By Tony Attwood
It is oft said that there are always two sides to every argument. So while Jamie O’Hara in the Mirror has branded Arsenal a “mess” in a virulent attack on Arsenal’s perceived lack of transfers in the article on the summer transfer window I have been criticising the Mirror for its difficulty in taking into account the improvements Arsenal made last season.
There again there is an article in the Guardian which rightly criticises the commentators on women’s football at the Olympics for being inaccurate. But then I’ve been criticising the Guardian’s coverage of Arsenal, as when for example the paper said, “Arsenal’s defensive record in 2020-21 was bettered only by Manchester City and Chelsea, although that was never going to offer much succour after a campaign of such barren reward.”
Now it is good that the Guardian has noticed that defensive record… I am not sure if they picked up on this from the mountain of statistics we have published recently, or their mentioning it now is just a coincidence – but the defence is only the start of the proceedings. Arsenal also had the second best attack in the league through the last two thirds of last season. That could have been mentioned too.
That comment came from the Guardian on 27 July. And yet as a quick glance at the season’s statistics shows, the season was far from barren. A completely new approach to playing was evolved which meant that we were the second best team through the last two thirds of the season, and cut our yellow card level (which was previously crippling the team on the pitch) from 86 in 2019/20 to 47 in 2020/1. The largest drop I’ve ever seen.
The Guardian seems to know nothing of this and so talks about the need for “reinforcements” and the need to “still ship out a number of players.”
Yet as a result of the changes Arsenal got an average of 1.00 points per game in the first 14 games, but almost double this in the remaining 24 games (1.96 points per game to be exact). So any talk about Arsenal having a useless season and needing to make changes now is nonsense. Only those with a fixed agenda can’t see that.
And to be clear 1.96 points per game would have been enough to give us a place between 2nd and 4th in eight of the last ten seasons. So not perfect by any means, and as we have been told so often “fourth is not a trophy” but it was a huge improvement over the first 14 games.
The question remains however: why does the Guardian and the rest of the media and most of the bloggers continue to spout “analyses” of Arsenal which are at best misleading and at worse, false, because they are so wholly incomplete.
In part it is because football has been dumbed down by the media over the years. We’ve often noticed how BT Sport staff were quite unable to cope with the notion of 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and 1 for each goal. It turned out to be way beyond their mental capacity.
But there is a deeper problem: the way the media insist on focusing on individual events and individual players. They rarely bother with the effect of tactics, and even less with the impact of referees.
Yet clubs that change and develop often do so over time, so looking at change rather than individual events is worthwhile. Which is why last season we started running tackles, fouls and yellow cards comparisons.
Yet anyone wanting to know how Mr Emery’s reign was undermined need only look at the way the referees handled Arsenal during his reign.
Was that his fault, or the fault of the club? Did the club tell Mr Emery – you have to take account of the referees, or was he left to assume that the Premier League is fair and all clubs are treated equally? It looks like the latter, although this season, Mr Arteta has clearly adopted an approach that does take note of what the referees are up to.
But whatever the reason the fact is that the media will not touch the issue of the referees, any more than they want to talk about the effect of crowdless games in influencing results – another factor we’ve reported on and shown to be highly influential.
So what has all this work proven?
First, that the coverage in the media of football this past season has been utterly misleading, because it fails to consider the influence of the lack of crowds, the selection of certain referees, and the tactical change at Arsenal which resulted in cutting the yellow card level virtually in half.
Second, that the coverage has been weird, to the degree that at times it either looks like a grand conspiracy to hide relevant facts, or a set of articles written by people totally unable to see what is going on. (I’m not alleging conspiracy, just saying it looks like one.)
But there’s worse, because although there has been a slight amount of levelling off by one or two reporters (the Mirror in particular has retreated a little) the central mode of reporting Arsenal is “last season was a disaster, the players need to be changed” with no reference to any of the key facts.
And since the same people seem to be writing commentaries now, who were writing last year, presumably this will carry on. And it is not just as Arsenal thing for even the notable tactic was practised by Aston Villa, in which they seemed to invite the opposition to foul them, was never mentioned. Villa were fouled 567 times by their opponents. The nearest number to that came from Tottenham who were tackled 494 times.
The media’s reporting of football is best seen as a “flat earth” approach – it’s obvious the earth is flat so it is not even worth debating and certainly not worth reconsidering our approach to describing the earth.
Thus, it’s obvious that it is all about the individual players, not the tactics, not the way referees are chosen, not the impact of the crowd.
On that basis 2021/2 will be reported exactly last season was reported. Team not top of the league? Change the players.
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