This is backed up by the comment that “the north Londoners, once challengers for the top flight, are now someway off the leading pack and may struggle to exceed fourth place.”   The Mirror then claims that Neville was talking of Arsenal’s “depressed ambition,” so the manager should leave and find a more ambitious club.  Arsenal, he says have got, “really happy about finishing fourth,” although he declines to tell us how he knows this.

Instead he asserts that for Arsenal finishing fourth is “as good as it gets.”   So, the argument goes, “he gets to fourth [and] if he was really hard about it, he’d probably say ‘right, that’s the best I can do there, I’m going now and getting my next job’.”  He claims Arteta has been “linked with several roles, including the Manchester City job”

Thus Neville misses two points: the historical context and the possibilities of improvements continuing.

In terms of context, only one team that was in the Premier League last season is currently more than four places higher than they were last season, so Arsenal are right up there as the second most improved team.  

So let us consider how one measures ambition.   Now as it happens, psychology was my main area of study at university both in my undergrad days and in my post-grad research, and even though I am now somewhat advanced in years, I still keep up with the research.

And so I can tell you that there is quite an interesting recent piece of work about ambition and it does reach the conclusion that you can measure ambition, and indeed that ambition is a very important element in improving what one has.  But it is a rather long and academic piece, and I am not at all sure that the writer of the Mirror’s article actually found it.   But you can read it via the link if you wish.

Anyway, if one does have a coherent view of one’s ambition then one has goals, and one knows the means by which one is going to achieve those goals.   And this is where the turnips at the Mirror go wrong, because both in 2020/1 and in the summer of 2021 Arsenal clearly had goals, and put their money where their mouths were and achieved them.

You’ll start getting bored in a mo because we’ve covered this so often, but this is what the Mirror missed (they really could do worse than read Untold).   First in 2020/21 Arteta determined to wrest back control of matches from PGMO referees, by cutting the number of yellow cards in half, compared to the previous season.  It took the first third of the season to get the tactic right, by which time Arsenal were 15th.  In the last two thirds of the season Arsenal did get it right and were the second best team in the league, and overall ended up 8th.  So that was a clear ambition, completely fulfilled.

Then last summer Arsenal spent more than anyone else on transfers.  Football Transfers gave us a handy analysis that shows (below) that Arsenal in fact spent over double the amount spent by 15 other clubs in the Premier League.  Is that a lack of ambition?

And as a result of that Arsenal are now four places higher than they were at the end of last season.  Only Wolverhampton of the teams in the PL last season have had a bigger climb.

This table shows last summer’s transfer spend, and then compares where the club is now and its position at the end of last season, and in the final column shows if the club has improved (+) or declined (-).

Pos Club Spend £m This season pos Last season pos Improvement / decline
1 Arsenal 149 4 8 +4
2 Manchester U 126 6 2 -4
3 Chelsea 108 3 4 +1
4 Manchester C 106 1 1 0
5 Aston Villa 95 9 11 +2
6 Crystal Palace 66 12 14 +2
7 West Ham U 65 7 6 -1
8 Leicester Ci 61 10 5 -5
9 Tottenham Hots 60 5 7 +2
10 Norwich C 60 20 Ch +1
11 Leeds Un 53 16 9 -7
12 Brighton & H 51 13 16 +3
13 Southampton 39 11 15 +4
14 Liverpool 36 2 3 +1
15 Brentford 34 15 Ch +5
16 Burnley 29 19 17 -2
17 Newcastle Un 26 14 12 -2
18 Wolverhampton Wa 24 8 13 +5
19 Watford 17 18 Ch +3
20 Everton 2 17 10 -7

So there we are.  In the first campaign, the tactics are sorted to stop refs penalising Arsenal more than any other club.  In the second, bring in a new set of players and take the club up the league.

The article in the Mirror and the comments by the Neville character are what us psychologists call Mindless Twaddle, or in popular parlance, A load of old Cobblers.

But then, it’s the Mirror, so what do you expect?