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Tuesday 12 May 2009

Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics

Hi folks,

I've just returned from the Q & A session with Arsène Wenger that was held at the club this evening for the benefit of around 100 odd shareholders. I only happened to be there as the proxy for a pal of mine, as to be totally frank, if I was in possession of any Arsenal shares at present, I'd probably be forced to flog them in order to pay for our all too imminent season ticket renewals! The event was recorded for Arsenal TV and I believe it's aired at 9pm tomorrow evening (Friday) but I assume as with everything on the Arsenal channel, there will be plenty of repeats. It's well worth watching, as Wenger was asked several questions for which we all wanted answers (eg. why Arshavin didn't start in the FA Cup semi-final)

It was only as Arsène reflected on our season and attempted to put things into some perspective that I realised I'd neglected to post out this week's Irish Examiner diary piece. With the great man having given voice to some of my own thoughts and with some of the questions that he answered reflecting my own concerns, it seemed appropriate to send it out in advance of the broadcast of the program, if only for the benefit of my own smugness :-)

What's more, with some misguided Gooners having been sharpening their knives these past couple of silverware-starved seasons, I suppose it was inevitable that these would be drawn and aimed at Arsène's back, no sooner had our prospects of the big-eared prize disappeared over the horizon. So having felt obliged to jump to his defence in this week's piece, it wouldn't be right for me not to let it see the light of day.

Meanwhile for those who've moaned about me harping on constantly about the fickleness of our home support, le Boss also made a point of differentiating between our staunch travelling supporters, compared to the crowd at home games, where he believes that with such a young side, it has never been more important for us to get behind them, rather than on their backs.

BTW although Arsène was typically supportive of his squad (even Adebayor!) with his customarily blinkered efforts to deflect all criticism (and it would be foolish of us to expect anything else when AW speaks in public), he did make some effort to reassure us that he would be splashing the cash this let the speculation commence?

If there is some consolation for us to take from the events of the past couple of weeks, it is that if we had gone on to make either of the finals, or somehow pipped Chelsea to third place, it would've only had the effect of papering over the cracks of the current squad's deficiencies. Whereas with the embarrassing manner of our defeat to Man Utd, even the most biased Gooner would struggle to deny our obvious weaknesses.

However Arsène was quick to point out this evening that for all the potency of the Man Utd strikeforce, they've only scored 67 goals this season, compared to our 64 and on browsing through Sunday's matchday programme, whilst sitting on the throne these past few days, I noticed various references to several similarly positive statistics this season (eg. our unbeaten run, Almunia's clean sheets, away goal record etc).

Those of us who watched all of these games in person will know that no matter how much of a positive slant one puts on such statistics, they don't really tell the true story of something of a damp squib of a season, where the Gunner's flame has only truly burned bright during all too brief cameo moments.

Therefore I can't help but have some concerns that as Arsène spends his summer analysing all such information down to the Nth degree, he will end up coming to the conclusion that the current squad are only a whisker away from having what it takes, when we'd want him to be banging down Hill-Wood's door to get to the cheque book!

Big Love

For most football supporters, a "close but no cigar" season, including two semi-finals and qualification for the Champions League, would be considered a relatively successful campaign. Yet judging by the recent shameful displays from the not so staunch sections of the Arsenal’s audience, I can’t envisage too many Gooners lingering to express their gratitude, when it comes to the now traditional trudge around the pitch at our last home game in two weeks time.

Arsène Wenger set the bar so high, with all the success that followed his arrival at the club that far too many of our spoilt rotten fans now seem to fail to appreciate that it is an inevitable fact of life that the vast majority of sides are destined to end virtually every season empty-handed. Turn the clock back a couple of months and most Gooners would’ve bitten your hand off, just to be guaranteed to finish above Villa in that precious 4th place. Whereas the absurd levels of displeasure being expressed following last weeks’s abject failure to reach a European final in Rome and Sunday’s subsequent capitulation, might lead one to conclude that le Gaffer has been transformed from one of the most respected managers in world football, into an utterly clueless Mr Magoo!

Let us not forget that this is a man who in the eyes of most people within the game, is singlehandedly responsible for changing the face of Premiership football. If you put the events of the past few seasons into proper perspective, in truth the fact that Wenger’s managed to merely maintain a veneer of competitiveness, is no less a feat than his former glories. All around us other clubs have either gone out and actively pursued a sugar-daddy investor, or have mortgaged themselves up to the hilt, so that they could spunk up millions in vain attempts to try and play catch-up with the top four posse, or merely to avoid the dire consequences of losing their place at the Premiership trough, while Arsène has been expected to work miracles on a comparative shoestring.

If le Prof is under pressure now, as fans lose patience with his failure to deliver those all important silver pots, for me the fault lies with the club, for feeding our expectations instead of dampening them down. Instead of spouting all this “ringfenced” rubbish and repeatedly insisting that their parsimonious manager had plenty of money to spend, in my humble opinion, it would’ve been much better for them to have admitted that the new stadium project was going to put a strain on our resources which would necessitate a period of belt-tightening. We could’ve coped with that, if we knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, where we would come out on a sound financial footing, with a stadium to provide us with the sort of spending power to match our competitors. It certainly would’ve been preferable to trying to kid us that we’ve been starting every campaign on a level playing-field with the competition, leaving us bitterly disappointed because we’ve come up short once again.

Arsène has received plenty of criticism for his rigid refusal to deviate from a policy of producing our own teenage star turns, instead of splashing the cash to buy experienced talent off the shelf. But le Boss is no fool, he must know only too well that a winning team requires a blend of characters. Personally I don’t believe his is some sort of crusade to force the rest of the footballing world to bend to his will, but that he’s merely been making the very most of his rather limited resources. A quick glance at the two benches last Tuesday night, comparing the likes of Berbatov, Tevez and Giggs, with Bendtner, Vela and Eboué was all the evidence one needed of the Gunners struggle to punch above our weight.

Despite Arsène’s best empirical efforts, football is far from being an exact science. You buy the best available individual ingredients (or attempt to grow your own) and throw them into the melting pot, in the hope that this will produce the sort of chemistry that results in a tasty team. Setting aside the complaints about individual inadequacies, for me, the most patently obvious deficiency in our last two thoroughly depressing outings has been a lack of character (both on and off the pitch!). This is a quality that can’t be measured in all our manager’s statistics and it’s appeared to be a blind-spot of his, ever since he belittled the captaincy by handing it out as a carrot, or merely as a recognition of seniority, rather than using the armband to identify leadership traits.

When this team’s talent takes centre stage, we’re capable of giving anyone a run for their money. But it’s how one reacts in adversity which is the true mark of character and watching the players drag themselves back into the dressing room at break in our last two defeats, it’s been evident that our squad is sorely lacking, when it comes to players with the strength of personality to impose their will on their team mates and inspire a comeback.

Perhaps Stan Kroenke’s ambitions will negate the effects of a recession and provide Wenger with a real war-chest this summer, rather than an imaginary one. But buying players is a relatively easy task, compared with the problem of unearthing the grit and determination necessary to triumph in the sort of backs to the wall encounters that are the mark of genuine contenders.

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Anonymous said...

Aw has been using statistics to cover his shortcomings.
He says the Arsenal attack is equal to MU but the defence is not. Who is to blame?
Let the war begin on Saturday and see whether the gunners can dampern the red nosed cunt's spirits.

Anonymous said...

Aw has been using statistics to cover his shortcomings.
He says the Arsenal attack is equal to MU but the defence is not. Who is to blame?
Let the war begin on Saturday and see whether the gunners can dampern the red nosed cunt's spirits.

Anonymous said...

Sadly all your blog displays is a singular lack of passion with regard to the good name of our club. Arsene Wenger who you quite obviously love, has now failed to produce a winning EPL side for 5 years, which is almost half the time he has been manager, and please note that this has been since he has had to build the side himself and not had the benefit of the best defence in the league which he had for the first 5 years when he was so succesful.

Wenger has shown questionable tactical awareness, plus he has managed to bring the quality of the squad down to it's lowest level since 1995/6. The standard of Eboue, Diaby, Denilson, Adebeyor, Song, Gallas, Silvestre, Almunia is just not good enough if you are serious about winning the top trophies.... a fact that has been made all too obvious in the last few weeks, but which has been clear to so many for years.

One thing I would add is that serious thought should go into how the grass root supporters can be brought back to the club. There are so many supporters I know who have come from a long line of gunners familys who have always attended matchs and used to stand in the old North Bank and make up the swell of noise that once was the pride of North London. Now these fans have been forced out by the ticketing policy and high prices, maybe there should be a large area behind pne goal that can be identified as the new NorthBank, and opened up at a cheap rate for sale on a matchday. Maybe we will then see some return of the heart behind the club.

But finally I firmly believe that Arsene Wengers time has come and gone and we need someone new who can take us on and hopefully back to the top again!!!

Anonymous said...

youve entirely ignored bernards argument.. ill let you re-read it

and it was the clock end that made all the noise bruv!

Rich said...

5.12am comment: After reading an article about misleading statistics, I just love the fact that you complain about it using...misleading statistics!!

You complain about not having a title winning side for 5 years but fail to mention why? We don't act in a vacumn with other clubs unable to influence and nor are we a club that has had a god-given right to win the title since the 30's, so what do you believe that he should have won a title?

The answer can only because he has set the expecations too high and alluding to the point this article makes, the club has to share a load of responsibility in not managing that expectation.

We simply have no money and to compete with the Chelsea's and Uniteds (lesser extent Liverpool) we have to change our way.

I'm not particularly happy about some of the tactical decisions he has made this year (the SFinal & Arshavin being the worst) but do I honestly think that any other manager could have kept us in the Champions League for the last few years whilst only having a net spend of £5mn a year - hell no!

As for your comments on the back five he inherited, I'd suggest you check the number of times they played together from 2001 onwards because you'll see over the 4 years after that, with a defence he constructed himself, we had our most successful period.

Mind you that's usually the cue for mindless idiots to say that Campbell fell into his lap - which is frankly one of the most laughable things I've ever heard.

Anonymous said...

Bernard how long was the Q & A??

Is the hour long show on Arsenal TV tonight going to be the thing in full, or will it be significantly edited to fit it in?

Bern said...

I love getting comments about my weekly warblings, be they positive or negative. But a word to the wise for the Anonymous reader who accuses me of a lack of passion, as you've patently demonstrated where you are coming from and your words are unlikely to be given any credibility whatsoever, so long as you continue referring to the EPL

You are correct in suggesting that the club would do well to pay more attention to their grass roots support, but I'm afraid you couldn't be further from counting yourself amongst us, so long as you insist on using an acronym that automatically identifies you as something else.

There is only one league that matters and that's the one the Arsenal plays in and over here, there's never any need to qualify it as being English, or the Premiership.

I guess this is what comes of absorbing your Arsenal experience via the guff broadcast on various satellite channels which cover "soccerball" from afar.

Moreover, crying about 5 years without a title merely confirms you as a johhny-come-lately, spoilt, gloryhunter. When was the last time the Scousers won the title and how much good has their recent managerial changes done them?

Anyone can "support" a successful team and you sound as if you'd be much happier supporting Man Utd. If you want to "support" the Gunners, then don't be blinded by all the tabloid tosh, we should be on our knees, in gratitude to the footballing gods that sent us AW, as this is still the the man who's widely accepted as having revolutionized the game in this country and there's hardly a club on the planet that wouldn't bite our hands off to have him as their manager and we'd all be left as a laughing stock for having pushed him out the door.

Yet even if you are misguided enough to dispute the logic of this argument, from a purely practical point of view, where would you find anyone who could do a better job? And even in the unlikely event that this was possible, how exactly are the club going to come up with something like a £100 million that a new manager would require to mould a new team in his image.

Sorry mate, you are living in cloud cuckoo land and I pray you and your like don't precipitate AW's departure, so that my point might be proved ten years down the line, when we look back and realise quite how privileged we were!

Big Love

Fine Whine said...

Hey Bernard,

Talking sense as usual, been on a few other blogs lately tryin to defend Wenger and i reckon i'm very much in the minority and not just by the people writin in but the bloggers themselves.

I reckon they won't know what they had until he's gone.

About the Q&A was that you who asked the last question?

Mean Lean said...

Fine Whine, I was going to ask that same very question.

Well Bernard.. was it?


Unknown said...

Hi Bernard,
I completely agree that we owe AW eternal gratitude and, given his recent public comments about the Real Madrid job, we may come to regret our moaning before his contract expires in 2011.

But for me the key issue that hasn't been addressed in this healthy debate, but one which underlies all of it, is leadership - and the patent lack of it.

AW's success was not only built on fantastic football but the leadership qualities of individuals in his title-winning sides. I don't need to go through them all, but just look at the Invincibles - 9 possible captains.

It has been excruciating to hear him talk about strength of character in this team when we scraped past Roma on pens or (insert lame performance here).

OK they're young but none of them are emerging as potential leaders and when the going gets tough - they generally go into hiding.

One of the reasons Bendtner is winning the fans over is that he tries to take responsibility. Has it come to this?

Fabregas is a great young player but no leader among men.
I used to say the same about TH14.

Vieira has acknowledged TA as a huge influence on his leadership abilities, but since he left look at our captains... in fact, look at our signings.

Gallas is the only step in the right direction... oh and Sylvestre.

AW talks about building togetherness in this young squad - but can anyone actually see it?

I think AW has lost sight of what made him successful - not just great football, but great players and great leaders

The solution is certainly not Wenger out, but for his part, he should start listening to those who understand the fabric of the club. For that reason, I think his (reported) attack on the home fans at the Q&A was totally misguided.

Sure 'Arsene Knows' but that doesn't mean everyone else is clueless.

Highburied (now nappy-buried)