Recently I’d compiled a comprehensive list of weaknesses associated with Arsenal. Then I compared how England fared against the same list. I was wondering how a team with over 40 well-known and oft-repeated issues can stay in the top four despite other clubs spending hundreds of millions. Even more interestingly, England didn’t seem to have most of those weaknesses. One often reads examples of the same English players as the kind that Arsenal are lacking. Despite the obvious differences, the end result is the same as the Three Lions haven’t been particularly successful.
Today I want to take this discussion forward. How is this possible? What does it all mean? Is there some explanation that puts it all in perspective? I believe there is.
First I want to establish a general point – In any field, the closer one gets to perfection the harder it gets.
Take music for instance. Most of us are not very good playing any instruments or composing music. I’d say across the world’s population this figure is likely to be in Billions. Many of us have tried though, and the number of amateur musicians is probably in millions. Of course, there are some excellent amateurs and it is highly possible that a few readers would do well with the instrument of their choice. I’d guess in the world there would be thousands of high quality amateur musicians. A slightly smaller proportion would be the total number of professional musicians in the world, perhaps in the lower thousands. One might say there are a few hundred top class professionals around the world and above them only a handful of truly genius level performers.
Don’t focus on the numbers. They are just indicative. The key point is that we are bound to get a pyramid structure that gets narrower as we go to the top. The exact numbers can vary but the general point holds.
Think of this is any field – skateboarding, calligraphy, physics, football – the argument remains valid.
Let’s look at this in a different way. In school, going from 0 to 60 percent marks is not that hard. Many students can achieve 50-60 percent in most subjects. Going from 60 to 80 is harder. The number of students that can achieve that drops considerably. 80 to 90 is even tougher. The difficulty levels increase exponentially as one moves from 90 to 95, then 96, 97, and so on. Very few, if any, can reach 100 percent.
I don’t know how the school systems work in most countries but the argument should hold even if students are given grades or judged on any other criteria. I am using the percentages because it will help me compare the position Arsenal are in.
Most football clubs would fall in the 60 or below category. These are clubs in the lower divisions. Many top flight clubs would come in the 60-80 category. In England, one could say those who end up closer to 60 get the drop and those who can reach 80 or above have a chance for Europe. Then there are clubs like Totnum who are between the 80-90 mark. Occasionally they can hit the 90 and get into the Champions League. But they don’t have the consistency and eventually drop out.
Only the top clubs, that are consistently close to the top, come in the 95 and above bracket. Amongst these clubs, the ones that are able to find something extra during the season and reach up to 97-98 usually end up being the ones who win the big trophies.
When Guardiola says Messi makes Barcelona truly special, this is probably what he has in mind. A player like Messi can take them from 95 and move them towards 98-99, on the verge of perfection. Similarly, a manager like Mourinho can take a team and move them towards the top with his meticulous attention to detail and tactical approach. That also explain why a team with the same players drops a few notches when the Dark Lord moves on to a different club. Fergie has similar abilities to provide the X-factor. Sometimes the impact of referees can be that extra 2 percent.
In the last few years, Arsenal have fallen short in the final stretch. Instead of going from 95 to 98, the Gunners usually end up at 92-93. One often gets the feeling that Fabregas and Van Persie can push the Gunners towards perfection but they haven’t played enough games. It’s not hard to see why Wenger keeps coming back to that point. There aren’t enough players who can do that. Of course, that should not be the only solution otherwise Arsenal would be at the mercy of lady luck all the time.
In a limited context, most of the arguments against Arsenal are valid. There are times when the team lacks a leader, sometimes the mentality is questionable, occasionally (this appears to have worsened but till the 28 game mark last season Arsenal had a better defence than United and most others) the defence is vulnerable, and there are games when the attack fails.
Last season some pundits, media hacks, and fans claimed that it was easy to defend against Arsenal. Yet, if you look at the numbers, last year the Gunners scored one less than the invincibles. Would you say it was easy to defend against the invincibles?
Closer examination of most criticisms against the club and the manager reveals that they are hollow/incomplete conclusions based on valid observations.
I believe Gael Clichy is another excellent example to illustrate this point. He made a number of mistakes and there were game in which he struggled. Those who made these observations would be right. Those who jumped to the conclusion that Clichy was useless could not be more off the mark. This excellent objective analysis by a Liverpool fan shows that Clichy was arguably the best left back in the League, at the very least in the top two, last season.
So on one had we had a number of fans and pundits lambasting the French fullback and on the other we had managers like Dalglish, Mancini, and Wenger interested in his services. That article tells you why the managers were right. It also shows the error of judging a player based on a few moments that stick in one’s memory.
This can be extended to explain many other perceived weaknesses of the club. In most cases, the observations that lead to those opinions are valid but the opinions are based on an incomplete and biased analysis, if any analysis at all. That is also the reason why I often refer to them as lazy opinions. They are not incorrect, but are lacking in terms of depth.
I don’t blame people who form opinions, even if undercooked, based on valid observations. I do disapprove of those who insist these opinions are right and others who can’t see them are blind.
Coming from people who are themselves ignorant about the hazaar tiny changes that are being made to improve the team, criticism that the manager is blind to the problems seems like the pinnacle of foolhardiness.
What one must not forget is that going from 95 to 98 is not easy. Often an improvement in one area can weaken the team in another.
Consider Javier Hernandez. He is an excellent poacher and provided a number of crucial goals for United. Even Berbatov did much better than he had in the past. Why then did Manchester United score fewer goals last season than they’d done in the previous one? The answer is that what they gained from these strikers was offset by what they lost in other areas. Rooney, for instance, wasn’t as effective in a deeper role. Fortunately for them it was enough to win so many will not look at the details but I am sure Ferguson will look at his team and will try to make those tiny invisible changes that are likely to improve their overall play next season.
It is outright silly to think that picking one player from another team and inserting him into Arsenal will solve some problems without creating others. If you are still struggling to understand this, look at the curious case of Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barcelona.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the valid observations about the problems at the club. Just against the mindless hate.
Recently, I read a very interesting blog on HBR. It was a book review of sorts but I haven’t had a chance to grab the book so will just share a couple of snippets from the article itself.
Worse yet, the most powerful among us have a tendency to bloviating certainty — swatting away doubt and choosing up sides precisely because not having answers feels so uncomfortable and potentially threatening. Opinions, in turn, become polarized and rigid.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Brooks’ core argument is that the vast majority of us have very little understanding of why we make the choices we do, and that we’re influenced instead by peer pressure; impulsive and reactive emotions; a deep and bottomless need for admiration and status; overconfidence in the present; excessive worry about the future; the evolutionary instinct to avoid pain and move towards pleasure; and precious little capacity to delay gratification.
I don’t want to judge anyone right now so I will leave you to form your own opinion on the meaning of those words in the context of the Arsenalsphere.
To sum it all up, I believe this Arsenal team is very close to the top (around the 95 point mark). That gives many of us the ‘So Near’ feeling. But instead of moving towards 97-98, the Gunners end up at 92-93. That generates the ‘So Far’ perception.
There can be a number of ways of closing this gap. One has to understand that the closer anyone gets to the top the harder it gets. And that it’s not a straightforward task. An improvement in one area can lead to a weakness in another. Whether you choose to trust the people who are working tirelessly for the club or not is up to you.
While many observations about the problems are valid, do you really believe buying a couple of players or changing the manager is the answer? Look around, count the number of times it’s been done, and determine the success percentage. Add consistency into the mix and it will get worse.
I do believe that fans can create an atmosphere that provides the extra impetus needed by team. They can be like Gallas and sulk on sidelines while affecting the team morale or they can be the leader the team is missing. If one leader on the pitch can solve so many issues why can’t 60,000 just a few yards away do the same?
Think about it.