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October 2020
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“Arsenal’s backline lacked solidity over the last decade or so” True or nonsense?

By Tony Attwood

The statement above was made in a headline from a supposed Arsenal news service called AFC Live which turns up several times a day on my phone.

“Arsenal’s backline lacked solidity over the last decade or so,” – it says.  But is that true, or are they just part of the knocking Arsenal campaign that the media has run ever since Mr Wenger turned up.

To find out I took a look at Arsenal’s record over the past ten years – the period that AFC Live select, to see

Here we can see the goals scored against the club in each of the last ten seasons, the points gained and then a new calculation in the final column: “goals against position”.  In that column, the best defensive record over the ten years comes (rather obviously) first, and the two equal worst defences come ninth.

Season Goals Against Points League position Goals against position
2009–10 41 75 3 4
2010–11 43 68 4 6
2011–12 49 70 3 8
2012–13 37 73 4 3
2013–14 41 79 4 4
2014–15 36 75 3 1
2015–16 36 71 2 1
2016–17 44 75 5 7
2017–18 51 63 6 9
2018–19 51 70 5 9

So the best defence in the ten years that AFC Live cite was 2014/15 with 36 goals conceded and 2015/16 where we came 3rd and 2nd in the league.  Neither in terms of defensive records (fewer than one goal a game conceded) nor in terms of league position, do these seem that bad.  If we had come second or third in the years since Mr Wenger left, most of us would, I think, have been very happy.

But here’s another thing: defensive records in terms of goals don’t directly relate either to points gained or league position.  In 2015/6 we got 71 points and came second letting in 36 goals.  In 2012/13 we conceded just one goal more (37), but got two points more (73) but came fourth.

Added to which goals against does not directly relate to league position.  In 2011/12 we had our second-worst defensive season out of the decade but came third.  Last season we had our equal worst defensive season but got the same number of points as when we came third in 2011/12.

But what these little blogs try and do is simplify football with fake news, a couple of lines to suggest a) the defence has been poor for ten years and b) by implication, the management has been incompetent in not dealing with it.

However, we can also make the point that matters have not been helped by the fact that some fans turned on Mustafi, who came in as a very decent and competent central defender, and then barracked him so much he began to lose his nerve.  Then they claimed he was atrocious and should never have been signed.  Then when he showed amazing character to fight his way back into the team and take on the boo-boys (as Chapman called them) he gained little praise.

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There is more to be made from the observation that Arsenal do badly when some of the crowd at Arsenal Stadium turns against the team.

But we can take this further.  Let’s look at the defence during the early part of Mr Wenger’s reign – the title-winning era.

Season Goals against League position Same goals against as…  Comment*
1997–98 33 1
1998–99 17 2
1999–2000 43 2 2017 44 = 5th 6 years better*
2000–01 38 2
2001–02 36 1 2015; 2016
2002–03 42 2 6 years better*
2003–04 26 1

To interpret this, the goals scored against us in 2015 and 2016, two of the years which AFC Live consider part of the “lack solidity” defensive era, were the same as 2001/2 in which we won the league!

We can also note that in 1999/2000 Arsenal’s goals against tally was 43, which was only one goal worse than 2016/17.

* The final column “comment” shows the rank stupidity of the AFC Live comment in that in the past decade, the era they have chosen to comment upon, for six of those years we have had a better defence than in 1999/2000 and 2002/3, considered by most balanced commentators to be Arsenal’s greatest era since the second world war.  The equivalent to 1929/30 to 1934/5 when we won the league four times and FA Cup once (under Chapman, Shaw and Allison), as opposed to the League three times and FA Cup three times under Mr Wenger.

The point is that simplifying issues in this way with broad generalisations, just leads to fake news, the endless story told by the media that the defence is not right, a lot of the players need to be thrown aside and new players brought in.

And this despite the fact that as we have shown, buying lots of players at once tends to send a club down the league table not up – as has happened this season.

A wholesale reworking of the defence now will give us another year of instability, for by mindlessly repeating the same mantra over and over again, people start to believe it, and in order to keep the so-called fans (the AAA as we have called them) quiet and get them off the backs of the players, more and more players are bought.

Which is why, listening to the crowd and watching the players, young players like Saka fancy leaving the club, simply to get to play in front of a crowd that appreciates the team.  It is not that anyone is booing Saka, but Saka has seen what the crowd did to Mustafi, and is quite possibly thinking, “All players have a few bad games and when I get that run, I don’t fancy treatment like that.”

The story about the bad defence over 10 years is there just to perpetuate the myth.  We have had two years of poorer showings in defence than we would hope where the number of goals conceded has been way outside the norm.  These are the two years when Mr Wenger was first under ceaseless media, AFTV and AAA attack, and then not at the club.  There might be a connection.

3 comments to “Arsenal’s backline lacked solidity over the last decade or so” True or nonsense?

  • Laos Gooner

    Surely the you tube channel you mention are part of AAA and do not require the extra publicity of being named on this page. Why bother to give them a degree of credence in the article above? I am sure there will be some amongst them who will see it as a bonus that they get mention. Free publicity for your enemy?
    One might wonder if the media are so anti Arsenal because they fear our record of exposing historical match fixing by 2 shameful northern teams and we can’t be having that again. If Arsenal were to be examined in detail then it could lead to enquiries about the integrity go the Pigmob and then how would those people gain free access to grounds on match days?

  • Mandy Dodd

    A thorny issue. I don’t think it’s any secret that Wenger believed attack was the best form of defence, and played accordingly. That isn’t to say we haven’t had some very decent defenders during this time.
    But we haven’t been set up to defend at all costs in the way a Pulis, Big Sam, or even most Chelsea teams are set up. Our FBs and CMFs did often sit high and expose those at the back under Wenger, but there are also clear benefits to such a system, swarming opponents with skilled Mfs and superb attackers. And Santi Cazorla.
    Where I think there may have been a problem, when the attack had an off day, the defence had lost confidence and when exposed, mistakes could happen. Let’s not let the PGMOL off the hook either, since Fergie set the wheels in motion with his helpers, some refs have been desperate to penalise our players at any opportunity, defenders took the brunt of this. Just look at our penalty balance under Riley. And we know the way this team were refereed , especially in away games to physical opponents.
    Hard to conclude this one, Wengers latter teams were certainly not as defensively solid as teams with Keown Adams and Bould, but the game changed, as did philosophies, and Riley came in. I would just say that in the last ten years, we have had some excellent defenders, just look at Kos and Per for starters, but they have not been helped by external factors. Not easy being an Arsenal defender in the last ten years.

  • Nitram

    Mandy

    Great assessment.

    Keep safe everyone