By Tony Attwood
I wonder when the notion that we can see one event and then generalise out from there, first started. Perhaps it is just something inside all our heads, the “if only I could just have one sign from God, then I’d believe” sort of thing.
But by and large, although using single events to judge a broader arena is silly, it is the favoured occupation of the media and bloggettas. In the real world however most of the time we need some evidence, although the desire to generalise outwards from one example is always there, and has given us everything from nationalism to astrology, from racism to economic forecasting.
So, we lost on the opening day to West Ham and according to Radio 4 this morning that is the end for Arsenal. No chance of anything, forgetting perhaps that even their eternal favourites Man U has previously won the league after losing at home on the first day. (I suspect there are other examples, but that’s one I remember).
But still, the Telegraph will never miss a chance to bash us, and so raged in with Arsenal fans go into shouty meltdown after defeat. I think I might write to the Stadium Manager and suggest that he puts up some signs around the ground saying, “Watch Out, Telegraph Reporter About”.
Supporters react with screaming anguish and internet horror after losing opening game of the Premier League season to West Ham
is just rather insulting, but to be expected of the Telegraph these days.
But looking back, those of us with an ability to remember events longer ago than last week can see that a defeat on the opening day at home is not always a disaster. For example on 17 August 2013 we had Arsenal 1 Villa 3. That was followed by five straight wins and overall eight wins and one draw in the next nine. By the 4th match of the season we were top of the league. Funny ol’ game.
Of course the ultimate clue to the importance of just losing one match is that before the 49 unbeaten, Arsenal actually had an away season unbeaten, showing that it is possible to develop a style particularly suited to away games.
But going back further to opening defeats I particularly remember 19 August 2000 and Sunderland 1 Arsenal 0 – the first game at the Stadium of Light. Roger, Ian and I were there and got totally lost trying to find the new stadium largely because we were doing it by looking for the floodlights.
By game five that year we were 5th (2 wins 2 draws and defeat), but ended the season runners up.
It is interesting that some of the people who are against Wenger tend to argue that George Graham was our best manager of all time, although he tended to be a lot more liable to stumble at the start.
14 August 1993 – Arsenal 0 Coventry 3 was one particularly horrible moment I remember, although next up was Tottenham away and we won, as indeed we won the next four.
But at least that year we only lost the opening game. The year before we lost the first two. 15 August 1992 was Arsenal 2 Norwich 4 (we were 2-0 up), and we then went on and lost the next match (away to Blackburn) and ended up 10th.
Going back further on 19 August 1989 we had Man U 4 Arsenal 1 – a defeat and a half for the opening day, especially galling as we were Champions at the time. We won five, drew two of the next seven, suggesting even heavy defeats don’t necessarily dent us. But there is no regularity to the whole process, because just two years before that, we had (15 August 1987) Arsenal 1 Liverpool 2, followed by a draw away to Man U and a home defeat to QPR . We came 6th.
In fact I suppose we notice the WHU defeat much more because these days opening day defeats are quite rare under Wenger, whereas in earlier years they were fairly common. In 1983/4 and 1982/3 we lost the opening games each time, both times to Stoke once at home and once away.
On the other hand in the 1970/1 season we won the double despite drawing both our opening games.
The point that the opening game tells us nothing much at all can be shown to be completely true when we reverse matters and look for great wins at the start. In 2009/10 we beat Everton 6-1 away on the opening day, and then walloped Portsmouth 4-1 at home, which was as good a start as you can find. We then lost the next two games and by the fourth match were 8th in the league.
On the other hand in 2007/08 we were undefeated in first 15 games but still ended up third.
The fact is that dips can come anywhere any time, and seasons without a dip are very very rare – much rarer than winning the league. Take the 1997/8 double season: on October 18 we started a run of six games in five of which we didn’t score. This was also the start of a run in which we won just four in 12. But as the title “double season” suggests, we won the league and the cup.
So, using one match to show what will happen next doesn’t work. What winning seasons usually have is great runs, and the evidence shows that it doesn’t matter too much where the run is, although great runs in the second half of the season tend to be more important than great runs in the first part.
Anniversary of the day:
- 10 August 2003: The Independent on Sunday predicted Arsenal would finish 5th, while the Observer had Arsenal to win the league. The Sunday Times predicted Arsenal to come third.
The Untold Banner at the Emirates – new update 10 August