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October 2020

Evidence based football reporting. It can’t be catching on. Can it?

By Tony Attwood

If you are a regular reader of Untold Arsenal you will know that one of the fundamentals of our approach is that football opinions are fine, but there is also space for evidence based football reporting to balance out the opinion based reporting.   Indeed there is so much opinion based reporting around, that when, for example, people write in after a referee review and suggest that (as several readers did in response to the referee review of the Arsenal v Tottenham game that “Tottenham were the better team, get over it”) I didn’t bother to publish it.

Like I said, there are enough places where football opinion is all that matters, but very very few where evidence is considered.

Which is why I was pleased that the Sun, even though its coverage was trivial, thought that it was worth commenting on referee performances with a few examples of referee misdemeanours.   At least they recognised there was a subject to be considered.

But they are not the only newspaper (I use the word in its broadest sense) to take up the issue of evidence of late.  The Independent has been doing it too.

Now I do find this worth commemorating, because we have had so, so many years of opinion based commentary that even a twitch in the direction of evidence based football reporting is worthwhile.

Two days ago the Indy announced that “midfielder Santi Cazorla stands head and shoulders above his rivals as the best passer in the Premier League this season.  The Spaniard, 30, can claim to be the division’s most influential puller of strings after becoming the first player in the top flight to complete 1,000 passes this season, according to the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index.

“Cazorla, who also has three assists for the Gunners, is 222 passes ahead of the man in second place and is the only player in the top 10 to have a 90 per cent pass completion rate; he also completes more passes per 90 minutes than any of the other players to qualify.”

“He also does all of that while making 69.5 per cent of his passes in the opposition half. Cazorla completed a whopping 74 passes in the 1-1 draw with Norwich City on Sunday.

“Chelsea rival Cesc Fabregas doesn’t get close to his international team-mate at the moment, Fabregas has completed 810 passes, third most in the Premier League, with 68.7 per cent of these coming in the opponents’ half…

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“Ozil is also way in front in the assist charts, with 11 already this season – four players are joint second with only six.”

Now this comes on top of the Telegraph’s Revealed: Arsenal are not the most cursed Premier League club when it comes to injuries which I referred to in the story concerning the work of Des Ryan, in reducing Arsenal’s injury levels among junior players, so dramatically.

The piece was written in reply to Mr Wenger’s comment that, “I must say with all humility we are not in a position where we can predict (injuries) despite all our tests.”

The argument is that, “The problem for Arsenal and for their manager is that the latest injury crisis to strike the club appears to have been all too predictable. They have been here before. Not just in the number of injuries – 10 players now out – but in the nature of them. Soft tissue damage has again highlighted the apparent soft centre in Wenger’s approach.”

Now what this article lacks is any comparison between Arsenal and other teams.  Instead we have the most bizarre comparison of all: “There have been more injuries than points for Arsenal in November – two from a possible nine in the Premier League plus three in the Champions League against six injuries – in what has traditionally been a difficult month for them. Why?”

One simple answer is that the speed of football and the way teams play against Arsenal, plus the lack of protection that Arsenal get from referees (as revealed week in week out by the referee reviews on this site) means Arsenal are likely to get more injuries.

That is certainly one answer to the Telegraph point, “the biggest question of all right now is why Wenger is continuing to oversee a regime in which these injuries occur despite the fact that Arsenal have made significant investments, as much, if not more, than any Premier League club, in sports medicine and sports science?”

But what the Telegraph article then tries to do is show that Mr Wenger is self-contradictory on injuries…

One of the most surprising aspects of Arsenal’s continuing poor record with injuries is that it contradicts Wenger’s reputation for being analytical….

Wenger will talk about what is termed the ‘red zone’ – when a player is fatigued or in danger of breaking down through injury and therefore needs a rest. It is a phrase he has used for several years, it was often applied to Robin Van Persie, and gives the impression that he is fully across the sports medical science and is attuned to fitness and conditioning.

So how does a belief in the existence of a ‘red zone’ square with the weekend claim that injuries cannot be predicted, after Alexis Sanchez (hamstring), Laurent Koscielny (hip) and Santi Cazorla (knee) were all injured in the 1-1 draw away to Norwich City?

Take Sanchez….

That for a start is a clever bit of non-evidential argument.   If the case is going to be made that Mr Wenger contradicts himself it needs to be done across all the players mentioned – not just one.  But no, because of the writing style we are led to forget that there is no suggestion that other players were in the red zone.  Sanchez was the only one – so this is an example of just one player, used to explain everything  – a typical bit of Telegraphic writing.

Worse, Mr Wenger did give an answer as to why Alexis was played while in the Red Zone.   “A break makes him tired,” was part of Mr Wenger’s reply.  But the article quotes only that bit and then dismisses it as “flippant”.   Yet actually the only thing that is flippant here is the Telegraph.

As anyone with an involvement with psychology will tell you, the links between physical and mental are strong but complex.  The answer Mr Wenger gave was to the effect that when Alexis stops playing, but feels he can play, his competitive edge drops somewhat.   While there are many players who can be taken out of a team for a match to give them a rest, and then come back stronger, there are other players who for psychological reasons can’t do this.

Now this dismissal of psychology as being any part of football is commonplace in the UK.   I have seen managers reported as saying of a footballer who is suffering from the debilitating illness of depression that he is simply not trying.  “How can he be depressed having a job that most young men would give body and soul for?” he asked, ignoring the level of psychological problems among all areas of the rich and famous, from sports people to musicians, film stars, dancers, artists…

Because the Telegraph in common with most British institutions do not recognise the mental side of life as being equal to the physical in terms of importance, (if you break your leg you are a man, if you get a mental illness you are a wimp, is their attitude) they don’t get what is going on.   The NHS in England for example spent £12bn in 2014 on mental health issues – twice the amount it spent on cancer treatment.  And they spent it because very slowly in England people are realising how widespread and debilitating mental health issues are.

Now I am not saying Alexis has a mental health issue,  but rather that he brings his own unique vision of life and himself to football, as much as he brings a physical approach and if you want to get the best out of him as a player, you need to consider both.   There is no point resting him for a few matches to avoid a muscle pull if all you get in the next match is 50% Alexis.

From this one simplistic and faulty vision of Alexis the Telegraph then lays the blame on Mr Wenger for Aaron Ramsey’s hamstring, and Mikel Arteta’s injury at West Bromwich Albion.

And so the Telegraph reach this amazing concluding question, “Why, again, take the risk?”

The answer is that all football is risk, and risk management is what everyone does in all business ventures – and indeed in life – all the time.  Suggesting that Wenger is somehow contradictory and so stupid that he can’t actually see what is blindingly obvious sadly takes us back into the dark ages of football journalism.

So there was a glimpse of evidential based journalism, just for a moment.  But for the moment the forecast is patchy.


4 December 1909: Arsenal beat Tottenham 1-0 in first ever league encounter.  Lawrence scored in front of 18,000.  It came as part of a five match undefeated run – the best run of form in the 1909/10 season which almost saw Arsenal relegated.

4 December 1968: Tottenham 1 Arsenal 1 in the second leg of the league cup semi-final having won the first leg 1-0.  Once again Radford scored for Arsenal to win 2-1 overall and go on and face Swindon Town in the final.

The Untold Books

Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed football, is now available on Kindle at £9.99.  For more details and to buy a copyplease click here or go to Amazon Kindle and search forWoolwich Arsenal.

Forthcoming titles:

  • The Arsenal Yankee  By Danny Karbassiyoon
  • Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970.  By John Sowman.  Introduction by Bob Wilson.



29 comments to Evidence based football reporting. It can’t be catching on. Can it?

  • Pete

    It seems that all the English CL sides are struggling with injuries at the moment. A sign of significant overload of top players (most of whom will be playing internationals as well). Full credit to Herr Low for resting Ozil in recent interlull. Let’s hope he remains healthy as I believe he has been our most important player this season.

  • Tom


    You want some fact base critique of Arsenal players’ fitness management?
    Here’s some:

    Cazorla gets knee ligament damage early minutes of the second half, Arsenal physio comes on the pitch to evaluate him, the player is in agony and winces every time the physio puts pressure in the area where the ligaments are, but then decision is made he’s good to continue the rest of the game.

    How much more damage has this action caused? Not sure, but it made the situation worse to be certain.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if Cazorla was done for the season.

    Was his injury Wenger’s fault? Absolutely not.
    Was the decision to leave him in the game the right one? Of course not,

    Was this a new situation no one at Arsenal was familiar with ?
    Of course not.
    The same thing happened with Ozil a season ago.

    I have already mentioned Ox and Walcott in the league cup game.
    Both injuries could’ve been avoided.

    The same for Walcott a season ago when he came back from his abdomen injury and was played 6 times in 21 days.

    The Sanchez injury is just the latest example of Wenger taking chances and paying for them.
    You can try to spin it any way you want to, but you can’t admit the player has a hamstring concern just a few days before he pulls it and claim ignorance afterwards.

    As for Walters referees and match reports you allude to, I took exception to his calling the Cazorla incident a “hit ” on the knee, for a reason.
    Not only was it an intentional misrepresentation of what had actually happened but also a proof that Walter has a very limited knowledge of biomechanics and perhaps he shouldn’t be writing the series on injuries and what causes them.

    A kick to Cazorla’s knee would’ve been way less damaging than what had actually happened to his knee.

    Try swinging you leg forcefully and put an unmovable object in its way about knee high, and you will know what happen to Cazorla’s knee.

  • Jerry

    Excellent write up and work in logically dismissing the Telegraph’s poor approach to reporting!

    That is a little hard criticism in regards to the Sanchez injury. Consider some of the recent statements by Arsene Wenger:

    “Sanchez had four weeks holiday, he was rested in some games. We had five days between Dinamo [Zagreb] and Norwich.

    No one said he could displace his hamstring or back when he was shoved into the cameras [by Ryan Bennett]. If you want to blame me with the injuries, I have no problem with it.”

    He also said “We have tests as well, we have medical tests. We are quite sophisticated in testing our players. I had a chat with Alexis after his injury and he was adamant he felt perfect before the game because we tested his strength, stretching, all the signs we have we test every week were perfect.”

    So if all tests and everything else prior to the game say that the player is ready to go, why shouldn’t he play one of his best players? And more importantly, why does the Premier League allow pits near the playing pitch which can harm unsuspecting players?

  • Mandy Dodd

    I am not sure what to make of our injuries…starting to wonder if there is something in the pitch theory, along with other causes of course…..if you train and play on a perfectly smooth, but firm surface, does that make a player honed on such a pitch more susceptible to injury on a relatively soft, wet, torn up pitch with long grass…like at West Brom or Sheffield? It is pretty wel documented that some lesser teams will doctor their pitches to stop us playing.
    Cannot remember what the Norwich pitch was like, but as mentioned, having camera pits alongside it cannot help.
    Whatever afflicts us seems to be also getting to City and Utd.
    Then, a look at the injury table reveals the teams with least injuries are teams who do not play in Europe, and are likely to have less internationals…strange that…

  • Tom

    Spot on about the concrete pits still being allowed in such a close proximity to the touch line in this day and age.

    Also, quite outrageous more hasn’t been made of the push on Samchez, but the medical testing aside, there’s something called a common sense and when you have a hamstring problem, or concern just a few days before, it would’ve been prudent to perhaps rest him.
    The probability of Sanchez going down with injury was much higher in the Norwich game than any game before, simple.

    I do , however, have a bigger problem with leaving Cazorla on the pitch than starting Sanchez.

    I have said it before. This is what happens in those situations. The physio asks the player if he thinks he can continue and all players to a man , say “I thinks so”.

    Sending the physio on to the pitch becomes almost pointless to certain extand in these situations.

  • Sam Sayyed

    “And more importantly, why does the Premier League allow pits near the playing pitch which can harm unsuspecting players?”

    Or indeed, why does the Referees allow players who push opposition players in dangerous positions when the ball is out of play carry on as if nothing had happened?
    Few months ago it was Debuchy, and now Sanchez.

  • Rantetta

    The only thing predictable about Alexis’ injury is that the thugs making the assaults would not be punished!

  • John L


    surely then the players deserve the same level of criticism?

    there has to be an element of trust between player, manager and physio. if santi gets a knock the physio comes on and uses both his medical expertise and the information his patient is giving him. santi probably felt he could run the knock off.

    it seems to me your using this as a way to criticize wenger, but overlooking the players role and complexity of what can happen when playing contact sports.

  • Menace

    John L – Contact sports are officiated by strict rules & Laws to ensure participant safety – but ot the way the PGMO officiate!!! They (PGMO) are the most abominable bunch of cheating corrupt bastards I have ever seen in sport.

    I called the Alexis injury a few days before it happened. The medical staff are missing some foresight (Tony – I specifically didn’t call them f’in morons 😉 ) for not understanding muscle injury that can be pre-empted. I pride my vision & diagnosis as healer & I have evidence of cures (all done gratis).

  • nicky

    What is often overlooked in football reporting is that the views expressed are those of a single individual. And it doesn’t take much to realise that each reporter has clear likes and dislikes among the top clubs and players.
    For this reason, one should always treat reporting with a degree of reserve.
    The follow-up comes in the form of headline writing (not normally the responsibility of the reporter). This will generally reflect the (often biased) opinion of the report, generally in the form of an eye-catching few words.
    With the advances in television, the availability of recordings and playback, it is now possible for followers of our national game to see for themselves precisely what has gone on during a game (particularly in the top division).
    In consequence, the power and influence of newspaper reporting has seriously declined over the years…..not a bad thing. Sports enthusiasts can now make up their own minds after seeing live action for themselves. (Having first muted the inane controversial chat from the so-called pundits in the studio!)

  • Menace

    Despite all the TV & technology – My learned friends who support other teams, keep telling me that I am making up conspiracy theories!! Costa was wrongly judged in his fiesty play against Arsenal. When it comes to the more recent spud play, it is ok to out muscle an opponent – a touch of Rugby Stoke City style.

  • Al

    I wonder what the media reaction would have been had it been rooney shoved into that pit.

  • Jerry

    I agree completely with the statements made by Rantetta and Sam above.

    It’s easy to say common sense when looking back in hindsight in regards to Sanchez. Arsene Wenger, however, has to make his decisions in the moment with the best intentions of the club moving forward.

    No way for anyone to know exactly what Arsene Wenger was thinking, but one possible theory is:
    1)There was 5 days since our last match
    2)Sanchez is deemed fit to play based on all available medical tests and advice
    3)The player says he is perfectly fit before the game
    4) Ramsey and Ox have only returned to match fitness this week

    So why not let Sanchez play against Norwich and rest him vs Sunderland, so he can be completely re-energized for the CL match, while also allowing Ox and Ramsey to improve their recovery and match fitness for another week.

    Sanchez did look perfectly fit for the 1st 40 minutes or so (look what he did to set up the 1st goal)until he was shoved into the camera pit so you can not really fault Arsene Wenger’s thinking if looking at the situation from a club/season level rather than just 1 match.

  • Jerry

    In regards to the failed Cazorla substitution, a club has only 3 available substitutions in a match, but Arsenal had 3 injuries (Koscielny, Sanchez, + Cazorla) as well as Ramsey in his 1st match back. You can’t make a square peg fit into a round hole. Unfortunately for Arsenal and Cazorla, his injury got worse as the match went on.

  • OlegYch

    i feel like we’re not giving enough attention to in-game management of injuries
    eg walcott vs tottenham, wilshere vs a bunch of teams, koscielny vs norwich, sanchez vs a couple of teams
    they all were limping long before they were actually subbed off through injury
    and i don’t remember Arsene subbing off a player as a precautionary measure, except maybe Ozil vs bayern (and it only happened during the half-time break)
    i wonder if this is the area were Arsenal could improve

  • Mandy Dodd

    Arsenals officials and players need to be making far more of an issue of a player being pushed into a camera pit. As posted , if it happened to Rooney, or God incarnate deli Alli, can imagine the media outcry. Our games are beamed live worldwide, our players should expose some of the opponents and refs for what they are. Our players should have been all over that ref on that incident.
    As Tom said earlier in the week, Adams keown and co would not have accepted some of the things our players are facing, our silence and acquiescence is getting us nowhere.

  • Al

    Thanks for the link Rantetta, it provides most of the answers to the questions people are asking here. For those lazy to copy and paste (I know, I’m one of those) I’ll embed the link here for ease of access. Please take a minute or two to read, before rushing to blame Wenger for everything.

  • Al

    Mandy 1:50am
    You make very valid points about the club making more of an issue about these incidents against our players, agree 100%. But unfortunately the media blacks out any protestations made by the club re such issues. Wenger covered the Sanchez shove at depth (not sure if it was at his press conference) and was livid that Bennett was allowed to get away scot free with such action, even saying Bennett could have killed Sanchez by his actions. Now you’d think anyone levelling such an accusation would cause a storm and get a fair depth of coverage in the media, but sadly no. This has only been picked up by a few in the mainstream media, and I genuinely think that’s where the problem lies. Had it been some silly and childish barb by the odious one aimed at Wenger you can bet every newspaper and TV station in the land would cover it, over and over, 24/7. And even then, those that covered the story still try to poke fun at Wenger by the tone of their reporting, and curiously do not make more of Bennett’s insipid argument that he was trying to stop Sanchez, when it’s clear it was a push as his palms were both open (unless his hands have magnetic properties to human blood). I’m afraid the club simply cannot win against this kind of bias.

  • Al

    For instance there’s no mention of this at all on the BBC website. Nothing. Zilch. But had maureen called Wenger a failure or something silly the beeb would have covered that for sure.

  • Rantetta


    Thanks for linking the link. And for explaining why Arsenal’s player’s and staff can’t perform anything that could be construed as Retaliation.

    I’ll remind everyone that the Norwich’s, WBA’s, Stoke’s, etc, violence is simply today’s Brum, Bolton and Blackburn, etc. (and any team managed by British manager’s, say, large-us, chew-us, Sam – who has followed the lines of Pulis and Nor-thug – by talking pseudo-respectably about Arsenal and will look to take out some more of our player’s today.

    By the way, I’d predicted Norwich injuring our players by referring back to the match against them at the Ems where Sagna got his leg broken for the 2nd time in the season – by a stamp from one of their players.

    MOTD showed a glimpse of the assault in the same way as they’d done the one on Alexis.

    The whole point of the Presstitutes showing these assaults without critical analysis is to let everyone know that it’s fine to deliberately injure Arsenal’s player’s. And that’s why it carries on. Match after match.


  • Menace

    Al I know the scousers would be looking for the old biddy Rooney dived in for!

    There are several areas where Arsenal could benefit if there was sufficient belief. Injuries are not wholly an Arsenal issue it is an FA issue. I raised the issue of advertising too close to the field of play & even made enquiries about H&S but the sloping shoulders of the H&S Exec is alarming. It is the local authorities that have to ensure H&S. I rhink Arsenal should sue Norwich
    1 -for an unguarded pit close to the field of play
    2 -for the deliberate push by their playing staff into the pit.

  • Norman14

    I for one, think that pit at Norwich is life threatening. It should be inspected by HSE and filled in.

    Whoever you support, I think ALL geniune football suppoorters would not wish a serious or life threatening injury on any player, especially via a situation that can so easily be rectified.

  • Norman14


    I agree with your sentiment to sue, but I don’t really think that Bennett tried to push Alexis into the pit. He pushed him, no argument, but I’d like to think he was genuine in his apology afterwards. I don’t think he realised where Alexis would end up.

  • Norman14


    Sky asked Arsene about “reports” that he was preparing a bid for John Stones.

    No paper had reported this, no media had flagged it, not even Arsenal’s more reliable sources ie UA and AB, had any inkling of it.

    AW replied he was not interested in signing Stones.

    Within a few minutes, the headline screaming out of Sky was “Wenger denies interest in signing John Stones”.

    This was an invented rumour based on non existant reports, but which Sky turned into a headline.

    So, they asked the question, the answer was given.

    Is that “evidence based” “football opinion” or just “pure bollox” to get hits onto the Sky web site?