By Tony Attwood
It is fashionable these days to pick on a player, describe him as useless and then say the manager is an idiot for playing him. When TV, blogs, radio and newspaper columnists all join in, the opinion becomes the truth, and it can take quite a bit of individual analysis and determination to go against the norm and say, “hang on, that guy performs a valuable task.”
Fortunately I am so used to being laughed at and called things far worse than an idiot, it doesn’t worry me too much these days so I can occasionally go against the grain, as I wish to do here.
Thus, in end of year summaries Mustafi has come in for a lot of criticism and is often listed as one of the players who needs to be moved on – indeed a player that any manager other than Wenger would have moved on years ago. Well, one year ago.
That argument is circular – Wenger is an idiot and idiots don’t see reality, so anyone Wenger picked was a dolt. Take the case of defenders who can pass. It is, you might agree, rather a helpful technique. Not a traditional English technique – in the PW (pre-Wenger) era when most managers were of the Allerdyce persuasion and told their centre halves (as we used to call them) to lump it up the pitch, passing was considered to be a sign of moral decadence.
Now everyone has to try and pass. But who can pass?
In the table below PS% is pass success percentage and the figures come from WhoScored – showing our top ten, excluding players who made under 10 starts. So that means I am including Alexis who fitted into that category but has obviously gone onto his new role as a non-goalscoring goalscorer. Asts means assists, MotM is man of the match.
Aerials in this regard mean aerial contests won per game on average. What is interesting to me (and as always this might just be me pondering stuff that is of no interest to the rest of humanity) is just how high Mustafi scores in pass success percentage (PS%) – not the highest but still fairly good. Also he has got three man of the match awards.
And yet in an article in the Guardian (to which I note no author will dare put his or her name) which discusses the flops of the season there is the comment that “Any number of Arsenal players might have appeared here – Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka have been largely terrible.”
So I am not trying to argue that Mustafi was brilliant at this moment, but rather I am wanting to understand how a detailed set of statistics and analyses could suggest that he is the player with the highest ranking in WhoScored and also “largely terrible” in an unsigned Guardian article. (He actually turns out to have the second highest ranking of central defenders in the whole of the Who Scored listings).
As I pointed out in a post yesterday, Arsenal let in one goal more than Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea every three games, which when measured on that basis does not represent a terrible position, and certainly suggests that a greater focus or more astute tackling could have resolved that issue.
But there was of course another major issue in relation to our season, the terrible away form.
Self-evidently the form of the team in general was not terrible since we had the second best home record in the league – which is quite amazing considering the hostile atmosphere that surrounded the team at the Emirates in a number of games – even though it was always a minority of people providing that atmosphere.
The most obvious explanation for that was simply the notion of the “run” – the psychological feeling that people get when acitivities fall into patterns. The person who drives all over the country but gets the feeling that he always has an accident in Cumbria is of course more likely to have an accident in Cumbria because he is more tense and less likely to drive in his normal manner.
Hopefully our next manager will not be one who says “you can prove anything with statistics” and so follows the newspaper advice to get rid of Mustafi as the first thing he does.
And also, isn’t it funny how these commentators who know so much about football that they can earn a living writing comments, don’t actually go and manage a team – especially when it pays so much more than mere journalism. Indeed just to prove his worth such a commentator could take on a lower league team (there are thousands of such adverts appearing every month) just to show that he really does know.
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