By Tony Attwood
If you are a regular reader of Untold, you may have noticed that of late I have been trying, in my normal bumbling manner, to point out ways in which newspapers deliberately mis-represent events in the game.
At the start of the century there was the tale that Arsenal got more red and yellow cards than any other team. Then when that was disproved we had the notion that Arsenal got more injuries than every other team.
Around then there was the concept that referee mistakes happen at random and “all even out in the end”.
Of late there has been the Telegraph’s story about suggesting that thousands of Arsenal season ticket holders simply never bother to show up, backed up by a picture of a seemingly half empty stadium — a picture taken at a game which was not covered by the season tickets, and in which Arsenal was not playing.
Or the Guardian’s piece in which we were told Arsenal had only two players last season who managed to get into double figures in the goal scoring department. What was wrong there was the use of “only” – it should have been “Arsenal were one of only five teams that had more than one player who scored 10+ goals.” A positive sign for the future was turned into a rampaging disaster.
So when I read a story by the same journalist who created the “only two players” cock and bull tale, which suggests that November is Arsenal’s disaster month, my brain perks up and I start to wonder. The story is that Arsenal score only 1.59 points per game in November – fewer than in other months.
What made me suspicious was that the Arsenal data for each month across (say) the 21st century was not given (we had to take that on trust) and that no data for any other team was given. That was exactly how the “only two players” stunt was pulled.
The article tells us that because of the well-known fact that Arsenal are poor in November, there was “a certain nervousness on Saturday among those visiting supporters celebrating the 4-1 win at Sunderland.” Really? More nervousness than normal? On what basis? Measured with what instrument?
We’re not told of course, because it is just journalistic flimflam, but let’s ignore that bit and move on and examine a few statistics.
Certainly Arsenal can do badly in November. Look at last year
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Fairly awful and a big contrast to the sort of thing we are used to getting with Arsenal. Under Mr Wenger Arsenal wins 57.20% of its league games – far higher than any other manager of the club except Pat Rice (who only managed four games) and Joe Shaw (the manager who took over when Herbert Chapman died and managed 23 games). George Graham had a win percentage of 48.91%, and Chapman himself of 49.88%.
Now the first thing to notice is that quite often in November there are only three league games – because of internationals – so just as an indicator in these tables I sometimes add on the fourth game that is closest to November. And results in November under Mr Wenger are certainly not always bad. For example…
Now we find the first November anomaly. November often only has three games in, so each game counts for much more statistically than in a month where you play four games.
So it seems it hasn’t always been bad for Arsenal under Wenger in November. Certainly in the early days, it wasn’t.
And much the same the following year
In 2005 it was actually our month of getting it back together after slipping to 9th at one stage.
And not too bad in 2007 either
So what we are seeing is that although the stats show that Arsenal in November don’t always do too well, they can do quite well some years, and the figures are affected by the anomaly of playing fewer games in November.
But what else affects playing in November?
Certainly if there is an interlull in November players can be more tired and more injured from the journeys and the legendary insanity of international managers, once famously compared by Mr Wenger to car thieves who nick your car, smash it up, and return it broken and order you to get it ready for them to steal again in a couple of months.
But there is more. November is also the month of the league cup and a couple of Champions League games. Now combine these facts: the season has been running for a dozen or so league games, there are two Champions League games (one at least involving a fair bit of travel in a time when flights can be delayed by fog), and a league cup game, and there is every chance you will run out of experienced first team players.
Add to this the fact that during the years of paying for the building of the Emirates, Arsenal maintained its squad size by calling on significant numbers of youngsters, and was less able to cover for injuries to key players than the multi-billionaire clubs, and it is easy to see what happened.
In summary, November can be a difficult month for all clubs that pack their team with internationals, and which also play in the Champions League. On this basis, Arsenal are likely to have done more poorly in November than in other months, and more poorly than the mega rich clubs, simply because they did not have the depth of quality players in the squad that was built up by Chelsea, Man U and Man C (none of which had to pay for a new stadium, and each of which had incomes far in excess of Arsenal).
Even so, these cash rich and stadium debt free clubs could still have a difficult time in November. Look at Man City last year.
Or go back a bit further to 2013, still with Man City – how about this for erratic behaviour in the autumn.
Or take a look at Chelsea in 2012
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By the end of 2014/15 every journalist ever born (and quite a few who are spectres sent to this earth to taunt us) were saying that Chelsea would now win the league every year from now on. And yet in late November, early December they got this…
Now it is said that you can prove anything with statistics. I don’t think you can, and here I don’t think anything is proven with the assertion in the Guardian that Arsenal suffer some sort of November slump that is specific to Arsenal.
Many clubs that have achieved a top four position the season before, and thus play in the Champions League, and which are packed with international players, suffer a comparative drop in results in November because of the accumulation of injuries from domestic and international games, plus the two Champions League games.
Also, this is the month when the cloggers from the lower parts of the league (who have not been travelling the world during the interlull and have been able to recover from their knocks and bruises) can get stuck into the skillful players who have just flown half way around the world and who are not at their peak in terms of getting out of the way of appalling tackles.
Arsenal did not suffer any worse than other top clubs before the financial issues that the Emirates Stadium brought along, but during those re-financing years (which coincided with the financial rise of first Chelsea and then Man City) did have to draw deeply upon a squad that was more dependent on cheaper purchases and up and coming youngsters.
There is no automatic decline for Arsenal in November. November can be a difficult month, but it is the month in which the clubs with the squad with the greatest depth aim to survive in order to move on.
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