Xhaka, Mustafi, Cech, Iwobi, Emery… all battered by the media. But are Arsenal really that inept?

By Tony Attwood

We see it every day – criticism on blogs of particular players and/or members of the management team.   Of course the bloggettas, being inherently cowardly they rarely take responsibility for the opinions expressed, but instead quote three or four twitter accounts.

But the impression is clearly given: because these bloggers never talk about other clubs, it is Arsenal that has the dolts and idiot players in its team, plus inept management who are too slow to bring in the top players and too stupid to see how awful some of the current players are.

However now we have something to add to the “debate” (I use the word lightly).  Because the Guardian has published its survey of “The Premier League teams’ ineptitude index 2018-19.”   You can of course find the whole article on the Guardian’s website, and so I am not going to run through every detail here, but I would like to give the key areas in which the Guardian writers give points for stupidity.

The raw data is taken from Opta but the areas of stupidity chosen are the Guardian to give the index.  Past winners of the “trophy” for incompetence have been

  • 2014/15 Queens Park Rangers
  • 2015/16 Aston Villa
  • 2016/17 Hull City
  • 2017/18 Watford

So although incompetence is an indicator of relegation, it is not always so, as Watford shows.   Here are the details…

1) Throwing the ball to the opposition.

It happens with long balls into the box where the risk is worth taking, but Cardiff win having done it 309 times this season.  Arsenal aren’t shown in the chart.  Aside from the clubs lower in the table, Everton and Leicester make notable contributions having done it 157 times each.

2) Yellow card for removing a shirt

Arsenal and Man U are both in the list of teams that have done it twice.  Leicester stand alone having done it three times.

3) Conceding a 90th-minute (or later) winner or equaliser; or blowing a two-goal (or more) lead

Southampton are the champions here having done it four times.   Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Crystal Palace join Arsenal in not having conceded a late winner or equaliser.  Arsenal has also not been two up and blown it.  Everton are among the teams that have done it.

4) Goalkeeping incompetence

Asmir Begovic has five errors leading to goals. Bernd Leno is on three – which is the same number as the keepers at Liverpool and Everton.  In terms of conceding from goalkicks, playing it short reduces the chances of this.  But for Neil Etheridge at Cardiff that seems not to be an option – Cardiff concede possession from goalkicks on six out of every 10 occasions they get one.   Arsenal are right down at the foot of both tables.

5) Own goals.

Teams that have conceded one own goal are not penalised in this list, so Arsenal get no penaltypoints, but Tottenham and Man U have both conceded three own goals.  Only Wolverhampton have done it four times.

Conceding penalties comes into this category too, and this is where Arsenal slip up having conceded six penalties.  The top offender is Brighton with nine.  Chelsea have conceded two, Man City four, Liverpool one.  Other mistakes that lead to goals but not via penalties also come into the calculations and here Xhaka apparently is included into the list – although rather bizarrely the Guardian team fail to tell us how many times he has done it.

Everton and Manchester United have “missed” three each.   Arsenal are penalised in the Guardian chart for having “missed” one.

7) Not scoring

From this point on it all gets even sillier – like giving team a one point fine for failing to score in a match.  Not surprisingly Huddersfield score highly in this regard as do other clubs heading for relegation, but it is interesting that West Ham have had 14 games where they have not and Chelsea have nine such occasions.   Arsenal have three such games, along with Tottenham and Liverpool.

8) Simulation, diving, dissent and red cards.

Diving is one of the most contested issues in football, and of course part of the problem with this whole approach from the Guaridan is that is starts from the basic premise that the referee is right in all cases – remembering of course that the matches considered here are all played without VAR while being regulated by the fanatically secretive and grossly understaffed PGMO.   Arsenal and Tottenham have each been penalised four times for dives and they are the top clubs in this regard.

In terms of dissent this is where the ref has enormous latitude in deciding what is reasoned commentary and what is worthy of a yellow card.  There are no microphones so this is an area where the ref really could hamper at team if he had been persuaded so to do in a Type III match fixing situation.

Cardiff have 10 dissent cards, Arsenal eight, Leicester and Newcastle have seven.   Liverpool only has one dissent card – bottom of the list.

9) Red cards

The newspaper awards five points for every player sent off.   Which gives Leicester 25 points followed by such media favourites as Manchester United.  At the other end Chelsea have had none – of which the newspaper in a hilarious twist says “which may tell you something about their combative spirit”.  Or may not as the case may be.

10)  Failing to find your own player in your own half

Wolverhampton are the worst at this, followed by Fulham, followed by Arsenal.   That looks rather damning, but then Manchester City, Cardiff, Burnley and Southampton are the best.  So that suggests desirable though it is, passing to your own player in your own half isn’t that indicative of anything.  I suspect because quite often when the ball is intercepted from such a pass, it gains no advantage – perhaps being the result of a leg stuck out and the ball bouncing out of play or back to the team playing out from the back.

Bonus award:  General incompetence

Here the newspaper gives points to team for hiring and firing a manager in the same season, touchline bans for managers,  and (because Arsenal actually aren’t picking up many points) the paper balances this by getting a point for having Victo Manas have a tunnel discussion with someone from Crystal Palace.

So it is clearly not all serious, but whether this is because the newspaper want to publish something funny, or because they couldn’t be arsed to sort out a proper analysis or because they did, and then didn’t like the results it came up with, it is hard to tell.

But they do note that two years ago Hull under Marco Silva were top of their list and last year Watford with Marco Silva were top of the list.  This year, he’s nearly made it three in a row with Everton.


If you are a regular reader you’ll know I like statistics, but with the caveat that statistics need to be considered carefully to see what they reveal.  Rejecting them all because “you can prove anything with stats” is as childish is accepting any stat without looking at it in depth. So the statistics show that Chelsea have 64% possession this season but only 173 shots on target.   You need to see both stats together to see Chelsea’s problem.

As for the winners of the Guardian’s incompetence chart, the top three are Cardiff, Brighton and Everton.   Man U are 9th, Arsenal and Tottenham are equal 12th,  The bottom three are Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.

Does it tell us anything?  Nothing definitive of course, but even with some fancy flicks of a computer keyboard, the Guardian has not managed to get Arsenal in the top 10 for incompetence, which suggests these ceaseless negative tales really don’t have much going for them – just as we thought.

7 Replies to “Xhaka, Mustafi, Cech, Iwobi, Emery… all battered by the media. But are Arsenal really that inept?”

  1. Or maybe their entire universe doesn’t evolve around beating arsenal on the head!

  2. Tony
    The table never lies so of course the team are not that bad. However, the awful result against CP should sound a wake up call that the rebuild has some way to go. Getting the long term injured back will certainly plug holes but defects in midfield and central defence really need correcting. On the whole I am pretty pleased with the season particularly in Europe (But Saturday’s result was really a set-back) But, the Arsenal movers and shakers must be aware of the problems as much as we are.

  3. Please spare a thought or a prayer for the current ill health of YW, the patron of ACLF, a sister site supporting our great Club.

  4. Spuds 76
    Arsenal 74
    Chel$ea 73
    ManU 71

    After drawing with Burnley, the only update of consequence is Chel$ea now forecast to end with 72 points.

  5. No suitable incompetence awards or stats for the referees ? Strange , or maybe not ?
    Next season would you want to bet that VAR will be found incompetent too ?

  6. I do believe that we should name one of the incompetence awards after Gary Neville for his competence, advice and insight to all things related to the EPL.
    A part of Spain may not likely or fully concur, but will allow it to be awarded just for the laughs it may generate .

  7. And speaking of pricks..

    Three ladies are chipping up to the fourth hole at Golf Club when a naked man wearing a paper bag over his head jumps from the trees and runs across the green.

    The three ladies stand in awe at the size of his manhood.

    The first lady says, ‘He is definitely not my husband.’

    The second lady, gazes intently and says, ‘He is not mine either.’

    After a very considerable inspection, the third lady finally says, ‘He’s not even a member of this golf club’.

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