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By Tony Attwood
I ended part one of this article with the notion that what has been going on at Arsenal is “analysis, analysis and analysis. That allowed Arsenal to cut the yellow cards in half, and it allowed Arsenal to rise up the league to second when all around them were predicting fifth or sixth.”
So when the writer of the Just Arsenal article commented on “misguided talk” in the media I can agree, but it is not the talk about “bottling it” etc which is misguided (although that is a story that has been circulating for years)- that is just plain daft. Rather it is the fact that the media will not deal with the facts behind the games, at a time when we need to understand what the sentiments and forces are behind such utterances. That is why I don’t think the worst accusations about Asenal’s play and style should be fully accepted nor do I think they should be entirely rejected. Instead, they should be thoughtfully analyzed ith statistics.
As an example, let us take something incredibly simple: not our old favourites of tackles, fouls and cards etc, but the number of players who played multiple games.
- Manchester City had 14 players who played 20 or more league games, Arsenal had 11.
- Manchester City had 18 players who played 10 or more league games last season. Arsenal had just 12.
Those differences are enormous. Manchester City had 50% more players in their squad who played 10 or more league games than Arsenal.
That difference will continue to give Manchester City an advantage until Arsenal build up their number of players and the number who can constantly play league matches and those who can drop in and out of the team.
So when the writer of the Just Asenal article talks about a certain “ineffable something that was lacking” I would argue there is no “ineffable something” about it. Through the use of statistics we’ve been able to pinpoint what has been happening and what Arsenal are doing about it – and that is why we are so encouraged, and why our prediction for last season was a lot closer to what happened than any other prediction that we saw.
But for whatever reason, the media don’t want to know and so give out the view of ineffability: something that cannot be described in words. So as soon as we start admitting to an ineffability in football it is pretty much time to shut down the blog and (if I were not there already) go home.
But football can be described through numbers, patterns and changes. How many yellow cards Arsenal got, how many fouls were committed against Arsenal, a rise up the league table, a difference between Arsenal and Tottenham (although I don’t know why I thought of that one; I just did).
The media love to push forward the view, that “The very best champions and winning teams have that certain “je ne sais quoi” that means that they can see out games all the way until the end, even under the extreme pressure at toward the close of the season because they have the one thing that you cannot buy – belief.”
I really don’t buy into that on its own. Belief like all psychological concepts is important of course, but not at the level in which, it is all simply about believing “that you are the best, that you can win, or even that you should or must win is the end result of a lot of hard work.”
No. It is players’ belief in the methods being used that is important. The media don’t like that approach because they don’t like maths (since most journalists got into journalism because they were ok at English but pretty rubbish at maths). Which is part of the reason why they won’t entertain the notion that the huge variation in the way referees oversee games might be an issue in the Premier League.
And yet 72% of referee Stuart Atwell’s PL games last season were home wins. 33% of Anthony Taylor’s PL games were home wins. Is that all just down to pure chance? (And if you are a regular reader you’ll know there are reams of such oddities in refereeing numbers, and that chance is rarely the explanation for them.)
Yes, there is a belief inside Arsenal – but it is a belief that the club has analysed the way football is being run by referees, and the way certain teams are playing to overcome this, and it is a belief that by bringing the players into the squad, that such statistical analysis reveals Arsenal needs, will help rectify any deficiencies.
As a result, Arsenal had four players who scored 11 or more PL goals last season, including one who only had 24 league games in which to do it. That gives us something to believe in, because it is based on fact, not just belief based on belief., And it is something no other team had.
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