The ten reasons why Arsenal will make more progress in 2023/4. Part 1



By Tony Attwood

There is no doubt that Arsenal are currently making progress – the league table alone would tell you that even if you had never seen them play this season on TV or live.   But what I thought I would do is try and pull together some of the factors behind Arsenal’s progress; factors which explain how this progress is being made – and from that judge whether the progress is likely to continue.

And my interest here is not suddenly to find some new issue about Arsenal that has not been mentioned before, but rather to show that there is a whole collection of changes that have been made at Arsenal, which we have discussed as we go along, and which are together taking the club forward.

The list below is not in an order of importance, because the important point is that all the factors work together to create the progress that we see.  So here we go…

Preliminary: I have mentioned it so many times that you’ll know it by heart (if you are a regular reader of my ramblings).  When Arteta arrived, Arsenal were being blown off the park not by the opposition players but by referees, and were getting more yellow cards than any other club.

Arteta knew that yellow cards don’t directly relate to fouls and the like, but rather to the different way each team is perceived by referees, as we recently showed for the season just finished wherein the number of fouls committed before a yellow card is given ranges from 11.88 for West Ham United to 4.73 for Chelsea.

This is so bonkers there is really no need to look any further into refereeing in the Premier League although if you want it the full table showing referees’ varying perceptions of clubs is here.  The bonkers-ness comes from the fact that the evidence of the importance of referee perception is there, and yet clubs don’t take account of it.

And that despite the whole variation in tackles, fouls and yellow cards has been known for a long time  But Arteta has used it to his advantage, just as Manchester City do.   However there is more: much more as I hope to show in this and the next article.

1. A young team is maturing

The second youngest team in the league came second in the league – and they will be better next season because these are players of quality who are still improving (as opposed to older players who know all the tricks but whose physical prowess and mental dexterity is declining due to repeated heading of the ball).

2. Scores from everywhere

The most common approach in football is to have a main central striker who does all the damage (see for example Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester City).  That’s great if you can find one, but as the Tottenham situation shows, one man alone can’t carry a team.   

But the alternative is to have three or four players knocking in goals in double figures, and that is what Arsenal have.

The benefit is double.  One is that when a top player is crippled in a mindless international match (eg Jesus) there are others to step up.   The other is that the opposition simply have too many players to mark.  Put two men on Saka and then Jesus is left unattended.  The ball is cleared from the penalty area and Odegaard is there to put it in the net.

Four players in double figures when it comes to goals is rare indeed but that is what Arsenal have.

3 Transfers

It is what the media talk about all day long, but what they tend not to mention is that bringing in new players is not remotely a guaranteed way of rising up the league.  Chelsea signed 17 players in the summer of 2022 and in January 2023, and it didn’t actually do them much good.  From Aubameyang to Mudryk the players cost them lots either in wages or insane transfer fees and they still couldn’t climb that far up the league.  They finished 12th, 10 points above relegation.

4 Referees

We have often written about the need for clubs to understand how referees work. For PGMO is a strange, secretive organisation with rules of its own that are rarely seen in other countries.   Studying the referees is obviously what Manchester City do – and I am not alleging that there are bribes or anything like that but rather that they think about referees before the game, rather than scream and shout at them Mourinho-like during the game.   That is why Manchester City get so few cards: they play the referees’ game, and avoid tackling.  Arsenal are travelling in the same direction.

The remaining reasons why Arsenal will continue to make progress next season will appear in the next article.

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