By Tony Attwood
During the summer of 2016 Untold set out a number of findings from research into such matters as the success of transfers, the impact of having a top scorer in the team, the efficacy of changing managers, and so on. The aim was to examine some of the potent myths propagated by journalists and bloggettas that surround football in particular and Arsenal in general.
Unfortunately we are currently getting a large number of commentaries from readers who are saying things along the lines that “it is completely obvious to everyone why we need a new centre forward”, when just a short while earlier we have shown with evidence, statistics, and other assorted facts, why there is a solid argument to show this is not the case.
The problem we then have is that Untold sets out in detail, with evidence, a point of view, and then rather than have anyone say, “actually that figure is wrong, or that analysis can be contradicted if one brings into the picture this evidence” we get statements that claim opposite views are “obvious,” without evidence.
I know of course that this approach, of making a personal opinion equal to reasoned logic based on evidence, is the way that journalists and bloggetta writers work. It is fairly easy – one has an opinion and writes it, and who cares about the facts, the evidence, the research, the analysis.
The recent case of the Guardian stating that Arsenal only had two players whose goal tally reached double figures last season was a perfect example which is why I have cited it several times. On the face of it, it appears a clear indictment of Wenger and his methods. Only two players had a goal tally in double figures? Terrible.
Until we check the figures (and we did it because no one else could be bothered – not even the author). But the fact is that Arsenal was one of only five clubs that managed to have two players in double figures – we were at the top end not the “only” end. The club was worthy of praise not of opprobrium for having two scorers.
So we have the endless claims that we need a better goalscorer. Maybe we do – but if we do let’s have some justification as to why we do. We scored three goals fewer than Leicester who won the league, which doesn’t of itself mean we need a new goal scorer. But we were “only” second in the league – so we need to change something to win it. But what?
That is the sort of analysis Untold was set up to bring to anyone who wanted to read – not an endless debate based on assumptions and personal feelings. To give but one other example – the injuries. Even though we have repeatedly given detailed evidence to show that Arsenal is not exceptional in its injury level we had people writing in recently saying “Five players injured and the season hasn’t begun yet” without bothering to check the data we provide – and which many others provide.
Of course such attitudes are encouraged by broadcasters like Talk Sport who had Stewart Robson on claiming that Arsenal under Wenger had the worst injury record of any club. Danny Baker interviewing him just encouraged him to keep ranting. No one suggested that the evidence (which utterly contradicts this) should be gathered.
Now I don’t want to spend my morning repeating everything I have written before about evidence, but I thought it might be handy to bring together links to some of the evidence and analysis we have published – not least so I don’t keep on having to refer correspondents back to specific articles. From now on I can just delete comments that go back over old ground, or if I feel generous, point people to this article.
At the heart of the problem is the notion of evidence, by which I mean using analysis, statistics and other elements of the scientific method to reach a conclusion that can then be tested against further facts, analyses and statistics, to show if it is true. We need this because, as Professor Stefan Stieglitz of the University of Duisburg-Essen wrote (and I have quoted this many times over the summer) because as psychological studies have oft shown, “If people get new information that is in contrast to what they believe then they tend to neglect this new information for as long as possible.”
That is the battle we are fighting. Maybe it is a battle we can never win, but since I believe in the validity of the scientific method, it is a battle I choose to fight.
But we do this a world in which media is actively feeding the myths that we have been looking to expose, and indeed feeding the negativity that some people who proclaim themselves to be Arsenal fans indulge in. The “only” comment above, utterly trivial in itself, is one that I pick on because it is the perfect example of what I am trying to combat.
I have been taken aback by the fact that even after correspondents here have been provided with explanations as to what the scientific method is, what research is, what statistical evidence is, and what logical deduction is, some people still don’t get it. Their view seems to be, “what’s wrong with the evidence of my own eyes?”
The simplistic answer to this of course is that this type of common sense always leads us astray. The sun does not go round the earth although your eyes will tell you it does, gravity exists although you can’t see it and there is no common sense reason as to why, the earth is not flat although common sense tells us it is and that my daughter in Australia should have fallen into space long ago etc etc. For 500 years mankind has known that the world is not best explained either through myth or “the evidence of my own eyes” or indeed “common sense” and yet that is where we seem to be heading. Back to the mediaeval explanation of reality. Back to beliefs that become “true” simply because they are repeated enough.
I regret that I must admit it is obviously beyond my abilities to explain these issues to people who have got to adulthood and not understood them. Quite what was happening when they were at school I have no idea, but they certainly weren’t learning about the scientific method and statistical evidence, two of the fundamentals that underpin a post-mythological grasp of what is going on around us.
So for a while I have tried as patiently as I can (which is often not very patiently) to explain that Untold is a site for people who support the club, the players and the manager, and which accepts the validity of the scientific and logical approach to understanding, but to no avail.
But in the end the amount of time taken up by answering or deleting posts that endlessly project the same vision of reality which is contrary to that upon which this site is based, and by dealing with the abuse that surrounds this argument, has become too much.
Quite often people write in and ask why this site, with such a large audience, has to take sides – why can’t everyone have their say? The answer is now apparent. Sorting out issues using analysis and statistics takes a lot of time. Writing “Everyone can see Wenger is an arrogant idiot who has lost the plot” takes two seconds and these comments become overwhelming. Answering it time and time again is time consuming and ultimately, it seems, pointless. So my reference point from now on will be this article.
Thus I’m not actually changing any rules of debate on Untold, but rather implementing the rules we have had for a long time: this is a site for those who support the club, the players and the manager in a positive way, and who can accept the validity of research and the scientific method, along with the fact that it is a good thing to be polite to each other. Articles and comments which argue against the view of Arsenal on this site are welcome (although I can’t guarantee to publish them all), providing that they are not abusive, and do provide evidence of a scientific, logical and reasoned type.
Several of the views central to Untold were expressed in the article The truths about turning Arsenal into champions, which are no truths at all and for the rest of this piece I just want to cite some other evidence we have brought forward this year, for anyone who wishes to read it.
The summer 2016 investigation into these matters began with the introduction of the phrase “toxic rhetoric” – the way the media and some supporters talk about football – which is in essence what I am talking about here – the total abandonment of evidence and reasoned argument for the constant repetition of the same point made without evidence.
As I have mentioned the issue of the centre forward is one that the press have pushed endlessly because many have followed without any critical analysis. Our answer was given in Why the notion that Arsenal desperately need to buy a centre forward is nonsense.
How the high cost transfers only deliver the goods in their first season about 25% of the time is another topic we’ve considered repeatedly. This occupied us through a whole series of articles such as Transfer spend and league position; Arsenal, Aston Villa and Chelsea. and How much did each club spend on transfers for each trophy won?
As for the relationship between the top scorers in the league and league positions: it turns out that much of the time the winners of the league don’t have a top scorer, but actually tend to spread the goals around – which takes us back to the “only” issue from the Guardian.
Spending on transfers is a popular theme, with the built in assumption that spending money on players brings success. But the average position of the top ten spenders in the league last season was 9th. But it wasn’t just this last season that happened. Here’s an article from 2014 running the same theme. In fact there is no correlation between transfers and results.
Early on we also found that the notion of Arsenal not paying players properly was a myth, debunked in Arsenal have increased their player salaries more than any other PL club in last 3 years. and we summarised much of this with The truths about turning Arsenal into champions, which are no truths at all.
Dr Drew Grey of the University of Northampton helped us enormously with our understanding on how we got to this position with his article on the media and a historical perspective was also given in Why are the media so critical of Arsenal exploring how the habit developed over time.
There was also the series of articles on first if, and then if so why, Arsenal are treated differently in the media from other teams. The first article in the series set out the problem here after which we asked
- Why the media is so critical of Arsenal: it all goes back to the two Arsenal men who were banned from football for life
- Do other clubs get the same level of constant sniping and negative reporting or is it just Arsenal?
- Why are people so negative about Arsenal? The first answers
- Are Arsenal treated differently from other clubs by the national media and the bloggettas? An analysis of reports.
The issue of management was one we touched on too, asking How long does it take a new manager to win the league at Arsenal?
Although perhaps in the end it was the article, Football debate declines into the new superstitions and myths, which defined everything.
I am sorry that I have not been able to explain adequately the point of view that this site propagates, but we all of us have limits, and I seem to have reached mine. If you don’t get what I am saying, I am sorry. If you do, thank you for your understanding.