Why don’t more teams do the obvious in order to rise up the league table?



By Tony Attwood

Our headline for the last article was “Where has Arsenal’s improvement come from?” and we concluded it was very simple.  In defence, as we have so often said, improvement has come from reducing the number of yellow cards by reducing the number of tackles.  In attack, as we showed in the last article, it has come from increasing the number of passes into the 18 yard box which are “completed” meaning that they do reach and are controlled by the intended player.  

Now the fact that I can write those two methods of improvement in one paragraph does make them seem rather simple, but of course, they are not that easy to introduce.  And this is because the manager not only has to have an understanding of the issue (although in both cases that is quite easy) but also players who are willing and able to use the approaches.  Which is to say defenders who can defend without tackling and midfielders who are able to pass accurately to a teammate in the 18-yard box.

The approach has also meant that Arsenal have been able to improve by having not just one top scorer in the model of for example Tottenham Hotspur, but several who score significantly fewer than Kane, but who together give Arsenal a much more powerful forward line.

If we look at the top scorers list, in the top 18 (that is the players who scored 11+ goals last season) there are four from Arsenal, two from Manchester City two from Newcastle United and two from Liverpool.  The remaining 11 clubs had no players scoring 11 or more goals.


# Player Team Goals Open play goals
1. Erling Haaland Manchester City 36 29
2. Harry Kane Tottenham Hotspur 30 25
3. Ivan Toney Brentford FC 20 14
4. Mo Salah Liverpool FC 19 17
5. Callum Wilson Newcastle United 18 14
6. Marcus Rashford Manchester United 17 17
7. Gabriel Martinelli Arsenal  15  15
Martin Ødegaard Arsenal  15  15
Ollie Watkins Aston Villa 15 14
10. Aleksandar Mitrović Fulham FC 14 10
Bukayo Saka Arsenal  14  12
12. Harvey Barnes Leicester City 13 13
Rodrigo Leeds United 13 12
14. Miguel Almirón Newcastle United 11 11
Phil Foden Manchester City 11 11
Gabriel Jesus Arsenal  11  10
Roberto Firmino Liverpool FC 11 11


As we can see from the table above while having a top-scoring player in the team can help, Kane at Tottenham has not been able to lead them into Europe next season.  

But Arsenal went even further and introduced another tactic which helped – that of limiting the number of signings, using a lower number of players in the team and having only one manager.

In terms of the number of players used Arsenal were on 26 players.   Only West Ham (25), Brentford (25) and Manchester City (24) used fewer.

In terms of the number of new signings who were thrown into the team Arsenal were more mid-table with 11.  Table is really stretched with Nottingham Forest using 25 new players and Liverpool four.

As for managers, Arsenal were one of only nine clubs out of the 20 in the league to have just one manager.  Chelsea and Leeds had four each. 

 Now we can see immediately why each of these approaches is going to be beneficial.  One manager means evolution and development of the squad, not wild changes every few months in the style of Chelsea, Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur.

New signings can add more zest and vigour to a team, and can take the opposition a while to get used to, but they can also disrupt the playing style of the team, and so introducing a modest number over time is no bad deal.  Introducing a lot is rather silly.

All of this is either obvious, or can be discovered by a little bit of research.  Reduce tackling to take control of the game away from the referee, while having several scorers to bemuse the opposition and have a way of coping when players get injured.  (Can you imagine where Tottenham would have finished in the league if Kane had not been among the 21 Premier League players this season to play in all 38 league games).

But why have not more clubs sought to control the game by reducing tackling, or increasing the number of passes into the 18-yard area, or keeping the same manager?

It is hard to know exactly without being inside a club, or better still a few clubs, but we can note that none of these tactics are mentioned in any detail by football commentators on TV, radio, in the press or on websites.  Why is that?

I’ll come back to this shortly.


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