Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
The above quote would make a very aspiring New Year’s resolution for all Positivists. It is attributable to Mark Twain, the great American writer, who is renown for his pithy but profound observations about the human condition, so much so that they retain as much if not more popularity than they did since he died over one hundred years ago.
When Twain spoke of the difficulty in overcoming stupidity he could well have been speaking about the media coverage of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal Football Club whether by mainstream or social media.
Take the matter of Arsene Wenger’s use and timing of substitutions. At the best of times, even when Arsenal is doing well, the armchair experts ridicule the manager’s predilection for making 70 minute substitutions. Should the substitutions not turn around an adverse situation they are in hog’s heaven posturing how things would have been better if earlier substitutions were made.
To be fair this mindless, counterfactual nonsense has been around for years.
On November 24, 2012, after a nil-all draw with Aston Villa, there was a story by the BBC with the headlines Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said he did not have to justify his decisions after Gunners fans chanted “you don’t know what you’re doing”
The boss was quite feisty in his response:
“What is the thinking behind the substitution? I will not explain every decision I make,”
“I have managed for 30 years at the top level and I have to convince you [journalists] I can manage the team?”
Substitutions seem to have been an issue that year because earlier in February, the dot com published a major analytical piece by in-house statistician Josh James reporting that:
“…. the total of goals scored by subs during the Wenger era …. 161, from 2,206 substitutions made. That represents 9.9 per cent of all Arsenal goals scored under this manager, and they have come at a rate of one for every 13.7 subs.”
At the time, each of Arsenal’s last three goals had been scored by substitutes, meaning 12 per cent of the team’s total for the season-to-date had come from the bench. Furthermore Wenger was responsible for the best ever season in the club’s history with the use of substitutes in 2005/06, when 20 goals (a sizeable 21 per cent of the season’s total) came from this source (my emphasis).
Yet the nonsense persists to date. The post Man City mourning and finger-pointing by mainstream and social media was replete with examples of poseurs taking a pop at Wenger’s supposedly failed substitutions. Take this quote from the pain in the backside blog:
“There have been countless times where Wenger has waited with a replacement in the wings before it being too late. While I can conjure up many examples, let’s go with one that’s fresh in the memory. Our recent loss against the blue side of Manchester.”
Apart from failing to produce any historical data to back up “countless”, the factual record for the season-to-date completely debunks the statement. As the commentators will infrequently disclose during a match and dare not repeat lest it confirms that the in-house analysts are all taking us the viewers as jackasses (I am looking at you Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino on NBC), Arsenal has scored more goals in the last 15 minutes of games than any other team in the Premier League, yes within that 20 minute window when Arsene is infamous for making “late” substitutions.
As usual PA readers have the benefit of my research into the unbiased, unemotional data.
|Game by Game Substitutions as of Dec 26, 2016|
|Game||No of subs||1st sub||2nd sub||3rd sub||Goals bef 70||Goals aft 70||Result|
Unlike my high school days, when, during experiments required for our science labs, we would manipulate the data to get the results desired by our teachers, I have no fear presenting the cold hard facts.
My first observation is that Wenger is absolutely correct about the importance of the 70th minute mark in not only scoring goals but game-deciding goals at that. Arsenal has lost only one out of 9 games this season when they have scored after the 70th minute. The sole occasion was that mad, frenetic season-opener encounter with Liverpool. In all of the other eight games Arsenal have either gone on to win or draw. In contrast, on at least three occasions this season we have scored the opening goal and not only failed to win but, as should be fresh in our minds from recent events, eventually lost two important fixtures.
The second observation is while goals before the 70 minute mark exceed those after by a ratio of nearly 1.5:1, those 22 goals are being scored at a rate of 1 every 48 minutes while those scored after 70 minutes are happening at a rate 1 every 24 minute. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to understand that the last 20 minutes of games is the most decisive for goal-scoring and deciding the fate of a match.
Much of the other information generated by the table is secondary to my primary points but some are notable. For example, contrary to the constant carping by the usual suspects, Arsene’s average time for making his first sub is the 61st minute. The 2nd and 3rd subs are generally within the 80 minute window. Additionally, 91% of the time the manager makes all three subs belying the claim by some he makes insufficient use of the resources at hand.
What many of the critics fail to recognize or conveniently ignore is during the barren years, Arsene had a paucity of quality reserves at his disposal to make changes to decisively impact the game. These days the boss can call on Giroud, Ramsey, Chamberlin or Gibbs to make decisive contributions during that critical 20 minute period. But then as humans there is a tendency to recognize change long after it has taken place; the phenomenon of consciousness slowly catching up with changes in nature.
I will conclude by noting that facts and data by themselves rarely cause people to change the opinions they have long held no matter how divorced from reality; false consciousness it is called. In a recent twitter post, the boss himself observed a common allergic reaction to facts:
“We were shit today”
Have you seen the stats?
No, they are facts
“Facts lie then.”
My question to my fellow positivists is how else can we remain calm and serene in our support of this football club without the facts and data as our anchor?
Thank you for your readership and support in 2016.