Liverpool’s is far less so.

This decline in Liverpool’s fortunes has been highlighted on Untold for some time – when we first started talking about it we pointed out that their problem was that they didn’t have an obvious model as a way of going forwards.

Their youth system is either very poor or fairly decent, depending on who you read – but neither is good enough to produce quality players of Premier League standard.  Their stadium is neither particularly large nor able to bring in the sort of money Arsenal now take as a given.  They are in Liverpool (obviously) and not London, which makes a big difference too.  And they have not had year on year of Champions League football.

True they have been able to sell their advertising at higher than might be expected, because of their historical achievements, but year by year that ability to sell on the past declines a bit more, and the income fails to keep up with that which other clubs can generate.

In marketing terms, Liverpool are now last year’s model.  Man U, Man C, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea are seen as this year, and next year’s model.

In short, without the money, Liverpool are going to struggle to get back on top – and marketing money is always dependent on how much your brand is worth today.  Go a few years without Europe, and the brand sinks and sinks until ultimately it is almost impossible to pull it back.

And just as it is horribly frustrating for all Arsenal fans to see Tottenham above us at the moment, it must be awful for Liverpool fans to see Everton not only above them, but getting quite a few plaudits on the way, too.

In marketing terms, which are the terms that we need to be aware of when it comes to future income, Arsenal are now on the up, as the old deals secured to fund initial payments on the new stadium are coming to an end, and new money is available.  Man U are the marketing experts par excellence, and it is doubtful if anyone can catch them up.  Chelsea have an image problem because of the way in which Mr Abramovich handles his managers – and their inability to secure a new stadium.  Russian billionaire money always seems a bit less chic than American money.  Tottenham meanwhile will have a financial problem with their new stadium, unless they can find a huge source of money from the Virgin Islands to help fund it.  If they can’t then their finances could restrict purchasing for a few years to come as the redevelopment income from property in Tottenham is going to be quite a lot less than that in Islington.

If anyone can take fifth spot from Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea, depending on how the rest of the season works out, it is presumably Everton, not Liverpool – but there again, finances are a problem.  It is hard to see Everton securing a long term position in the top four without a new stadium.  And certainly this is the moment to get one, while Liverpool struggle.  But whether the owner can fund it is another matter – it seems unlikely.

As for Arsenal, what gives us hope, apart from the fact that the team has been playing a much better brand of football in the last two games – both of which were won with a revamped defence that did not let in a goal – is that Tottenham have lost their last three.  That might be a temporary wobble, or it could be a repeat of what has happened to them in recent seasons, wherein all the good work of early on seems to count for nought, as they slip backwards.

Even if the unthinkable happens, and we drop out of the top four after so many years in the Champions League, I still think everything will be in place for us to move back into the top four within one season.  The recent purchases have looked particularly smart, and more of the same this summer should see us climbing back up the table next season.

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16 comments to Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal prove that possession isn’t everything.

  • Dutchie

    After the game against Spurs on WHL I was sure we would finish above them. Despite the loss I saw our game was on a higher level, and we only lost because of awfull defending. Their build-up play and attacking game is more based on coincidence and they are mostly dangerous from outside the box.

    And now Wenger send out a signal by benching Szseszer and Vermaelen while also Theo was subbed before the final whistle.

    And let’s be honest. Against Swansea in the first 20 minutes we were outplayed for 15 minutes because we were defending too deep while our attacking players wanted to press higher up the pitch. But for the first time I saw Arsenal doing a tactical adjustment during a half (most of the time we have to wait till after the break, when Wenger can speak to the players in the dressingroom) whitch for me is a proof that the players read the game better now. After 20 minutes our lines where much closer to eachother and from then on we Swansea couldnt play their passing game on our half.

    I also noticed we defend more sharply. Against Munich we already could see that when the oppononent has the ball close to the box, one midfielder or defender will put pressure on the ball so they cant take a decent shot away. Before that we often left too much space for the player with the ball and thats why we concede too many long range shots.

    I think we will be above the tiny todds in 3-4 games (they have to face Swansea, Everton, Chelsea and City), but it’s important to win all of our games so we have some space to drop points, because we still have 2-3 tough fictures to go.

    Eventually I think we will finish third, Chelsea fourth and the fifth place will be a battle between Everton and Spurs.

  • Dutchie

    * tiny tots

  • Mike

    As an aside, if I’m not mistaken about 15 or 20 years ago we lost away to Bradford who did not have a shot on target thanks to a Martin Keown own goal……

  • JohnW

    It will all depend on the next with Reading. If we win that, the pressure will be to much on Sp*rs. Should we lose or even draw, it will be too bad for us. Remember this team becomes jittery when playing at home.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    John,

    A lot of the ‘jitters’ at home are magnified greatly by the supporters, the home fans need to be fully behind the team at all times, even if things don’t seem to be going smoothly on the pitch. We have a choice to make or break the team effort – lets magnify it! If we moan at every mistake the team will pick up on it and become too cautious. Lets become the twelfth man and at least counter the effects of the referees!

  • nicky

    It would seem fair to assume that next term Arsenal will be playing CL or Europa football.
    If the latter, it will not be the end of our great Club. A one-season drop out of the top four(as Tony suggests) would be a small price to pay for a re-grouping.
    With the new money becoming available, a bright horizon beckons. A number of contracts will come to an end during the Summer and the players will move on, leaving room for some judicious signings.
    Following the positive displays in our last two games, I anticipate our usual surge for points in the final third of the season.

  • The font

    It is important to stck together at the emirates and get behind the team if a loud mouth jumps up and shouts abuse at anything arsenal tell him he has made his point and to shout up sit down and get behind the team I believe at least 90% of the crowd will applaud you for doing so it is not a coincidence how our home form has been bad and our away form has been terrific do not let the MEDIA WIN finishing above the spuds will feel like winning the champions league after the abuse our club has suffered from the press

  • Rufusstan

    On Possession, it simply comes down to the old adage: ‘its not what you’ve got; its what you do with it’.

    The run in still has so many potential twists and turns that I am not even trying to predict the outcome; just strapping in to enjoy the ride.

    Its been a good weekend, winning one of our toughest games, and the neighbors losing one of their easiest. We have not had any real consistency this season, now would be a good time to change that.

    Funnily enough, Everton might have the most control over their destiny of all the clubs in contention. I thought they were falling away until they beat City, and they still have to play everyone else in the table above.

  • gouresh

    Does this go to prove that winning is more important that figures which can be manipulated to ones own benefit?

  • OMGArsenal

    Possession, at least in the Arsenal’s case has NEVEr meant all that much, but finishing off our chances has. Year after year we see AFC outplaying, out-possessing and out-shooting their opponents but not scoring the chances they worked so hard to earn. My first post as a neophyte Gooner was exactly about this. I watched Reyes, Cesc, Bendtner, Vela,Walcott and others shoot and miss so often that when Eduardo arrived and seemed to be the fox-in-the -box we’d all hoped for, my heart leapt. His loss meant we returned to our profligacy and wasted chances and the tradition continues with Giroud missing endless absolute sitters and Gervinho requiring a guide dog to point him at the net…despite proving he can do it last weekend.
    Possession is 9/10ths of the law but scoring is the real issue with AFC. Henry and Bergkamp were deadly marksmen when we needed them….Poldi, Cazorla, Walcott. the OX and Giroud can be sharpshooters, given the chance. Watching AOC on Saturday scuffing two great shots off the bar reminded me that we have a potential star on our hands. Once he adjusts his natural shot a bit, we will see some screamers from him. Walcott has a Henryesque type of skill in placing his shots and the speed to get into position to do just that. Ramsey has a wayward foot but once he gets that under control, watch out.

  • elkieno

    One problem, we have stupid internationals as usual just when things start going good for us!!!
    I will be praying to the football gods for an injury free return for our players.
    Also dropping el l capitan and sczesny has had a good effect on us for sure. What a gamble though to play a keeper that hadn’t played since Feb 2012!!! I wonder why maybe at trainig he saw sons good plays from them?
    Imagine if it back fired? In the CL maybe get away with it, but the league?
    Anyway let’s go boys, 2 weeks almost to wait with baited something or other?

  • ARSENAL 13

    Yup…we have to win our game. And each one of them.

    I have a weird dream last night……we finished 2nd ahead of Man City and Chelsea. And we had an open bus ride.

    Mathematically possible though…

  • Yeah yeah as always guys have you forge-ten with the Arsenal, CLASS IS PERMANENT AND FORM IS TEMPORARY so that sum it up all. So if our neighbors where on form for a while its,its … hmmm kind of gone and hmm… class comes in. I love the Arsenal.

  • Red-Man

    Hi Tony – Just a thought:

    “…Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson has said that his club’s bid for European football is far from over despite the defeat at Southampton.

    For Liverpool to achieve this, they need for their side to win three games that Arsenal simultaneously lose, and for Everton to lose at least their game in hand.”

    Isn’t Liverpool’s task somewhat more onerous than this, as Everton’s game in hand is against us?

  • bob

    “Even if the unthinkable happens, and we drop out of the top four after so many years in the Champions League, I still think everything will be in place for us to move back into the top four within one season.”
    Mr. Attwood,
    You’ve now got it all covered, going forward. Never here an actual analysis of WHY we are in this season’s precarious position; it’s only don’t worry (outside 4th is nothing, we have supposed money in reserve, and we’ll be attractive no matter what because we’re not Liverpool) so be happy. If that’s what your brand of tribalism means, it’s any argument for the badge will do, thank you very much. Other brands of tribalism look for what is wrong on the pitch, who is accountable within HQ and on the pitch, and how can we re-make ourselves better. You equate that kind of tribal support as either AAA or Usmanovite. Imo, your tribalism is, well, don’t worry be happy means you’re a real gooner. Well, the story of this season’s woes and hopeful return to fourth place -from the summer departures to the present moment of relative optimism – could have been well analyzed as we go, but not remain an Untold story. If, hopefully, we do finish in the top 4, you’ll be going on about how all the doomsayers were soooooo wrong in their critique (without differentiating among the types of criticisms and their intentions). But the fact is, this season, whether we finish in the (told you so) top four or not, could have been so much more than you would have people settle for. Even as you prepare readers for we’re in such good shape that a non-top 4 finish – seen as the minimum acceptable standard – won’t matter because we’re in such good shape: as if sell-out attendance at the Ems (the economy nothwithstanding) is a guaranteed constant; as if there’s no penalty for a non-4th place finish in the Emirates agreement (something Untold in these parts, if I’m not mistaken); as if you already KNOW that a non-4th finish is compatible with a set of purchases (which of course have to be the “typical under the radar” bargain variety) that might/will exceed the reckless conservatism of the zero net transfer window policy (that you have tacitly defended, without saying it out loud). With respect for the fine work that you customarily do on many issues, I find your tribalism narrow and one that befogs readers minds. I prefer an all-told clear-eyed love for the badge, as per the ref reviews; not the untold lens-crafted love for the badge that your postings like this one perform. But hey, don’t worry; cause we’re not Liverpool now, are we.

  • bob

    Mr. Attwood,
    How does this “possession isn’t everything” truism square with the long-standing citations here and everywhere of how our massive advantages in possession have been a signature hallmark of our side? Perhaps some (recent) historical perspective on this change of perception would be called for? And is this now the elusive proof positive that yes, we do have more flexible tactics than the AAA would ever admit to?