How football journalists and their blogging allies fail to understand what is going on.

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.


9 Replies to “How football journalists and their blogging allies fail to understand what is going on.”

  1. Tony

    I made this point yesterday in an earlier article but is more relevant to this article.

    This is the points total from the last 34 matches, since last seasons turnaround as highlighted by your good self.

    Man City…..80 Pts
    Chelsea……..67 Pts
    Man Utd……..65 Pts
    Arsenal……..64 Pts
    Liverpool….57 Pts

    I don’t think anybody is saying we will win the league, it’s just we are, and have been for almost a seasons worth of games now, a damn good team, yet the media would have everyone believe we are/were terrible, relegation fodder even.

    The fact is we have been performing on a par with Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd for almost a seasons worth of matches now, yet as you say, the media refuse to say it. They cant say they haven’t seen it. It’s right under their noses.

    In other words they make a conscious choice not to acknowledge it. The question is why? As you point out, a question the media never want to ask.

  2. Just read the piece in th Guardian about Sp*rs…
    Makes you realise how much of a GENIUS Mr Wenger is.

    He navigated all the dangers described in the piece, for more then 10 years.
    he even beat PIGMOB at it, year after year.
    He rejuvenated the squad regularly, selling player at the highest possible value.
    And to an extent, the young guns we have are a product of his foundations as well.
    Basically he was doing all that the piece says Sp*rs did not do.

    And all he got was contempt, criticism, cynical reporting and no recognition.
    Not even a mention in the piece with ‘unlike their neigbours’….

    Ah yes and “4th is not a trophy” refrain year after year.
    Guess today all Sp*rs fans would kill to have just 3 or 4 consecutive years at 4th place.

    Anyway, not feeling sorry for them anyway. Even wondering if they’ll stay in this league at the end of the season…

  3. Chris

    They will never concede that what Wenger achieved was the work of a genius. The abuse they gave him dug them a hole so deep they they can never get out of it.

    Wenger went a 10 year period on a zero Nett spend and maintained our position in the top 4 the entire time, which was his aim and which was miraculous.

    The money from qualifying for the CL and progressing from the group stage was I believe at least 10 times the amount we would of received from winning the FA Cup, hence the target every season was top 4, NOT the FA Cup. 4th WAS our trophy and it was vital.

    I think the money received from those 10 years in the CL matched almost to the penny the basic cost of the Stadium. Obviously all that money wasn’t simply needed for the stadium cost, and of course there is interest on top of the basic cost of the stadium, but it does highlight how critical that money was.

  4. Had we had the benefit of honest referees, the form tables would reflect Arsenal’s performance in an even better light. The Brentford and Man City results were underwritten by officiating that managed to ignore the rules of football in a blatant and sinister fashion. The draw with Palace was also questionable. Even the matches that we won are blighted by pitchtilting.

    Spurs’ form in the last 7 games sees them in 18th place in the League.

  5. @Nitram,

    it gets better. i think I saw, maybe it was on Untold 5 or 10 years ago, a break down proving that Manure, Barcelona and Citieh paid for the Emirates with their purchases of players at the top of their value… beat that !

    One can see the balls Mr Wenger had to sell all those Arsenal stars even if he did not want to let them go.
    The club was always more important than the players. It’s survival was the number 1 priority. Not Mr Wenger’s career by the way. You don’t find coaches like him too often, do you ? That being said, I hope Mr Arteta stays many long years and establishes another long stability period

  6. Chris

    “The club was always more important than the players. It’s survival was the number 1 priority. Not Mr Wenger’s career by the way”

    Absolutely spot on. Wenger decided Arsenal was his lifetime project. He could of had a Globe trotting career like so many others. Chasing the oil money from club to club. Buying trophies here there and everywhere.

    But in the final analysis his love for Arsenal won through. His long term goals for OUR CLUB, trumped any personal ambitions he made of had for trophies.

    And what was his thanks? An embittered media criticizing his every move. Ex players taking the filthy money to do the same. And finally a fan base poisoned by both, eventually turning on the man who dedicated his footballing life to the betterment and long term future of our club. Sad, very sad.

    But on a positive note I think Arteta seems to be in for the long haul.

    Okay he may of learnt more about modern coaching from pep but lets hope he learnt the art of being a decent, loyal human being from Arsene.

  7. Football is certainly not “a simple game.” It is a great mystery. The rules may be simple, as in Japanese “go,” but the permutations and combinations of players, techniques, tactics — and especially spirit — are vast.

    I see Mr. Conte’s intolerance of players who do not do what he asks of them being praised in the media today. It made me think of how the media have criticized Mr. Arteta’s approach to Messrs. Guendouzi and Ozil. Sigh.

  8. From Keith Hackett via Caughtoffside – “Oliver should re-visit the law and improve his understanding and application of this law”.

    He was referring to the DOGSO/Evans/Aubameyang incident.

    Unfortunately these referees know the law, but will not apply it to benefit Arsenal, as we have already seen too many times this season.

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