By Tony Attwood
Do Arsenal players really care about the club they play for? Do they care about how the results go? Are they properly prepared for each game?
Or are some of them a bunch of highly paid guys who really couldn’t care less, and who simply turn up and go through the motions?
Even to ask such questions seems a bit odd: it is really possible to play football at the highest level in front of large crowds who are not slow in letting the players know their feelings, and not be bothered about how well they perform?
It would seem unlikely, since surely no body would welcome the sort of opprobrium that is levelled at Arsenal players on a daily – one might say hourly – basis. Does anyone in a competitive sport not care about winning?
In my younger days when I used to play table tennis each week at a local club at a level so modest it isn’t even listed on the modest level charts, I tried to win and was happier when I played better than when I had a game where I was even more useless than normal. Otherwise, what is the point of competing?
But now it seems, judging by a lot of comment of late, it is felt that some Arsenal players don’t care, and additionally are ill-prepared for a game. And we can tell this by… ah now that is the issue. How do we know this?
It seems that a lot of people “know” this through the evidence of their own eyes. The “if it walks like a duck” sort of approach. This vision of reality is based on an interpretation of body language (that most weird vague indicator without any clear evidence to prove that the conclusions drawn from the way a person looks and moves is actually a reflection of exactly what is going on in the person’s head). It is closely linked to the “you obviously think that…” school of argument. 99.999% of people who have ever written that about me on Untold have been wrong. And I know, ‘cos they are my thoughts.
Of course body language can on occasion tells us something – there is such a thing as a sad look and a happy smile – but just because a player walks off the pitch with his head down at the end of the game does not mean he is miserable. He could be exhausted. He could be fed up with the negative comments from what he considers a bunch of ill-informed morons shouting at him. His knee could be hurting….
But now there is more. Apparently we can tell how a player feels now also by what he does with his gloves after a game.
And apparently we can tell a lot about his attitude, and how much he cares about a club, from his celebration after scoring. Giroud is a self-centred plonker because he celebrates after pulling Arsenal back from a three goal deficit, Alexis is a dedicated hard working man because he doesn’t celebrate but picks the ball up and runs back to the centre circle where he puts it down ready for the match to resume.
Except on this basis Giroud ought to have run around the pitch three times after scoring the winner against Preston to use up more time and stop Preston re-starting the game quickly. He could have even taken a card for time wasting – that would have showed how much he cared.
Now in all this body language interpretation stuff what you really must not do (if you are a real believer that body language and associated behaviour tells you anything much) is look for any evidence to back up your claim that you know what is going on inside a player’s mind. You really must stick with “it’s obvious” as the justification for your knowledge.
But, since I don’t believe that body language tells us much (probably because I worked as a musician in the theatre for a number of years and saw actors turn from person A into person Z in a split second) I tend to look for evidence. Since the body linguistics experts claim celebration is linked to delay, which you may or may not want, I want to know how long it took for the game to restart in various situations.
It took 63 seconds from the time Giroud’s goal against Preston was scored, to the moment Preston kicked off again.
It took 49 seconds for Bournemouth to kick off after Arsenal’s second goal.
It took 45 seconds for Bournemouth to kick off after Arsenal’s first goal.
But it only took 43 seconds from the moment Giroud scored against Bournemouth to the restart of the match by Bournemouth players.
What this suggests is that the more one rushes the ball back to the centre spot after scoring in order to speed up the restart of the match (as per Alexis), the longer it takes the other side to re-start the game. The reason for this is that team A never does what team B seems to want them to do – quite simply because the teams are clearly in competition. We don’t always act in our own best interests – that is a fundamental finding of psychology. We are not logical beings.
Humans are emotional. Just think of the situation in which a woman tells a man that she’s leaving him because he’s such a bully and so dominant, and he shouts abuse at her – exactly the opposite of what is needed in the situation if he wants her to back down and stay.
Much of the time the notion of body language is nonsense. We act emotionally, and in accordance with habit and indeed habitual actions (both emotional and physical actions) are the dominant factors in controlling how we behave day by day most of the time. Yes we all of us can change our habits over time, but it takes months of hard work to do so, as anyone who has seriously tried to change a long-term habit will attest. Habits are easy to pick up and hard to get rid of. (There’s a good survival reason for this, but I’ll not get distracted any further on this for now).
Rather, I’d like to note that it took an Irish newspaper (the Irish Independent) to come out and say that “It’s unlikely there’s another club in the Premier League who could fight back from 3-0 down with 20 minutes remaining away from home against a well-regarded opponent and find themselves criticised for not getting the ball back quickly enough to win 4-3.
“Liverpool, for example, played very well for 70 minutes against Bournemouth but lost 4-3. Arsenal were dreadful for the same length of time and managed to draw 3-3 in what is meant to be a results business.”
They also make the point that it now seems that HOW Giroud celebrated one goal (in a way that resulted in the game restarting more quickly than might otherwise have been the case which was what Arsenal wanted) has become more important in defining who he is and how he thinks than the fact that he is scoring vital goals regularly at the moment – or that a quick start was to Arsenal’s benefit.
Body language has become so central to the thinking of users of Twitter that it is now the way of seeing all reality. Alexis good, because he runs back with the ball (and as a result actually delays the kick off), Giroud bad, because he celebrates (even though as a result speeds up the kick off).
It’s a great comment because it emphasises the trivial way football is analysed by pundits and fans.
Now from here we can go on to the post match interview. The players were asked if they were surprised by the level of commitment of the Preston players. This is a bit like asking Shakespearan actors after a performance at the RSC to kick a ball around the stage. Interview technique is at best an after thought in the footballers training and will never turn them into deep thinkers if they are not that already.
But still people want to take the answers seriously and literally for some reason. So if Ramsey says yes he was surprised by the level of commitment everyone goes bonkers at Wenger for not preparing the team properly.
So what should he have said? “No,” would leave to the question about “then why did you not react or adjust” which wouldn’t have helped the interview along any more than “Yes”.
The best answer would have been, “the issue in the first half was not a lack of commitment but was one of dealing with the full-on devil-may-care approach Preston adopted. Many of the Preston players were playing the game of their lives in this match, not long after a game in which they were utterly shamed by having two of their own players sent off for fighting each other. Of course they were going to throw everything at us. But in this situation it is very easy either to have your leg broken, or get an elbow in your face because of the level of their physical approach, or to get drawn into a physical confrontation which will heighten the intensity still further and not help us win the game. The way to win in such circumstances is take the sting out of the game, which involves us trying to slow it down while they run out of steam without maiming anyone. There is a risk of course, and indeed they did score, but better that than have two of our team off the pitch with injuries that could take them out for weeks. As it was Gabriel had to be stitched up. Thank goodness he is tough.”
But the men interviewed (one of whom did not have English as his first language) were there because of their football skills not their ability to express themselves or their degrees in psychology. So it is no wonder that they just said, “Yes”.
Body language, and what players say after a game, are both very poor indicators of what is going on, as should be evident to anyone who thinks a lot about the game. But of course Twitter doesn’t encourage thought. Indeed Twitter has a lot to answer for.
New from the Arsenal History Society –
The index of all the major articles on the site about Arsenal players is now complete. It comes in two parts:
We have around 1500 articles on this site, and a fair number are specifically about individual players who played for Arsenal. However this is the first time they have been fully indexed.
Of course there are many other sources of articles on Arsenal players but I do like to think that the articles here add a lot more detail, and have often found stories and issues that have been missed in other reports. I do hope you will give us a try.