Mikel Arteta is a worthy manager of the month, but the media can’t say why

By Tony Attwood

There is an article on the Premier League website under the headline “Find out how the awards for players, manager and goal of the month and season are decided.”   However you might not want to spend too much time there as there is no clue as to how the debates go, only who is on the panel.

So having heard that Mikel Arteta has won the Manager of the Month award, a lot of fans and commentators are expressing bemusement.   A glance at the pages of Untold Arsenal in the past year and a bit might have helped of course, because instead of relaying just opinion we have indulged in examining a few facts and statistics which will explain what’s going on.

In fact we were a trifle surprised that Mr Arteta didn’t win the award in the latter part of last season, as a reward for his stunning turn around of Arsenal.   If you are a regular reader please forgive me for mentioning it again, but a lot of people still haven’t got to the bottom of this – as the negative comments about Arteta’s win shows. 

In the first third of last season Arsenal were 15th.  In the last two thirds of last season Arsenal were second.   Here’s the table for the first third…

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Liverpool 14 9 4 1 36 19 17 31
2 Everton 14 8 2 4 25 19 6 26
3 Tottenham Hotspur 13 7 4 2 25 12 13 25
4 Leicester City 13 8 0 5 24 17 7 24
5 Southampton 14 7 3 4 25 19 6 24
6 Manchester City 13 6 5 2 19 12 7 23
7 Manchester United 12 7 2 3 22 19 3 23
8 Chelsea 13 6 4 3 26 14 12 22
9 West Ham United 13 6 3 4 21 16 5 21
10 Wolverhampton Wanderers 13 6 2 5 13 17 -4 20
11 Aston Villa 11 6 1 4 21 13 8 19
12 Newcastle United 13 5 3 5 17 22 -5 18
13 Crystal Palace 14 5 3 6 19 25 -6 18
14 Leeds United 13 5 2 6 22 24 -2 17
15 Arsenal 14 4 2 8 12 18 -6 14

And now for the last two thirds

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

We also looked to see how this incredible turn around was achieved – and the answer was by cutting out the yellow cards, reducing them from 86 in 2019/20 to 47 in 2020/21 – a cut of a staggering 47%.

And the reason for using this approach this came from another bit of research – certain referees tend to give us lots of yellow cards, while other referees give us very few yellow cards.  OK, just a bit of local variance one might think, but it turns out that the referees that like to give us yellows get to referee many more Arsenal games than referees who don’t give Arsenal yellows.

So Arsenal worked to stop giving referees any excuse to give them yellows – which meant stopping fouling, which in turn meant stopping tackling.   Tackles went down by 22%, and only West Ham managed to exceed this taking their tackling down by 26% – a factor which is worth remembering when looking at West Ham’s figures this season – but we’ll leave that for later.

Thus Arsenal made extraordinary tactical changes based on statistical evidence, and it worked.

But why didn’t the media mention this?  Well, because of that bit about referees.  Such a change was only worth undertaking with the knowledge about Arsenal constantly having matches overseen by the referees with a propensity for handing out yellow cards.  You can find details in our Key Data Tables 2020/21 page.

I am not sure any manager has gone through such an approach as this before, but it most certainly worked in the last two thirds of last season.

But then the club did something just as dramatic as last season: this summer they changed the defence around – a defence that had been so carefully drilled in the process of not tackling in order to avoid record numbers of yellow cards (86 in 2019/20, remember).

This meant that the newcomers into the team had to learn the new art of defending without tackling, to avoid giving referees the chance to yellow card the player.  This was complicated by the fact that for the first match a number of the team went down with coronavirus, and then we played two teams who were always certain to give us a tough time.

Some managers might have folded at that point and gone back to a high tackling approach but Mr Arteta didn’t.  He stayed with his plan, took the players with him, and took us through a run of played four wins in four games in September.

Of course the media have a hard time covering this development.  They can’t mention the apparent bias in selecting referees, so they are left without any reasons to give, thus giving free reign to the anti-Arteta, anti-Arsenal, if in doubt change everything, opinion formers.

We can be grateful however that the boss stuck by his gunners, and by his ideas.  And he is a most worthy winner of manager of the month.


5 Replies to “Mikel Arteta is a worthy manager of the month, but the media can’t say why”

  1. Sorry to go off topic Tony but:

    Well done Saka. Another goal for England.

    I’ve just seen the most minor of skirmishes in the Andora England game. Nothing much but quite rightly the 2 instigators received a yellow card each.

    Lee Dixons analysis:

    “The Andoran had a little nibble after the ball. The England player didn’t need to do that”

    Basically 2 deserved yellows.

    Another minor skirmish. Another yellow for an England payer.

    Lee Dixon: “There’s another unnecessary yellow. There’s no need to get involved like that”

    Again acceptance it was a deserved yellow.

    Measure that against the 2 major melees I’ve mentioned recently that occurred in the PL where almost all outfield players got involved and not a single player received even a yellow card, despite pushing, shoving, grabbing, and all we got from the pundits was laughter, nothing in it, the ref handled that about right.

    This highlights what one of the guys said the other day about how our teams just don’t get away with this behavior in Europe, and Dixons comments highlights how really they know they shouldn’t.

    It seems in the premier league you can get away with all-in wrestling if you play for the right team, your name fits, or you’re English.

    Heaven forbid you’re not English, you play for Arsenal, and your name is Xhaka.

  2. @ Nitram

    It was me that mentioned the way favoured teams in England are far more evenly reffed in Europe but that’s by the by.

    I too watched the game (largely because Saka was playing) and thought how well the all female team of officials handled things. I don’t recall gender being mentioned once by Dixon and his co-commentator, presumably because they were told not to. The reason I mention it is not because I expected anything less than a competent performance but more because I wish some of our male English refs were half as good.

    I also noted that the commentator, very early on, accused the Andorrans of time wasting……because the GK was receiving treatment…..for having his arm stamped on! It was completely accidental but why say such nonsense, did he really think we couldn’t see what had happened? No media bias there then!

  3. Mikey

    Sorry I don’t remember and more so that I couldn’t be bothered to check. Forgive me it is Sunday after all 😉

    And yep, I noticed the mention of the time wasting because he went on to say that at Wembley apparently the ball was only in play for 35 minutes out of the 90+ I think it was.

    I mean I wouldn’t mind but again when it suits it’s all fine and dandy and doesn’t even get a passing mention.

    Double standards and hypocrisy is what these talking heads are full of.

    And yes the officials were excellent.

    But as I keep saying time and time again, the media don’t want great referees, they want compliant referees.

    As with the 2 melees I mentioned. The referee was culpable in not taking any action against anyone but because it was teams the media like they got praise.

    They let Xhaka get away with anything and they are slaughtered.

    A good referee is a referee that follows orders, not one that applies the Laws of the Game correctly..

  4. Re: Timewasting.

    I remember watching football matches where goalkeepers would regularly keep the ball in their hands for 15 seconds or longer. I seem to remember that Chris Kirkland, Fraser Forster and Scott Carson were often guilty of this. The commentators applaud that when it happens against Arsenal. The rule states that the maximum time a goalkeeper may hold the ball is six seconds, but referees in the EPL are unable to spot this, let alone enforce the rule – except when it is an Arsenal goalkeeper.

    Incidentally a Northern Ireland player (Jamal Lewis) received a red card for timewasting last night. UEFA referees seem to be more aware of the rules of the game.

  5. @Seismic – the PGMOL officials can’t count more than 2 and walk anything for a 10yd free kick. The 6 second rule is another ignored offence and I cannot recall it ever being called.

    The Jamal Lewis incident was a throw in that he got a 2nd yellow card for time wasting. It seemed ridiculous as time can be added on.

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