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Arsenal Versus Watford – All Past Is Prologue

I usually start a new season brimming with a blend of optimism and ludicrous over confidence. I assume we’ll win every game, a delusion I maintain right up until the first dropped points when I cheerfully downgrade my expectations to an unbeaten season. After the first defeat I shrug and assume we’ll just win every competition in which we compete. And so on until the conclusion of the campaign.

It’s a happy and harmless approach to my hobby, doesn’t hurt anyone and put simply means I always hope for the best of all possible outcomes. If that ends up meaning fourth place or a Europa league position or just avoiding relegation then that’s what I’ll be cheering for at the death.

Not this time though. Having been stung by the season which followed the World Cup I watched in horror as the Euros dragged on to see all those Arsenal players not getting a break, not resting and recharging. I  realised that this would be a difficult season. Now it seems that we will not only have to catch up after a slow start but also assimilate all sorts of new faces into the squad, which, when allied to the inevitable injuries ( a knock on effect of the international bullshit we all had to endure) simply means disruption and disjointed performances.

So when I saw the result of our opening fixture I was as angry as everybody else, but not surprised. Not angry at or with any individual just at the entire wasteful, pointless distraction of those international matches. I was told by many of you to try to enjoy them. I was gently chided for wishing Wales would lose at the first hurdle because it must be nice for Aaron to do so well. I can only assume those gentle chiders are deeply regretting their position now. I’d happily sacrifice his summer of fun for a prolonged healthy season with Arsenal where he could enjoy lifting a trophy at the end. Success with Wales or success with the club which actually pay his wages. He’d be happy either way wouldn’t he?

Anyway it is what it is and with the hateful circus of the transfer window at long last beginning to pack up its tent perhaps we can get back to real football. Perhaps my return from the muddy wastes of the North Somerset coast will coincide with the return of Wengerball. Stranger things have happened. Maybe the stutter against Liverpool and the blunt if resolute performance against Leicester were simply the prologue. Maybe we turn the page to chapter one this afternoon at 3pm.

Historically Watford versus Arsenal always produces a decisive result. Well, almost always. Of the twenty four matches between the two teams only one has ended in a draw. We have won every Premier League game ever played against them, their shock FA Cup victory at the Emirates back in March was their first win against us since 1988. Normal service was resumed a couple of weeks later with a resounding victory built on Iwobi’s effervescence, Alexis’ sharpness and a Coquelin / Elneny midfield axis which kept the ball moving and denied Watford almost any meaningful possession.

I will happily settle for more of the same today: Fast, fearless and inventive in possession, fierce, decisive and tireless in defence. Sounds like the perfect recipe doesn’t it? Whether we can produce such a display after a difficult first couple of games remains to be seen and whether I’m allowed to watch any of it with Liz’s birthday barbecue happening in the house and garden is a similarly  moot point. The lack of Arsenal fans or even football fans on her guest list suggests it will be a big ask. Luckily enough my dogs are deeply antisocial so if I position them in the doorway to my room I might manage to go undisturbed for the requisite couple of hours.

As with Arsenal it could all come down to how much I want it, how far I’m prepared to go to get what I want and how well I can ignore the catcalls and anger of the baying crowd who little understand the pressures I’ll be operating under. They can all go hungry if it means I get to see a couple of halves of vintage or even near vintage Wengerball. I’ll face the music afterwards and take my punishment like a man.

Anyway time for the proper football blog. After last season where I sometimes strayed so far from the facts and indeed any mention of the game that I could have been auditioning for a job on the Daily Mirror, it has been made abundantly clear that readers come to football blogs for predictions, selections and wisdom with which the common herd is not blessed. I shall endeavour to give the people what they so desire.

I predict a tight game with either lots of goals or no goals or at least not many goals and a win for either the home or away side with a draw also a possibility. The Arsenal squad will feature the likes of Ozil, Cech, Cazorla, Xhaka, Bellerin, Giroud and Alexis among others, and many if not all of these will play in certain positions on the pitch. There will be a referee who will be deemed a bastard to either the visitors or the home side at various times, unless you are Andy Nic in which case you’ve probably got his autograph and photo on your bedroom wall. Arsenal will play defensively, keeping it tight and quieting the home crowd or will attack furiously like drunken Mongolian horseman with a point to prove. There will be a moment of controversy.

I hope you enjoy the game, it promises to be one.

BBQ

260 Comments

Fear And Despair vs The Arsenal

Done deals

In the post Leicester City presser, Arsene Wenger made some powerful statements in what appears to be a continuing counter-attack against the mainstream media and their ever faithful echo chamber on the interweb who continue to slander and malign him for not “spending” in the transfer window. Speaking of Rob Holding, his most recent signing (note the irony) Wenger remarked that the young man had an “outstanding performance” noting :

“He’s 20 years old, he’s English and it’s a great reason to be happy. As long as players don’t cost a huge amount of money, people don’t give them any qualities.
“We have to be stronger than that and just acknowledge how good he is. “

Yet according to the Sage of Dublin in his pre- and post-Liverpool vituperations, it was “criminal”, it was “unfair” to play Holding in a PL game, it was like throwing a baby into the deep-end and many more over-the-top metaphors. Instead, Wenger should have bought a more expensive defender, especially after Mertsacker’s injury and using the Sage’s logic, he too should have been thrown into the deep-end given that whoever was signed would have absolutely no PL experience, a necessary rite-of-passage for any defender coming from outside of England. I only quote the Sage, despite my past efforts to document his rampant fear-mongering and duplicitous attacks on our manager, because he is the Pied Piper of Arsenal blogs with thousands following like little lemmings repeating and magnifying his many inaccurate prognostications.

How does fear mongering gain such traction despite the consistent success of Arsenal Football Club in the twenty years under Wenger’s management?

• Invincible – unbeaten over a whole season.
• 3-time Premier League champions.
• 6-time FA Cup winner.
• Average league position of 3rd.
• Never fallen below 4th in any year.
• Never failed to qualify for the Champions League.
• Never fallen in league position below Tottenham Hotspur, North London rivals.
• Never outside top 7 in richest clubs worldwide since 2007, average 4th position.

As a part-time stock investor, taking care of my small retirement portfolio, Arsenal would be a perfect long-term investment. According to the Forbes’ list of the most valuable football clubs in nine years the value of the club has more than doubled and so has revenues. Wenger, who is supposedly badly out of touch with the market, has doubled the worth of the club while taking very low risks. Contrast this with the spectacular show of “ambition” by Manchester United who in the past three years spent over £300 million on transfers to achieve another failure to win the League, not only finishing behind Arsenal but for the second time in three years failing to qualify for the champions league.

I deliberately mentioned stock market because that is where I see so many parallels with the coverage of football clubs by the mainstream media and their fellow travelers, the big bloggers. As a student of Thomas Herzfeld and Robert Drach, who wrote an investment guide “High Return, Low-Risk Investment” I long concluded no true stock market professional would have any truck with the nonsense written by the commercial press and bloggers like the Sage. Professional investors recognize the media as having a commercial interest in exploiting the emotions of their readers rather than producing sober data-driven explanation of why stocks rise or fall.

A stock market professional would quickly assess that the football industry and the transfer market in particular is made up of several powerful actors, some of them acting corruptly under the cover of normal business practice, with the aim of extracting maximum profit from the competing clubs. No other market is ripe for profit extraction than the biggest market of all, the Premier League. Great fortunes have been made, (Stand up Mr. Mendes and Mr. Raiola) and great fortunes lost (United, Chelsea and City).

Like any market, the driving force is ultimately greed. In this context “greed” is stripped of all the emotional baggage, and must be seen in the sense of making a profit. All the rational parties would want to profit from the party on the other side of the deal. Unfortunately there are some parties whose “greed” is subsumed by some short term political or public relations objectives (City and Chelsea come to mind). Arsene Wenger is a master of greed, selling Adebayor, Nasri and Kolo Toure to Manchester City at handsome profits when AFC was desperate for the money. On the other hand, he waited in the weeds for a long time when trying to buy Ozil and Cazorla, pouncing when their price fell. Most famously he bought Nicolas Anelka from PSG in 1997 for £500M and sold him to Real Madrid for £22.3MM two years later.

Greed to win the title or to qualify for the champions league often lures clubs into the transfer market to pay inflated prices. To justify these prices the buyers, with cheerleading by the media (Sky Sports deadline day) who often equate price with quality as a way of justifying the deal. In that department Manchester United is the recent gift that never stops giving with the likes of DiMaria, Falcao and Martial failing to justify their astronomical transfer fees. Will Pogba be the exception?

According to Herzfield and Drach, next to greed the most important emotion in professional market positioning is despair. Just as greed can lure clubs into the transfer market at inflated prices despair can compel people to sell at low prices. Wenger is a past master at exploiting this human failing, waiting until the very last day of the transfer window to close a deal as the selling club is desperate for the deal to go over the line (Gabriel and Welbeck come to mind). very often many clubs are desperate to sell to not merely balance the books but more importantly to not default on their bank loans. It leads one to wonder whether AFC have Valencia over the barrel in the Mustafi deal with Arsene Wenger biding his time.

The media has a role in exacerbating these two primary emotions. In the last 10-15 years they were up front and center inciting regular investors to buy internet and housing stocks when the professionals knew full well they were overpriced and already bailing out. I recommend The Big Short on Netflix for a dramatization of how the pros made millions by shorting housing stocks which the media were cheerleading during the recent bubble.

It’s no different at Arsenal. The mainstream media all summer and now John Cross and the Sage of Dublin are whipping up greed in the fanbase with delusions that we can buy high priced players to compete with United, City and Chelsea for the title. If that doesn’t work they resort to fear mongering after every defeat. Sell Walcott, sell Chambers, just to mention the two scapegoats du jour. It is complete drivel when you consider 20-years of absolute consistency by Wenger and the 95% likelihood we will be in the top-four and the admittedly somewhat lower probability of competing for the title.

To be fair the psychological pressure is intense. Club football is a very charged subject and fans want (not need) the emotional satisfaction of winning the title. But whether they like it or not, professional football is a business run by rules that cannot be driven by emotion. It is vital to take advantage of the emotions of other clubs not the other way around. We certainly cannot be driven by the emotive caterwauling of the lame stream media and the likes of our Arsenal bloggers and tweeters.

79 Comments

Two Games In, Is It All Over?

TV-1

I watched the game from the discomfort of my armchair and believed I had watched a good hard fought sporting encounter between two teams ,although quite a bit below their best, providing a decent game. Little did I know that I should have been booing and cursing at the manager and the players.

I have to admit that I enjoyed it. I don’t think we played anything like our best, but it was a real fight.It was entertaining because it was a contrast of styles. Arsenal had most of the ball and controlled the game on the whole. There was a real lack of quality in the final third though. Sanchez was poor, at best. Its clear why Arsene so quickly gave up om him a a lone central striker. The Ox looked dangerous running with the ball , but ultimately the runs led to nothing. Of the three strikers I thought Theo looked most likely to make a breakthrough. In fact I felt Theo did himself a few favours overall.

Santi seems to be at his creative best when playing deeper and was not anywhere near his magic best in the number 10 role.

However, the back four ,and Cech, all had solid games with Le Coq and Xhaka doing a fine job and anchoring and controlling the midfield

So in summary, back good, front bad.

If I was being balanced I would say Francis should have been dismissed and Hector was lucky not to give away a penalty. But there were enough occasions when Mark didn’t book LCFC players when he could have, and there is an argument to say their player deliberately stuck out a leg (Vardy like). So bollocks to being balanced.

I saw enough from Holding to think he is the bargain of the summer. Or perhaps the ElNeny of this window, if you like?

So that’s about it. I think a draw was a fair result, and I am happy enough with it.

Sorry it’s me this morning instead of the usual treat of Andy Nic. Hopefully everyone will be back to full fitness next week and our stars will return refreshed .

 

99 Comments

Arsenal: Playing the Fox

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доброе утро Positivistas,

 

For those of you keenly anticipating the wit and wisdom of young Stew this morning after the Summer break you may be dismayed to discover a change of plan. As someone who was also looking forward to the morning musings of our resident quill-meister I am among you.

Normal service will be resumed in the near future. As Arsene says it is essential that top performers enjoy a proper break to recover mentally and physically from a the heavy 55 game 2015/2016 season, and prepare properly for the long contest ahead.

On to the football match and if I were choosing a game to preview then probably Leicester at the King Power would be around or at the top of the list.

The two top sides in the PL last season, both sides backed by excellent keepers, crammed with attractive ball players, and you just know both sides will score goals today. There is always noise at Leicester’s stadium. The home crowd is always frantic and a small pitch ensures that all the action is condensed. Despite watching the game on the TV I find in smaller, noisier grounds I am much more off my seat and in and out of the domestic technical area.

The Fates have even graced us with Mr Clattenburg so we have the best the footballing authorities can supply in terms of a match official. I hope we shall hear no more of Mr C for the whole weekend, though that rather depends on the players. Dissent ? I may have been watching the wrong games last week but my impression was that ( almost all) players were more cautious, a smidgeon more restrained in their contact with the referees and the linos. We shall see if the behavioural modification lasts.

Of our opponents it is still a bit strange, this Leicester City ‘phenomenon’. Until last season LCFC were, not to be too unkind, a bit of a joke, a bit of a ‘guaranteed six points’. Always had been a soft touch, either skilful dandies but with no bite, or rough and with no footballing brain. Either way easy meat for Arsenal season in, season out.

Both our games in 2015/2016 showed the formidable change in the Foxes, 7-3 on aggregate. LCFC over 38 games an example, in a week of transfer hysteria, that football is a team game and a players combined, thinking, moving, organising on the pitch together, who are determined will always achieve more than 11 individuals no matter their price and/or the size of their wage. That we managed to inflict two of only three league defeats on Ranieri’s side was very much to our credit last season, that only one other club managed to best them is very much to theirs.

Both clubs started the campaign with a blip last weekend and there were the inevitable references to an “ashen-faced” Claudio Ranieri and an “ashen-faced” Arsene Wenger this week “under pressure” and this evening’s designated a “must win” game for both.

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Let’s get it clear shall we. Win, draw or lose today any dancing in the streets would be premature. 36 games to go. I know some Arsenal fans by Monday last had given up on the PL. For them the trophy, even any thought we might challenge for the trophy, was gone. I think they are foolish. I trust by about 7.20 tonight they will also feel they were a little foolish.

Of the prospective line-ups I see Huth is back in the centre of the Leicester defence and I assume that will improve on their shakey back 4 display against Hull. Other than Musa I think we know all just about all their players and I expect no surprises. We know what they ‘do’, they know what we ‘do’.

Us ? Arsene was particularly gnomic in the press conference on Thursday. Rob Holding, who I am sure will play alongside Chambers again, will enjoy and learn from the experience over 90 minutes far more than he would from second string action of watching from the bench. I expect Xhaka, Elneny and Le Coq all to get on the pitch today. I fancy the Ox to make his mark today as an attacking force.

 

Enjoy the game and we shall speak later.

184 Comments

Arsenal: Meringues, Moreno and Mane

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 16.18.09Good Morning Positivistas,

Having looked forward to the opening fixture since the game was announced in mid June the afternoon did not disappoint and will certainly be one of the ‘opening days’ that are carved in the memory of games worth watching.

Clearly to be on the wrong side of a seven goal contest, and to drop three points that I fancied we should collect before the kick off, is a disappointment. A few hours reflection, sober and at times less sober, has however brought that disappointment into perspective, and allowed a drawing apart of the footballing strands of the afternoon.

Of the game itself both Arsenal and Liverpool struck me as rusty in the first half, with passes being hit a little aimlessly and no fluidity our movement compared to our Maytime/end of season smooth run through the gears. Liverpool were scrappy in front of the nervy Mignolet. Holding and Chambers looked fine. Monreal spent the first half hour leaping as high than an elephant’s eye, given any opportunity!   A goal I sensed was coming from an error and, lo and behold, it was provided by the ridiculously top-knotted Albert Moreno.

First, his clumsy penalty challenge, then a charge up field to leave Theo unmarked who coolly slotted home our opener. “Theo, Theo, Theo”. A considerable relief for our new right winger and we were on a roll, surely ?

(I do not know if you were watching on Sky like me but the word “assassination’ was used by Neville to describe his own comments on the young Spanish wing back – for once Gary had exactly the right word).

 

Moving swiftly on however, as we all saw, having forced ourselves in front we did not follow up on the advantage. The Scousers managed to get a foot in the game and took advantage of a soft free kick award to slot an unstoppable rocket into Cech’s corner pocket. Bloody hell.

And then, and then, and then ….. the first fifteen minutes of the second half.

We stumbled out after half time as though under the influence of a mighty jab of dental pain killer. Our minds were as numb as our bodies, we did not appear to know how to keep the ball, or have the individual or collective wit to resist. I have no idea where it came from. I have seen it before, at Stamford Bridge, at Anfield, at the Etihad, even St Marys. One goal deficit becomes two, becomes three, becomes four etcetera. It was not, in my opinion, the second goal that rocked us on our heels. We were already stunned before that went in. But after that excellent finish by Lallana, and it was a very good finish btw, we had ten minutes of team wide, hollow eyed confusion. I have no idea why during this period of confusion in the game two players went down injured, and both had to leave the field ? Cause and effect perhaps.

We suffer from a collective mental malaise. It is not down to individual players, to signings, or to injuries. It is not even down to dodgy refereeing and Oliver was excellent yesterday, imo. We require composure when a game turns against us, and when we look in the basket we have none.

Can I explain why experienced, reliable players, suddenly switch off ? No I can’t. No doubt the experts will have a ‘000 plausible ideas. I shall however call what I cannot explain the meringue.

Much focus in the media, mainstream and social, has been in Chambers and Holding and the ‘weakness’ that they created at the heart of the AFC defence. I am not convinced, not remotely convinced. For goals two and three we were undone by very slick, fast passing and good finishing. Hector was taken out in the move for the second Liverpool goal, Nacho beaten by an excellent Clyne cross for the third. I doubt very much Kosc, Per or Gabby, or the unnamed and newly signed ANOther would had done any better. They certainly did not at Stamford Bridge, Anfield and the Etihad etc.

As Mane’s fourth went in I admit I was heading for the metaphorical exit on my armchair as I stared toward what appeared to be turning into rout. Jurgen Klopp, foolish man, celebrated with his players. Nevertheless that strike proved the difference in the end between the teams.

And then, somehow and against my and Jurgen’s expectations, the Ox twisted his way toward Mignolet who duly obliged with a howler to allow the shot to squirm in. Chambo’s glancing header brought us to within touching distance with about 20 minutes to go ……….

Could we ? Would we ? Should we ?

Well after those excruciating minutes Mr Oliver put us out of our misery, we never really looked like we would grab that fourth and probably did not deserve it. No clear chances created. The nearest we got was Theo standing on the ball on the 92nd minute. During that final phase Le Coq was fortunate to stay in the pitch, as I said the referee was in a forgiving frame of mind. LFC were better than us on the day, creating chances and tucking those chances away. Hard work required. I shall welcome Giroud back like along lost son.

So off we go, sunshine bus loaded, destination Leicester.

114 Comments

Forecast: Arsenal 3 – 6 Liverpool

jack-says-you-cant-handle-the-truth.jpg

In that classic piece of American movie-making A Few Good Men, the then fresh faced, unspoiled, up and coming lead-man, Tom Cruise, is playing the part of the newly minted, inexperienced and unenthusiastic U.S. Navy lawyer. He is up against a mean, corrupt, brooding representative of the Establishment, in the form of Jack Nicholson, Hollywood’s ageing warrior whose time at the top of the A-list is drawing to a close. It is the brilliant Mr. Nicholson’s role to disrobe young Cruise of his naiveté about the harsh realities of an Institution like the Navy. Despite Nicholson’s brilliance, which is now part of American film folklore (his reading of “You can’t handle the truth!” was in 2005 voted the 29th greatest American film quote of all time), this being Hollywood, in the movie itself it is the idealistic defender of the system, young Cruise, who is depicted as the hero riding off into the sunset under the beautiful gaze of Demi Moore while Colonel Jessup (Nicholson’s character) we are led to believe is driven to drink and dissolution. Isn’t Director Rob Steiner and writer Aaron Sorkin, two stalwarts of the American film-making, telling a cautionary tale of insiders who happen to blow the lid on the system, 20 years before the persecution of whistle-blowers such as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden?  But I digress.

What an apt metaphor for us to commence our pre-match musings. Like Hollywood, the start of a new football season is time for the mainstream media, pundits and the majority of Arsenal bloggers to unroll their portfolio of myths and clichés. Not surprisingly, the universal theme is the biggest spender will be the most successful.  The BBC, that institutional voice of football wisdom, spoke through  its stable of pundits here.

Overall predicted ranking, using all BBC predictions
(using system of 4 pts for a 1st place, 3 pts for 2nd, 2 pts for 3rd and 1 pt for 4th)
1. Man City 2. Man Utd 3. Chelsea 4. Arsenal 5. Tottenham 6. Liverpool 7. Leicester
116 pts 92 pts 58 pts 33 pts 20 pts 18 pts 3 pts

Jermaine Jenas: “When I look at everyone’s squad and the transfer business that has been done, I cannot see City not winning it. “

Guy Mowbray: “It will be harder for Pep than it was at Barcelona or Bayern but he has the players and the financial clout behind him to win the title…”

If not City, then it must be United, another of the big spenders with the biggest cheque book manager of the past ten years.

Jason Roberts: “I think United will win the League as Jose Mourinho has adapted his squad quickly into his philosophy by bringing in an effective spine of quality acquisitions…”

Conor McNamara: “Jose has cleverly brought in some big egos in Ibrahimovic and Pogba. This will give United some of their old swagger back.”

There is universal disdain for prudent Arsenal who haven’t shown similar profligacy as their peers.

Ian Wright: “Chelsea are going to be back in the mix and with United’s outlay and City also spending big, all three of them are going to be strong under Conte, Mourinho and Guardiola. As things stand, with no significant signings since Granit Xhaka, no new striker and injuries to their top three centre-halves, the best I can hope for Arsenal is that they make the top four again.”

Kevin Kilbane: The big clubs have all strengthened a lot, apart from Arsenal – how often do we say that? This might be the year they finally miss out on the top four and Arsene Wenger’s contract is up next summer. “

Maybe the BBC is off-message and ESPN has more balanced and rounded pundits (after all, they have the likes of Arseblog and Gunnerblog giving the Arsenal viewpoint from time to time). Shock, shock, shock. Practically the same results after summarizing the picks here of their editorial team:

Overall predicted ranking, using all ESPN predictions
(using system of 4 pts for a 1st place, 3 pts for 2nd, 2 pts for 3rd and 1 pt for 4th)
1. Man City 2. Man Utd 3. Chelsea 4. Arsenal 5. Tottenham 6. Liverpool
55 pts 50 pts 27 pts 15 pts 11 pts 9 pts

I will spare you dear readers of any quotes from the likes of Iain MacIntosh, Nick Miller, Tony Evans, Miguel Delaney, Julien Laurens, et al who are members of the ESPN stable of pundits. Trust me, it is the same guff as the BBC’s, i.e. future success is guaranteed by the amount that is spent on transfers with one new wrinkle, the importance of a celebrity manager who is willing to spend big in the market.

Nobody is willing to speak the truth that to the contrary, as was proven that 2013 study by Nick Harris of Sporting Intelligence; after ranking the ‘big six’ in the Premier League in order of their total net spending on transfers plus wages combined between 2000 and 2012; Chelsea spent most, with £2.078 billion, then Man Utd on £1.43bn, then City with £1.4bn, then Liverpool with £1.3bn then Arsenal with £1.1bn and Spurs on £777 million:

Chelsea did not do better than their resources in any year, under-performing against their wage bill eight times and doing only as well as expected four times.

United did better seven times, worse three times and as well as expected twice.

Manchester City performed better once: when finishing ninth in 2002-03 when wages said they should have finished 10th. They have otherwise under-performed apart from the title-winning season when they did as well as expected.

Liverpool did better than expected four times in the period, worse four times and as expected four times.

Tottenham did better than their wage bill six times – and worse six times, in the period under review.

The best performer by a country mile was:

ARSENAL “who out-performed their wage spending seven times, did as well as expected three times, and under-performed in 2005-06 and 2006-07.”

I am repeating the results of the study because neither the BBC nor ESPN seem to have any interest in educating the public of the wastefulness and unsustainability of the continued gargantum spending by the likes of City and United.

But there is additional data that makes a mockery of their predictions. Twenty years since Arsene Wenger arrived in this League there is some fairly predictable statistics.

  • Arsenal has finished an average of 3rd; no other club except Manchester United has a better average.
  • No other team has a better absolute deviation from the mean than Arsenal at 0.985, meaning that on the average the club’s position will deviate by less than 1. United is the next best at 1.28.
  • All other big -6 team have in 20 years finished lower than Arsenal; City fell away to as low as 47th, way down into the 3rd
  • Arsenal has never finished less than 4th.
  • Arsenal has never finished below Tottenham.

Despite this never, never data there are pundits at the BBC and ESPN who predict that Tottenham will finish above Arsenal. Jermaine Jenas, Chris Waddle, Kevin Kilbane, Jason Mohammed, Tony Evans, and Dan Kilpatrick deserve awards from the Flat Earth Society. How do they get paid for such rank stupidity?

Think that is bad. Fifty percent (50%) of 34 and sixty percent 60% of 15 pundits at BBC and ESPN respectively expect Arsenal to finish out of the top-4. This is a club whose results in the last 3 years progressively improved from 4th, 3rd and 2nd. Who is willing to tell the truth that the majority of pundits in the media are idiots?

I suspect if I was to put the sports executives of the BBC and the ESPN on the witness stand and ask them why they employ people who repeat lies and falsehoods to the public, if goaded enough, in a rare moment of honesty they would respond as angrily as Colonel Jessup:

You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with lies and clichés

In the world of silent, unemotional data including what we know about the risks of spending and the importance of stability and continuity (Nick Harris and Sporting Intelligence), perhaps a more objective tool of predicting next season would be to use the data from last 8 years, since City became the beneficiaries of Sheik Mansour’s and the Abu Dbabi Group’s unlimited largesse, and do some projections.

TOP-SIX : LEAGUE POSITION 2009-16
YEAR AFC CFC LFC MCFC MUFC THFC
2015-16 2 10 8 3 5 3
2014-15 3 1 6 2 4 5
2013-14 4 3 2 1 7 6
2012-13 4 3 7 2 1 5
2011-12 3 6 8 1 2 4
2010-11 4 2 6 3 1 5
2009-10 3 1 7 5 2 4
2008-09 4 3 2 10 1 8
Minimum 2 1 2 1 1 3
Maximum 4 10 8 10 7 8
Mean 3 4 6 3 3 5
Median 3.5 3 6.5 2.5 2 5
Mode 3 3 2 1 1 5
Range 2 9 6 9 6 5
Skewness * -0.82 1.60 -1.04 1.91 1.03 0.99

*Rule of thumb: If the skewness is greater than 1.0 (or less than -1.0), the skewness is substantial and the distribution is far from symmetrical.

If we use the well known statistical tool of time series forecasting , we would arrive at the following predictions of future league position ranked from highest to lowest:

Man United:   2.88

Arsenal:          3.38

Man City:        3.38

Chelsea:          3.63

Tottenham:    5:00

Liverpool:        5.75

Lo and behold, far from the almost universal crowning of City, United is more likely to win the title. Furthermore Arsenal Football Club is not a disaster-in- waiting, it  being projected jointly with City for 2nd place. However as any good forecaster would disclose, past performance is no guarantor of success. In fact as Leicester demonstrated, a club can go from almost last to first, not by spending big, but it in relying on the mental strength of the players. As Arsene Wenger emphasized:

“Maybe they are not the most prestigious in quality of the passing, but they found a way to be efficient and have shown mental qualities that are absolutely top.”

But none of this is sexy enough for the pundits. Instead, they use the time honored methods of appealing to fear and greed, two of the greatest human motivators. Fear that Arsenal may somehow slip behind its rivals as groundless as that has been during Arsene’s tenure and greed for the title which drives so many otherwise well thinking fans to believe that somehow Arsenal can afford to match City and United in their spending to be sure of getting over the line, a guarantee which is equally groundless based on recent experience.

Given my experience of the difficulty in trying to convince most fans with data I am reminded of a quote from a more recent movie The Big Short:

“Truth is like poetry. And most people fucking hate poetry.”

I wonder if they will be willing to doubt my prediction that by end of this season it is Arsenal – 3rd, Liverpool – 6th.

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Wenger – The Grinch Who Stole The Transfer Window

The Grinch

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” ― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

24 days to…the closing of the window.
Everything about the transfer window reminds me of the commercialization of Christmas:
• The countdown.
• The massive price inflation. This window last year’s 30 million pound player is now 40 million (25%), 20 million is now 30 million (50%), 10 million is 20 million(100%). It’s evident from those percentages that, like Christmas, the higher margin is on lower end product. Always the poor pay more, eh.
• The wall-to-wall media hype allied with the selling of massive amounts of expensive advertizing best exemplified by that 24-hour Jim White-SkySport frenzy on deadline day.
• The widescale brainwashing of football fans into believing that the only way owners and managers can show their love for the fans is by engaging in massive transfer spending. Arsenal fans are arguably under the most psychological pressure because Papa Wenger and Uncle Ivan refuse to join the madness, avoid the pressure to keep up with the Jones, by hardly ever spending a fortune during the summer transfer window.

Predictably Arsenal’s twitterati and the big bloggers are up in arms, defaming the club’s greatest ever manager for refusing to bend to the pressure to spend for spending sake. Many are like children at Christmas who can’t understand why Momma and Poppa refuse to buy them the most expensive plaything.

The BBC tactic is to wheel out out an ex-player to attack the club’s transfer spending:

On transfer inflation one tweeter dismissed the club’s prudence.

This fellow has seemingly given up:

One podcaster puts the boot in:

To be fair not all of Arsenal twitter have given in to the pressure.

As usual it is the data which has the final say. Most of you readers are familiar with my mantra:

“Unlike the media [and Twitter], which thrives on emotion, in the silent statistical world, there are no headlines.  There are no narratives.  No excuses.  No hope and no despair. Just data.”

I did my research and not surprisingly, it is Arsenal’s prudence and Arsene’s discipline in the transfer market which stands out like a shining light.

Nett Spend 92/03 – 13/14 Purchased Gross Sold Nett Per Season
Manchester City £1,145,480,000 £316,903,000 £828,577,000 £33,143,080
Chelsea £1,195,199,000 £484,125,000 £711,074,000 £28,442,960
Manchester United £922,950,000 £435,490,000 £487,460,000 £19,498,400
Liverpool £917,805,000 £539,300,000 £378,505,000 £15,140,200
Middlesbrough £237,910,000 £57,680,000 £180,230,000 £7,209,200
Arsenal £587,365,000 £407,674,000 £179,691,000 £7,187,640
Tottenham £686,700,000 £525,167,500 £161,532,500 £6,461,300
Sunderland £327,745,000 £170,580,000 £157,165,000 £6,286,600
Stoke City £149,065,000 £47,630,000 £101,435,000 £4,057,400
Crystal Palace £156,760,000 £59,990,000 £96,770,000 £3,870,800
Everton £349,045,500 £254,586,000 £94,459,500 £3,778,380
West Bromwich Albion £178,650,000 £86,376,501 £92,273,499 £3,690,940
West Ham £303,282,000 £216,782,000 £86,500,000 £3,460,000
Hull City £108,445,000 £57,680,000 £50,765,000 £2,030,600
AFC Bournemouth £78,085,000 £28,595,000 £49,490,000 £1,979,600
Leicester City £123,895,000 £94,195,000 £29,700,000 £1,188,000
Watford £89,345,000 £60,000,000 £29,345,000 £1,173,800
Swansea City £99,427,500 £87,560,000 £11,867,500 £474,700
Southampton £279,687,500 £280,845,000 -£1,157,500 -£46,300
Burnley £53,300,000 £87,560,000 -£34,260,000 -£1,370,400

Publicly available data on transfer spending demonstrate in no uncertain fashion that despite the billions spent by City and Chelsea with United and Liverpool breathing down their necks, none have had sustainable to success, unlike Arsenal. City came 4th last year and had to ditch their manager. Chelsea came 8th and has had three managers since last season. United continue to show ambition at a mouth-watering cost.  None other than Fabio Capello was forced to remark:

‘They have spent €500million (£424m) in three years to win the FA Cup and twice they did not qualify for the Champions League,

 ‘Money is not always enough’.

Despite Liverpool’s willingness to spend whatever the market charged for average players (something Arseblog would no doubt approve) they have never won the Premier League in its 24 years of existence. This appetite for the transfer market doesn’t seem to have changed under Herr Klopp.

What was astonishing to me was how per season transfer spending club by Middlesborough exceeded Arsenal’s during the period under reference. This is the classic yo-yo club which enjoys a spell in the Prem only to be relegated to the Championship. I nearly fell out of my seat when it hit me that they have spent the last 10 years trying to get promoted.

What the data above ignores are the clubs whose owners spent lavishly, like Santa Claus, temporarily endearing themselves to the fans, only to conveniently fall out of sight out of mind to the bloggers and tweeters who demonize Wenger for not “showing ambition”. One such club is Aston Villa who between 92/93-13/14 were not afraid to spend.

Purchased Gross Sold Nett Per Season
$401,890,000.00 $228,575,000.00 $173,315,000.00 $7,290,600.00

Despite their per season average spending also exceeding Arsenal’s, last campaign Villa was finally relegated to the Championship after two-three years of flirting with disaster. American billionaire owner Randy Lerner has had to sell out to the Chinese, after a reported 50% hit to his net worth. One wonders what he now thinks of the advice of the mainstream media and his many spendthrift managers who demanded he spend big every transfer window to strengthen the squad.

In closing let me remind you of something Arsene said about transfers recently:

“I buy players that I feel can strengthen our team. Today, you have to be very strong inside the club when you are responsible, not to just buy to buy.

“There is always a wave of opinions, and people are better informed today than all the players. They always tell you to buy but when you ask who to buy, they become much shorter, because if you look at the market in Europe there is a lot of money available, but not many players that really strengthen the teams.

“And if you look at who is spending the most in Europe, they are not the teams that won the leagues. The global investment of all the clubs around us didn’t stop Leicester winning the league. So we have to focus on our quality, and try to strengthen our team.

“If you analyse well our season, we finished top of the top-four. We lost maximum points against the teams between five and nine. Maybe the games we were expected to win, we did, but against teams like Southampton and Swansea, we dropped too many points.

“On the other hand, we had a good defensive record, overall, but we can still strengthen that. And we were a bit short of goals scored. We didn’t convert enough chances we created. We created the most in the league but our finishing was not as good as the season before. 

“You say we should have won the league, but Leicester lost only three games during the season and won the league. You have to respect their performance. It’s not the name that wins the league, it’s the quality of the performances.”

I would advise well thinking fans to heed the words and deeds of Arsene and just like at Christmas, avoid the hype and psychological pressure. As most of us try teach our kids, in the words of Dr Seuss:

What if Christmas….doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

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