I don’t know how to break this to you gently – so I’m just going to come out and say it…
If you have been clamouring for Arséne Wenger’s departure based on any reason other than you’re throwing an emotional hissy-fit of entitlement and frustration – then you are, at best, seriously misguided, and at worst, clinically deluded.
The good news is that it’s not entirely your fault. The nature of the media these days, both mainstream and social, means that your ability to reason has been severely impaired by the rise of ‘alt-facts’ (or WTFacts, as I like to call them) – and the noises in your head have been amplified by your own cognitive distortions – drowning out that small, clear voice of reason. The sad truth of the matter is that you have discarded the cool, calm world of fact-based science and embraced the turbulent universe of faith-based gut-think.
This would explain why your levels of frustration and anger have been steadily rising, to the point where you no longer enjoy your ‘favourite’ past-time. The well has been poisoned. The water is toxic. It can no longer soothe your thirst.
It’s killing you. Slowly.
You probably think I’m just a deluded AKB sheepling. (I’m sure you’ll let me know in the Comments section). You may not even get past this introduction before you spring into action, hurling a litany of logical fallacies at me. These tried-and-tested arguments will make you feel good. Why? Because they are illogical, and I therefore cannot argue against them. It’s impossible to lose when there are no rules. You win. And you like winning. Rinse and repeat.
If at all possible, I’d like you to imagine that you are the Owner of our esteemed Football Club, and that you are assessing the performance of your long-serving Manager. Remember – you aren’t emotionally invested in this entity. (Which is a good thing for a businessman not to be: it means that you aren’t prone to making irrational decisions while under the influence of rage, grief, elation or other temporary reality-distorters.)
So you do the entirely logical thing, which is analyse the performance of your Club while said Manager has been in charge. You realize that football doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so you compare your Club’s results to those of the other top-performers in your league. Apples to apples, oranges to oranges… You do this, not only for the Premier League, but for the Cup Competitions as well.
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Your stats guy tabulates all of these results and kindly assembles them in tables – showing you at a glance how the Club has fared in relation to its main competitors.
Top 6 Average League Position
1998-2005 · 2015-2017
|Man Utd [2.40]||Man Utd [2.00]||Arsenal [2.09]|
|Arsenal [2.80]||Chelsea [2.56]||Man Utd [2.73]|
|Chelsea [3.30]||Arsenal [3.67]||Chelsea [3.91]|
|Liverpool [4.65]||Liverpool [4.67]||Liverpool [4.64]|
|Spurs [7.65]||Spurs [5.89]||Spurs [9.09]|
|Man City [11.40]||Man City [6.67]||Man City [15.27]|
As Owner, you note the following:
- During the 20 full seasons that Arséne Wenger has managed Arsenal Football Club – Arsenal have maintained the second-highest average position, fractions of a point behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
- During the period (2006-2014) that your club was financially hampered whilst building and paying off a new stadium, you note that your manager still managed to achieve the third-best league position (consistently within the Top 4 and lucrative Champions League qualification) – behind afore-mentioned Manchester United and the newly cash-rich Chelsea.
- It would be unfair to only chart his performance during the ‘Famine Years’ – so you analyse his performance during the ‘Feast Years’ – those years when the club was more pro-active with its finances (1998-2005, 2015-2017). Surprise, surprise… Wenger’s Arsenal shoves United out of the top spot as the best-performing club in the Premier League.
- Conclusion: on a shoestring budget, Wenger still competes. However: give him money, and he outperforms the rest. The proof is in the pudding.
Top 6 Average FA Cup Position
1998-2005 · 2015-2017
|Arsenal [7.80]||Chelsea [6.06]||Arsenal [4.18]|
|Chelsea [9.48]||Arsenal [12.22]||Man Utd [9.20]|
|Man Utd [13.05]||Man Utd [17.33]||Chelsea [12.27]|
|Spurs [20.75]||Man City [17.39]||Spurs [18.77]|
|Man City [21.45]||Spurs [23.17]||Liverpool [23.73]|
|Liverpool [24.18]||Liverpool [24.72]||Man City [24.77]|
Points awarded on the following basis:
Win = 1; Runner-Up = 2; Losing Semi-finalist = 3.5; Losing Quarter-Finalist = 6.5; Round of 16 Loser = 12.5; Round of 32 Loser = 24.5; Round of 64 Loser = 48.5; Round of 128 Loser = 96.5
In other words, the average position x of the n losers in the group, where x=(3n+1)/2
- Arsenal has won the FA Cup more than any other club – a record 13 times. And Arséne Wenger is its most successful manager, having won the Competition a record 7 times – a record that is unlikely to ever be beaten. Most managers don’t last 8 years. And if they did, they’d have to win the FA Cup 8 times in a row to surpass Wenger’s record before they exited through the perpetually revolving Manager Fired Door.
- During the ‘Famine Years’ Arsenal was out-performed only by Chelsea, who were riding high on the pre-FFP billions of new owner, Roman Abramovich.
- Those of you that pooh-pooh Football’s oldest and most competitive knockout competition need not acknowledge this outstanding achievement.
Top 6 Average League Cup Position
1998-2005 · 2015-2017
|Arsenal [9.95]||Arsenal [5.50]||Liverpool [8.23]|
|Chelsea [9.98]||Man Utd [7.67]||Chelsea [10.18]|
|Liverpool [10.78]||Chelsea [9.72]||Spurs [12.82]|
|Man Utd [12.08]||Liverpool [13.89]||Arsenal [13.59]|
|Spurs [13.53]||Spurs [14.39]||Man Utd [15.68]|
|Man City [26.05]||Man City [23.22]||Man City [28.36]|
Points awarded on same basis as FA Cup Table (above)
- I’d be lying if I didn’t say these results didn’t come as a shock to me. Wenger has never won the League Cup – he’s been runner-up twice (in 2007 and 2011) – and it is regarded as common knowledge that he uses the Competition as an opportunity to ‘blood’ younger players, and squad players who are overlooked for the other ‘bigger’ competitions. Wow.
- Curious anomaly – that Arsenal performed incredibly during the years of austerity, when performance in League and FA Cup showed a marked drop in performance during the same period.
- The fact that the other ‘big’ clubs (particularly Liverpool, Spurs and United) have focussed more attention on the League Cup in recent years – in a desperate attempt to add silverware to their cabinets – may have skewed the results in their favour somewhat during the ‘Feast Years’.
This is where things get difficult. Wenger’s critics often point to Arsenal’s ‘poor performance’ in Europe’s top competition. The argument, in and of itself, is absurd. The fact that Arsenal has qualified for the Champions League in all but the last year of Wenger’s reign places it streets ahead of the other English teams in terms of consistency. It may come as a surprise to some – but you can’t win it if you aren’t in it.
Of course – there is the argument to be made that since we don’t have the Champions League trophy in our cabinet, we have ‘failed’ in Europe. However – as the owner of a club paying off a stadium debt – I would have to say that delivering the extra millions of Pounds in revenue year upon year would have to count as a success in my books, as my books are ledgers.
[Side note: I started writing this article in March, when the ‘debate’ surrounding Wenger’s contract renewal was at its peak, and the vitriol and venom displayed by Arsenal ‘fans’ was palpable and peaking. I wish I had posted this article then – if only for the simple fact that our final League Position (5th) tarnished Wenger’s otherwise fantastic record of perpetually qualifying for the Champions League (and finishing above Spurs).
I am of the opinion that the negativity and toxicity exhibited by Arsenal ‘fans’ in the 2016/17 season played a massive part in the team’s poor performance. It is hard, however to quantify its effect – and so, until I can find a way to justify my view using actual data, I am just going to have to bite my lip.]
Statistical Observation: I have used UEFA’s Champions League Ranking points system in the following table.
Top 6 Champions League Points
1998-2005 · 2015-2017
|Arsenal [16.58]||Chelsea [18.44]||Arsenal [16.22]|
|Man Utd [15.32]||Man Utd [17.78]||Man Utd [12.44]|
|Chelsea [13.74]||Arsenal [17.67]||Chelsea [8.56]|
|Liverpool [7.47]||Liverpool [9.56]||Liverpool [6.22]|
|Man City [4.58]||Man City [4.11]||Man City [5.56]|
|Spurs [1.42]||Spurs [2.00]||Spurs [1.00]|
UEFA Champions League Points System:
Group stage participation — 4 points; Group stage win — 2 points; Group stage draw —1 point; Round of 16 participation — 4 points. Clubs awarded an additional point if they reach the round of 16,
quarter-finals, semi-finals or final.
- As I mentioned in the preamble to the Champions League section – consistency is key here. Arséne’s Arsenal has outperformed the other top clubs in Europe during his reign.
- As expected, results dropped off during the lean years – although the margins between the clubs occupying the top 3 positions are extremely small.
- Arsenal’s average points earned during the prosperous years leave them head and shoulders above the rest.
- Please note: the logic behind UEFA’s Champions League Points System (the system UEFA uses when determining the club coefficient for its ranking system) is their own, and not up for debate here.
Football fans are a passionate bunch. They invest a lot of energy and emotion into their hobby (and let’s face it: it is a hobby: something we enjoy doing in our spare time). Sure – we spend money on our hobby – but that shouldn’t be confused with ‘investing’ in it. We have no claim on the Club we support, no power over it… in effect we are entitled to nothing but our opinion.
We may be fans of Harry Potter – but we don’t picket JK Rowling’s house when she kills off our favourite character. We don’t demand that she write shorter books, with happier endings. We may own all of the books, DVDs, and even have our very own wand. And a pet owl.
JK Rowling is in the business of writing books. And you are in the business of reading them. As long as you enjoy her books, you will keep buying them. You may be her most ardent fan, but this entitles you to nothing but your opinion.
But remember this:
Opinions are like arseholes. Everybody has one.
And – as Douglas Adams pointed out:
“All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others.”
That said, be wary of someone who relies on statistics alone to support an opinion. As the Scottish poet Andrew Lang pointed out – statistics are used
“…as a drunken man uses a lamp-post: for support rather than illumination.”
The statistics presented above are not cherry-picked. They haven’t been massaged. If you want to look through the spreadsheet I used to create these tables, you are free to peruse it here. This data doesn’t seem to exist anywhere – I have had to compile it, myself, painstakingly, season by season. If you’d like to use it in any posts – please credit me (@invinciblog).
Anyone who can look at Wenger’s achievements over the past 20 years and still call him a specialist in failure needs to have their head examined. And if you don’t understand why Stan Kroenke (and the majority of his board) renewed Arséne’s contract – then I’m afraid you don’t have the elementary grasp on logic required. It’s as simple as that.
There is plenty of meat left on this bone of contention, I know – and I have a follow-up article that will explore some of the more controversial elements of the AKB-WOB debate: the huge losses to our closest rivals, our performance anxiety in the big games, our apparent inability to ‘compete with the top clubs in Europe’, Wenger’s tactical ineptitude… all the minutiae that distract us from the overall picture.
Just remember – these are separate issues, and not logical arguments to the facts (stats) presented here.
If you want to argue against the contents of this post – stay on the playing field.
And if you can’t (or won’t) admit that perhaps you may need to reassess your opinion of Wenger based on the findings above – then that is your loss.
Continue thinking with your gut, and enjoy the rollercoaster ride that comes with it. But please – keep your screams to yourself.