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Newpaper reports show journalists’ failure to grasp what’s happening at Arsenal

By Tony Attwood

Throughout the last couple of months the media have kept up the incessant talk that all is not well at Arsenal and major reforms are now required to the playing squad, and quite possibly the backroom staff as well.

Yesterday a 1500 word article on Arsenal appeared in the Guardian analysing their past failures (for them there were only failures) and future hopes.

In that piece there was not a single word about tactics, and yet surely tactics is one of the core issues within a club’s success or failure.  Not the only one of course, for needing the players to execute the tactics is vital as well, but still it is fundamental.   And yet in the whole review there is not a word.  There is even space for a bit about the mascot, and a few lines about the canon in Arsenal’s history.

But not a word about tactics.   Why?

Quite possibly it is because the writer doesn’t understand tactics, or maybe because it is easier to write about accessibility to the stadium, but most of all I suspect it is simply that footballer writers don’t write about tactics, just like they don’t write about referees and PGMO.  It’s not a conspiracy, it just is how it is.

However whatever the reasons, the brilliance of the last two thirds of last season have been readily swept under the carpet, along with the tactical transformation that saw Arsenal cut its yellow card total by 45%.  Having done that it might be worth contemplating whether and how Arsenal can keep the new reduced figure up for next season, but no, I have not seen mention (let alone a debate) on that.

So this wasn’t just a one off omission in the Guardian for a previous piece led with “Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea Loss shows Arteta revolution a long way off”    Revolution last year?  Sorry mate, didn’t notice.

Leaving aside that the score was actually 2-2, and only reduced to 1-2 because Arsenal forgot to turn on their goal-line technology (and the referee didn’t think to question with Arsenal why it wasn’t switched on) other questions also arise.

Although I must correct the notion that there was no mention of tactics because in yesterday’s report on the match there was the comment that “Arsenal’s loose building from the back may not be the only theme that has persisted into pre-season.”

So yes, tactics got a mention – but only negatively.  Which really is curious when the tactics last season not only changed so much in terms of the style of play but also reduced the yellow card count by half.

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There has however been quite a bit of negative comment on the notion that Arsenal will start the season with Xhaka and Elneny at the heart of defensive midfield – ignoring indeed the Football Observatory figures for the whole of Europe towards the end of last season, which had Xhaka as the second most effective player on the continent.

But as ever, figures count for nothing.  Impressions are everything.

Certainly the injury to Thomas Partey was a blow and we wait to see if last season’s injuries return to haunt him.

There are however a lot of reasons to be cheerful about Arsenal in the coming season, given the way they played in the last two thirds of last season and the arrival of White as well.   And maybe we should be cheerful about the media’s absolute inability to note the transformation in yellow cards awarded against Arsenal, and the decision of Arsenal to cut right down on tackling.

I find it frustrating that such fundamentals facts are ignored and space is always taken up with personal opinion based on… well… personal opinion, but if none of the journalists want to talk about Arsenal’s transformation, maybe the opposition won’t notice either.

Certainly that looked to be the case in the last two thirds of last season as (and this is me now giving my opinion) team after team seemed to line up against Arsenal as if all that was being said in the media was true, and that the transformation of the tactics hadn’t happened.

Still the word among the chattering journalists is, “don’t give the fans facts and figures, it only confuses them.”  And so the new season starts like the last, which given how the last ended, would be no bad thing.

The statistical enquiry of 2021

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