When journalists suggest the only comparison point is Man C, we know they have lost it



By Tony Attwood

I have endlessly railed against the football media for following certain lines of argument and debate, most notably omitting anything that suggests that even the tiniest improvement to PGMO might be of benefit in English football.

And I was grateful to be reminded recently of another bit of short cut thinking by footballing journalists, and that is the concept of the “Big Six”.   Now I know we changed that this season to the “Big Seven”, so we haven’t totally fallen into the trap of merely using forms of analysis that everyone else uses by adding in Newcastle United, and we have noticed Chelsea’s demise in recent season.

But the fact is that only five of the traditional “big six” finished in the top six this season.  Chelsea climbed back, Manchester United slipped away.   And of course we know that not too long ago Arsenal came eighth for two seasons running.

So is the “big six” (or even “seven”) really an entity?   Probably not in tgat I’ve just had it pointed out to me that the ‘Big Six’ have only finished as the top six in the Premier League in six of the last 15 seasons …..   That is 40% of the time.  Or put it in a way journalists can understand, “less  than half”.

So there is no doubt that the clubs that we associate with having a tradition of doing quite well, and of finishing in the top half dozen, is not quite a solid as the use of the phrase makes out.  They are big clubs in terms of support and probably finance, but not in terms of position.

Another interesting point turned up in the headline “Would Man City stand by a manager who finished eighth in the league but won the FA Cup?”

We know of course that in terms of Arsenal the answer is a resounding yes.  In 2015/16 Arsenal came second in the league, but the following season slipped to fifth, but won the FA Cup.

Then came two years of nothing – a finish of 6th and 5th and early exits in the FA Cup, although runners’ up in the League Cup in 2018.

By 2019/20 Arsenal sank to 8th, and again the following season, but antoher FA Cup win in the first of those seasons stved off the inevitable calls for Arteta to leave.

The finished fifth in 2022 with no cup compensation, that brought forth the calls for Arteta to be moved on, since when of course we had early exists in the FA Cup, but two consecutive finishes as runners-up.  Given that Arsenal have actually improved across those two seasons with more goals, more points and a better defence that should answer all questions about progress, and make us pleased that Arteta was not sacked for coming 8th, or indeed for losing to Aston Villa, as some wished.

In fact if you want one simple measure of Arsenal’s improvement other than the rise from 5th to consecutive runners-up, one only has to look at the goal difference over the years.   

Of course goal difference isn’t points, but it gives an indication of both entertainment level and the balance of attack and defence in the team

So starting in 2016/17 we were on a goal difference of +44.  Then the decline and ultimate rebuilding started.  The next two years achieved a GD of +23 and +22.   But then the drop happened again right down to +8 in 2020, a real low point in modern times.

But after that Arsenal started to move, and the goal difference in sequence over the last four seasons starting in 2020/21 has been +16, +13, +45, +62.

That is an astonishing growth by any standards, and it is all the more strange that we are still seeing tales of Arsenal needing a goal scorer who can knock in 20 a season.

But it is helpful to look at all competitions this last season, wherein Arsenal had one such – Saka got 20 goals in cup and league.  Trossard got 17, Havard 14.

Now I mention all this yet again, because there is a certain poignancy in the fact that Manchester United finished 8th this season, and won the cup – a certain similiarity with Arsenal in 2020 who finished eighth and won the cup.

Compared with Arsenal’s cup winning season Arsenal got four fewer points than Manchester United but had a better defence and so a better goal difference – although not by much.


Team P W D L F A GD Pts
8 Manchester United 2024 38 18 6 14 57 58 -1 60
8 Arsenal 2020 38 14 14 10 56 48 8 56
2 Arsenal 2023 38 26 6 6 88 43 45 84


Obviously as we know Arteta stayed, and three years later Arsenal, well, you can see from the table.  28 points better off, 32 more goals scored, but the defence only that little bit better.

And yet the pundits are knocking Manchester United, with no one suggesting they might be progressing as Arsenal did.  Rather all the focus is on their failure – a failure that shows a set of league positons of 2nd, 6th, 3rd, 8th, and with an FA Cup and League Cup win thrown in.

Now I am obviously not here to talk up Mancheseter United but it does remind me that the key business of football journalists is to knock everyone, except by and large Manchester City whose actions that resulted in the 115 charges that are never properly examined in depth, and the consequences of the verdicts (either guilty or not) are also not considered.

If there was a surprise it was that the form book went out the window.  Mancheseter City with nine wins and a draw in the last ten games and a goal difference of +27 losing to a club with just three wins in the last 10 games and a goal difference of -1.

Now the question in the media is, “would City stand by a manager who had finished eighth in the league but won the FA Cup?”

But that is not right.  The question is, would City stand by a manager who has benefitted from past processes that are now seen to be based on breaking the rules of football finance?

Arsenal did stand by their manager when the media dismissed his perfectly legitimate remarks about VAR as a rant, while allowing their writers and commentators themselves to rant.  Thus we see the double standards. 

We can all be grateful that Areta and the Arsenal board has (at least until now) no truck with the media and their daft predictions and commentaries.  The media’s view is that if “now” isn’t good, get another manager.  Thankfully Arsenal resisted such gibberish.

3 Replies to “When journalists suggest the only comparison point is Man C, we know they have lost it”

  1. “The question is, would City stand by a manager who has overseen a process that has led to 115 charges against the club?”

    I don’t understand why you’ve even asked that question, because the current predicament Manchester City find themselves in was a result of decisions taken at the boardroom level and above; not at a managerial level.

    A more pertinent question would be, “Will the manager (Pep) stand by Manchester City’s board and owners, who have overseen a process that has led to 100 + charges by the Premier League, if they are found guilty of the serioius charges?”

  2. I’m not sure about journalists bleating about the sky falling down. 89 points and a goal differential of around 60 was a brilliant accomplishment and if we are around that total (plus or minus a few points) I think the most differences would be statistically almost meaningless. The continued GENERAL progress of Arsenal over the last four years is fantastic. A small dip or rise over one season is irrelevant

    My reasoning is unpredictable injuries to our players and others, the improvements or regressions of other teams or even the bonkers scheduling will play a part. It is only when you see a drop off or advance of ten to fifteen points, IMO, then one can talk about things. Anything else is probably Gaussian noise.

  3. GoingGoingGooner

    “The continued GENERAL progress of Arsenal over the last four years is fantastic. A small dip or rise over one season is irrelevant”

    My thoughts exactly.

    We have gone from a team challenging for a UEFA place. To a team challenging for a CL place. To a team challenging for the title.

    That is great progress, and now the key is to maintain that level. Whether it’s with a few points more or less. A few goals more or less, is pretty irrelevant. The key is to remain a title chasing team.

    I suppose the next step we want, in fact we need, if we are to push our global ‘brand’ (I do hate that term, alas it is real, and it is important) to the ‘next level’, (oh dear, another term I hate, but never the less a fact), is to be a constant challenger in, indeed winner of, the CL.

    That is the next step. Become a constant in and around CL final, or the semi finals at least.

    A very tough ask given the level of opposition both home and abroad, which will only get tougher as more and more teams receive ‘doping’ money from oil rich owners.

    Still, mustn’t complain about that as they’re only fulfilling their dreams and aspirations apparently.

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