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|
*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
Man City: 3.38
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.