by Tony Attwood
Consider this simple statement, “Football is a team sport and you’re only as good as your team.” First thing to say it is obviously true. But after that?
Most normal people would see anyone saying that as either stating the obvious, or perhaps because they were being praised as a good player, they are self-evidently sharing their praise with others in the squad. Being modest and generous to colleagues, that sort of thing.A sort of football version of “I stood on the shoulders of giants,” which was Isaac Newton’s response to praise for his development of the theory of universal gravitation. It takes a dedicated bit of raging negativism to see “football is a team sport” as criticism of the rest of the team.
Especially when it comes from a man who was Arsenal’s top ranked player for last season.
But no, the Caughtoffside website would have none of this, instead running the banner headline “Granit Xhaka’s pathetic message to Arsenal”.
Now “pathetic” is rather strong, especially when the commentary could be seen as a kind and positive gesture.
But of course if the writer not only had a raging desire to knock Xhaka, and a complete ignorance of the transformation of Arsenal’s defensive system over the past two years which of late has been led by Xhaka as captain, and which has resulted in the club being able to transform itself post Christmas then yes, I suppose it could be understood.
What is particularly interesting is that the site also claims that “Arsenal’s leadership has come under fierce criticism and question since their slide over the last decade, so this was already an important area that Mikel Arteta may have needed to overhaul.”
First there is the issue of slide over the last decade. This has included four FA Cup wins in the space of seven years (the most successful run of any club in the last 100 years) and a runners’ up in the Premier League.
Now yes it is a slide since the three championships of Arsene Wenger, but hardly a slide when compared to other clubs working on the same budget. And “slide over the last decade” – well four trophies in seven years is not exactly a slide is it? Of course we’d like more, and all the messing around with three managers in four years plus planes carrying messages and cardboard “Wenger out” scrawls didn’t help either.
But the key point is that the tactical transformation which we have examined in such minute detail here, happened in the last part of last season and the first third of this season. Suddenly to claim that Xhaka has to go, when he was at the very heart of that transformation seems, well, just plain petty minded, deliberately misleading or utterly ignorant.
As Arsenal FC know perfectly well, and as those of us who can do a little basic maths know, Arsenal, under Xhaka’s leadership last season did exceptionally well. They started out by recognising the oddity of their statistics compared with other teams in terms of tackles, fouls and yellow cards, and saw that they were being penalised at a ludicrously high rate by referees.
The club took a third of the season to be able to get players to play in a different manner, but once that happened the results were transformed as we have often noted (often, simply because no one else wants to pick up the story because it counters the mainstream narrative that it was a terrible season).
The season ended with Xhaka being ranked the best Arsenal player through the season by Football Observatory, coming in at 64th position for players across the whole of Europe.
Now immediately there might be cries that this shows how poor Arsenal are, if our best player was only 64th in Europe, but in fact Xhaka like everyone else was having to change his entire approach to defending during the first third of the season, and indeed Arsenal did sink down to 15th in the league during this period. And players do move up and down – Kylian Mbappé came in at 96th.
But even if people insist on seeing 64th as low in such circumstances it was still better that the rest of the team. Willian came in at 94th, Elneny and Martinelli at 239, Saka at 252, Ödegaard at 261, Smith Rowe at 267, Partey at 276, Lacazette at 326.
No it seems just a bit silly to me. Football journalism does take a bit of work, a bit of analyses, some reviewing and some considering. There is more to it than cheap criticism.
Gaslighting: how refereeing in the Premier League is manipulated, and why the media never speak about it.
- 1: Are the referees and the media really out to get Arsenal, or am I just imagining it?
- 2: How discussions about refereeing are deliberately stifled by the media
- 3: Referees: the odd statistics that are simply never revealed or discussed
- 4: How we have been utterly misled about football: part 4
- 5: Hiding the problem of refereeing is destroying the credibility of the Premier League
- 6: Revealed: PL referees are not 98% accurate but actually just 75% accurate
- Yesterday’s game: how Arsenal won, and where the journalists got things wrong
- Brentford v Arsenal: past exploits and the Arsenal team news
- French authorities issue arrest warrant over awarding of World Cup to Qatar
- Brentford v Arsenal: the history and the build up, with some extraordinary odds
- Brentford v Arsenal: tackles, fouls, yellow cards and the home v away record