By Tony Attwood
This season I’ve bored everyone to death with my thesis that transfers and managerial changes can cause as much havoc in a club as they can bring success. Indeed it is very possible to show that transfers and managerial change is actually more likely to bring a decline or stagnation, than it is to bring success.
Even a club with the wealth of the state behind it like Real Madrid can find that they can make an appointment and it can go wrong. And a quick look at Liverpool! shows that in the very short term at least the super wonder smiley man (who actually from afar seems quite a decent bloke) from Germany, is actually getting pretty much the same out of his team as the derided and hated Rodgers.
So, if transfers don’t deliver (or at least most don’t deliver at once) and managerial changes are more likely to end in failure or more of the same, what signs can we take to see if a club is getting anywhere?
In the time of the Roman Republic (that noble institution undermined by Caesar when he proclaimed himself a God and burned down the Senate) one saw the future by watching the clouds and examining the entrails of slaughtered animals. And quite probably if they had had football in the time of Cicero et al, they would have decided the fate of their club managers in a similar way.
But since I don’t really want to chop up one of the sheep meandering in the fields outside my window, I look for other signs.
One of the constant markers in the season of course is the advent of the 3rd round of the Cup, and I have been pondering quite how Arsenal have been placed at this moment over recent years.
And I find that for Arsenal to go into the 3rd round of the FA Cup at the top of the league has been quite a rarity – and to go into the Cup weekend two points or more clear of our nearest rivals is rarer still. Indeed the last time it happened was eight years ago, when on 2 January 2008 the league table read…
In the form guide the most recent match is on the right. Man U were the form team of that moment – five wins and a draw. Arsenal ended the season in third. Man U won the league five points ahead of us.
Of the handful of seasons where we have gone into the Cup two or more points ahead the biggest lead we had was in January 2003.
There was no really in form team at this moment, although our form of three wins, two draws and a defeat was behind Man U, and the most in form team was Newcastle. Man U won the league, five points ahead of us. Which is as clear an indication as one can get that being top in January doesn’t actually mean too much.
On the other hand, better to have this season’s position than last. Here is how it looked on the eve of the FA Cup 3rd round in 2015.
The form team was Man City, but Chelsea of course won the league.
The last time we were actually top at this moment in the season was two years ago when the table in early 2014 read
Man City were in second, but were very much the form team of the moment and won the league.
The position of the Tiny Totts vis a vis Arsenal when it comes to 3rd round day doesn’t really indicate too much either. Here’s 2013/14 on that day in January.
Man City won the league that year.
Man City won the league on goal difference.
So, trying to make sense of that, we find that in the last four years, the top team in the league before the Cup got going won the league twice (although in one year the top two were tied at this moment,) and the form team of the moment won it once.
So, there is some indication that being near the top and having a fairly decent form is helpful, but it is not definitive. The conclusion is what you already knew. You probably won’t have any fingernails left at the end of the season.
But there is a broader point here – it is not just Arsenal who go up and down the league at different times, although this is the story painted in the media. In the last ten years or so the big story has been that Arsenal have problems with their mentality and that’s why we don’t win the league. The team lacks leaders, the team lacks winners and these men, rather like the auguries in Ancient Rome, are necessary to win the league.
Even in 2015, when we were far and above the most successful team you heard the same ramblings from those whose fundamental vision of life is that if it was said yesterday then it ought to be said again today only louder. Arsenal lack leaders on the pitch. Got that? ARSENAL NEED… you get the idea.
It is a bit like saying the jury is still out on Ozil.
The Arsenal squad includes men who have won the World Cup. Alexis won the Copa America for Chile. And much of this squad has won the FA Cup twice. We have Champions League winners, and if we start counting league titles, the list goes on.
And although I don’t think the “mental strength” argument, and the need for winners idea was ever the reason why Arsenal has not won the league since 2004, I do think that experience counts. What we have in our current team is a couple of youngsters, and the rest are fairly experienced men who’ve seen it all, and mostly done it all.
There is no magic formula to winning the league, or foretelling who will win the league according to what the table was like just before the third round, but if you want to read the signs:
- Three times in the last four seasons, Arsenal have been better in the second half than in the first.
- Being higher up the league and having a better recent record is preferable to having only one, or neither.
- While the last six match results recorded at this time of year are not an absolute guide, they are an indicator of possible success.
- Having men in the team who have won things is better than not.
- You can’t tell much by looking at previous seasons.
Now, where’s that sheep gone?
Insult of the day (our regular riposte to the aaa) “You’d be so lean that blasts of January would blow you through and through.” (He was very rude that Shakespeare fellow).
- 5 January 2002. Watford 2 Arsenal 4: FA Cup 3rd round, the start of the FA Cup victory in the 3rd double season. Henry, Ljungberg, Kanu and Bergkamp scored, but it was Henry who was the star, scoring the first, setting up the second.
- 5 January 2009: Jack Wilshere signed professional forms. He joined Arsenal aged nine, and went on to be an England international and an integral part of the club although his career was beset by injuries in 2014 and 2015.
And in case you missed it…
- Arsenal agree to sign two £29m players in two weeks!
- Arsenal in the 70s, part 14. Jan to June 1975 – trying to send Tottenham down