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October 2016
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The truths about turning Arsenal into champions, which are no truths at all.

By Tony Attwood

In recent weeks I have been trying to point out that the commonly accepted truths of football are not truths at all.

To take one simple example of this from this past weekend when Stewart Robson held forth on Talk Sport about how Arsene Wenger had presided over a continuing injury crisis at the club.  It is something that is widely believed.

But the figures (be they based on the number of player days lost in a season, or the number of injuries sustained in a season) show Arsenal in the upper half of the injury table, along with the other teams at the upper end of the league table, but most certainly not at the top.

And now I am starting to ask why.  Why is it that the way football is reported on radio, TV, in the press, and in the click bait bloggettas, is so false?  Why are these myths continued?  Why are we so constantly misled?

One theory that I have come across says this:

“Through the deliberate proliferation of clutter our access to hard information is deliberately being reduced…. So the science of rationality is being pushed aside to make way for new superstitions.”

I want to examine this, for superstitions is most certainly what we now have.  If you are a regular reader of Untold you will find numerous articles on each of these areas:

  1. Transfers – the more a club spends has little relationship to where it ends up in the league table – and thus transfer expenditure as something important is one of the great myths of football.
  2. A top goalscorer in the team is essential.  This is neither true in reflection of how often the top scorer in the league is with the club that wins the league, nor in terms of team positions generally.  Two good strikers are better than one out and out star striker.  The more players who can score the better.
  3. Goals are everything – not really, because last season the difference in the number of goals scored between the club that won the league and the club that came 7th was just three goals.  (Incidentally the top scorer for the club that came 7th got just nine goals).
  4. Changing managers is good – actually no it isn’t.   There is no positive relationship in the Premier League between changing the manager and improving the club but there is a negative relationship.  The more you change managers, the lower the team’s average position.
  5. Reducing complex issues to single items is helpful – but actually it isn’t.  This list shows it, and there are many more examples.  Arsenal need this or that, they don’t do this or that; every time we look at the statistics they show that simple single-issue solutions don’t have the influence we might expect.  It is much more complex than that.
  6. Arsenal need to spend more.   Clearly the top two teams in the League last season were not the biggest of spenders, and two of the big spenders (Chelsea and Man U) failed to make it to the Champions League.  The current list of the top ten most expensive players coming into the League includes two players bought by Arsenal: Granit Xhaka and Mesut Özil.  Yes indeed Man U, Man C and Chelsea – and of course Liverpool – buy more players and more expensive players, but it doesn’t do them much good. And it is not as if Arsenal simply never buy expensive players at all.
  7. Arsenal get more injuries.   We’ve dealt with it so often it is getting boring.  They don’t – no matter how you analyse it.
  8. Arsenal’s problem is that they don’t shoot enough – except that last season Leicester had 49 fewer shots than Arsenal.  Liverpool who came 8th in the league had 57 more shots than Arsenal.  Shooting isn’t allied to success except that clubs near the top tend to shoot more than clubs near the bottom, because the clubs near the top have more possession.

What you’ll never find mentioned

Of course this isn’t just about things that are wrongly pronounced upon day after day, but also about issues that are never pointed out.  Through the recent analysis on Untold we’ve seen that

  1. Arsenal are worse treated by the media than other teams indeed Arsenal stories are four time more likely to be negative than those of some other top teams.  And yet this is the club that came second last year, ahead of Liverpool and Man U (for example) who get far fewer negative stories than Arsenal.  I don’t know if this affects Arsenal’s performance but I think it affects the willingness of some players to come to the club.
  2. Building a brand new stadium and avoiding relegation.  This is a story that is never mentioned – except in a negative way… and I’ve not mentioned it much of late, so I’ll pause and dwell on this for a moment.

Recently I mentioned the fact that Arsene Wenger’s work allowed Arsenal to stay in the top four all these years while the stadium was being built, and this brought in a load of sneering comments suggesting that I thought the stadium is more important than winning trophies.

But in the Talk Sport programme that I mentioned above, and referred to the other day, in which Robson was given free reign to attack Arsenal, it was pointed out that Arsenal take more money on a match day than any other football club in the world.  In fact it was mentioned four times in the space of a minute by Danny Baker.

Now that money is the money which, in part, funds the club, to buy players like Ozil, Alexis and Xhaka.  (It incidentally doesn’t mean that the club has the most expensive tickets overall – that is another myth and one we’ve debunked many times – it is just that the design was such that it provided a large number of seats for the very wealthy who will pay a fortune for the wining and dining experience along with the game).

Without the building of the stadium, not only would far fewer fans be able to get to games, but also Arsenal would have less money to spend on players now.

But there is more, because our investigation into what happened to other clubs that built new stadia is that they were most likely to be relegated – largely because they then had no money to spend on players.  This is why West Ham and Man C were so delighted to be given stadia for nothing, and why Chelsea look on smugly knowing that their owner will pay for their new stadium.  The issue for Tottenham is the interesting one – we are still looking to see where that money is coming from.

Thus the commonplace notions about what Arsenal need to do – and indeed into what works and what doesn’t work in football – are all wrongly announced day after day.  Transfers, new managers, top scorer – they are as likely to make matters worse than they are to make them better.

So what does work?

This is much harder to pronounce upon, and indeed if anyone knew, they would most certainly do it all the time.  But it is indeed interesting that while the media in all its forms demands more of what doesn’t work (and how bizarre is that – they really do urge us to do what we can show doesn’t work – and I will look at why they do this in a forthcoming article) the list of what does work is limited.

  1. Inventiveness and unexpected tactics.   It is often said that Arsene Wenger only knows how to play one way but this is a truly bizarre statement.  We’ve seen him withdraw teams and concede possession, just as we have seen him play a pressing game.  We’ve seen him work the single centre forward and the twin centre forwards.  We’ve seen 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1.  His tactics reflect the opposition and what he has available in the team.
  2. Luck is clearly a major factor.    Anderson and Sally’s book “The Money Game” is fundamentally flawed, as I have pointed out before, but on the issue of luck I think they are absolutely right.  Luck not only brings a goal or doesn’t, depending on the minutest of swerves of the ball, luck also affects the psychology of the players on the pitch, and thus affects the rest of the game.  To an extent players make their own luck, but only to an extent.
  3. Referees that are with you.  Some people disbelieve the vast array of statistical analysis both on Untold and on Referees Decisions.  If they don’t want to believe the evidence I can’t do anything about it except say, dedicate the thousands of hours that the Untold team has dedicated to the issue, use referees to do the analysis and see what result you get.  There is a problem with refereeing – and it was interesting that last season a few newspapers did begin to pick up on the issue and did show that Arsenal were being unfairly penalised.
  4. Sociology, social psychology, psychology.  Put another way “team spirit” and “mental strength”.  Impossible to gauge from the stands,  but massively important as anyone who has ever led a team (be it sporting or a group of people working in a business) will know.  Encouraging the unsure, dealing with the bully, evolving a group feeling… it is all unseen and often unmeasurable but still incredibly important.
  5. Unexpectedly low injury rates.  That is what Leicester had last season, and if you want to go for one reason why they won the league, you can try this one.  Half way through last season they were running at just 10% of the level injuries sustained by the worst-hit club (Newcastle).  Leicester maintained that run through the whole of the season.

Next time we come to this topic: how have the newspapers influenced the way football is reported – or is it as I suggested above

“Through the deliberate proliferation of clutter our access to hard information is deliberately being reduced…. So the science of rationality is being pushed aside to make way for new superstitions.”

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23 comments to The truths about turning Arsenal into champions, which are no truths at all.

  • Norman14

    On the point of non factual reporting (lies in other words):

    This morning, Sky Sports through their own form of click bait (Sky Sources) claimed:

    “Manager Arsene Wenger is keen to strengthen his squad ahead of the new season, but saw a bid in the region of £30m for Lacazette rejected by the French Ligue 1 club last week.”

    The truth is, that the bid was NOT rejected last week. In fact, it wasn’t rejected. The offer of £29 million was made early in the window, and Lyon chose to ignore it. That is a bit different to rejecting it, and last week, the French club did come out and say they had received the offer and ignored it. The offer was made (and ignored) very early because State Aid United then offered more, which was also ignored/rejected.

    So to say it was rejected last weak is a lazy and pathetic piece of journalism.

    Part of the “rejection/ignored” statement was that Lyon do not expect Arsenal will come back – in fact their President (apparently a friend of Arsene) said “Arsenal won’t return”.

    Just to get more click bait, the dreadful “Sky Sources” are now saying that they “understand Arsenal will make an improved offer”.

    The fact is, that they know bugger all – they are making up stories, then when these trnsfers don’t happen, they can print negative rubbish about Arsenal Football Club.

    One thing we can be sure of – when Arsenal FC announce a new player, then we can believe that we have signed somebody.

  • Richard

    Excellent piece Tony, your right of course there are many things that need to go right to win the league. Now needing a new attacking player we do not need one to fire us to league title but to give us depth and versatility. Same as a defender we need one not to improve the defense but to give us greater depth. The sociology and social psychology aspect was interesting. I believe in part where we are a throw away society in that if something is not working at its best rather than repair or tune it we go and replace it and discard the old has filtered over into football and if a manager or player is perceived as performing badly or is actually performing badly the cry from the multitudes is replace them. One thing you haven’t covered is how a teams supporters can have an effect on their season and how this might impact upon the team. It is notable that away from home Arsenal played with more freedom and seemed more at ease and at home the performances dipped and players seemed tense and unable to play with same ease as they did away from home.

  • Leon

    Norman 14

    In my life I’ve been ignored by (just) a few women which I took to be a rejection. It’s the same difference.

  • Marianne

    I also heard the start of that interview with Mr Robson but then switched off due to his excessive negativity. Sorry but the compere was Danny Kelly not Danny Baker.

  • Pat


    Good reminder about the Lyon facts. It is hard to remember these details if you can find them in the first place. They are soon replaced by a different version of the truth – lies – which then gets repeated until it becomes what people believe to be true.

    Sadly this is the case also with many things more important than football.

  • Andy Mack

    I think the State Aid bid for Lacazette was ignored because he’s stated that he wouldn’t move to a non CL competing club, irrespective of the value of the bid.

  • Pete

    Some really good stuff on here over the last few weeks – sorry I have been unavailable to comment.

    Agree with all this – very sound – other than regarding injuries.

    The fact of the matter is that “Injury League” ( ) has us with 5th worst injury record last season.

    The previous five seasons we were:

    5th worst (2014/15)
    3rd worst
    2nd worst
    2nd worst (2010/11)

    So we are showing some limited progress, but still in the last quartile. And still huge potential for improvement. On average, we were missing 6 first team squad players at any one time last season.

  • Mick

    I am pleased but a bit surprised to see Ozil and Sanchez back with team in such apparently happy moods judging by the looks on their smiling faces. I thought from what I have read in the media that both were unhappy and disillusioned with Wengers lack of transfer activity and consequently would be looking to pursue their careers elsewhere.
    Another non factual story made up by the media lie peddlers?

  • Zedsaunt

    Tribalism corrodes everything it touches. The toxic becomes commonplace. Metaphor ceases to describe reality and becomes reality.

    Consequently the ability to see the edge before you get to the edge appears to have been misplaced. Oliver Sacks could describe it in neurological terms, conceive and carry out a rehabilitation programme, take delight in the new world that appears as a consequence for the person and the doctor as a consequence of the phased rehabilitation. Mr Wenger has no such space. Mr Wenger has to function in a reality that has passed the absurd.

    He has to heal through winning. That might be the greatest superstition of all – to win at all costs! Nobody even knows where the director of this theatre can be found.

    When the lads play ManU there could be a £100 million player on the field and lingering shots of Sam Allardyce on a seat watching in his role as England manager.

  • Ryan F

    It’s all to easy to give into a persecution complex and blame Arsenal’s failings on referees, the media, bad luck, the FA, or the infighting caused by the Wenger Out Brigade.

    I would rather read a few articles from an Anti-Arsenal perspective than a bunch of anodyne pro-Arsenal propaganda stories. I like to see different opinions, hear alternative viewpoints.

    If you take the negativity with a pinch of salt, don’t let it get you down, it’s all pretty harmless, in the grand scheme of things.

    I much prefer your articles on Arsenal’s history, or good pieces of journalism like your article on the FA the other week, than all this ‘the world is against us’ stuff.

    In my view, a blinkered, rose-tinted pro-Arsenal bent is just as bad as the opposite. Good football writing has balance.

  • Zedsaunt

    I can read anti-Arsenal perpectives just by opening a computer or walking into a supermarket and turning the newspapers over to look at the backpages.

    I can hear the anti-Arsenal perpective just by getting onto a bus and listening to passengers talking about Mr Wenger.

    What I do not get, other than from this site or running into posivitive Arsenal fans in different cities and towns, is something about Arsenal that gives a perspective beyond the perspective found at the bottom of the basement bucket.

    The sheer joy of watching this morning’s friendly – there was no parked bus, no obvious pgmo representative officiating, no so-called fans looking sullen, no theatre of the deranged before and after, no lingering camera focus on the face of the manager to register the tension of the event, no stacked ranks of media present to call the result on the wayside markings to Armageddon – there was absolutely no reason for it to exist outside of the Arena Of The Deranged, except, just as a deliughtful reminder, that football can sometimes be the exercise of beauty and movement and skill, that players might want to play, that players, when they say, ”I’m getting paid for something I enjoy,” might, just might, every once in the while, get an opportunity to romp around.

  • Kenneth Widmerpool

    Zedsaunt-top and smart posts. It is, sadly past the absurd. I especially liked the 2.36pm post-that last paragraph says it all.

  • omgarsenal

    Great article Tony, once again! Zedsaunt, you summed it up perfectly! Have you considered writing for UA?

  • Mandy Dodd

    Think I heard that recent Stewart Robson drivel on Talksport.
    Was that the interview, where SR directly stated, hinting at insider knowledge, that RVP left the club over inferior medical facilities….you know, the same RVP, who, off his own back attempted some sort of horse placenta treatment on an injured knee during an international break and put himself out for several months, when we really needed him…..
    yet nobody challenged Robson….a bit like the mouthy Dutch fitness coach, he makes a career out of being wheeled out when some idiot hack wants to have a go at Arsenal or Wenger.

  • Edda1971

    Great article as always Tony! I read something in a newspaper today that got me abit upset (why do I even bother?), but it also made me wonder if that is something someone on this site could make an article about. The story what about transfer and transfer policy and the comment that Arsene Wenger made about Pogba’s transfer saga and that 100m+ for a player is crazy, which i totally agree. But one of the talking points of the article was that the 100mill pounds payed for Pogba would pay itself back only in replica shirt sales. And my first thought was that is not possible ? For me this is just another myth made by the media to promote crazy tranfers, but what do I know ?

  • Tom

    Perhaps it’s more about hitting the sweet spot than any one particular point you mention.

    For instance, while it’s true Arsenal haven’t been the most injured team in the last five seasons, they have been the only team consistently in the top five most injured in the last five seasons.

    So if you are consistently one of the most injured teams, get consistently screwed by referees( which I believe to be true), consistently fail to address glaring needs in the transfer market, then the combined average of factors that go into a title winning season is always below what’s needed to win it.

    Leicester didn’t spend anywhere near what other richer clubs did last season, but they introduced four new regulars into their line up, something many on here have said repeatedly it couldn’t be done without effecting the cohesion of the team.
    So they addressed the needs of the squad, got very lucky with injurie( less matches helped them here) , got help from referees( by luck or maybe not) and the rest is history.

    The season before it was Chelsea who hit the sweet spot.
    To the already talented squad, they added the players they thought they needed (Costa, Fabregas and others), got the least amount of injuries in the league by a big margin and won the league.

    The season before it was City’s year.
    Again, a couple of high profile additions in Fernandinho and Jovetic , a very low injury total( half of Arsenal’s that year) , and a huge stroke of luck in the shape of Brandan Rogers ‘ idiotic tactics and Gerard’s slippery footwear at the tail end of the season.

    The season before it was Fergies last hurrah.
    Again, a key signing of RVP, a relatively modest injury record( not great at 186 points, but better than Arsenal’s in any of the last five seasons), and of course his usual ” luck” with referees was what made it posible for United to run away with the title.

    Unless Arsenal have an unusually lucky season in respect to one or two of these main factors: key additions, low injury haul, luck, ref decisions going their way…, it will be next to impossible to win the league this season again.

    The only two Arsenal can control to some degree are transfers and injury prevention, and we haven’t been great at either.

    Of course there’s the question whether Arsenal can overcome the referees bias with a better injury record and a more aggressive transfer approach, but we won’t know until they do both those things.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Won’t dispute the research on the number of injuries, but we don’t half lose some key players, quite often more than one at once, and usually for quite a long time…..or at least that is my perception!
    Last autumn…..we had Danny , coq, caz, Alexis , I think Kos as well for a while, Per, Ox, Gibbs,Theo all out in pretty much one spell. Think we had nine first teamers out at one point? Would be interesting to have an injury table, weighted on the relative importance of players……actually, maybe impossible.
    But, ultimately,I am pretty sure our treatment from refs has a very major influence on these injuries. Leicester were given more pens than us, by a very significant factor. Yet our boys are traditionally a more attacking, possession based team. That to me suggests, for whatever reason, and I have my suspicions, LCFC were being looked after by refs to a greater extent than our team, heading for two years without a penalty at home in the EPL.

  • finsbury

    I see the owner of State-Aid Utd got the same treatment for making a tweet about a player who was going to sign. Oh. Wait. That was a lie: He didn’t.

    I think this is where Kronke needs to bust out the krunk. Announce transfer deals in person in advance on Twitter. No? What could go wrong, I ask you all? It would satiate the baying braggarts (it wouldn’t), and also work wonders with the agents too.

    The understanding that 99% of football fans already have, that some agents have more power and influence in he game then 99% of clubs is the real story that no 24/7 footy hack has the guts to cover (others, to their credit, they do!).

  • Top Guns

    Tony – I am sorry but this article is just a load of rubbish. If what you say is true Arsenal would have won the league at least once in the previous decade. We clearly haven’t, so perhaps a fresh approach is required?

    Leicester City – changed their manager, won the title
    Manchester City in previous years did the same, so have Chelsea

    That is just one point where you are clearly wrong. You need to back up your stats with facts, what you have written is just waffle.

  • Menace

    Top Guns – Simon Cowell is looking for you on Britains Got Talent. You seem to be able to make success into failure because there is no pot at the end.

    A fully subscribed stadium with a waiting list is success. The top 4 finish is financial security & temptation for players wanting CL is success. Making me happy with the football todays Arsenal play is success. Trophies would be nice but I can understand why they don’t come easy.

    Big Sam is the England Manager & he hasn’t won a sausage (he might have eaten a few!!). Chase him for a while, Top Guns & entertain a few others.

  • Matthew

    I wouldn’t go getting thin-skinned about stuff “the media” says. Arsenal’s fate will be decided on the pitch.

  • Top Guns

    Menace – good name for you but you are certainly not an Arsenal supporter.

    You actually make me quite sick if the best you can come up with is to equate a season ticket waiting list as success. Why are you bothered about financial security? The club is rich beyond comprehension even if it didn’t charge supporters for every game they attend next season! We don’t even play entertaining football anymore.

    You are a brainwashed fool if you continue to believe the PR spin coming out of the Emirates these days.

  • Matthew, I’m not quite sure you understood what the article was about.