by Tony Attwood
In the last piece I took a look at how Arsenal managed to move out of a poor first third of the season and deliver the second-best results in the league through the last two-thirds of the season. To round that line of thought off I want to look at the big “why” question. As in, “Why did the mainstream media not look at the way things were going last season, or again this season, and seriously ask: why is this happening?” Why did Arsenal do so poorly in the first third of last season, and why are we doing ok now, after those first three defeats?
And asking this is informative because if we can understand why they are getting it so wrong that will help us understand the inevitable future media errors based on the same misjudgements.
So here we go: why have the journalists and bloggers made so many false predictions and given so many false explanations during Arteta’s tenure?
1: Journalists and bloggers move as a herd.
It is very rare for journalists or bloggers to step out of the mainstream of what other journalists say. For the past few years that mainstream thought has been that Arsenal have a) the wrong manager and b) deep ingrained faults and problems at senior management level. The problems and faults might change (bad management, bad defence, bad attack, bad ownership etc) from article to article, but the fact is that journalists and bloggers believe that the fault is obvious, they can see it, but the owners or management of Arsenal are too thick to see it.
Since journalists won’t ever admit they are wrong, they can’t change.
2: The herd mentality of journalism keeps thoughts the same.
The great problem of a herd is that until something dramatic comes along (in the case of an actual herd of animals on the edge of the cliff or fast-flowing river) the herd keeps travelling in the same direction. So with reporting Arsenal the herd of journalists keep moving along the same line: that the ownership and management of the club are useless, hopeless and dumb, totally unable to see what the journalists can see.
3: The future can be predicted by looking at the past
Put at its simplest, the vision is Arsenal were poor last year and so will be poor this year. And yet in the 28 years of the Premier League, only on eight occasions has the club that won the league one year, won it also the following year. That just a little over a quarter. So change does happen.
Likewise, only on six occasions have the same four ended up in the top four positions as the year before. And I don’t mean in the same order, just the same four clubs occupying the Champions League spots two years running across the 19 years we have had four teams in the Champions League. That’s about 21% of the time. Change happens.
4. The only way to improve a team is to get rid of some players and bring in new players.
Occasionally this does work of course, but much of the time it either doesn’t work at all, or where it does it happens only after a long settling in period. Henry comes to mind in this regard.
But the majority of transfers don’t make a major difference, but for journalists and commentators that logic is turned into, “Most Arsenal transfers don’t work because the Arsenal management is inept.” This then is the excuse why only around 3% of players tipped each year to be joining Arsenal (usually around 3%) actually do get transferred to Arsenal.
5. Tactics are simple and can be explained in a couple of lines.
Pundits tend to put forward very simple notions such as getting the ball up the pitch more quickly and then put down the failure of the team to score to one simple attribute. Something as complex as reducing tackles in order to give referees fewer chances of waving yellow cards, still has never been discussed.
6. Newcomers adjust at once.
There was a time when a player could be signed on a friday, and would play for his new team on the Saturday and score a hattrick. But that is long past, and newcomers can take weeks or months to be able to be able to fit into the team. But this season alone we have seen a group of Arsenal defenders take a number of games to settle in and adjust – not least this season.
7. Referees are not an issue
That’s it. The mainstream media simply do not talk about referees beyond the very occasional mention of a mistake. Yet our figures from last season showing how referees who gave Arsenal more cards got more Arsenal games. Referees who gave fewer cards were rarely picked for a second game. And that’s before the bizarre Leicester figures of two years ago.
8. We’ve always done it like this.
The longevity of this way of seeing football, justifies its correctness. Combined with “if we were getting it so wrong, don’t you think someone would have noticed by now?”
9. No statistics.
Most explanations involving multiple events and/or multiple people depend on statistics – except football. True we have expected goals, which everyone latched onto for a while. And possession percentages can get a mention, but something like the relationship between one event and another expressed in terms of stats… no you won’t find much of that.
10. “Clever clever”
The phrase might be changed but the notion remains the same – that football is a simple game and to understand it you don’t need any of these “clever clever” numbers. And so we are back to “football is a simple game” – and the removal of any serious analysis. Add in “the evidence of my own eyes”, and that’s football punditry and commentary for you, and no one is ever the wiser.
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