by Tony Attwood
One of the points about Untold Arsenal is that it gives an outlet for those of us who want to explore specific issues with evidence, rather than just opinion.
That’s not to say there is anything wrong with opinion, it is just that after a while, opinion on its own gets a bit dull, unless it can be backed up by facts and figures.
Of course those who don’t like the conclusions that are then reached will often write in and say “you can prove anything with statistics,” (along with the famous, “98% of all statistics are made up,” first heard from Benjamin Disraeli, but quite possibly of earlier origin).
The interesting point about the attempts to debunk anything that we find using numbers is that for the most part they come from people who, during the years when Arsenal have not been at the top of the league, quote the league table – itself a set of statistics. And the number of years that Arsenal have gone without winning the league. Another statistic!
So I am not in the “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” school of thought, and indeed in my working life in an advertising agency my colleagues and I use stats all the time in order to gain increased sales for our customers.
And thus I’ve been interested this season to see a slight movement towards the use of statistics in football by football journalists. They still want to keep taking transfer talk seriously (ignoring the fact that over 99% of transfer rumours don’t result in transfers). But they are at least getting more grounded in reality.
But to return to statistics – even very simple statistics can help us debunk some of the nonsense spouted by the anti-Arsenal movement when they said, for example, that Wenger doesn’t spend enough on players.
These figures come from transferleague.co.uk and show the amount spent and received across the last five years.
|Club||Purchased £||Sold £||Nett spend||Lge pos|
Even if we take sales out of the equation and just look at the money spent we still can’t get the figures to align with league position.
|Club||Spend £||£ / season||League pos|
The table has only a partial relationship to money spent.
This is one of the statistical messages we have been focussing on for quite a long time, along with the fact that changing managers also does not have any relationship to improving or declining results. The results can go up, or they can go down – and even if you take the pedigree of the manager into account you still can’t predict outcomes.
A new manager can soon be taken apart by the media and fans as indeed has happened at Man U with both of their last managers – and (as people often forget) happened to Ferguson at the start.
Barney Ronay in the Guardian touched on this recently. It is not the prime focus of his piece, but he does move into the issue of both players and managers by noting that Klopp, “took three settled years to create his thrillingly disciplined Borussia Dortmund team.” Somehow this is being forgotten by Liverpool. And as Ronay goes on to say, because of the Liverpudlian policy of sacking manages, is now “struggling to untangle the threads of a squad acquired by three different managers, under different conditions, to entirely different coaching and tactical ends.”
He goes on to point out that in “the last five years Liverpool have signed 50 players, almost a team a year”.
Elsewhere not only did Ferguson come close to being sacked early in his Man U career (I’ll come to this in a moment), in his last season “United lost Paul Pogba for nothing and bought five players for £53m who have all since left the club. To stutter in these circumstances, to be still sifting and sorting 18 months on is less a sign of loopiness and over-theorising, more evidence of how frantic elite level English football has become.”
Frantic indeed – and loopy. By throwing out statistics and analysis and endlessly promoting one-off simplistic solutions, like “sack the manager”, English football has descended into the realms of random nonsensical gibberish.
And it is not just at the Premier League level. Of the 92 managers in the four top leagues in England, half of them have been in the job for under a year. Only 23 have been in post for two years or more.
So the vast majority of managers are actually working on undoing the work of the previous person who was deemed to have failed, and trying to put it all right again, knowing that they have under a year to do it.
And all this turmoil is based on nothing scientific, nothing mathematical, just feeling. Of course feeling can something be correct – but it is more likely to be wrong than right. If feeling and intuition did work, the number of managers being sacked would be far less!
What does seem to happen is that when a new manager comes in there can be a lift. Players focus harder perhaps, everyone knows they might be moved on if they do show up well. But it doesn’t last, and quickly the old problems return, and so another manager is paid off, and the next one comes in.
Worse, according to a report on the BBC in September last year, “Fifty-six percent of first-time managers never work in the top four divisions again.” Thus, men who could become decent managers, maybe excellent managers, if allowed to settle, get thrown out quickly, and never get a chance to come back.
As the Guardian article says, “Perhaps it might even be time to acknowledge – and here’s a thought – that sacking your manager might just be the problem here not the solution. Getting rid of Van Gaal may even be the best option right now. But it also creates another set of problems, propagates its own failure, offers the next man the same set of pitfalls.
“This is not just a Premier League fixation. At Real Madrid Zinedine Zidane has now followed Rafa Benítez, who followed Carlo Ancelotti, who followed José Mourinho, who followed Manuel Pellegrini: different styles, different tactics, different training methods. The result is emerging talents get lost, tenderly nurtured careers come to an abrupt halt . Even star players – witness Gareth Bale’s tentative reflowering in recent weeks – need to start again.”
Of course there are some who can take it and keep going. Despite the negative publicity and disgusting behaviour of journalists in his first days in England, Mr Wenger has kept going. And let’s be fair, no matter what, Mauricio Pochettino just seems to get on with it and get decent results.
The curious thing is that although the very silly people in the aaa don’t like Mr Wenger, he is the exception. He hit the ground running… and kept winning, very few others enter and succeed so quickly. Here’s what happened at Arsenal…
|1994/95||Graham||12th||R3||Cup Winners’ Cup|
The complaint against Wenger that was made by the minority – the aaa – was not that he didn’t get going quickly enough (as is the complaint against most managers) but that having delivered absolute heaven, he couldn’t keep it up in the face of Arsenal spending its money on a stadium, and Chelsea and Man C being sponsored by people of unimagined wealth.
As the Guardian says, “Van Gaal took three years to win his first league title at Ajax, and four to win the champions league. It took Klopp three years to finish above fifth place in the Bundesliga.” It took Arsene Wenger one season to build a team that won the double and four more seasons to do it again.
Assuming Man U do sack their manager this season, or at the end of it, there is no guarantee that their third attempt to bring in a manager to replace Ferguson, will work.
Simply because they would not put up with a record like this…
|Season||Lge pos||FA Cup||Lge Cup||Europe|
That was Ferguson’s record in his four opening seasons.
Would any manager of one of the bigger clubs now get four years to win just the FA Cup? Certainly not. Had Ferguson actually started at Man U in the 21st century he wouldn’t have got past the third second, and possibly not the first or second.
My point overall is that the rejection of all statistics along with context is completely wrong. My hope is that when Mr Wenger does leave, Arsenal won’t fall into the trap of dismissing the next manager if he doesn’t hit the high spots as fast as Mr Wenger. Even Herbert Chapman, our one other great reforming revolutionary manager took five years to win the FA Cup and six to win the league.
Two more anniversaries
8 January 1927: Sheffield U 2 Arsenal 3 as Arsenal started the journey to their first FA Cup final. Prior to the arrival of Herbert Chapman, Arsenal had reached the cup semi-final twice – in 1906 and 1907, but had lost both times.
8 January 1949: Arsenal 3 Tottenham 0 in FA Cup round 3. It was the first FA Cup match between the two. McPherson, Roper and Lishman scored. It was the first time in four seasons Arsenal had made it past the third round.