Today’s piece will follow a theme I used for a piece on Coquelin on my personal blog a few months ago. It is also, somewhat, an extension to the line of thought I advocated recently in a piece on dealing with the media and pundits.
Don’t worry, this won’t be philosophical!
This pertains to how supporters of Arsenal, if not football fans in general, take statistics or expert opinions at face value to lend weight to their arguments and why I feel that is not sufficient to say the least.
I’ll try my best to take this in a structured flow but I have a feeling I’ll lose that somewhere along the way!
I’ll be honest; I didn’t give much thought to statistics until 5-6 months ago – of course the basic numbers such as goals scored, assists, clean sheets; I always looked at but that’s about it. Expert opinions, well, unless it’s something that is deemed controversial; I don’t give too much a thought about it because mostly they just state the obvious!
Nowadays, we have people throwing all sorts of statistics all over the place or quote pundits to prove a point.
Alan Smith says Arsenal must win the next game to stay in the race for the Premier League.
Theo is a better option than Ox on the right wing; just look at how many goals he scores! Ox needs to improve on that!
These examples are just for warming things up a little!
I had made my peace with the numerous, numerous statements such as the above until I recently read a blog post by @Blackburngeorge titled Can an Idiot Be an Expert? He targets fans citing their opinion without any grounds to base it on. Of course, I’m not talking about that particular set of fans but I was glad someone put that frustration out there and gave my note of thanks in the comments.
A couple of days ago, fellow columnist Alex wrote a post on whether or not Arsenal really need a striker in which he uses statistics to strengthen his argument – an apology in advance to Alex as I’ll be using some stats quoted in his post for some examples later on.
So what’s all this about? I’ll try explaining my line of thought first and then cite several examples to help explain better. At the end of the day, I want to put this out there in the hope that us fans try to develop a better understanding of the game and have more fruitful discussions. I’m definitely not the first person who would like this, fellow blogger and Gooner @AfcBvb1410 cried out for the same a month ago.
Statistics and expert opinions are great; but, taking them on face value will never lead to one make a truly informed decision or conclusion. What qualifies as taking stats or opinions on face value and making a conclusion? Here are some examples:
Opinion: Arsenal will not win the league with Giroud.
Conclusion: Giroud is not good enough and it’s another misplaced investment by Wenger.
Statistic: Alexis Sanchez has scored more goals (16) then Eden Hazard (14) with only one fewer assist (8, 9), yet Hazard wins POTY.
Conclusion: The FA’s having a laugh!
Statistic: Giroud has scored 14 goals in 27 games; Higuain has scored 15 goals from open play in 37 games, while Cavani has scored 15 from open play in 35 games.
Conclusion: Arsenal are better off with Giroud; Higuain and Cavani may not be the answer.
Statistic: The Ox has had only 1 assist all season in the Premier League and scored only one goal.
Conclusion: Walcott did better than that; bring Theo back onto the right. The Ox is good, but he needs to contribute more.
I can go on with more examples but I think I have been able to clarify as to what qualifies as a conclusion based on taking statistics/opinions at face value.
So what do you suggest some of you may be asking?
I’m saying the following:
Never judge a book by its cover.
Never take things at face value.
We’re looking at the tip of the iceberg.
There is so much more to the numbers that we come across. There is so much more to the unexplained statements pundits make; yet we do not try to understand the multitude of elements that create statistics or that lead pundits to make certain statements.
I guess the easiest way to explain this further would be, once again, through examples.
Example: The Ox has scored only 1 PL goal and provided 1 PL assist all season. He doesn’t do enough.
My Questions: Is that what Wenger expects of him? How many shots has he had on goal? How many were on target? From what area of the pitch? Is his lack of assists only HIS fault? Does he not play wide and rarely drift to the middle?
When you start addressing the answers to these questions, then the statistic may not seem the worst thing in the world. For example, ever notice how Giroud is crowded out in the box and no other player ever enters the box when the Ox is in a position to cross? That’s just ONE angle I’ve addressed.
Example: Jackson Martinez has scored 90+ goals in just over 100 appearances; he’d be a great signing!
My Questions: How good is the Portugese league? I don’t watch it, nor do I know of it producing many potent strikers that have succeeded in Europe. How old is Martinez?
In fact I’ll extend on the questions by addressing transfer speculation generally with one question:
How do we know who is actually good enough?
I have always wondered on what criteria scouts or managers use to judge whether or not a player from another league is good enough. I’m sure the answer is not limited to the statistics.
A Bergkamp Wonderland – an Arsenal podcast – once had Anders Limpar on as a guest, Limpar currently manages/coaches a lower division team in Sweden and he was asked if any of his players may make it to the Swedish premier league and his answer was no because they’re not that good. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was they looked at in a player to judge that.
Why did Alfonso Alves, a player who scored 45 goals in 39 appearances for Heerenveen, fail miserably for Middlesbrough? Who’d have thought Henry would become what he became? What was Shevchenko before Chelsea, what happened there? What happened to Torres? It may be argued that Fabio Cannavaro wasn’t the force he was during his stint with Real Madrid. Bergkamp wasn’t exactly setting the Serie A alight. Compare Sanchez at Barca to Sanchez at Arsenal, what has changed for him to be more successful?
I’ve cited Cavani and Higuain as examples earlier; I watched a bit of Higuain when he was at Real and I thought he was pretty good – pace, runs, finishing. What has happened at Napoli? Is it Benitez’s system? Who else has scored the goals at Napoli and how many? In the case of Cavani, apparently he’s been played wide most of the season. I think it was fellow blogger @JakeArsenal1 who recently on a pod said he’d like to see the Cavani of Napoli at Arsenal; he stressed on his disclaimer!
My point is not whether or not we should target Martinez, Higuain, or Cavani, or whether or not we need another striker. My point is that we need to be more informed before drawing any conclusions.
Wenger, I think post-FA Cup Final or maybe before it, was asked about Ospina’s future and the boss replied saying the Colombian has some of the best statistics in the league. I actually believe he said that just to shut people up, because he knows people are not going to read into the statistics.
I think I’ve lost my structure and flow so I’m just going to go with it now!
Fellow Gooner and blogger @AfcBvb1410 wrote a thorough piece on Arsenal’s midfield options and made a comparison with prized midfielders across Europe. Some of the statistics for some players may shock you. However, what the writer also mentions is that these stats may be affected by other factors such as the systems that these players play in.
I’m not saying stats lie, but they can easily be misleading as well. We must dig deeper to understand the footballing reasons behind the numbers.
Moving onto pundits, I’ll skip Henry for now because he clarified what he meant but some pundits don’t get a chance. I’d just like to take us back to earlier this season when Phil Neville made a comment on two-footing Rosicky in training if he had to face antics such as the no-look pass.
The comment created a storm!
I didn’t see anything wrong with what he said. I’ve had a defender or two say the same thing to me because I, once upon a time, tried to be a flair player and the unnecessary step-overs and dancing with the ball pissed off some people. Luckily they never acted on their words but they made their feelings clear. So, I understood where Phil Neville was coming from. He wasn’t serious, but some defenders do take offence to these things. I have no idea why they do, but they do. Neymar was on the receiving end of some hostile behavior recently when a rainbow flick went awry.
Yes it can be argued it shouldn’t have been said on television with children watching; setting the wrong example etc.
Anyway, my point is; again, don’t take comments at face value!
Arguments which just point to goals, assists, passes completed, etc. without going into the reasons behind those numbers are something I politely exit. Unfortunately, the other part of the problem is that many people just don’t want to be wrong so they stick to their point rather than listening and trying to understand what the other is saying. Sometimes it’s because of an ego issue, sometimes it’s because at some point along the argument the rationale has gone way over their head so they decide to play it safe rather than try to understand it better.
To be honest I have lost my train of thought and momentum; a colleague stopped by my desk for a chat for about half an hour so I am completely out of the ‘zone’ now!
I’m quite sure I did not touch upon other areas such assessing player or team performances based on statistics, but I also realize that this has been one long read so I’ll spare you!
To conclude all I’ll say is that we need to start doing this
Till next time!
Started supporting the club under dubious circumstances in ’97 but have never looked back since. I’ve only seen the Wenger era but continuously try to learn more about the history of the club. The Gunners’ results have affected my mood for every weekend for years now, I won’t go into details, but let’s just say I didn’t want to sleep the night we beat Barca! I reminisce about Henry every few weeks while Cesc’s wonderful passes play through my head every now and then! Hleb’s dribbles to Overmars’ speed always bring a smile, and I hope our current crop will stay a while.
Being a business major and a marketing professional, I believe there are always more than one way to look at things and that’s what you can expect from some of my blogs. Playing football for a number of years in various positions has helped evolve my understanding of the game though I still strive to learn more. I’m based in Karachi, Pakistan but dream of moving to London one day to be a ST holder!