By Tony Attwood
Behold the league table…
|19||West Ham United||2||0||0||2||1||6||-5||0|
And behold bloggers and journalists for whom players, managers and teams are only as good as their last game – and quite often ten minutes within their last game.
So Arsenal play West Ham, Huddersfield are at home to Cardiff, Fulham are at home to Burnley. Consider we lose, and Huddersfield and Fulham both win, as well (logically) as West Ham. What do the pundits and the bloggers say? Anything helpful?
The window for buying is shut, and every player apart from Iwobi has alreadybeen heavily criticised either in bloggettas, newspapers, on radio or on TV. So what do they call for? A new manager? Bringing in the reserves?
Thus we start to see the trouble with criticising everyone at once – if something bad happens there is nowhere further to go in terms of vitriol. Although I suppose we could call for sacking the manager…
Of course we have lost the opening three games before – in 1894/5 in the second division we lost 5-2 away to Lincoln City, 1-3 at home to Grimsby Town and 0-3 away to Burton Swifts, in the second division. Then we went on a seven match unbeaten run and finished the second in 8th. Mind you following incidents involving the referee on 26 January in the return match with Burton the ground was closed – initially for the rest of the season but later for five weeks. Other clubs that suffered far worse crowd problems got a one match closure. It was ever thus.
We also lost all three opening games was in 1921/2 as we lost to Sheffield United home and away and Preston away and finished the season in 17th, and in 1923/4 we lost the first four (and then won the next three) – but that season we were very close to relegation and losing sequences became a habit.
Here’s another: in 1910/11 in the first division we didn’t win any of the first seven, and finished the season in 10th.
But this all leads to this point: in 1928/9 with Herbert Chapman as our manager we lost the opening two games before winning the third (2-0 against Bolton). We came 9th that season. The following season we won the FA Cup for the first time, and then the season after that won the league with a record number of points.
And if you think that having a good team is a help (although as I have said, every single member of the squad who has played this season has been vitriolically attacked except Iwobi) you might be able to think back to 1976/7 when Terry Neill was the manager. The team included Liam Brady, Malcolm Macdonald, Frank Stapleton, George Armstrong, Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson.
It was not a season of a high number of injuries but that season we managed an all time Arsenal record of seven consecutive defeats. And they came in an 11 match sequence without a win. The crowds sank to around 19,000, but we still managed to end up 8th in the league.
After the seven defeat run was over we went on another run of seven games in which we won six and lost one.
Runs like this has a habit of balancing out – although one can’t always rely on it. But take 1987/8 under George Graham. We opened with two defeats and a goalless draw. That team included Rocastle, Smith, Thomas, O’Leary, Adams and very occasionally Merson. Then we won ten in a row including six without conceding and ended the season in sixth. We also made it to the League Cup final where we…. err.. lost to Luton Town. I was there.
George Graham in fact was notorious for poor starts. In the previous season, 1986/7 we won two games in the first eight, in a run which included four consecutive games in which we did not score a goal. Then we had a 17 game unbeaten run in which we won each game apart from four draws. After that it was a ten match run in which we didn’t win a single game. We got to the League Cup Final that year (it was the year before the Luton final) and played Liverpool. And won. First trophy since the Bronze Age – or so it seemed. The commentators didn’t have a clue what to say. All their notes written before the game called us “plucky losers.”
Anyway, my point, if there is one, is that runs don’t mean anything. If we were to come unstuck this weekend, the results wouldn’t worry me. I am still much more concerned about the vitriol pouring forth against our players. That is going to be a much greater hurdle to overcome.
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