The debate over Arsenal’s postponement of today’s game raises key issue

by Tony Attwood

If you have had a read of some of the commentaries on this site about Arsenal’s request for a postponement of the planned match for today against Tottenham you might notice several points that link the commentaries together.

First, although the articles on, for example, the Liverpool postponement carried a fair amount of evidence in relation to the statistics, the response to this has by and large not questioned those stats but instead said the suggestion something is wrong is nonsense or sour grapes.  In short, we have had a lot of opinions, but virtually no recourse to evidence.

Interestingly some of these comments have been along the line that our analysis of the Liverpool situation was clearly nonsensical “and you know it,” while questioning the Liverpool case but not the Tottenham v Arsenal situation shows the author to be plain biased and stupid.  From our point of view, there was some very interesting evidence in the Liverpool case which has not been debated, while we have no such evidence in the Tottenham case that anything is amiss.

In essence, we have the battle between the expression of opinion without evidence (but with associated name-calling) and the opinion with evidence which seems to be ignored or derided by everyone involved.  (And I would say that as always, we haven’t published all the comments – as ever, some are so abusive or repetitive that there seems little benefit in publishing them).

Thus we have no debate in the traditional sense, with people instead putting forward different points of view and bringing in evidence to support the case.  Rather one side produces some facts, and the other side calls the first side idiots, and that’s that.  The debate, therefore, ends because one side does not just deny the facts, but denies the need for facts.

This situation is, for me, even if for no one else, rather worrying in that what we have seen in this debate is an example of opinion and views counting for more than evidence.  Indeed it seems to have moved on from the situation we were in about five years ago where calls for evidence were met with the response that “I have the evidence of my own eyes.”  Now there is not even a need for that.  The non-evidence people simply know.

Such a position has, in my view, been aided by the way football is reported in the UK.  Almost everything concerning football in the media is centred on opinion, while the few facts that do emerge are carefully chosen not to reveal anything much.

The one new statistic we have had in recent years is expected goals which measures the quality of a chance.  When one thinks about it, this is actually is a rather obscure thing to measure, especially when one remembers all the things that are not generally commented upon.

The implication of expected goals seems to be that the more high-quality chances a team creates, ultimately the better its results will be.  And yes it is helpful to know that a team lost and created very few quality chances.  In short, it lost and deserved to lose.   But I am not sure that gets us very far.  Teams with a high number of expected goals might lose a game because goal-bound shots graze a defender’s leg and go out, and so you get the feeling that was just unlucky, but is that actually more interesting than knowing why some referees hand out multiple yellow cards and others very few?  Or how referees are chosen for a certain game?  Or why a club might get the same referee (who gives out multiple yellows) over and over again?

As you may have noticed, on this site we’ve been reporting on a range of factors that can be measured properly such as the number of tackles, fouls and yellow cards each team gets and how varied the numbers and relationships are.  We might note that not only does no one else publish these figures. We might also note that although the Premier League’s official site publishes a lot of figures for each PL club, it doesn’t publish the figures for the number of fouls – which using only their data makes the tackles / fouls / yellow card analysis impossible.

Fortunately, the figures are available elsewhere but the PL’s failure seems odd.

We also took a lot of interest in Arsenal’s results at different stages in the campaign last season, the way Arsenal get the same referee over and over, and what impact that has on yellow cards – and so on, but very few others do this.

The point is that the absence of meaningful evidence means there is no serious debate, only opinion.  But why is it like this?  That is an interesting question, but it is another one that doesn’t get debated, because it is never acknowledged that football reporting and commentary is singularly lacking in facts, but is utterly dominated by opinion.

For example, there is no debate in the UK about whether countries should get together to reform Fifa, because there is no reporting that anything in Fifa is amiss.  Nothing about the court cases, about Infantino’s fiddling of expenses, about the take over of African football….

So we actually have two problems: the media focuses on opinion and not facts, and when it can’t do that, it simply doesn’t report the issue at all.   As a result, opinion becomes worth as much as facts – and I refer you to the commentaries in Arsenal ask for postponment, but will the club get equal treatment? by way of example.

With facts ignored, there is no debate as dictatorships across the world show us daily, and indeed as Orwell portrayed exactly in “1984”.  There, the populace at large adopted and accepted the notion of statement being good, analysis based on meaningful facts, bad.

And this is where we now are.

Elsewhere: how Arsenal won the double, but TV hardly noticed.


17 Replies to “The debate over Arsenal’s postponement of today’s game raises key issue”

  1. 100% in agreement.

    I’m not sure if anybody else has mentioned this yet (I’m playing catch-up with UA articles) but I note that elements of the media are talking about Benitez about to be sacked and that results warrant that. Just a bloomin’ minute. Aren’t these the same media outlets that said Arsenal made a mistake in getting Arteta as manager because Benitez was available at the same time?

    One can only assume that as soon as Benitez is sacked they will all carry headlines akin to, “We apologise unreservedly to Arsenal over their choice of manager. They were right and we were wrong.” LMAO!

  2. @Tony, I would like to educate you on some of these things as a medical professional. I hope you would appreciate the knowledge wether or not it goes against your agenda. Now generally laboratory investigations can be grouped into screening and confirmatory tests. Screening tests are usually cheaper, less invasive, faster to get a result than confirmatory tests. However they are also less specific and less sensitive. Meaning there’s a tendency to get more false positives and even false negatives. The confirmatory tests are usually more accurate, however they’re more often more expensive, more invasive and take a longer time to be available. So how do we usually use these tests in medical practice… More often than not the apparently well population are administered screening tests when large scale testing is required. This saves cost and requires ties down less skilled manpower. However positive cases following a screening test are then subjected to confirmatory tests before a diagnosis is confirmed. So for example in tb endemic area, 100 people have gene xpert test done and results gotten within 3hrs. 20 results are positive. Now only 20 of those persons get to be isolated and their sputum taken to isolate the TB bacteria. The AFB test results come out in 3days, by which time only 5 may be confirmed as having TB.
    Now let’s look at the Liverpool situation, I don’t know how long it takes to carry out the confirmatory tests for covid in the UK and indeed having 10 out 24 false positives is indeed high, but if that indeed happened it is very understandable that Liverpool may not have been able to prosecute their match. Let’s say Liverpool have 3 days to prepare for a match. On day 0 24 members of the squad have screening tests for covid done. Get 10 positive results on day 1. Immediately those players begin isolation, of course that means they cannot train. Samples are taken for confirmatory tests. Results come in on day 3, only one confirmed positive. Of course the remaining 9 can participate in the match later in the day, but they haven’t trained for the past 2 days so a case can be made that they were unavailable due to covid related cases.
    I gave all this long story just to clear some issues in several of the articles you have written concerning these postponements. Whatever arsenal hopes to achieve from this delay, I believe they’ve thought about it long and hard, the Same way every club that requests must have done. So I wish them all the best

  3. Debs, the key point I make is referred to you in one passing line by you, “10 out 24 false positives is indeed high”. From the data I have I would change that to “astonishingly high” – and that’s really the whole point of my piece. No one seems to have wondered why they were so high.

  4. It’s fairly clear that Arsenal is seeking an advantage by postponing a game that, if it were the last game of the season and nothing riding on it, they would have played.
    As they lost the advantage of a second leg at home, it’s not that clear that Liverpool gained an advantage by postponing the game (unless their preparations were shot to pieces by the Covid tests).
    Arsenal has invoked the rules to its advantage. Which is basically what every club seeking a postponement has done.
    Absolutely the right decision by Arsenal.
    Those that are not happy need to focus on changing the rules, not on Arsenal.

  5. Actually Tony 10 in 24 is not strange when omicron is involved. It’s proven to be be very highly contagious, the only grace is that it seems to much milder than previous variants, so less people feel sick enough to seek medical attention and testing. However in situations where apparently well populations are screened we are getting figures resembling 10/24 which is 40% and sometimes more especially with screening tests. In many hospitals, medical personnel are no longer required to isolate when they test positive now because then there’ll be nobody left to work

  6. Press release from UK Health Security Agency published 5 January 2022:

    “Analysis by NHS Test and Trace shows LFD tests to have an estimated specificity of at least 99.97% when used in the community. This means that for every 10,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there are likely to be fewer than 3 false positive results. LFD tests identify the most infectious people. These people tend to spread the virus to many people and so identifying them remains important”.

    “Jurgen Klopp has defended Liverpool against questions over their 40 false positive Covid-19 tests that saw their Carabao Cup match against Arsenal postponed last week.”

    Now my maths is not great, but as far as I can see, for Liverpool to have generated that many false positives they needed to of tested around 140,000 players.

    You’ve said quite a lot Deb but as far as I can see you haven’t explained how that could of happened, and more over you haven’t explained why such radically outlying results didn’t invoke utter amazement from the FA and the medical community.

    You seem quite happy to accept it as ‘just one of those things’.

  7. Nitram I am much obliged to you. This is much how I understand it. Deb is saying something utterly different but like you I really do need the source of her data, which is utterly different from all the data I have at my disposal.

  8. If you read my comment you would see that the statement.. “10/24 false positives is indeed high, but IF that indeed happened”. I’m not here to vouch for the veracity of Liverpool’s claim or that of any club. As a scientist I would begin my investigation with the group responsible for administering these tests. If the clubs are in charge of this then obviously each club can manoeuvre, using the process to create conditions favorable to them. So a central structure would have to be put in place. If on the other hand the FA administers these tests, then Liverpool can only work with what they’re told. For example Aubameyang and Lemina the biggest names in the Gabon team won’t participate in the tournament because CAF is in charge of the COVID protocols and they have decided that Aubameyang and Lemina have post-covid complications that would make their participation in the tournament risky, that to the detriment of Gabon. If that’s the case with the EPL, then we’ll have to look at the EPL covid testing team, their training and the integrity of the testing materials being used…

  9. I’m not sure where Debs is getting her information. In my hospital we are taking positive LFT as Covid positive and asking staff to self-isolate. Such is the apparent accuracy of LFT that PCR tests are only done if someone has a negative LFT but has been in contact with a confirmed Covid case. We are certainly not asking infected people to work.

    I’m assuming that the Liverpool tests were LFT initially, given the large number of positives, did no one consider redoing these tests?

  10. Debs

    How the anomalous results came about is the entire issue here.

    Nobody has said it was Liverpools fault. The FA’s fault. Or anybody’s fault. The point I believe being raised on here is, why were such anomalous results accepted without question ? Why was there no investigation to see what was behind these results and who or what was to blame, if anyone or anything.

    Was it:

    a) Faulty LFT test kits ?

    Surely finding that out is reason enough alone to investigate what happened. ?

    b) Incorrectly administered tests ?

    Surely establishing that is crucial so as not to repeat the mistake.

    c) Incorrectly interpreted results ?

    Again as above.

    d) Was it just one of the above, ie a mistake, or was it deliberate deception ?

    Of course I’m not suggesting for one second that given their history Liverpool would of lied about such a thing, but surely it would of been prudent of somebody to of, you know, just checked to be sure ?

    But no, it appears that despite what were ridiculously anomalous results nobody thought it appropriate to ask one of those questions. Not one.

    Are you trying to say Debs, that as a scientist, if your lab threw up a set of results as outlying as those you wouldn’t of re checked, re checked and then re checked again ?

    And then at the very least asked how it happened ?

    Okay, I can understand the FA trying to sweep such anomalies under the carpet but not the scientific community.

    I always thought the basis of scientific integrity and credibility was in never taking anything for granted. Especially anomalies.

    In fact the basis of NEW SCIENCE is often in anomalies. They are a scientists dream.

    This from Scientific American:

    “Progress in science is sometimes triggered by surprises. Data collection resembles gathering of new pieces in a jigsaw puzzle and placing them together. Sometimes one of the pieces does not quite fit. It is natural for scientists to instinctively argue that such a piece does not belong; perhaps it is an artifact driven by uncertainties in the data or a misinterpretation of the experiment. This might indeed be the case in most instances. But every now and then, an anomaly of this type signals a real discrepancy from expectations, either a violation of a highly respected but incomplete law of nature—namely an exception to the rule, or an unexpected surprise—signaling the possibility of “new physics.”

    But no. Not only the FA but Scientists who usually are beside themselves with excitement at the slightest anomaly deemed to ignore a set results so anomalous as to beggar belief.

    Rather than bending over backwards to explain the apathy displayed to such results I would of thought that you, as a scientist, would be as astonished as we are at such indifference.

  11. Nitram

    There’s no doubt that the accuracy of LFT is indeed very high and to be honest I can’t believe they are but the numbers are there
    That said what do you make of this comment

    According to a meta-analysis of studies by medical database the Cochrane Library, lateral flow tests detect an average of 72 per cent of symptomatic cases and 58 per cent of asymptomatic ones — which could be the reason why you’re testing positive one minute and negative the next.

  12. Mike T

    I honestly don’t know what to make of it. The question is does it contradict this statement from the UK Health Security Agency found on a Government Web site, that says:

    “This means that for every 10,000 lateral flow tests carried out, there are likely to be fewer than 3 false positive results. LFD tests identify the most infectious people”.

    I don’t know. Does it?

    Because the only questions that needs answering are:

    a) How come Liverpools LFD tests produced a ratio of False Positives far exceeding normal expectations.

    b) Why.

    How and why. 2 simple questions that neither the FA or the scientific communities seem to want answered, which I find extraordinary.

    It may well be all totally innocent, but why given that enormous anomaly was there no inquiry, if only to satisfy the scientists who love anomalies, as that statement demonstrated.

  13. @Nitram, Your last paragraph is an accusation without basis. I’ll ignore it because I’m really not interested in joining issues with people online. Your earlier paragraphs convey some of my thoughts. You have an outlier in testing results, are the clubs manipulating the test results to create favourable conditions? Let FA take over testing. Is the FA already in charge of testing? Let there be an investigation of the results, the test administerers and test kits
    @Gareth, you have talked about the situation in your area, I believe you. I talked about the situation in some places I’m aware of. Live and let live

  14. The following link relates to PCR tests, but these things happen, and they don’t get picked up straight away. Apparently, these were false negatives:-


  15. Debs

    “I’m really not interested in joining issues with people online”

    And yet here you are ?? Hmmm ?

    Anyway, it’s not an accusation, it’s an observation, because that’s what I thought you appeared to be doing, but given your latest comments maybe not?

    You ask:

    “.. are the clubs manipulating the test results to create favourable conditions?

    That’s exactly what I (And Tony I think ?) am asking. I’m not saying Liverpool did that, but surely given the extreme outlying nature of their results, questions such as WHY and HOW should of been asked. You appear to agree ?

    Then you say:

    “… Let there be an investigation of the results, the test administers and test kits.

    Again, exactly what I’ve been saying. Again you appear to agree.

    It’s all very odd if I may say Debs as you yourself are asking the very same questions I did, so as such I don’t understand why you seem, I say seem, to of questioned that argument in the first place?

    Oh well, I apologize if I misunderstood.

    Then as a solution you suggest:

    “Let FA take over testing. Is the FA already in charge of testing ?”

    Well there’s another great question.

    Are the FA in charge of testing? If so, how are they in charge? Do they have observers? Do they double check results?

    In charge or not it appears they did none of that when it came to Liverpool’s false positives.

    It appears they just took as gospel everything Liverpool told them, which they may well do with everyone’s results, but if they do then surely that is not good enough as that clearly leaves the process wide open to abuse and manipulation.

    Anyone can produce enough false positives required to get a game delayed if they so desire, for whatever reason, then as per Liverpool, a few days later say, just say oh sorry about that, they were all false positives, we’re actually good to go.

    But were they false positives ? Did anyone check ? If they were, how did that happen? Did anyone check ?

    Sorry it’s just not good enough. And that’s what my argument is.

    But as I say, it appears you agree.

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