“People are too quick to accept conventional wisdom, because it sounds basically true and it tends to be reinforced by both their peers and opinion leaders, many of whom have never looked at whether the facts support the received wisdom. It’s a basic fact of life that many things “everybody knows” turn out to be wrong.” ― Jim Rogers
The above named Mr. Rogers is a renowned investor who made his fortune several times over by investing where others fear to tread. It may be ancient history but in 1973 Rogers and George Soros founded the Quantum Fund whose portfolio in the following 10 years gained 4200% while the S&P advanced about 47%. He is somewhat relevant to an Arsenal football blog because he is famous in 1992 for bucking the wisdom of the great and good in the English financial media by making a cool £1 billion betting against the British pound when it crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).
While I am not able to bet the farm as Rogers did in 1992, it is my contention that any objective review of the facts will refute the now conventional wisdom that Arsenal cannot win the 2016 title with Giroud as the main striker. The most notorious proponent of that viewpoint is a certain legendary striker, turned pundit who was very explicit:
“I think Giroud is doing extremely well. But can you win the league with him? I wouldn’t think so.
“He does a job, and he does it ever so well, but you can’t win the league.”
The backlash from making this very direct criticism of Giroud, particularly from Wenger and his teammates, have forced the legend and his fellow pundits to be a little more circumspect.
This may explain explain why another former Arsenal great, Martin Keown, on August 1st on TalkSport, took a more roundabout way of “dissing” the Frenchman by using his non-selection in one game to conclude that:
“ If you’re not the champions and your striker, Olivier Giroud, didn’t start the FA Cup final last season, there are question marks over that position and maybe they need to be addressed…. “Why not go for Karim Benzema to play down the middle.”
Nick Miller, an ESPN hack, resorted to innuendo, by suggesting that Lord Harris, “the £200 million-man”, was speaking for the manager when he said “We get a list of the players that Wenger wants. On the list is a centre-forward, but I’m not going to tell you who he is.” Miller was thus able to leap to the stunning conclusion that:
“It isn’t much of a stretch to say this is a tacit admission that Wenger also believes he can do better, that Giroud is a fine striker but not quite good enough to help Arsenal win the league.”
Apart from outright belittling the man who is currently Arsenal’s main striker, throughout the off-season there was/has been a growing clamor for the signing of Karim Benzema, who, whether one admits it or not, is a like-for-like replacement.This led to the spectacle in late July of near hysteria on Twitter with almost all the pro-Arsenal accounts convinced of the imminent signing of the Madridista. This was based solely on an Instagram posting by the player of pictures of himself on a private jet with the message “Leave the past to the past. #directionfuture.”
Doesn’t it say something about the dangers of conventional wisdom when the fanbase so easily falls for a blatant rumor even though there were ample reasons to be skeptical, e.g. at the time Benzema was still with Real Madrid on their pre-season tour in Shanghai…not on his way to London? Doesn’t it say a lot about their belief or lack of in Giroud as the main striker?
But is the wisdom of our media appointed “opinion-leaders” and the herd who hang unto their every utterance supported by the facts? To answer the question I thought it would be useful to research the past 11 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League to see if there is any evidence to support the thesis that for a club to win the title it needs a dominant striker.
|12-13||Man Utd||Van Persie||26||1|
The data above speaks for itself. There were only four occasions, i.e. 36% of the time, when the league’s top goal-scorer was from the winning team. In contrast, 64% of the time the winning team in the league did not have the the top-striker. What struck me, in particular, was that in at least three out of the 11 seasons, the top striker from the winning team was ranked as low as 4th in the league’s Top Goal Scorers. The amazing thing is Chelsea secured back-to-back titles between 2004/5 and 06 with their top goal-scorer being Frank Lampard, registering only 13 and 16 goals in successive years. Their most productive strikers in those years, Gudjohnson and Drogba respectively, finished with 12 goals each. They both make Giroud’s 14 goals in 21 games last year look Messi-esque.
Despite such a miserly contribution from its strikers, Chelsea was able to rack up the 1st and 3rd highest number of points in Premier League history, 95 and 91 respectively. They won the league, not by goal scoring, but by having the meanest possible defense, conceding only 15 goals in 2004-05, an amazing 0.39 goal per game.
Similarly, while Manchester United may have a reputation for being swashbuckling goal-scorers, in two out of their five title-winning campaigns over the 11-year period, their top goal scorer was ranked as low as 3rd in the league. In 06-07 Ronaldo only scored 17 goals. For the next two titles they won 07-08 and 08-09, United simply did a Chelsea, locking down on defense, conceding a miserly 22 and 24 goals respectively, ranking them 2nd and 3rd in the Goals Against department in the entire history of the Premier League.
In summary, since Arsenal last won the title, the top goal-scorer from champion team was ranked an average of 3rd in the league with a median average of 20 goals per season. The range was a low of 13 and a high of 31.
Based on this routine analysis it is self-evident that the constant demeaning at Giroud and the belief that if only Arsenal had a “world-class” striker they would surely win the league is not supported by the facts. To the contrary, the data is shouting at us that restricting the scoring of goals by the opposition is the key to success. Hopefully this is evident from the following table:
In contrast to the 11 year average of 83 Goals For and 29 Against to win the title, in the 2014-15 Arsenal finished with 71 and 36 respectively, a difference of 12 and 8. By doing this analysis I stumbled on how the Wenger came to the conclusion that the team need for 10-12 more goals to win the title as stated at his press conference before the Emirates Cup:
“What we want is some more goals from some players who are not really strikers and that was our strength traditionally. Our offensive and creative players scored 10 to 12 goals, that’s what you need.”
He has made it clear that he is not dependent on Giroud for more goals; he and Alexis did their part last season with 14 and 16 goals respectively, the only ones to make double figures in the league. Obviously they can and need to improve their goal-scoring but going forward, it will be up to the British Core (Theo, whose contract is now secured, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain) as well as Santi, and Ozil to do the business.What is lost in the noise of the transfer market (as the media fan the flames of clubs competing for big-money signings) is the importance of reducing the Goals Against column.
Unlike my earlier sentimentality towards Ospina and Szczesny, the manager has harbored no such idealism. Apparently in 2014 he made an inquiry for Cech and again this year. If Arsenal is to become even meaner in defensively, who is better than the man who was between the sticks for Chelsea in their most miserly years? Who’s better than the goal-tender who is described as obsessed with clean sheets?In stressing the importance of defending, at the same press conference, the manager was clear about not doing a Liverpool or City:
“Our target is to improve our number of goals but you as well have examples of teams who have scored 90 or 100 goals and have not won the championship. We want to combine good defensive efficiency with 10 more goals.
“In the second part of last season we only conceded 13 goals in 19 games. So we want to keep that and add a few more goals.”
Instead of depending on goalscoring the manager was moved to stress the importance of defending and not conceding unnecessary goals. We hardly see or hear this discussed by the pundits who keep nattering on and on daily about signing another striker.
I was therefore very encouraged by what I saw vs Chelsea in the Community Shield. While it was good that Wenger broke the Mourinho streak, what was even better was the team’s commitment to defending our one goal lead.
I shall conclude by noting that over the past three years Wenger has been able to build a squad of top quality players especially after he could spend some money, developed a consistent way of playing, and finally forged consistency and cohesion especially in the spine. Similar to Ferguson and even that classless hypocrite Mourinho, that is ultimately the predictor of Arsenal again winning titles.