Why journalists’ predictions on football are always so wrong part 2


By Tony Attwood

This article continues from yesterday’s final piece

In that earlier piece we noted that Untold Arsenal – a tiny organisation in the general context of things – can uncover a story such as what was actually going on at Leicester tactically, and back it up with a welter of evidence, only to have it utterly ignored by the media.

And we noted that, perhaps for the first time, a writer in the Athletic took a big step forward as he admitted that journalists are “also heavily influenced by historical biases and stereotypical views of clubs. So for many pundits and observers, Arsenal are not to be taken seriously unless proven otherwise.” 

That certainly fits with the predictions made before the start of this season in which not only were Arsenal said to be a dead cert to miss out on the top four, but that the top four would be much the same as last season.   And to help us see how lunatically misguided this near-universal conception was here is the predicted league table for the end of this season with the current league position.

Pos Now Team Pld (2022/3) Pts Projected pos Error
1 Arsenal 32 75 5 -4
2 Manchester City 30 70 1 +1
5 Tottenham Hotspur 32 53 4 +1
7 Liverpool 31 50 2 +5
11 Chelsea 31 39 3 +8


The article also makes the very valid point about how Manchester United, in the years after Ferguson left, were widely predicted to continue to win things because it was “in their DNA to win trophies.”

And although the article does not actually say this, that “in their DNA” phrase is just about the most ludicrous journalistic device for avoiding logical, reasoned analysis, that has ever been used.   And it has been used a lot – and still is.  Organisations don’t have a DNA, and if they did, organisations that changed their club manager regularly would most certainly destroy their “DNA” because that is rather like cutting off your head and sticking a new one on.  

Another bit of Manchester gibberish that the article rightly exposes is that Manchester United would succeed because “they’re too big not to.”   Utter twaddle of course.  Just as they were “too big to go down” in 1974 having won the league in 1967 and come second in 1968.  But down they went.  And this will be their 10th season of not winning the league with positions ranging from second to seventh.

And yet despite this, again quoting from the Athletic, in January “Neville was so excited that he said that they [Man U] would finish above Arsenal, who had just moved nine points ahead of them with a 2-0 win away at Spurs.”

Thus the article in the Athletic concludes that, “The deference to prestige managers is another big reason why predictions for this season, mine included, were so bad.”   Of course Arsene Wenger never had that deference, so that statement is not wholly true, but often it is the case.   Yet Ferguson the deference was so enormous it reeked off every page.  Amazingly ever Sam Allardyce had it.

Thus it is not just the Ferguson myth that lingers.  When Jose Mourinho went to Manchester United, Jamie Carragher said, “I think he’ll bring them huge success because he’s done that everywhere he’s been.”  And of course past success can be a fair predictor of future success, but it is not the only thing that has to be taken into account.  In 2016 Manchester United came fifth, 15 points behind the winners.  In 2017 Manchester United came sixth, 24 points behind the winners.  In 2018 they came second. 11 points and a mega-goal difference behind the winners.  

Conte was appointed as head coach of Tottenham Hotspur on 2 November 2021.  Tottenham were 10th after 11 games, 13 points behind the leaders.   On 26 March 2023, with the club out of both the Champs League and the FA Cup, and being 20 points behind the league leader Arsenal, he left.

There are more examples, and I’ll give another popular one in the next piece, but for now let me leave you with the though.  Pundits are, as pointed out in the Athletic, much more likely to get it very wrong than even vaguely right, because they use ludicrous reasons to back up their predictions (of which “in their DNA” is just about the most stupid of all).

But there are ways of predicting – not to get it right (we predicted 3rd for Arsenal, and I now think 1st or 2nd is much more likely this season) but at least to have some sort of logical argument to back up the predictions.  And we are still, as far as I know, the only people who tracked Arteta’s total turn around of Arsenal.


4 Replies to “Why journalists’ predictions on football are always so wrong part 2”

  1. Neville generally talks rubbish about football. Surprising considering his distinguished career a manager!

  2. I’m rather pleased that journalists downplay Arsenal’s ability as, to a lesser extent, I actually believe the bookies are influenced by this. Hence my £20 each way on Arsenal to win the league is without doubt profitable….by how much, only time will tell. A Chelsea friend of mine also bet me £20 that Arsenal wouldn’t even finish top six….she paid out months ago lol. Another Man U following friend was so confident that in November he bet me £50 that they would finish above Arsenal 🙂

    I hate the borrocks the media talk…..but it can be of benefit to the bank balance lol.

  3. I think a lot is down to maintaining the status quo. Much easier than going out on a limb. Boost the darlings, i.e. ManU, City, Liverpool, of course we can’t forget those serial winners, spurs while knocking Arsenal. Easy, lazy, unchallenged.
    Like you, I had AFC slotted 3rd for the season. I’m delighted to be wrong. I’m still getting over Friday’s match but am sufficiently recovered to see that 2nd will be a good result after the last seasons. Still holding onto hope for the title (already ordered the oxygen, lol). A result tomorrow would certainly help their chances. And my health! COYG!!!

  4. Mikey

    “I’m rather pleased that journalists downplay Arsenal’s ability as, to a lesser extent, I actually believe the bookies are influenced by this”


    I had a fiver ew at 50’s before the season began. I put it on just prior to our 4-0 pre season win over Chelsea. Good job I did because after the Chelsea match the odds tumbled. This from Craig Mahood of the Sun at the time. Published: 10:59, 5 Aug 2022Updated: 12:13, 5 Aug 2022:

    GUNNER GLORY Premier League title odds: Arsenal most backed side with DOUBLE the bets of Manchester United and Liverpool.

    Brazilian legend and Betfair ambassador, Rivaldo says Arsenal will be competing for titles this year from what he watched in pre-season.
    The Gunners get the 2022/23 season underway later tonight when the travel across London to face Crystal Palace.
    Arteta’s side are fresh off the back of a 6-0 win over Sevilla, which followed a thumping 4-0 win against Chelsea in pre-season.
    The signing of Gabriel Jesus looks significant, with the former Manchester City man bagging seven goals in four pre-season games – despite not playing more than 75 minutes in either game.

    But we should never of been 50/1 in the first place. We had just finished a marathon season a mere 2 points behind Spurs, yet they were 14/1 compared to our 50’s. Why?

    As a horse race analogy that’s like 2 nags finishing a length apart after 3 miles, then re opposing a month later on the same weights. If that happened they would be almost identical odds when they re opposed. Those places could reverse on the back of one poor jump.

    But as you say Mikey, it’s basically on the back of how we are endlessly slaughtered by the media, no matter what we do. Never mind, those horrible bookie chapies happily jumping on the Arsenal bashing band wagon has allowed us, and many other Gooners I hope, to trouser a few quid.

    If only they’d read Untold Arsenal.

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