There is something strange going on with football defences and it might be worth noting what it is.

I am aware that some correspondents are finding their comments put into moderation, even though they have been commenting unhindered on Untold for a long time.  I think it might be something to do with the new arrangements put in place as a result of the advent of GDPR in Europe, and I am trying to work out what exactly is going on.   As long as you’ve haven’t been off topic or abusive, or breaking other rules laid down on our comments page, it’s nothing personal.


By Tony Attwood

This is the time of year when some Arsenal fans find it hard to understand why Arsenal are not splashing the cash, and why other clubs seem to be able to spend so much more.

Such anger can be expressed in numerous ways including Football London’s which has a relentless agenda of suggesting that the club is in turmoil.   As with their current anti-Arsenal headline, “‘Absolutely pathetic – disgusted!’ Arsenal fans react with fury to Liverpool’s Fabinho swoop.”

Apart from missing the rather important word “some” in front of “Arsenal fans” – or maybe better, “We’ve found half a dozen Arsenal fans who…” which is more accurate, the problem with this approach is that it is against the entire culture of the club.

Arsenal have not gone to the edge of bankruptcy for 108 years – longer than most clubs – and have not relied on loans from a director since Sir Henry Norris (who bailed the club out from its near bankruptcy) recovered the loans he had made into Arsenal so that the club could first build and then later buy Highbury Stadium.

Since then Arsenal has been self-sustaining.  Now we might not like that, and indeed I’ve acknowledged in articles that we are quite unlikely to win the League or Champions League with this model because we are up against the wealth of the Emirates Investment Authority in terms of Manchester City, the worldwide marketing of Manchester United which was initiated in the late 1950s, the wealth of Abramovich which supports Chelsea, and the investments from Fenway Sports which owns Liverpool.

This tradition of Arsenal being self-sustaining is so central to the club that although I can have great sympathy with demands for the owner to put money into the club, beyond the profits and income from player sales, to make such a change would be to transform the whole nature of the club.

It so happens we have reached the age in which individual teams can dominate a league so constantly, that everyone thinks it is normal.   It certainly hasn’t been that way in England throughout the League’s history, for although there have been periods of dominance by clubs such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, these have not been as absolute or long term as the dominance of Bayern, Celtic, Juventus etc.

But this is not all there is, any more than all of Arsenal’s faults can be put down simply to having a poor defence.  As has been expressed here before, at the very least we have to say that Arsenal had a poor defence away from home, but actually quite a good defence at home.

And once we get to that sort of debate we should find ourselves also looking at what has happened to clubs in the Champions League.   As others have pointed out before me, Juventus had not let in a single goal in 21 of their previous 25 domestic games when they suddenly let in three to Real Madrid.  Barcelona were unbeaten in the Spanish League and 15 points in front of Real Madrid when along came Roma (third in the Italian league) and beat them.

There have been a number of surprising results in the Champions League in the past couple of years and commentators have struggled to explain them.   The CIES Football Observatory found in one analysis that over one in five of all Champions League games ended with a winning margin of three plus goals.  And that was not just in the unbalanced group stages – the same figure can be found in the knock out stages.

And the figures show this has been going on for eight seasons.  But go back nine years or more and it was only one in eight.

So what has happened?   The most likely explanation is that as the dominance of domestic leagues has continued by one or occasionally two clubs in each country so the culture of the defence has changed.  What is the point of having defenders who can defend if they rarely have to defend in the domestic league.  Let’s have defenders who can play the ball.  After all if you are winning every game in the League you have to entertain the crowd with something.  Ball playing defenders is one idea.

The great vulnerability of the mega-clubs living on the backs of ceaseless championships in their home league is that their defenders get used to a certain style of play which has all become too easy for them.  The Champions League final was played between a team that came 17 points behind the leaders in the Spanish League, and a team that finished 25 points behind the leaders in the Premier League.  Those two teams have not had it easy in their leagues – and so their defences were ready to defend rather than ball play, when it came to matches.

Thus winning the domestic league might not be any sort of indication of how a club will do in the Champions League.  Except maybe that it means that club is unlikely to win in Europe.

Which raises the question: will the serial league winners in leagues such as Germany, Spain, Scotland, Italy, France, and I suspect (unless something very unexpected happens, from here on in England) be able to make this adjustment?   And will non-champion teams realise that defensive defenders rather than crafty ball players, can actually overcome the serial winners?



16 Replies to “There is something strange going on with football defences and it might be worth noting what it is.”

  1. First and last our budget is well below what the club can afford. Our financial books, statements, etc… Are being used to validate low-interest loans for #silentstanout LA Rams stadium.
    It was studied that spending to win actually makes less of a profit with a sliding scale to a negative profit margin unless you’re a global brand. Man City & PSG has proven that our approach basically sucks. In a shorter time they have rapidly climbed the charts as global sports brands and are still growing aggressively although they haven’t won the Champions league yet. They are expanding fast and using technology along with$$$.

  2. Tony, if we had ‘quite a good defence at home’ then why did we let so many goal in at home? Wouldn’t the quite high number of goals against us (compared to teams around and above us) suggest that we just scored more at home?
    I’m not saying our defence is rubbish but we let too many in both home and especially away, so IMO it definately needs to be worked on.

  3. I am still getting the WPtouch Mobile Suite for WordPress “stylesheet” for some Untold pages, and it still will not remember that I have a desktop (not mobile).


    With respect to defences, I think they are perhaps a little over-rated. You will not win games if you cannot score. What defence brings is a tendency to not lose games. If IFAB/FIFA would adjust things, such that a 0-0 final score resulted in both teams getting no points, then it would further reinforce the idea to teams that they need to be able to score.


    Apparently a website called The Conversation ran an article on Arsenal having Rwanda as their sleeve sponsor. The website Quartz Africa is re-running this article, which is how I seen it.

    Some interesting questions in that piece.

  4. Gord, you’re not alone with the format issue. I get one page as desktop then the next as mobile and when I press the desktop button on the bottom of the page It just refreshes the mobile page, despite me using a laptop…

  5. Arsenal defense-line will need to be overhauled this summer window in readiness for next season’s campaign. More so after conceding woefully in their away matches last season in the PL. Even in the FA Cup, which Arsenal played at the City ground against Nottingham Forest in the 3rd last season, the Gunners defense-line in that match conceded 4 times to Nottingham Forest in the game to lost that 3rd round tie in the FA Cup that afternoon. If the Gunners had not conceded thrice to Man City in the final match of the League Cup last season, Arsenal would have excel in the competition but if they had scored to beat Man City. And in the Europa, they conceded one solitary goal home and away to see themselves ousted at the semifinal stage of the competition last season to Atletico Madrid. Therefore, the conceding of goals by the Gunners at home and at away in all competitions next season had to stop if they are to win any Title or Titles during and at the end of the campaign.

    In the light of revamping the Arsenal defense-line in readiness for next season’s campaign in all competitions more especially to enabled the Gunners to mount a PL Title challenge, I think the Arsenal players transfer hierarchy is on the war path already to see that Arsenal defense-line is revamped well enough to make it very strong so as to not be conceding goals that will lead to defeats or even draw games for Arsenal not only at the Ems but at away grounds too.

    I am of the thinking the signing of the experienced Dortmund centreback, Sokratis Papastothopolus this summer by Arsenal could go a long way in stabilising the porous Arsenal back four or back three defense-line of last season’s campaing that was conceding bastardly at away in the PL. Nonetheless, Arsenal can still do another experienced centreback signing this summer but not Lichtsteiner in my own view. For, I think he’ll already aged at 34 to cope with pace in defending at the Arsenal back line during the campaign next season. But If the Arsenal players transfer hierarchy feels the Gunners defense-line will still need to be further strengthened this summer, they can then go ahead to sign another experienced centreback who is tall, very strong and has attacking and recovering pace but should not be more than 27 – 28 years of age so as to give Arsenal 3 years of service at the top level of the game. Does Jonny Evans fill this age bracket? I doubt.

    Nevertheless, the bucks doesn’t stop at revamping Arsenal back line alone this summer. If Arsenal are to be very strong in all arrears on the field of play next season to challenge to win the PL Title which will not be impossible for them to achieve despite the massive current spendings by some their 5 PL Title win rival club sides who have been strengthening their squads now ahead of next season’s campaign and will likely continue to spend more and more to further strengthen before the summer window closes. To be efficient in defending and not to be conceding goals home and away in all competitions next season, Arsenal MUST upgrade their midfielder holding department with a top quality defensive/playmaker midfielder signing this summer for option and for cover to protect the Gunners defense-line effectively. But they MUST keep Xhaka, Wilshere and ElNeny at the club this summer who have done this dual job in the team for the club last season. Therefore, the ball is in the court of Sven Mislintat, the Arsenal recruitment officer to fish out the top quality holding/playmaker midfielder for Arsenal to sign him this summer but he should not be old. And let not the Arsenal players transfer hierarchy forget that importantly this summer, they have to find a senior top quality striker signing for Arsenal this summer who has a proven 20 League goals scoring per season record at a top club in any of the European 5 top clubs to replace a senior striker at Arsenal whose annual goals scoring returns in the PL for Arsenal in very minimal if not dismal overtime.

    As for Man City repeating the feast they had in the PL last season to win the Title next season, I don’t think they’ll win the PL Title in next League campaign. For, despite their unlimited spending power resources to buy any player they want, the opposition teams in the PL next campaign will stop them. In fact, I think Arsenal will put out a very strong team next season that will stop Man City from winning the PL Title but if the Gunners get their priorities very right and win the League Title themselves.

  6. Gord
    29/05/2018 at 3:46 pm
    Thanks for the link Gord.
    When I read the news of the sponsorship, alarm bells rang in my head. I didn’t take time to check on my fears. I think this sponsorship is shameful of Arsenal.

    I heard on the BBC that in Edmonton there is a car park for 20 000 cars. Is this true?

  7. I think that if Arsenal wanted to help Rwanda, taking some “token amount” for a sponsorship might be better. But I think there are a lot of people who know a lot more than I do about this.

    I seen that you had asked Colario, and answered you in that thread. Yes, West Edmonton Mall has 20,000 (or so) parking stalls. But as full sized pickup trucks are so popular in Alberta, those are all quite large parking stalls.

    This mall has been the largest mall in the world at least once.

  8. The mobile / desktop display is untold misery!! Get your software tested before publication on the live site.

  9. With regards to the sleeve sponsorship – shame on our admin people for not doing due dilligence on the people offering the money. It is shameful to support an individuals dreams while allowing millions to starve.

  10. Vicbklyn, how many years do you think it will take the $iteh or PSG global marketing to increase their Merchandise sales and/or valid sponsorship to a level where it will cover their losses (owner expense) for just one year?

  11. Menace

    Wayne Gretsky’s name was associated in some way, but as far as I know the real owners from the beginning were the Ghermezian’s (sp?). That mall is between 170 and 178 St and between 89 and about 91 or 92 Avenue. I lived in Edmonton up to about 1975, and at that time everything west of 170 Street was bush/swamp. I used to ride a 50cc motorcycle in there. Later before going to university I moved back to Edmonton, and I did the landscaping on a noise control berm on the west side of 170 Street, just north of West Edmonton Mall. So I know that land well.

  12. @AndyMac, it happened this year for ManC. It would have been for PSG if they didn’t buy Neymar & Mbabe. Strangely enough, Neymar’s jersey sales & marketing is putting a dent but more importantly for the owners, the advertising brands are growing which won’t necessarily all reflect on PSG”s books. UEFA has done surveys on brands. The point has they just started something that we have been doing/planning since #silentstan took over.
    When Leicester won the league, we were the most stable big club. 2 more signings and we win the league. I don’t think financially we will change. That year after buying & selling we spent around $4m. Lol smh

  13. Gord
    30/05/2018 at 4:04 am

    Thanks for the links Gord. I am sorry I missed your reply first time round.

    Have you checked Wiki on Rwanda?

  14. This article is funny, apart from the fact mentioned by a commenter that our “good home defense” was still worse than the teams above us, you make statements like “Those two teams have not had it easy in their leagues – and so their defences were ready to defend rather than ball play, when it came to matches.” First isn’t that going against your long term mantra that football journalists only remember the last 5minutes or matches? Last seasons final was between Madrid and juventus, both domestic league champions. 2ndly, isn’t it the same Liverpool you said last week was shambolic defensively, conceding 5 to Roma?

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