Death by 300,000 passes: how the Arsenal transformation started 2 seasons ago.

By Tony Attwood

Back in July (which was only two months ago, honest) we ran the headline

Why is the media so certain Arsenal will fail in 2022/23?

The answer we gave was that the media don’t do statistics.  If they did they would have seen that for the last 35 games of last season (which is to say the final 92% of the season) Arsenal were the third-best team in the league.

We also noted that 2021/22 was the second season running that the manager had made huge changes at Arsenal.  In 2020/21 those changes (which included moving Arsenal from the top of the yellow card table, to near the bottom) took the first third of the season to implement, but for the last two-thirds of the season, Arsenal were the second-best performing club.

So second in the league over the last 66% of the season in 2019/20.  The third best performing club over the last 92% of the season in 2020/21.

Now because the media refused to engage with any of this, we began to contemplate what else these journalists refused to consider.  We found that they previous had had blind spots for Chelsea’s debts (“During Abramovich’s tenure, Chelsea generated about $1.1 billion in operating losses,”)  We also noted that according to FrontOfficeSport Chelsea appear to have a debt of around $1.9 billion.  They also ignored the fact that the second most indebted club is Tottenham, which has a debt of $1.06 billion. 

And so to whitewash over the stories they were not covering much of the media ran the utterly fake tale that it was Arsenal who were going to be censured under FFP rules.  (Arsenal on Uefa watchlist of teams in danger of breaching FFP” said the mindless Sun.)

It was all crazy stuff – ignoring all the incredible developments at Arsenal in the previous two seasons, and then picking up a makebelieve FFP tale to help hide the fact that  it was Leicester, the media’s favourite, who were being looked at under FFP.  Leicester, whose finances we had been questioning since 2017.

You may recall, if you read our pieces on  NewcastleWest Ham,   Manchester United,  Chelsea,  Tottenham Hotspur, and of course  Leicester City that we particularly noted the nonsense of all the media stating that each had got time on a supercomputer to predict a final league table this season that was the same as last season.  Total and absolute rubbish of course.  There are 12 supercomputers in Britain, and if anyone thinks they might be used for predicting football results, rather than tracking Russian nuclear installations, troop movements and the rise and fall of the British economy, those people are on another planet.

Of course no one has apologised for their lunatic predictions but the Telegraph, in its Death by 300,000 passes story is trying to make amends, by suggesting that Arteta has learned “that the best way to win the game is to keep the ball.”  Radical stuff!

This article notes that “the tactical evolution …  has been gradual and slow” – which is true, but what they fail to admit is that it actually passed all of the media by.  Indeed they maintained their bonkers approach throughout with the Telegraph telling us in August 2021, that   “Mikel Arteta has five games to turn Arsenal around or face [a] fight for his job.” and that “Antonio Conte is among the names who could come into contention if Arteta is unable to improve results swiftly”.

However, in today’s piece the Telegraph says, “In the second half of last season, though, it started to become clear that Arsenal were getting there.”   Well, no.   To repeat, in the last two thirds of 2020/21 Arsenal were the second-best team in the league.   In the last 92% of last season, Arsenal were the third-best team in the league.

Those are the statistical facts, and endlessly saying, “In the second half of last season… it started to become clear that Arsenal were getting there,” doesn’t change those facts.   Covering up and covering up again the ineptitude of the paper’s reporters, doesn’t change reality.

But they do admit that Arsenal are now playing “mature, progressive football,” due to a “mastery of possession” …

Thus the funny thing is that they can read stats when they want to, which can only lead to the conclusion that a lot of the time they simply don’t want to.   So the Telegraph says, “In seven matches this season, they have averaged a 58 per cent share of possession, compared to 53 per cent last season. They are now playing an average of 519 passes per match, compared to 481 passes per match in 2021-22. They are also averaging 302 passes in the opposition half each game, up from an average of 266 last season.”

As a result Arsenal are “winning possession in the final third an average of 5.6 times per match, up from 4.9 in 2021-22 and 3.7 in 2020-21.”

But because the media refused to acknowledge the transformation of the club in the last two thirds of 2020/21, and the last 92% of last season, they are now looking for explanations which they can spot this season alone such as playing Xhaka further forward.  

And as with everyone else, they notice William Saliba has completed 425 of the 456 passes he has attempted, an accuracy of 93 per cent – something he wouldn’t have been able to deliver last season had he returned earlier, because at that time the whole defence was being reshaped.

But perhaps the real insult for Arsenal comes at the end of the Telegraph piece with the statement  that “Arteta’s vision is finally taking shape.”

Finally?   Oh youTelegraph reporters, what wags you are.   What on earth have you been doing for the past two seasons?

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