Have Arsenal really fallen apart as the media insist?

By Tony Attwood

As we have seen across the years, newspaper journalists and bloggers hunt in packs.  When one writes a story others follow and then the notion that they are purveying becomes mainstream.

The Athletic summarises this week’s assault with the headline “Let’s not beat around the bush, Arsenal have seen a fairly swift fall from grace in the past few seasons.”  It follows on from the Mail’s “Everything that looked wrong at Arsenal WAS wrong” which we looked at a couple of days back.

There are two things here.  First, since May 27 2017 is just three years Arsenal have had two managers, while Mr Wenger was at Arsenal for 21 years 6 months.  Second that has meant a failure major turnover in the squad.

In the five years leading up to Mr Wenger’s arrival Arsenal came 4th (twice), 5th, 10th and 12th.  In Mr Wenger’s first season he took us to third, and the following season won the double.

But that sort of thing is not normal.  For a start most Arsenal managers don’t win the league at all.  Since the end of the second world war Arsenal have had ten permanent managers up to Mr Wenger of whom four won the league.  So less than a 50% chance of a manager winning the title.

Also after a long term run of success all clubs slip back.   Between 2007 and 2013 Manchester United won the league seven times and came second the other two times.  They changed their long term manager and in the six seasons since have come second (twice), fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh under four permanent and one caretaker manager.

Liverpool won the league in 1990.   In the 30 years since they have come runners up five times, They have also come 7th three times and 8th three times.  To take one more – in 1985 and 1987 Everton won the league, and in between came second.  In 14 of the years following they have finished below 10th.

Chelsea are now considered a top club, and have won the league five times since 2005 (having won it only once before that).  In the other years since 2005 they have finished 10th, 6th, 5th, 3rd and 2nd.

OK that’s load of numbers but my point is that all clubs that have a period of greatness then have a period of decline as they try to get things right once again.  Arsenal have had three periods of greatness – in the 1930s (5 titles, two FA Cups), under George Graham (two titles, 1 FAC, 2 League Cups, 1 CWC), and under Arsene Wenger (3 titles, 7 FA Cups).  But they were all followed by periods of decline.

Clearly clubs need to know when to move on a previously successful manager.  Arsenal’s biggest failure in this regard was Bertie Mee, who having won the Fairs Cup, FA Cup and League in two seasons, then took us into a period of flirting with relegation (1974 to 1976), leading to an era of 15 years in which we won the FA Cup once and nothing else.

The issue is not that we have slipped off the pace, because all clubs do that after success, but how do we avoid Liverpool’s 30 seasons without a title – or indeed Tottenham’s run since they won the league in 1961 – they’ve been relegated since  then, and spent a large number of seasons finishing 10th or below.

To show how difficult this is to get right, look at the list of Liverpool managers since the title was last won by them.

Manager P W D L F A Win %
Graeme Souness 157 66 45 46 248 186 42.04
Roy Evans 226 117 56 53 375 216 51.77
Evans/Houllier 18 7 6 5 33 20 38.89
Gérard Houllier 307 160 73 74 516 298 52.12
Rafael Benítez 350 194 77 79 585 302 55.43
Roy Hodgson 31 13 9 9 41 33 41.94
Kenny Dalglish 74 35 17 22 115 74 47.30
Brendan Rodgers 166 83 41 42 293 201 50.00

None of these men won the league – and well over 1000 games have been played.

Now look at Arsenal’s list

  P W D L F A Win %
Arsène Wenger 1,235 707 280 248 2,156 1,147 57.25
Unai Emery 78 43 16 19 152 100 55.13
Freddie Ljungberg 6 1 3 2 8 10 16.67
Mikel Arteta 12 6 5 1 19 10 50.00

What Arsenal have done is got rid of their second most successful Arsenal manager of all time in terms of win percentage (Mr Emery).   Yet so fierce is the re-writing of history that the Athletic in their piece say, “Arsene Wenger’s successor Unai Emery had a fairly unsuccessful 18 months in charge.”   Yet to repeat this man had the second highest win percentage of all time for an Arsenal manager!

Of course a win percentage doesn’t win a trophy but equally chopping and changing managers rarely seems to be successful these days either, as Man U have been finding, and as Tottenham have found for years.  They have had 29 managers since the war although three of those were all called David Pleat for some reason.  But consider this: Villa Boas and Pochettino had the two highest win percentages of any Tottenham managers since the second world war, but they were kicked out.

Keeping a manager for ever doesn’t guarantee success, but nor does chopping and changing every year or two.  And nor does kicking out the manager who wins more games than anyone else at the club in the modern era.

Before the lock down Arsenal were on the up with one defeat in the last 13 games although that of course doesn’t accord with the Athletic’s analysis.  If Arteta can keep his run going, there is no need for wholesale change at the club, which is what the journalists and bloggers want, because that gives them something simple to write about.

Kick out the manager, easy.  Facts and real analysis take longer.




12 Replies to “Have Arsenal really fallen apart as the media insist?”

  1. Tony

    From my own experience of how the media works, and reading your insights into these attacks on Arsenal, the 2 things that always stand out are a total lack of supporting evidence, and more importantly a total lack of any context.

    Context is everything and yet it is always completely ignored, but this is what they do.

    Let’s dissect this one statement you have bought to our attention:

    “Let’s not beat around the bush, Arsenal have seen a fairly swift fall from grace in the past few seasons.”

    Surely to ‘Fall From Grace’ you have to of been in a position of Grace (Success) in the first place, and I certainly don’t recall our period between 2013/14 to 2016/17, during which we won 3 FA Cups, 3 CS’s, and had a 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th place finish, being called ‘successful’ in any way shape or form.

    But lets suppose for one second they (the media) did class our FA Cups as ‘success’, then this ‘few years’ of which they speak is actually just 2 years.

    Or perhaps it’s being in the top 4 that they class as a ‘position of grace’ or ‘success’, in which case this ‘Few Years’ of which they speak stretches to an enormous 3 years.

    So we have a maximum of a 3 year fall from grace, 3 years during which we still won a Community Shield and were Runners Up in a Europa League final. As little as that is that’s one piece of silverware more than our neighbours.


    14/15 3rd FAC
    15/16 2nd
    16/17 5th FAC
    17/18 6th
    18/19 5th

    Yes, from a period of persistant top 4, by and large alternating between 3rd and 4th, we’ve dropped an average of 2 places, just 2 places, alternating between 5th and 6th.

    As I said, the fact is our ‘Fairly Swift Fall From Grace’ still saw us more successful than Spurs over the last ‘Few’ (3) years. 3 years in which Spurs won NOTHING and finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Is that not the exact same 2 place ‘Fall’ as Arsenal, just without a trophy ?

    Man Utd finished won the EFLC and EL in ’17, then came 2nd in ’18 followed by finishing 6th in ’19 and won nothing. Now surely under The Athletics parameters a fall from 2 trophies and a 2nd to 6th and no trophies over one season is the definition of ‘A swift Fall From Grace’ is it not?

    Now I’ll be honest here I am playing around with these figures to make my point. And that IS the point.

    When you start using terms like ‘Few’ and ‘swift’ without any context what so ever you may as well be writing a work of fiction.

    To get a true picture of how Arsenal are doing you have to at the very least compare them to other clubs, and to put it into historical as well as factual context, and on all counts there is absolutely nothing exceptional about Arsenals current situation.

    To infer, as these attacks do, that Arsenals current situation is somehow unique to Arsenal, and somehow indicative of a Club in crisis, is utterly misleading and typical of the negative hype that exists around our club on an almost hourly basis.

  2. In my humble opinion, this article would be more objective if
    1. You acknowledge that indeed arsenal has been in some decline, but note that that is not such a big deal as you have shown by the example of other teams in history. I remember how much of a big deal untold made of the case of mourinhos Chelsea team that had won the EPL in 2015 only to struggle the next season finally finishing 10th. There was no debate on untold that that was a decline.
    2. If you acknowledged that historically, win percentage is not a critical criteria by which a coach is judged, even on untold. I’ll give you an example in 2004 arsenal won the EPL with a win percentage of 68%. The next season, mourinhos first at Chelsea, he won with a win percentage of 76%, in 2006 he repeated it with 76%. In 07 man utd won with 73%. In fact we had to wait until 10/11 season to get a team with 68% or less, we had to wait again till 14/15 when Chelsea recorded 68% win percentage to win the league, and then Leicester in 2016. Chelsea restored normalcy in 2017 with 78%, Man city took it up a notch in 2018 with 84%, and another 84% in 2019. Now let us summarize in the 16 completed seasons that have followed the invincibles, on only 2 occasions have the league been won with a lower win percentage than the 68% scored by the invincibles, once by Man utd in 2011 and the other by Leicester in 2016. Also within those 16 seasons on one other occasion did a team score the 68% win percentage that the invincibles scored to win the league, that was Chelsea in 2015. On a whopping 13 ocasions, the team that has won the league has scored more than the 68% win percentage scored by the invincibles. Meaning if we were to rank teams who have won the league from 2004 till date based on win percentage, the invincibles would be in 15th place, only better than 2 teams. Now if you had to add teams who scored 68%+ win percentage but didn’t win the league, we would add Liverpool last season, Tottenham 2 seasons back, man utd in 2010, 2012. That would push the invincibles to maybe 20th best team in 17 seasons of the EPL between 2004- date, below several teams who didn’t even win the league. Thus I have to say your assessment of Emery based on win percentage is not useful. Also shouldn’t you be judging based on his contemporaries instead of against people like Bertie Mee? I’m not a critic of Emery. I personally liked the fresh air of honesty he brought to his press briefings, but I feel even Mr Emery himself would be surprised at your portrayal of his work

  3. Yeah,the media will always be very “ selective” in how theY present Arsenal.Its called having an Agenda.one rule for us & the rest get a pass.

  4. Well Doyen, I am sorry that I did not make it clear, but my article was not meant to be about teams and their winning percentages, but managers and their winning percentages.

  5. Doyen

    To quote you…
    “I personally liked the fresh air of honesty he brought to his press briefings”

    That sounds as though you doubt the honesty of our previous manager. Please tell me I am wrong.

  6. @Mick, unfortunately you’re not wrong. as much as I liked Wenger, in my opinion, he was hardly truthful to the fans. From not seeing events on the pitch when something went in our favour, to telling us a player was injured when he was being dropped, to telling us players would stay while negotiations were ongoing to sell such players.
    Note that doesn’t mean I don’t love him, it’s just my opinion on how he carried out his business. And I’m only saying it here because you asked a direct question.

  7. Doyen, isn’t this a part of all business. I ran a publishing business for many years and if an author was late delivering a manuscript I said we had technical problems with the process. I didn’t say the author had been drinking too much and the last 40 pages were garbage and I had to send them back.
    And that was in a business not in the public eye. Wenger maybe did say that a player was injured when he was dropped, because his job was not to humiliate the player in public, but to get him back to form. A few players do get back to form by being humiliated, but for most it makes matters worse.
    I was never at the elite level of top footballers but in the other part of my career as a writer, I have had times when my writing quality dropped below its normal standard of mediocre in “downright pathetically awful”. But shouting at me and telling me how crap I was never made me a better writer. Telling me to have a week off and go and sit on the beach however could work to stop me worrying that I might never get the ability to write back again.
    Same I think with players.

  8. @Doyen,

    funny thing how scales are different when one wants them to be. I am sure you would have applauded if Mr Wenger would have told the press : oh yes we want to get rid of this player, or sure we want to get that player and see values drop or rise, or that player is not is superb form, he won’t be playing tomorrow, so Mr coach from the opposite team, you might as well change your strategy right now, we are happy to make sure you come prepared. And they way Mr Emery handled Xhaka and Ozil was shamefull (whatever they might have done wrong) and a total failure of human management on his part. As for not talking about referee decisions…are you aware of PGMOL and the rules all actors have to abide by ? Have you ever read one of the numerous posts on Untold that explains that ? Don’t you remember Mr Wenger was banned, so were other coaches for voicing their doubts ? Finally, you think hanging a player out to dry in public is any way to manage a team be it in sports, work or family ?

    I mean : do you read the stuff you are writing and do you actually believe it ? Have you ever been in a negotiation ? A poker game ? Ever managed a team of people to succeed in something more then finishing their pint ?

    And saying you love him is just so hypocritical.

    As for the ‘fresh air of honesty’, words fail me. That statement is just insulting, with absolutely no factual basis.

    And to conclude, comparing the winning percentages of the Invincibles with the next 15 years without mentionning the fact that after the Invincibles billionnaires and plutocrats started pouring hundreds of millions into their teams and just pissing on FFP rules, some of them doing child traffic in total impunity, while Arsenal was paying for its stadium is totally biaised. And your statement that the Invincibles rank maybe 20th among winning teams of the century, is just mind-boggling. By the way, can you name a coach who grouht his team to the CL 19 times in a row ?

    I believe our neighbours have a website, why don’t you go back there ? Their coach is so much more straight forward, full of honesty and such an excellent manager of people. And he has such a great record.

  9. @Tony, like I said, it didn’t make me hate Wenger, I just prefer the more honest approach to press briefings. And I accept that everyone would lie on occasions. Coaches like Klopp and Guardiola strike as being honest to a large extent in their pressers. It is hard for me to watch a manager’s press briefing and come away thinking he said A but I know he means B. Wenger seemed to have a reputation for that and rival fans will tell you things like, especially regarding an arsenal player tipped to be heading out… “So Wenger said he’s staying, surely that means he’s coming to us”.
    I didn’t like it, but who am I to tell him how to conduct his pressers?

  10. @Chris, I’m sure you love Wenger, but I don’t think there’s any need for animosity. I believe the stuff I write, I’ve been in negotiations, I’m still involved in many routinely.
    Mr Wenger doesn’t have to tell the press we want to get rid of player x.,y,z… He could just say, player x,y,z has expressed desire to leave. We don’t want him to and are trying to convince him to stay. However if club ABC insists they want to have him, let it be clear that he won’t go cheaply. Other managers have done so, it hasn’t stopped those players from leaving on very fat fees… SAF did it with Ronaldo and Madrid, Southampton did it with VVD, Liverpool did it with Suarez.
    As for Wenger not talking about ref decisions, pleeeease, Wenger was one of the most vocal about ref decisions, he got in trouble for it too many times. Even other managers moaned about Wenger moaning about refs- koeman, mourinho, SAF, etc all complained about Wenger’s moaning about refs. What I however stated was that Wenger was only known to complain about refs when the decision was not favourable. When a controversial decision went in our favour he was known to say “he didn’t see it” when asked about it. It became a meme, something used to mock him in the media and by rival fans. If you are happy about that, good for you.
    Emery didn’t perform well enough, I liked him as a person, but as manager of arsenal FC he failed, inspire of Tony telling us he had the 2nd best win percentage of an arsenal manager. The point of my comparison of win percentages of the invincibles and other teams is simple… “WIN PERCENTAGE IS NOT A VERY IMPORTANT STATISTIC”. Whether or not you say billionaires pumped money in or not is beside the point (we might argue that on another day, after all Tony tells us money is not so important). If you’re asked to pick the best teams in the last 17 EPL seasons I’m sure the invincibles would be in your top 5, they would certainly be in my top 2-3. But if we made that assessment based on win percentages, IT IS A FACT THAT THE INVINCIBLES WOULD BE CLOSER TO 20th, BELOW ALL BUT 2 LEAGUE CHAMPIONS. the question is, is that because they were worse than the 20 or so teams above them on win percentage? Or because win percentage is not a good index of how good a team was? My answer is the latter. And despite the objection of Tony, the assessment holds true for the manager. You cannot tell me win percentage is a good way of assessing a manager’s work, but not a good way of assessing the team. If it is a good way to asses the manager, then it is equally good as a tool to asses his team and vice versa

  11. Doyen, just to clarify, win percentage is a way of measuring a manager’s success across all his time at a club, just as trophies won.

  12. I’m with Doyen on this one. You can’t say win percentage is a measure of how successful or not a manager was, but not the team he managed in that period. Was it the manager playing? It is as good an assessment of the manager and the team over the period of management. Just as the credit for the invincible season is shared between Wenger and his players. Wenger’s win percentage in the league in 03/04 is worse than Mancini’s Man city in 2011/12, does that mean Mancini was a better manager in 2011/12 than Wenger was in 03/04? I think not. I don’t give much weight to the win percentage stat. Emery may have a better win percentage at arsenal the GG, but I would not think twice if asked who was the more successful manager at arsenal. Before Emery was sacked Tony kept stressing that if we are looking for better then we are looking for someone who would have maybe the best win percentage in the clubs history. I don’t remember anybody complaining about Arteta’s win percentage (which was nonexistent).
    I remember Euro 2016, Portugal won that tournament with only one win in regulation time, in the semis against Wales. They drew all 3 group stage matches, and qualified for the 2nd round behind Iceland. That’s a win percentage of 0% but that was not the important statistic.

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