In the 21st century the media is more prevalent than ever. There’s the traditional broadsheets of course, but now there are blogs, fanzines, television shows from every country, and pundits. Everybody’s a pundit.
Of course in the 21st century information is also more readily accessible than ever before, which means that theoretically, all this conjecture should be backed up with easily acquired factual evidence. But the media can never be accused of letting reality interfere with a good headline. In this day and age it seems some labels have been stuck on teams and players that are just unfair, and more to the point, not true. Perhaps there’s no smoke without at least a bit of a fire, but these days the truth sometimes gets warped. Here are some popular football myths clarified.
A favorite line of Fleet Street, trotted out during the weekly ‘Arsenal are in crisis’ stories. The Gunners have no steel, the story goes, they defend like a mid-table side and have no idea what they’re doing. Arsene Wenger never spends any time on defensive awareness and is only thought of as smart because he has a university degree.
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As the table above shows, this statement is just wrong. This season Arsenal actually have a better defence than their league placing would suggest, and have improved their form considerably from last season with mainly the same personnel. Perhaps Wenger knows what he’s doing after all (their offense has fallen off slightly but they are learning how to play without a superstar striker). Meanwhile, several other teams have slipped alarmingly, big clubs too, such as Tottenham and Liverpool that haven’t received nearly the number of column inches. Meanwhile the team held up as an example of gritty English defending, Stoke City, were mediocre last season, although the Potters are the best outside of the large clubs this season.
Of course there can’t be zero truth to the Arsenal criticism. These things don’t appear from thin air. It is true that Arsenal quite often can be exposed by good teams, but that’s exactly why those teams are good, they find ways to score against whoever they face.
The real problem with Arsenal this season is that they make a defensive error every 71 minutes, as opposed to last season where it was 117 minutes, although those errors are less serious. This is indicated by the fact that Arsenal have a higher tackle success rate and more interceptions per game this season than last, so on the surface their defence is fine. What the stats show seem to be mostly little lapses in concentration, and unfortunately those have been punished in high-profile games, the media remembers, such as against lower league opposition.
A defender like Per Mertesacker can go two or three games where his mistakes aren’t punished but one mistake against a side like Bradford City which is taken advantage of is all that the public will remember. Similarly, although teams like Liverpool have seen their defensive standards slip, results such as 3-0 Sunderland, 5-0 Norwich or 5-0 Swansea can make things seem to be better than they are.
Arsenal can be criticized for a lot of things, and perhaps you can say they lose their defensive nerve in big games, where mistakes are often more frequently punished. But to just call them poor defensively is incorrect.
In a strictly “footballing” sense there isn’t much to criticize about Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan combines the heart and grit that English supporters love alongside technical genius and at times, breathtaking skill. In this writer’s opinion he’s the best footballer in England this season, not just because of the goals he scores, but because he has the offense of an entire side basically run through him. Suarez has the responsibility of creating chances as well as finishing them, which is a burden few could bear.
Yet there is this feeling among sets of observers that Suarez doesn’t do it against large teams, never mind all evidence to the contrary. Perhaps these people obviously haven’t seen or don’t remember games such as his superb performance in Liverpool’s 3-0 win against Manchester United two seasons ago, or even his performances this season against Manchester City. But surely they can’t ignore the stats.
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As shown above, apart from some bizarre non-performances against Spurs, (although the two sides have one more meeting scheduled), Suarez has tended to perform at his usual high levels no matter what the opposition. If he’s not scoring, he’s setting up chances for others.
As for how this myth came about, a theory could be that it’s once again a case of people letting one result dictate an entire aspect of a player’s career. Suarez hasn’t been brilliant in every game he’s played against a strong team, but he’s not a machine. In the last two years Liverpool have had some horrible results against Tottenham, including a 0-4. The very side that the table above shows Suarez (who is only human after all) was awful against. Similarly, because he’s used so much by Liverpool and is such a feisty character any slight dip in form, even if it’s against higher quality opposition, will be examined quite closely.
Nobody is disputing that Robin Van Persie was a good buy by Alex Ferguson. It gave Manchester United a great striker while at the same time weakening one of their title rivals. However the way Ferguson went on about how with his signing United wouldn’t lose the title on goal difference again was a bit much.
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In a very strange season for the Red Devils, Robin Van Persie’s bucketful of goals has indeed improved Manchester United’s scoring, but only by two goals extrapolated over the course of a season. However they still wouldn’t have a better goal difference than their neighbours if not for Manchester City’s offense falling off a cliff (perhaps Ferguson’s real intention when buying Van Persie was to make sure City couldn’t have him, because they could use a surefire 20 goal striker). If the Citizens had been scoring the same as last season they would have a projected goal difference of 58. (Not that the title will come down to goal difference this year of course, United have been the better side by some distance). The real story this year is that United are 12 goals worse off defensively while only 2 goals better off offensively, despite buying almost nothing but gifted play-makers and scorers during the summer transfer window.
The beauty of being a football fan is that everybody has their own opinion. But opinions are always better if they are backed up with facts rather than sensationalism. That’s not to say that these myths are completely false, anybody watching Arsenal this season has seen shabby defending while probably Suarez’s worst Liverpool games of his career have come against Tottenham in important games. But simply throwing blanket statements and labels around such doesn’t actually enlighten anybody, it just propagates a culture of lazy debate and discussion.
[box_light]All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.[/box_light]
I am currently a University student majoring in Economics and a budding football writer who is keen to examine statistical evidence to arrive at informed conclusions.
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