By Tony Attwood
You might remember the old tales that Arsenal were never serious contenders for winning the league because they didn’t beat enough of the other teams in the top four.
In this argument beating other top four clubs was defined as a clear indicator of the club’s power and progress.
This year’s table of the top four against each other makes interesting reading
Ah, but this year is odd, it could be argued, because we have more than four top teams. This year Leicester is up there, not the normal top four. So OK, let’s do the analysis by the top six playing each other.
Nope still the same result. So the notion of how well you do against the other top teams telling you the secret of whether you will be top of the league overall or not, turns out to be nonsense. Although that table might show you that the revival of Man U is unlikely to happen, given that they are not doing particularly well against other top teams and have more top six games left to play than anyone else.
This story about how to define success, is in fact merely the latest in a whole stream of stories which indicate the core reason behind how well a club does or not.
We’ve also had the one about how much money a club spends either in the summer (remember, “Arsenal, the only club not to buy an outfield player in the summer”) and the amount spent minus the amount received over a five year period.
Here are the figures allied to the games against the top six table, with Chelsea added for the sake of comparison as it was the third biggest nett spender last summer, and the third biggest spender in the last five years.
|Club||Pld||W||D||L||Pts||Net spent 2000-5||Net spent summer 05|
|Man U (6)||6||2||3||1||9||£300m||£33m|
|Man C (4)||8||0||3||5||3||£322m||£124m|
*Following investigations by the Spanish authorities and the European Commission into Real Madrid’s financial situation vis a vis Spanish banks, questions have been raised about the way transfers between Tottenham and Real Madrid have been costed and conducted and this figure may not be accurate.
So there doesn’t seem to be a relationship with money spent either. But we have also had the issue of whether the club changes managers or not. Does changing managers help?
- Chelsea – manager appointed December 2015
- WHU – manager appointed summer 2015
- Leicester – manager appointed summer 2015
- Man U – manager appointed summer 2014
- Tottenham – manager appointed summer 2014
- Man C – manager appointed summer 2013, told he would be leaving at end of this season
- Arsenal – manager appointed October 1996
In fact none of these simplistic criteria relate to the clubs’ league position. So, it must be injuries!
I only have the season’s injury figures for the number of player days lost up 15 January this year, but I doubt that the comparative position has changed much.
- Leicester 184 player days lost
- Arsenal 465 players days lost
- West Ham 583 player days lost
- Tottenham Hotspur 668 player days lost
- Manchester Utd 752 player days lost
- Manchester City 769 player days lost
At that time Watford had the lowest number of player days lost and Newcastle the worst. But the BBC who did this analysis made this telling point:
The six best-performing teams in injury terms – Watford, Leicester, West Brom, Swansea, Norwich and Southampton – are clubs without European commitments.
I would make another point and that is that Leicester’s position is extraordinarily low, compared with the clubs around them, and that next season they are unlikely to be so lucky.
One other point on injuries is that three of the teams with the biggest squads have had more actual injuries (opposed to player days lost) than anyone else in the league – Manchester City (47), Liverpool (39) and Manchester United (39). Arsenal’s figure by this time was 22.
So tentatively we could say that injuries while not the full explanation can have an impact on a club’s position, in a way that games against the top four or six, money spent on transfers and managerial change don’t.
But we always need to be careful with injuries – for ten years we have been told that Arsenal get more injuries than anyone else because of Wenger’s training methods – this research, as we have highlighted before, shows this is quite untrue.
So what is it that keeps a team at or near the top, if not the amount spent, injuries, games against the other top teams or a willingness to change manager?
It certainly looks like it is a range of things ranging from the quality of the players to pure chance (hitting the bar or just going under the bar). I would also add refereeing quality, and the order in which other teams are played.
We know that Arsenal tend to get certain referees over and over again, and that certainly could be a factor. If there is Type III Match Fixing going on (through which Team A “persuades” a ref to be “particularly careful when refereeing games involving Team X) then that certainly could explain some of the results we have seen.
But if the traditional blame-game targets are not the simplistic answer that is sometimes suggested, I suspect the explanation as to why teams do better or worse than expected must be a combination of factors such as injuries combined with refereeing issues combined with luck, combined with playing teams particularly in form combined with… [add your own examples].
Which all seems a bit complicated. But sadly I haven’t finished yet. I think there are two more factors we haven’t yet looked at and these work in harmony.
Lose a couple of games unexpectedly, perhaps by chance, perhaps by referee decisions, perhaps by having a key player injured, and the tension rises. Everyone tries that bit harder.
But everyone who works in sports and the arts knows that trying harder is rarely a solution – to be at your best, whether it is on stage as an actor or musician, or on the pitch as a player, or on the track as an athlete you need to be relaxed as well as focussed. Get too wound up, too focussed and your muscles become too tight, the brain stops taking in everything around you, and that extra inventive edge which is a fundamental part of both team sport and artistic work, vanishes.
But unfortunately, it then gets worse, because the response to such a situation when there is just too much tension is, of course, not only to try harder, but for the fans to demand the players try harder.
This is why players and teams that were doing well can suddenly go on losing runs. They start losing by chance, or just having one bad game, and then they try that bit too hard.
If that were just it, there’d be no problem however because then they would correct it. But if the fans get on their back, or if the players blame themselves too much (or worse, both) they just get worse.
The fans of different clubs react in different ways to their club having a bad day, and unfortunately for us, Arsenal are in a particularly bad position over this with the aaa, although I think Man City (by raising expectations on the basis that money buys everything) have suffered too this season.
It was interesting to see how Tottenham fans reacted against their team to a degree after this weekend’s match – failing to beat 10-man Arsenal who hadn’t won in months… On the other hand the club that is winning just keeps winning because the psychology of both the fans and the players is right.
It pains me to say it but Stoke has supporters who seem to stay with their team no matter what. They are utterly disgraceful in many other ways and indeed with their reaction to Ramsey have put themselves way beyond acceptability in terms of decent human behaviour, but in terms of raising their team’s game, they never waver.
Of course the two don’t have to go together. Stoke fans could probably be even more successful in keeping a very modest bunch of players in the PL if they added a touch of humility to their cause – but such is their support of their team, they do have a positive impact.
The trouble with all this is that it is all a bit complex for the aaa, the pundits and most (although thankfully not all) editors and journalists in the media. They want simple answers, and they most certainly don’t want psychological answers. (Remember the nickname for a psychologist – a trick cyclist. You only get that dismissal of the science – along with the “you can prove anything with stats” gibberish – in the UK and some third world countries. Which is probably why the country’s mental health situation is so awful).
But what the bulk of the mass media want has never been a part of what reality actually is all about, nor what would actually make life better, so no change there.
Anniversaries (more as usual on the home page)
- 7 March 1927: West Ham 7 Arsenal 0. Chapman’s worst defeat (equal to October 23 1926) and the fourth 0-7 that Arsenal had suffered in the first division. It started a sequence of six defeats letting in 26 goals. It was a good job the aaa were not only hand to demand his immediate sacking.
- 7 March 1928: Jimmy Brain got a hat trick to become the first man to score 100 goals for Arsenal as Arsenal beat Liverpool 6-3. Hulme, Buchan and Lambert got the other goals for Arsenal.
- How football could be part of the solution of a nation’s ills.
- Why are Arsenal such a dirty team, and Has the curtain on refereeing been pulled back a little?
The Untold Books
The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon. Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.