By Tony Attwood
Last night as I drove back to the Midlands after the Arsenal match there was a piece on the radio about a guy who, before each game, bets on Exeter winning 4-1. For each match he gets different odds, but he never changes his approach, and keeps betting. Apparently he is £600 to the good, largely because he has chosen a singularly unlikely score.
However the fact that he is apparently winning money should not mean that most people who make public predictions should also bet on them. Certainly the people who went public and predicted the outcome of this season’s Premier League are not looking too clever thus far.
Of course they were predicting who would win the league next May, not who would be doing rather well come the end of October, but I think it is worth looking back at what was said, because these predictions reveal something rather interesting.
One of the first things to note is how quickly predictions are undone and changed. By 5 September TalkSport had their super computer predicting that Man City would win the league and Arsenal come second. By 16 October the Sun was running “Five reasons why Arsenal can win the Premier League this season.” Way different from their earlier predictions.
The Sun’s reasons were (in case you are interested) that the defence was sorted, Theo is on form, there is no anxiety in Wenger, there is still more to come, and the squad is balanced. Not very profound reasons really.
But to go back to the start of the season; the Independent had Arsenal finishing somewhere between fourth and seventh by the end because “Arsenal have not done enough in the transfer market.”
The BBC asked, “How do you even start to work out Arsenal?” and answered…
“The temptation is to simply put them in the top four because they always finish there.
“No chance of the title, but they always seem to win enough games to keep qualifying for the Champions League. Granit Xhaka’s arrival from Borussia Moenchengladbach for a reported £35m will add steel to midfield.
“Manager Arsene Wenger will need to reach for the chequebook to buy class in attack and in central defence. If he does, the outlook may be brighter. If he doesn’t, expect more of the same – or even less.
“And will be that be enough in the final year of his contract? Fourth place prediction…but with doubts and with fingers crossed.”
Paul Merson on Sky said we would be fourth. “If Arsenal had bought a world-class centre forward and centre half, I would have picked them for the title, but they haven’t. It would probably help them in the long term if they didn’t finish in the top four for one season because it would force them to make some changes – but I expect them to be around fourth.”
This was the style of all the leading commentators, and just by way of contrast I tried a totally different site – Joe.com which asked several of its writers of whom I had not heard, to give their predictions.
Dion Fanning wrote, “This may be the year. Not the year when Arsenal win something, but when their failures have an impact. The summer has been characteristically frustrating, but the reasoned explanations of Arsene Wenger for their failure to spend big are no longer enough. Arsenal’s rivals are spending and that is all that matters for some fans, especially when a big signing is needed.”
Carl Anka added, “I really thought Arsenal were best placed to win the league this season. Then Walcott said he’s meant to be a winger and then Arsenal had their centre back injury crisis early and I remembered that Wenger is the closest thing to a false god in football.”
Tom Victor went with “If they didn’t look like winning the league last year, there’s nothing that suggests things will change this time around. They’ve bought well for a normal year, but this isn’t a normal year.”
Rob Burnett’s view was “This time around Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City will all sort themselves out – and finish above Arsenal”
Kevin Beirne came in with “This summer has seen Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United upgrade manager (not to mention on the pitch), while both Liverpool and Spurs have had some extra time to gel over the off-season. Arsenal, meanwhile, have not really done a whole lot besides add a defensive midfielder and an inexperienced centre-back.”
While Simon Lloyd added, “This season will be the most competitive of Premier League seasons and, although the signing of Granit Xhaka looks to be a good bit of business, it’s hard to say that Arsenal’s squad is the strongest of those sides that should be in the mix for league success.”
Back in the mainstream Sam Wallace of the Telegraph wrote, “Wenger as ever seems slow to invest in addressing the squad’s shortcomings.”
Now of course they could all be right. Arsenal could finish 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th, but it seems fairly unlikely thus far. What we can say is what none of them foresaw was just how many goals we would be scoring, or the re-emergence of Theo, or… well pretty much anything that has happened thus far.
Nor come to that, the goals.
- August: 6 in three games
- September: 16 in six games
- October: 10 in three games.
So what made all those people and so many more express such grave doubts about Arsenal’s future?
One obvious reason is the fixation with the transfer market. Remember over 100 players were predicted to join Arsenal this summer, and something like 98% of the predictions were wrong. Indeed although there was much talk of signing a central defender the only time when the right prediction was made, was when the deal was just on done. By that time around 20 different central defenders had been nominated, no one predicted the man we actually got, and yet, he has turned out to be rather good.
Another reason was that none of the writers saw any sense of development or growth within Arsenal. All they saw was the same old same old mistakes. For a club that had won the FA Cup twice and come second in the league that was a curious mindset, but nothing would shake the people with it.
Beyond that, no one was willing to look at how Mr Wenger had built a winning team before with the careful development of a squad made up of younger and older players, selecting not necessarily the best player for each position (although some were) but above all players who could work together.
In fact no one, whose pre-season commentaries I have found, talked about the team. Everyone talked about individual players. Which is odd when by and large this is a team game, and a squad game. Nor did anyone really consider the fact that Arsenal included some players who could be expected to grow, develop, and improve. Players like Iwobi and Bellerin for example.
Even when the early transfers came in there was dismissal of what was being achieved. Holding? £2m. What a laugh. Yet the young lad turns out to be sensational.
Overall, there is not only a fixation on transfers but also a lack of realisation that things can change. Just because x happened before it does not mean x happens again in the real world. But that is how these “experts” see it. More of the same, unless interrupted by a big money transfer.
Let me give just one example. Ospina. Seen as a minor back up because he only cost £3m. Useless because in one game last season he made a costly mistake. Yet Ospina in virtually every other game he played was good, and this season he looks very good indeed. In fact several papers commenting on last night’s match not only pick out Ozil (of course) but also Ospina, for particular praise.
Plus the fixation on buying a new centre forward – when we already had one who was scoring as often as Henry had done. And no one saw what might happen to Theo. It is always “more of the same”.
As long as this unidirectional approach to predicting remains, so the predictions will continue to go horribly wrong.
Anyway, as things stand we are in a run of six straight wins in the league, and seven straight wins in all competitions. Just for the record, here are the records
- Record consecutive wins: 14, from 12 September 1987 to 11 November 1987
- Record consecutive league wins: 14, from 10 February 2002 to 18 August 2002
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