What does Arsenal’s defense have to do with currently famous American rap-artist, Jay-Z? Apart from him once posing in an Arsenal strip, there is a tangential connection. Stick around and I will share with you.
I will start with the premise that there is a large body of Arsenal fans hanging fiercely to the belief there is a defensive calamity lurking around the corner which, sooner or later, is somehow going to derail any title ambitions the club may have. To dispel the notion this may be an exaggeration on my part I recommend you take a gander at the post-Ludogrets Arsecast by the Sage of Dublin to get a feel for this type of thinking. By way of a disclaimer, my focus on The Sage is not with any malicious intent. To the contrary, he merits this attention because he has the biggest online presence among Arsenal fans, and in my opinion reflects and projects the feelings of a large swathe of the fanbase.
Back to my main point, it struck me from the podcast, despite the many encomiums and panegyrics devoted to Mesut Özil’s fantastic last minute goal, there was an underlay of discontent with the team’s defending. Ludogrets it seemed had no business scoring on the mighty Arsenal even though they had a bevy of slick, speedy, tricky Brazilians as attackers. This led him and his guest to conclude it will soon become a “pressing concern.”
This thinking is entirely consistent with a recurring meme over recent years; Arsenal may play beautiful attacking football but can’t defend if their life depended on it. The mainstream media have been happy to play up this fear with pundits and journos quick to jump on any defensive error to send Arsenal fans into panic. Not to be left aside, the majority of Arsenal bloggers, podcasters and tweeters whoring for RTs quickly fall into lockstep. Apparently memories of Squillaci and Senderos conceding some stupid goal or being bullied by an attacker have blinded many to actual facts and data.
Surely, if the meme was true, then Arsenal must have one of the leakiest defenses in the premier league, at least over the past 10 years, which by the way coincides with Wenger’s anni mirabiles since the glory years at Highbury.
|Year||Lge Pos||GA||GA Rank|
The table surely speaks for itself, doesn’t it? On average we performed like a 4th place team; ranking 4th in Goals Against whether on a Mean or Median basis, despite the calamities of Squillacci or Senderos. Also apparent is that since 2012/12, when the defense was clearly a leaky sieve, conceding 49 goals, there has been a steady and gradual improvement to a stable 36 GA in the past two seasons, i.e. at 0.95 per game. At the beginning of 2010/11 the club signed a clearly promising but inexperienced defender in Laurent Koscielny and later paired him with the veteran international Per Mertesacker in 2011/12, and despite a rocky start they have over time been able to forge a reliable partnership which is at the root of the current improvement.
If Arsenal has been a 4th ranked team in goals conceded, how important is improving the GA in advancing up the tables and winning the title? As usual we rely on the data rather than being driven by panic when multiple goals are conceded, as was the case after Liverpool scored four goals to beat Arsenal in this season’s opener.
|Year||Lge Pos||GA||GA Rank|
As usual the data maybe silent but speaks loudly. It reveals a definite trend where league winning teams are conceding more and more goals. From a low of 22 GA in 2005/06 and 07/08, for Chelsea and United respectively, the GA dramatically increased by 45% last year when Leicester conceded 36 goals. Man United was profligate in conceding 43 goals in 2012/13 but won the League relying on Van Persie to outscore the opposition (more on the importance of goal-scoring). The Mean and Media data clearly demonstrating that teams who win the title tend to average 2nd in the GA ranking with 31 or 32 goals respectively. In other words title winning teams do not need the best defense in the league. (How loud should I shout that?)
Surely then there is no basis for early-season sensationalism about a poor defense when the club merely needs to reduce the GA by 4 goals, year-on-year, to hit the average GA of the last 10 title -winning teams. By signing Xhordan Mustafi, a defender, for the second highest transfer fee ever in his tenure at the club, i.e. £35 million, Wenger was making, to use that hackneyed cliche, a statement of intent. I already argued in a prior blog, with the use of historical data, that this was the most important signing of the last transfer window.
As already alluded, the data indicates that to win the league a club must consistently outscore the opposition and Win the vast majority of games. Draws will not cut it. This is strikingly obvious based on the massive point incentive for winning games; a 3:1:0 ratio for Win:Draw:Loss.
This is confirmed by an analysis of the data from the league winners of the past 20 years, which provided the following statistics.
|Mean Absolute Dev||8||6|
|% Std Dev||13%||24%|
|% Mean Absolute Dev||10%||19%|
Without being too technical, the data is saying 87% of the time, an average of 79 goals will win a club the title. In comparison, there is only 76% probability that the average 32 Goals Against will guarantee a title. (Just a reminder that anything less than a 90-95% probability is useless as a reliably predictive statistic.) The data is providing confirmation that a club with ambitions of winning the premier league must emphasize goal-scoring while being at best #2 in defending. There have clearly been exceptions over the years, for example Chelsea under Mourinho who have given defending as much priority as goal-scoring.
I am fairly confident that despite the data and statistics, the majority of fans will cling grimly to their fear that Wenger is stuck in his “dated” Highbury philosophy and will give insufficient attention to defending and keeping clean sheets. Mind you Cech was golden glove winner in 2015-16 and in 2013-14 Wojciech Szczęsny shared the same prize with Cech.
I can only ascribe this to Confirmation Bias. According to Psychology Today:
(This) “occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.
“Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices.”
This I am afraid is more widespread than most of us at Positively Arsenal would care to admit. This leads me to the only commentary I will make on these pages concerning the US presidential campaign, now coming to a close. I have observed many of my friends join lockstep with the Democrat candidate who made the infamous statement:
“To just be grossly generalistic, you can put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables,”
“Right? Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it.”
Yet the thousands of Wikileak dumps indicate the deplorable meme could be fairly applied to the originator as well as Mr Trump. To put it mildly, it is easily a case of a candidate “seeing the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye”.
If you believe the Wikileaks are somehow tainted, even though their authenticity have never been questioned, then I commend to you last Friday’s get-out-the-vote concert in Philadelphia featuring Ms Clinton. In the run-up to her speech, the sometime gooner and rapping phenomenon Jay-Z left nothing to the imagination.
The rapper’s repertoire included his hit ‘F**kWithMeYouKnowIGotIt.’
He also performed a song called ‘Jigga My N***a,’ including a line that declared: ‘[I’m] Jay-Z, motherf***er!’
As he took the stage, a PA announcer blared: ‘You’re tuned into the motherf**king greatest!’
‘Ladies is pimps too, go and brush your shoulders off. N***a is crazy, baby, don’t forget that boy told you. Get that dirt off your shoulders.’
I don’t f**k with you. You little stupid-a** b***h, I ain’t f**kin’ with you.’
Racist, sexist, misogynist …. you name it. Yet Jay-Z is not pilloried as a “deplorable”. Isn’t this a classic example of what Psychology Today describes of us becoming prisoners of our assumptions of what Ms Clinton and the Democrat party represents and simply rejecting any data to the contrary?
Give this inevitable intersection between football and politics I urge my readers to honestly reflect to what degree we may be afflicted by old precepts and assumptions that are not rooted in reality. (I almost said data.) And may this blog remain as independent-minded as ever.