The media admit that AFC got better last season but still ignore the data

by Tony Attwood

Step by step it has been happened and now we’ve had a little breakthrough    True a tiny tiny tiny breakthrough, and not one that has been sustained, but still a breakthrough,   The Guardian says of Arsenal

“Their nightmare period last season came earlier, in the run-up to Christmas – five points from 10 Premier League games – and they were able to piece together a fine run of form thereafter.” 

Ok their “fine run of form” was for me an extraordinary turnaround which meant that for the final two thirds of the season Arsenal were the second best club in the League. 

And the Guardian just notes the change and doesn’t seek to explain how it was done, although fortunately we had already done the work by noting Leicester in 2019/20 with articles such as 

“How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards”

“What is the relationship between fouls, tackles and yellow cards?”

Leicester’s strange tackle / foul / yellow figures change as they slip down the league

Leicester in 2019/20 took the concept of “the tackle” to an industrial level and it worked, until suddenly, referees seemed to tumble what was going on, punished them for tackles in the same way as other clubs were punished, and they sank back down.

Then it seems that Mr Arteta realised the nature of the problem – we were getting mega numbers of yellow cards because we were time and again having matches overseen by refs who gave us yellow cards.  Refs who gave us average or even on occasion below average yellows, only got one Arsenal match and then were never seen again.  

Now we know that the media won’t publish any criticisms of referees along the lines that Alan Green undertook when he was  the lead football commentator for the BBC.  Now refs are hardly ever mentioned despite the figures showing the differences between referees that we found.

And if the media won’t ever criticise refereeing, a football manager could never speak out on such an issue, so Mr Arteta devised a different approach.  An utterly radical approach.  One that involved cutting tackling dramatically.  And it worked: yellow cards went down by almost half.  Instead of being the most carded team Arsenal became the least carded team, as our post-Xmas results show.

And the media never mentioned the key facts: Arsenal’s defence across the whole season was third best in the league – in the last two thirds of the season it was within one goal of being the best defence.

But no one has mentioned any of this until yesterday, with the Guardian’s piece.  But then, amazingly having noted Arsenal’s record in the last two thirds of the season they conclude “…two things are plain. First, the north London giants do not feel particularly gigantic, with assorted problems and a good deal of ground to make up to get to where they want to be. And, second, the period leading up to the closure of the transfer window on 31 August will be defining.”

Even more amazingly, after that stunning last two thirds of the season they say, “Under Mikel Arteta, Arsenal have a clear style, they know how the manager wants them to play and, when it clicks, the results can tantalise. It is just that it has not clicked with the required regularity.”


And then, as if realising that the whole approach of the article is logically unsustainable suddenly it jumps (without any explanation) to, “Arsenal’s financial difficulties after they moved to the Emirates Stadium in 2006 are well-documented…”

This is the league table for the last two thirds of last season.  Just look at the goals scored.  If Arsenal had a “failure to put the ball in the net” so did everyone else except Manchester City.

P Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 24 20 0 4 62 20 42 60
2 Arsenal 24 14 5 5 43 21 22 47
3 Manchester United 24 13 8 3 43 21 22 47
4 West Ham United 24 13 5 6 41 28 13 44
5 Chelsea 24 12 6 6 29 22 7 42
6 Leicester City 24 11 6 7 42 33 9 39
7 Liverpool 24 11 5 8 32 23 38
8 Tottenham Hotspur 24 11 4 9 43 31 12 37

This commentary from David Hynter is just contrary to the facts.  And worse he is the chief football correspondent for the Guardian!  Where is the article about Chelsea’s forward line?  Or Liverpool’s?  Or the congratulations and marvelling at Arsena’s extraordinary turn around.  Or indeed an analysis of the tackles, fouls and yellow cards data last season?

Oh, silly me.  To know that one was worth writing one would have to be able to read data and tackle the no-go areas, like what is going on with the PGMO.

But to be fair, we now have one senior journalist who has admitted Arsenal improved last season.  And that is a breakthrough.

Looking forward: 2021/22

20 Replies to “The media admit that AFC got better last season but still ignore the data”

  1. What a fascinating analysis and article. The one area that puzzles me is that some people would say that if you don’t tackle you are more likely to concede goals, whereas you seem to suggest the opposite.

  2. There’s a film , a very old film, called the Mouse That Roared.

    In that film a very very small nation managed to launch a rocket that landed on the moon. That moon landing was in advance, well for the purposes of the film, of a moon landing by either of the two superpowers

    There’s a real amusing bit in that film where a British TV reporter in a couple of words acknowledges the achievement but then launches into a back slapping segment where the fact that one of the astronauts had bought a British produced watch it was this that was the major achievement. A bit like saying we won the last two thirds of the season .

    Ok the numbers in the last two thirds of the season were good but a season isn’t 24 games it’s 38. A 400 metre race isn’t just about who runs the last 260 metres the quickest it’s about who runs the fastest over the entire 400m.

    There were all sorts of factors that kick in come the last few weeks of the season such as the opposition having a focus on other competitions.

    What I take from this article is that there can be no hiding place because the form, the tactics & the momentum is with Arsenal

  3. Tim Head

    As much as some people love ‘a good tackle’, in fact the more and the harder the better for some, it never has, and never will be the best way to defend, which is why teams that do lots of it tend to be called ‘agricultural’ and tend to be teams of lower quality, not always, but tend to be.

    I only played at pretty low level Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning football, but as a fullback I knew the art of my craft was to stand on my feet, not to commit, and to either block the attempted cross/pass when it came, or else at get the forward to turn back the way he came, or at least pass backwards. That was my job done.

    Of course if I was caught ‘wrong side'(a mistake) or beaten by a trick (good skill from the opponent) or out paced (an unfortunate quirk of nature), I might need to put in a tackle, but it was my last choice, and often a desperate one, hence best avoided.

    Ok if the opponent shows you too much of the ball or indeed loses control, the opportunity to nick the ball with a well timed tackle may be there, but by and large shepherding, standing on your feet and not committing are the 3 golden rules for a defender. At least that’s what I was taught and as I say, I was pretty low level.

  4. Mike T

    You seem to contradict yourself here Mike.

    First off in your analogy you seem to be suggesting that using the last 2/3 rds seasons data as an indicator of what’s to come is like a superpower claiming the glory of a moon landing simply because an astronaut wore one of their watch’s.

    It’s nothing like that and you know it. And how do I know you know it? Because you quite rightly go on to say:

    “What I take from this article is that there can be no hiding place because the form, the tactics & the momentum is with Arsenal”

    Which is spot on.

    Yes winning the last 2/3rds of last season is irrelevant to LAST seasons title challenge that is true, but it is absolutely crucial to the coming season.

    Okay, look at it this way. Just as a for example.

    If we had played really well for the first 3rd of the season and we were in the mix at the top, then fell of a cliff in the last 2/3rds as teams sussed us out, our striker couldn’t hit a barn door and our defence was like a leaky bucket and we ended up in exactly the same place as we did, how would you assess that ? The same? I don’t think so.

    Surely how you asses that and how you asses what we actually did would be completely different ? Surely finishing the season badly, as in that scenario, would be very worrying would it not ?

    But why? If all that matters is the final position then there’s nothing to worry about ? I suggest you don’t believe that any more than I do.

    The fact is when you are looking at the next season, how you finished the last, especially if it was sustained over such a long period, is crucial when it comes to evaluating your player and tactical requirements as well as your potential.

    As in horse racing, finishing well is almost always indicative of a horse running into form and who is likely to run well next time out.

    That holds true to individual sportsmen and women and all kinds of teams across the board.

    It is not a new phenomenon.

  5. Nitram

    My mention of the film was that the real achievement was the landing on the moon ( the final league position ) the watch was a distraction just as is choosing an arbitrary time line to measure and produce a league table which suits an agenda.

    The last bit which you latch on is the point because Tony for me is setting himself up for a fall because should Arsenal not match or at least come close to matching that mythical second place then what will the reason be ?

    In league position terms I would be quite happy to not be top of the league all season till the final day because yes that’s all that does matter

  6. Mike T

    If I may say Mike you seem to be arguing for arguments sake.

    “just as is choosing an arbitrary time line to measure and produce a league table which suits an agenda”.

    But it’s not arbitrary to USE, not CHOSE, the last 2/3rds of the season is it?

    According to the dictionary Arbitrary means:

    “based on chance rather than being planned or based on reason”

    Selecting the way a team finished the season, or a horse finished the race, as an indication as to how they/it will perform next season, or in their next race, is not done by CHANCE is it ? It is done with REASON, because that is how future form and performance has been evaluated for eternity.

    As I pointed out, using how a team, a horse, or an individual finishes a match, a race, or a season, is a perfectly logical and universally accepted way to evaluate and predict future performance. No, it is not infallible, but it is perfectly reasonable.

    As such suggesting Tony is setting himself up for a fall is also wide of the mark. Yes of course Arsenal may not continue their good run, but that doesn’t diminish the logic behind his thesis.

  7. Mike T

    Sorry forgot to mention. And even this is just smoke and mirrors:

    “In league position terms I would be quite happy to not be top of the league all season till the final day because yes that’s all that does matter”

    Because where Arsenal finished has nothing to do with the thesis. The thesis is about indicators for next season, both in form and tactics, and how that improved our points per game and ultimately saw us rise up the table. The fact we only finished 8th is irrelevant to the thesis. It’s a different conversation all together.

    Your notion that all that matters is where you finished is simply wrong when it comes to pointers to next season, which is what Tony is talking about.

    Another for example:

    If Chelsea were 15 points clear at Christmas but hung on to win the title by a point from a resurgent Man Utd, are you telling me that wouldn’t concern you at all regarding next season ?

    Yes you won the league, but I’m suggesting Man Utd would be much the happier going into next season with a squad that gained 14 points on you, than you would be with a squad that almost threw away a 15 point lead.

    Why would Man Utd be looking to make drastic changes after finishing the season so well, despite only finishing runners up ?

    Where as I would suggest alarm bells would be ringing down the Kings Road, and changes a plenty, despite hanging on to win the title.

    If you still don’t understand then I think I’ll give up.

  8. Nitram

    The definition of arbitrary in my dictionary

    “based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.”

    Why not choose the last 19 games ? Will it tell the same story ? So yes choosing the last 2/3 of is a personal whim.

    The question you ask about winning the league in the manner you suggest we’ll no it wouldn’t worry me for a couple of reasons . First history will only record the winner and second history tells us that it’s highly unlikely that a team can defend the title so I would be delighted if we did but going into the new season I know that it would be unlikely that we would win two on the bounce.

    As for the thesis or should I say evidence supporting the thesis . Without doing a massive amount of research I have no idea if there is any history to support the theory that a team that had better form over the last 10,20 or even 24 games is likely to match that form going forward into a new season

  9. I think the last 24 games were chosen, because we had sunk to the depths of despair after the first 14 games (14 points), and the contrast in points won per game during the two periods was quite obvious.

    Game 15 took place on Boxing Day, and I think we all have vivid memories of that one 😉

  10. seismic

    Therein is why the argument is convent to Tony’s argument.

    If you look at the second half of the season, by which time save the odd situation most clubs have played all opposition teams once , and yes I know that doesn’t balance out in terms of home and away then the points picked up over a few of the contenders are as follows

    City 45
    Chelsea 38
    Liverpool 35
    Arsenal / Utd 34
    Leicester 28
    Spurs 26

    I haven’t rechecked these numbers but my point is you can paint so many different picture from using different and more convenient points in time or over which time you want to monitor but for me the only measure that really matters is the full 38 games


    Yep you are!

    Bet we could spend hours down the pub arguing about anything and everything!

  11. That is where I disagree Mike. If a club plays brilliant in the first third of the season and is 2nd in the league, and then fades away in the remaining two thirds, a relevant conclusion is that the club needs to correct what it was doing in the final two thirds.

    If a club gets poor results in the first third of the season, and is lingering just outside the relegation area, but then plays in the remaining two thirds with results that are the second best in the league, I would say the conclusion should be: don’t change the side, it is doing brilliantly.

    That’s why such measures are important.

  12. Sorry Tony are you saying that you would say have kept David Luiz ? Not signed White?

    Gone all in for Cellabos ?

    Hey all clubs will take something from a game, a run of games etc but one of the strangest ones I hear is when a team gets battered in the first half of a game say losing 4-0 at half time which just then happens to be the final score and then the losing manager trots out something like we won 5he second half. Well that’s good then ain’t it !

  13. Mike T

    You keep going on about how Tony selected a certain period to suit his agenda. You mentioned arbitrary dates. But what Tony has done is not arbitrary, by chance, or to suit an agenda at all. He has used that period from a specific date because it’s where a few things happened.

    Firstly it’s the point in the season when Arsenal drastically changed one aspect of their game. Tackling. So not arbitrary. At that point, 1/3rd of the way through the season, the amount of tackles we put in reduced significantly.

    Following that change in tactics our yellow card count significantly reduced. Following that change in tactics our points per game significantly increased.

    So it is not an arbitrary period randomly selected to suit an agenda it’s a significant moment in our season that dramatically changed our results.

    What this suggests is that the new system suits our current player’s who once they had adopted this style performed for 2/3rds of the season above the level of Liverpool, Man Utd, Chelsea and Spurs.

    That is a fact.

    Then the point Tony, I, and others have gone on to make is why would Arsenal do what the media suggest they should do and look to make wholesale changes to a defence that was the 2nd best in the division for the final 2/3rds of the season, following that tactical change?

    For some reason you don’t seem to be grasping either of those points.

  14. Mike T

    But it’s not to agree or disagree is it.

    You say Tony has selected an arbitrary set of results (last 2/3rds of the season) which he clearly has not.

    Arsenal changed tactics and reduced the amount of tackles. That is irrefutable. The figures are there for all to see.

    It is from that moment, not simply a date plucked out of the air, that the figures have been taken to see if the change in tactics had any impact on the team. It seems it did.

    Almost from that day Arsenal received less yellow cards per game. That is irrefutable. The figures are there for all to see.

    Almost from that day Arsenal started to acquire more points per game. That is irrefutable. The figures are there for all to see.

    The only questions are:

    Is the receipt of less cards due to less tackles ? Clearly that is highly likely.

    Is our improvement in form due to the new tactics ? Less clear cut but it seems likely. If nothing else it is a fair presumption.

    Honestly Mike I don’t know what you are disagreeing with.

  15. Mike T I really can’t understand what you are saying. I’ve made no comments on individual player transfers that I can recall, but rather talked quite a bit about the suggestion from some people that ARsenal’s team needs a major overhaul. I argue that a club that through the last two thirds of the season were second best in the league could be harmed by wholesale changes. That’s all.

    As for the 4-0 business I don’t understand you at all. Nor the notion of taking something from a game. I take something from the fact that for the first third of last season we ended up 15th, for the second two thirds we were second. And I then look to see what we did different.

  16. Tony this is what you said

    “I would say the conclusion should be: don’t change the side, it is doing brilliantly.”

    Surely that as a minimum meant David Luiz had to be retained ?


    Arsenal changed tactics and reduced the amount of tackles. That is irrefutable. The figures are there for all to see.

    Did he ? Or was it a change of players ?

    Last comment on this one from me

  17. Irrelevant. Either way, the crux of the debate is, something changed at that moment. We performed 2nd best in the league from that moment on, for whatever reason. Therefore why the constant negativity about our team and the endless calls for wholesale changes from the media.

    That’s what’s at the heart of Tony’s thesis.

    Great, because you’re not making much sense, which isn’t normally like you.

    That isn’t an insult, just a fact, which is something you seem to be struggling with.

  18. Just to clarify.

    It’s irrelevant because whether the change came about because he told players not to tackle so often or put in players that didn’t tackle so often that is a tactical change.

    It is irrefutable that we reduced our tackling for whatever reason, by whatever means.

    It is irrefutable are form picked up from that moment.

    It seems logical the 2 things are connected, but even if they are not that doesn’t alter the fact we were the 2nd best team from that moment. Again that is a fact. And therefore we are not in need of the wholesale changes suggested by the media.

    Your opinion doesn’t change one of those facts.

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