Why do journalists get so fixated on scoring in double figures?

By Tony Attwood

According to the Daily Mirror, Bukayo Saka was the only Arsenal player to “surpass double figures” in terms of Premier League goals in the last campaign, while Lacazette, who led the lineup until the final few weeks of the campaign, “managed just one league goal following the turn of the year.”

Of course, it is the Mirror and is the regular daily straightforward knocking copy, completely wrong both in the facts and the implication it tries so wretchedly to give.  No surprise there.

During the latter part of the campaign, Lacazette was not playing as the lead striker but was as often as not feeding the ball into Saka and Smith Rowe.  So although it would have been good if he had scored more goals, there is an explanation for his decline.

But it is also slightly difficult to work out what the journalist meant.  “Surpass” normally means to be greater than, and no one ever, as far as I know, has actually surpassed double figures in terms of scoring as that would mean getting goals in treble figures – ie 100 or more.

So I think we can take “Surpass” to mean “achieve” in this context although that is not its normal meaning. And on this basis the writer is completely wrong – Arsenal had two players achieve goals in double figures in Premier League games: Saka and Smith Rowe.

In fact, only two clubs managed to have three players getting into double figures for goals in League games last season: Liverpool and Manchester City, who had three players each.

Three teams other than Arsenal had two players on double figures (Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Leicester City).  Ten clubs (including Chelsea) had just one player in double figures and four clubs had none.

Of course, this deliberate misreading of the figures (or perhaps it was simple carelessness) is not new, and if you are a longterm reader of Untold, first my thanks, and second, you’ll perhaps remember the fuss we made when Amy Lawrence, the one time reporter for the Guardian, sought to mislead her audience when she said of Arsenal, in August 2016, “Only Giroud (16) and Sánchez (13) managed double figures in the Premier League last season.”

She was of course factually correct, only Giroud and Sanchez managed double figures for Arsenal – but the use of “only” was misleading, because she “forgot” to point out that only three clubs had three players who scored in double figures, and in each case the lowest scoring of the three just scraped into the list with 10.

More to the point Arsenal were the third-highest scoring team that season. 

That twist of the phrase was typical, Amy Lawrence following the bulk of her professional colleagues by manipulating language to make her point in a way that didn’t tell a fib, but nevertheless gave an utterly false impression.

So, the media choose the agenda, and then seek to manipulate our understanding of the game through their choice of subjects and their use of language.

The simple fact is that Arsenal didn’t score as many as we would have liked last season.

But there is another point.  Clubs which have one or two very talented top scorers have a problem.  First if the player gets injured or catches COVID the whole team is affected.   A club with two or three players knocking in the goals has a better chance of survival.

Second, unless the club is Manchester City, or perhaps Newcastle, it is likely that the opposition around Europe will be trying to poach the striker, while cloggers from certain clubs will be trying to give him an early knock so he is less effective in their game.  Treading on the forward’s feet, an elbow in the nose… these are the stock in trade of some defenders.

So all this stuff about “only three players in double figures” that journos have been running for years, is irrelevant gibberish.  Yes, several strikers who can knock in the goals are helpful, but having the goals spread around can also be advantageous.

This table shows Arsenal’s position in terms of goals and goal difference behind the fourth and second club in recent years, in order to see how much the club needs to improve.

Season AFC Goals behind 4th AFC Goals behind 2nd AFC GD behind 4th AFC GD behind 2nd
2017/18 -10 Nil 20 -17
2018/19 +6 -16 -6 -45
2019/20 -15 -46 -13 -59
2020/21 -3 -18 -6 -13
2021/22 -8 -33 -16 -53

Yes, we are scoring fewer than the clubs that have reached fourth spot each year, but that is not the key issue it is the goal difference that’s the problem because we are under-scoring and letting more in.  Focussing on one and not the other is no good.

Curiously in the last two-thirds of 2020/21 Arsenal were the second-highest scoring team with the second-best defence in the league.   But then the manager tore up the defence and bought a new one.   This season coming will finally show if that was a wise move.



2 Replies to “Why do journalists get so fixated on scoring in double figures?”

  1. The article is better entitled, “Why do I get so fixated on journalists”…

  2. Andrew, fixated is generally taken to mean having developed an obsessive attachment to someone or something. In the instance of Untold I’ve done some analyses of what football journalists write about and in that analysis found that they persistently write about certain factors which have little relationship with reality (such as transfers that never happen). And I conclude that repeatedly suggesting things might happen when they don’t, seems to me to fit into the definition of fixation. The analysis last September showing that 3% of transfers written about in the media actually did happen shows the extent of this.
    What’s more the same writers ignore many other factors in football, such as the way some referees have a home bias and others an away bias, thus revealing the impact of the fixation on writing about transfers.

    You find that irrelevant, as your comments repeatedly show. OK that’s your opinion. And yet you repeatedly read the commentaries or at least come onto Untold Arsenal and complain about their irrelevance.

    On any standard definition of fixation, surely it is your persistence in reading a blog with which you so profoundly disagree, and your persistence in writing in complaining about what the blog publishes that is an example of fixation. You must by now know that you will not agree with the evidence this site produces, and the subjects we choose to write about, so choosing still not only to read but also to write in is difficult to define as anything other than a fixation.

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