By Tony Attwood
Sort out Arsenal’s weak backbone, resolve their torrid away form and finally discover Nicolas Pepe’s mojo: The issues Mikel Arteta MUST fix as he prepares his side for the restart
Such is the headline in the Daily Mail’s piece by Jonathan Spencer and of course anyone familiar with the Mail will know what is coming. A list of Arsenal failings.
Obviously it is clear that by being ninth in the league at the moment (or “languishing ninth” as seems to be the preferred term of journalists these days) Arsenal are doing far, far worse than they normally did under Mr Wenger and we’d all like to see a return to higher league positions.
But the Mail’s language suggests, as do all reports these days, that Arsene Wenger had lost the plot years ago, Unai Emery was a disaster and Mikel Arteta is sorting things out but there is a long, long way to go, and a lot of problems to resolve.
That may be how people feel. But do the facts actually back that up? Here is how the managers compare.
As it happens these are just about our three best long term managers of all time. Joe Shaw, who ran the club for half a season after Herbert Chapman died did better with 60.87% win percentage, but no one else who has managed the club for over 10 games has done this well. So in historic context we are actually seeing an era of our best managers.
But the Mail say, “Arsenal had endured a torrid time in the Premier League under Emery.” That’s not true. He had a bad run and the crowd turned against him, just as they turned against Mr Wenger, and in Arsenal today that’s what makes for a sacking. But overall he was winning.
So what’s wrong, according to the Mail?
DEFENSIVE WOES REMAIN
“It has been a huge issue for over a decade now…” says the Mail. I wonder.
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The first question is how to measure “defensive woes”. The obvious way is to consider how many goals we let in, and the obvious benchmark must be seasons when we won the league. In 2001/2 we conceded 36 goals coming first, in 2002/3 we let in 42 goals coming second. In 2004/5 36 goals coming second again. I’ve omitted the unbeaten season when we did concede fewer (just 26) because that was a unique season. That might be an ambition, but at the moment unrealistic. Let’s focus on winning the league again before we start looking for another unbeaten season. Somewhere between 36 and 42 as a total number of goals conceded would seem a reasonable target.
In the last decade our defence has let in more than 42 goals five times.
In 2010/11 we exceeded the total by one. In 2011/12 by seven. In 2016/17 by two. And in the last two completed seasons by nine.
So is letting in nine more goals (roughly one every four games) than the benchmark, “having a torrid time?”
I don’t think so. Of course I am not saying conceding nine more goals in a season than we did in a title winning season is a good thing, but in reviewing the issue I would not say “defensive woes remain”. But the problem is, by this lazy, slack and inaccurate writing, the Mail in general and J Spencer in particular suggest that we need wholesale changes in the defence because we are having a “torrid time” letting in one more goal every four games, than we did when winning the league.
Readers of the Mail may then start to believe this, especially when the same approach is repeated by other newspapers and bloggers all anxious to knock Arsenal, but lacking the will-power to check if the original story was accurate.
So the Mail says everything will continue to be awful unless “something drastic changes”. But this approach of just looking at the defence is simply not accurate enough to base an entire footballing policy on.
Last season after 28 games we had let in 38 goals – but were fourth.
In fact the problem has occurred this season, not across the last decade. So why does the Mail want to suggest it is a decade long problem?
Largely, I guess, to suggest that the Mail’s journalists know a thing or three about football, and if only they were allowed to run the club we’d be ok because they can see, we need to sort out the defence.
The Mail does get closer to the truth with its next headline “AWAY FORM CONTINUES TO HAUNT GUNNERS” but it is noticeable that now suddenly they drop the “10 years” and instead compare just the last three seasons.
This failure of the away form is something Untold has been detailing since it started, but it has nothing to do with ten years, which suggests that Mr Wenger was a disaster ten years ago when he was still delivering Champions League football year after year and suffering the “Fourth is not a trophy” abuse. It has coincided completely with the crowd turning on the manager and the team.
After this they criticise the departure of Ramsey, and the fact that we don’t score so many goals from midfield. But really, does it matter where the goals come from? Let’s compare how many goals we score overall and see if we are lacking goals.
|Season||Goals||Pos||Top scorer||Top man’s goals|
|2001–02||79||1||Thierry Henry||32 (Golden boot)|
|2003–04||73||1||Thierry Henry||39 (Golden boot)|
|2004–05||87||2||Thierry Henry||30 (Golden boot)|
|2005–06||68||4||Thierry Henry||33 (Golden boot)|
|2006–07||63||4||Robin van Persie||13|
|2008–09||68||4||Robin van Persie||20|
|2010–11||72||4||Robin van Persie||22|
|2011–12||74||3||Robin van Persie||37 (Golden boot)|
The headline “MIDFIELD NEED TO FIND SOME SPARK” is nonsense if one looks at goals. There is nothing wrong with our goal scoring. Last season we scored as many goals as we did in the unbeaten season and more than we did in Wenger’s first title season.
Indeed fiddling with the midfield could well unsettle the attack – and maybe that is the Mail’s idea – come up with “improvements” that will cause Arsenal to sink further and cause more upset among the card waving AAA.
So it goes on. While making out that they are suggesting improvements, what the Mail is actually doing is coming up with a formula that would dismantle the bits of the team that are working, while leaving the problematic areas untouched.
It really is either a piece of sublime stupidity, or an incredibly clever way of getting Arsenal supporters who can’t read statistics to start another card waving revolution and demand another set of changes that will then bring about yet another decline in Arsenal’s league position.
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