The development of Arsenal FC
- The one huge weakness in the Premier League which one day will unravel
- Taking a positive out of the draw with Southampton
By Tony Attwood
As the Telegraph recently reminded us Gary Neville last month proclaimed that Arsenal were “too emotional” as a team. They justify bringing this commentary up again by claiming that “over the subsequent few weeks it has become increasingly hard for them to argue with that assessment.”
Which of course is a justification that is open to consideration and debate. In fact quite a lot of debate, because arguing about emotions is notoriously difficult. Emotions are internal; we can see the signs of them when for example people get angry or very excited, but that’s all. Judging emotions is a second-hand business – we see the behaviour, the look on the face and then derive information about emotions from that.
Now I am not against using emotional states as part of an explanation within football or indeed any individual’s behaviour. I am not a psychiatrist – but I did study psychology at university so I have a bit of background. And indeed I’ve tried to use that by repeatedly pointing out that in recent seasons when Arsenal have faltered in one match, they have usually faltered in three, and then pulled themselves back together.
As often repeated, this happened at the start of last season when three defeats in a row meant that the media has a story to keep them occupied for days: Arsenal’s worst-ever start to a Premier League campaign (a story which is seems is now forgotten since to remind anyone of it, would remind everyone of just how far Arsenal have come).
But media writers really don’t like historic contexts especially when they show progress for Arsenal. The blip, or in the Telegraph’s terms, the “return of emotion”, is not seen as regrettable from an Arsenal perspective but a great improvement on the four blips that Arsenal had last season. No, it is described as “Arsenal’s collective wildness.” An inherent failure within Arsenal itself.
And because that is a simple (if utterly fanciful) explanation, based on the notion that at its heart there is a fundamental flaw within the whole essence of Arsenal – it is adopted. There is no mention of the lack of Xhaka, Saliba, nor indeed Tomiyasu which has meant that the defence has been reshuffled. Nor that as this is a recently put-together team following a complete restructuring of the club, there is as yet a lack of backup.
But surely a much better explanation for Arsenal’s slippage in recent games is that at least two vital players were missing from a squad that has only been recently put together, and across the whole season is the youngest in the league, and has this season been over-achieving dramatically.
Which brings us to the heart of the joy with which the media has picked up on three successive draws for Arsenal. Every single major media outlet suggested that Arsenal this season would finish fifth, and they are currently top. That is a total cock-up by the “experts” of overwhelming proportions. Indeed in any other line of work, such a grotesque failure by the people employed to look at the future and try to accommodate it would result in dismissal. (Except of course for economists – they seem to get things wrong just as much as football journalists).
But let us not forget that even the most pro-Arsenal of websites (this one) predicted that Arsenal would finish third this season. And that was based on the statistics of the last 35 games of last season, and a projection that the number of dips, in which the regularly winning team would become the regularly losing team, would be reduced.
Obviously, Arsenal have done far better than we expected, and there has been an improvement out of all proportions from what the media has expected.
But the media will never admit how appallingly inept and biased they are in their accounting of football, and so with much joy they are trying to reclaim their own credibility by blaming everything on the utterly unmeasurable “emotional fragility”, rather than the squad being the smallest in the league, due to its total restructure in the last couple of seasons.
Arsenal are still top of the league, although they have slipped worryingly down the “last six games” table that we often run. But in terms of our own prediction from last season, based not on emotion, but on the fact of the way the club performed in the last 35 games, they are doing better.
For journalists the suggestion of Arsenal’s emotional instability is a way of hiding their own laziness and ineptitude in not studying the facts, and their resultant desire to turn everything into that most unmeasurable of contexts – what happens inside individuals’ heads.
It is in fact one big cover-up of the grotesque failure of football journalism to understand what has been going on at Arsenal since Arteta arrived. If anything needs changing it is not Arsenal’s management and players, it is football journalism.
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