Discussing Arsenal’s ‘So Near Yet So Far’ Predicament

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.

38 Responses to Discussing Arsenal’s ‘So Near Yet So Far’ Predicament

  1. TT says:

    It would be ironic if the real reason, why Arsenal did not win over the last 6 seasons, was the fans who desire success so badly.

  2. skinnemuva says:

    Great post Desi. I hate all of the media lead hype about how we just need a big center back British bruiser and that will solve all of our problems. I don’t think that will help and all and I hope we don’t bring one in.

    On a side note, will zonal marking solve our problems from set pieces? Only time will tell…

  3. bops says:

    splemdid post Sir..

  4. Thomas says:

    Brilliant post! n I could not agree more!

  5. Dark Prince says:

    Great Post!!!! Keep it up!!!!

    Even being ‘almost perfect’ is in itself a great achievement. But then, its Human nature to concentrate at the few black spots on the beautiful moon!! 🙂

  6. Black Hand Ninja says:

    This is an absolutely fantastic post, the best one in a long while.

    I think that the tactical analysis of most fans is very biased and emotional, and doesn’t seem to have any objective viewpoints really. It’s all used against Wenger, who, even though I feel he is making mistakes and deserves some criticism for them, is getting some pretty disgusting treatment from angry fans lol. I hope that we can put those things aside and get behind the team as much as we can.

  7. para says:

    “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?”


    Moan all you want now those fans who moan, me included, but when the season starts, GET BEHIND THE TEAM.

  8. G4L says:

    Well done Desi. This post belongs in the 95 and above class, if I may say so 🙂

  9. What an absolute cracker of a post man!! That has to be one of the best articles I have ever read. The relating of other spheres to football…too good…and indeed very true.

    As for football fans, and more so Arsenal fans, they’re a spoilt lot.. yours is one of the few blogs I click on , on Goonernews…

    Your posts are less frequent but the quality by and large is excellent! Keep up the great work 🙂

  10. iggy says:

    Ur spot on about the fans playing a part just like they did in the Barcelona match

  11. raj says:

    Hi First time on Desi Gunner.

    Good Article. As Liverpool fans says the Cop gives them the 13th. Player. That is the noise that Arsenal Fans need to develop.

    The Problem in defence comes from our Attack, to Break teams down more player are in attack and we get beaten by the counter attack.

    Secondly we are using too much energy when we have the ball. we should get their attackers and midfielders chasing the ball as we pass it about with minimal energy, then suddenly speed up, with an attack. How to pace ones stamina for the whole game.

    This make sure when the opposition attacks we have the energy to deal with them. The player who had that capability was Gilberto De Silva. The difference in the invincibles. Added to the fact that all did defensive duties. Now players are in the opposition’s halve for most of the game they forget to get back to help the defence out.

  12. Igwe14 says:

    Great post again mate. Av being reading this blog for close to 2yrs, and must commend your input, you av been a bit of fresh air.
    Back to today’s post, funny how before reading your last paragraph i was wondering in the same spite, got 2 say u av inspired my ways of seeing the ARSENAL.
    Doesn’t our crest says victory thur HARMONY?? Or is that too much to do?
    Now back 2 my observing state

  13. shane says:

    u forgot to take into account the BLATENT match fixing… Who in their right mind can deny the refrees are biased towards certain teams.

  14. BnT says:

    So after all the numbers and the examples from school and music and porno actors ability to keep a stiffy, when all is said and done the conclusion youve come to is………….

    Arsene Knows.

    Funny though it seems we have been on this “95%” for ages wouldnt you agree and yet we still cant find the extra %.

    Or maybe, just maybe, all talk of 95% and extra percents are just total bollocks and maybe we need to just get someone in who will sign a defender, sign a DM to replace Song – trust me he is the exception that proves your rule about strengthen will make you weaker in some areas, and realize that RVP will only play half a year.

    Maybe percentages are bollocks and if we look to get the basics right everything will fall into place.

    “While many observations about the problems are valid, do you really believe buying a couple of players or changing the manager is the answer?”

    Weve tried it your way, thats what the last couple of years have been about and it hasnt improved.

    Why dont you write up an article about how the team has regressed in the years that Arsene has claimed it has improved, seeing as you like numbers and stats.

    Btw I am breaking balls but I liked the post 😉

  15. RmanGoon says:

    Why aren’t you the Arsenal manager?! You’d win the league, cups and Champoins league easily! Brilliant post, opened my mind up so more! I must admit, I did ‘Boo’ at the team against Boca, but all that will be forgotten now. Let’s reach100 percent mark!

    • Phil23 says:

      Rman please tell your friends about this post at the game and try your hardest to get them to cheer with you. DO THIS FOR THE ARSENAL FANS WHO ARE CHEERING THERE HEARTS OUT AROUND THE WORLD! Brilliant post Desi I can’t believe I’ve missed it until now!

  16. reality check says:

    doing somthing again and again and expecting different result is what called insanity. thats what wenger is trying to achieve with our defence.
    desi i think even you dont know whats wrong with arsenal thats why you keep comparing us with others and giving different reasons but the truth is reason is very obvious its our defence. thing is stats do not tell the whole truth, goals conceded or clean sheets does not tell the whole story our main problem is hanging on to the lead and closing out games.
    champions produce heroic moments at the crucial times, they stand their ground when the going gets tough thats what gives them the belief and takes their confidence to another level. we didnt produce those moments enough in recent seasons almost none. if wenger believes the current team is good enough to go that extra mile then we are in for another groundhog season. the team needs the injection of some nasty grit and ‘over my deadbody’ attitude as well as some winning mentality. players like song, denilson and diaby etc are performers not achievers they have obvious qualities but wenger’s father like attitude towards them dosent push them to get in that 95 to 99% bracket. fergie’s hairdryer treatment will get them in order for sure.

    • james says:

      Dude, you’re mostly on-point but if you’re contesting the fact that the crappy fandom has contributed to some of these players being crap, then you’re wrong. It goes both ways: you mention Song but that dude has been immense for us in the last couple of years and has taken the blame though his play is what has allowed a person like Wilshere to develop.
      Your putting Song among the ‘bad’ players is a symptom of exactly what Desi’s saying, we do need better, nastier, more aware and self-determined players but at the same time we need better fans who don;t just criticize for the sake of criticism; how’d u expect Song to feel if he’s dividing the Arsenal stratosphere though he’s almost never given less than 100% (smth that we can’t say for the other 2 you mention and a number of others).
      Be a better fan first man.

      • reality check says:

        well song is a very good performer on his day but not as consistant as you think he is. he is no pv4 he is too soft. you cant get a doctor to do a bouncer’s job, you need a bruiser or brawler kind or may be wenger wants him to be like that.
        as far as fans are concerned when you attract people through success and glory you need to maintain that level to keep them happy. you cant expect them to be patient or happy with second best especially when faults are as obvious as our defence. boos were just the start..i just hope it ends here.

      • james says:

        And again, you fall into the same problem as every fan- there will probably never be another PV4, so don’t compare both of them.
        The problem with arsenal is the ‘team defense’. Song’s consistency will improve if the consistency of the people defending around him (including our great players RVP and for now, Cesc) improve.
        In the midst of the haze of all the analysts’ commenting, some have pointed to our true problem. Only an extremely great leader/defender can come in on his own to fix our defensive issues, we do not have a coherent strategy for defending against teams that rarely have the ball when we play them and like Desi points out, this won’t be solved by buying X or Y. X or Y may help but it takes the team, the coaching (yes Wenger) and also the fans (leaving behind their tension-generating booing) to help us get better.

  17. james says:

    Dude, I applaud you for being a true shining beacon cos Arsenal fans desperately need this right now.
    I agree with you for the most part, but I doubt that we’re very close to the top (95% right now); as a matter of fact, I think we were much closer to the top when we fought all the way to the Champions league final against Barca but we’ve been hovering and moving relatively downhill ever since (maybe just at 90%).
    Yes, Emirates has brought with it a number of fake fans- monied hordes who see the stadium as just another business venue and for some reason, their lethargy has pervaded the attitude of some real fans who’ve resorted to booing the players because that’s the emotion of last resort.
    At the same time, I believe the club has contributed to the demise in the stands by some decisions that were apparently made for our ‘commercial’ benefit, the sale of so many stalwarts and Arsene’s refusal to resort to sentimentality once a player hit that over-30 plateau has meant that we just don’t care so much for all our players and are ok booing them after few mistakes.
    There are a number of things wrong with our great club but at the same time, there are more things right. That we are where we are with the disgusting influx of foreign money and the fact that players’ careers are killed to prevent us from participating fairly in the transfer market (a la the SWP chelsea signing when he really should’ve been ours) doesn’t mean we should allow stubbornness to allow us from moving forward.
    It’s this stubbornness that pains me- from the board (disrespecting the fans and presuming us foolish when we understand that they made business decisions for the benefit of their pocketses), Wenger (‘seemingly’ fibbing and a reluctance to pay due homage to the defensive part of our game) and the fans (the quite simply crappy home ‘disadvantage’ that is palpable even when you watch a game on TV).
    I, for one, can’t support another club- the only other team I’ve ever admired- and ventured some form of ‘support’- is West Ham; the Arsenal moments have been greater than any I’d ever got knowing we did everything without being the richest club in the country and with an assortment of stars that even Man U cannot boast off (a Champion’s League trophy would’ve helped) so it’s time for everyone to shut the freak up, wait for the season to begin and temper judgement with much more support.
    Long live the Gunners (with or without Arsene, Fabregas, Nasri and any other player or manager)!

  18. nicky says:

    An interesting article Desi, but I feel it overcomplicates a number of issues. Firstly, the national side won the World Cup in 1966 because the tournament was held in Britain, coupled with the fact that most of the players involved plied their trade with compatriots, i.e. we had not yet been
    “invaded” by the foreign stars who have since graced and transformed our national game.
    On the subject of Arsenal, I cannot ignore the fact that during the whole of the Club’s recent history
    (say) since the 1930’s, with all the success enjoyed, we have never retained a championship. Whilst I am not a believer of the occult, witchcraft and the like, I do lean towards fate. In all my 80+ years of supporting Arsenal, I cannot forget the
    bizarre disasters which have beset our Club, turning victory into defeat. I won’t recount the incidents but we all know them going way back to the Huddersfield Cup Final and the “over the line goal”.
    Arsenal have always made the news, for one reason or another and my conclusion is that fate has and will always play an important part in determining Arsenal’s history. If we Gooners are prepared to accept that and continue our support, we should find it easier to endure.

  19. el bizarron says:

    the mood surrounding the team is so negative right now. wenger and and the rest of arsenal fc can do no right in the eyes of the internet. even if they were to miraculously win the league, i think there would still be anger that they didn’t get all 114 points or some other cockamamie reason.

  20. venky says:

    such a loooong post, I was tired at the end of it, could have been a bit more crisp

  21. Steve says:

    There should be an award for “Best Arsenal blog post of the year”. And you should win it with this entry.

    In fairness, I do agree with the complaints about the length. It could have been broken up into two or three articles.

    Do you get statistics showing how many people actually read the full post?

  22. ozziearsenal says:

    @ Desi maybe a motivational program for the ground eg in the match program ,music played ,half time session, to help the crowd get behind the team its done in other sports eg American basketball where there is build up music as the team attack it would suit our style of play also the boo boys would get drowned out and maybe go somewhere else so the can get herd .

  23. Steve says:

    Off-topic but brilliant ad

  24. Prabal Rakshit says:

    As most visitors stated, this has been a ‘magnum opus’ sort of post on your blog, a real pleasure to read. At a macro level this does seem to be a very apt observation of where Arsenal is right now, although below the hood there are tinkerings necessary (you have pointed it out multiple times as well) that probably gets magnified as fan frustrations (that’s a rather vexing story in itself :-)). Anyway wanted to share a couple of points of my own:
    1. Some three years back when John McCain was campaigning against Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential elections, he had attended a debate which had very polarised views on what degree of physical torture should be used against captured enemies of nation. McCain had been a POW in Vietnam war for close to 6 years and he was not a supporter of using physical torture to extract information out of detainees. What he said in the debate was something on the lines of ‘whether or not we support torture is a direct reflection of ourselves as a country’. The clamoring for waterboarding etc. techniques in some way or the other reflective of the inner conflicts wihtin the American psyche.
    While I do not want to either support or oppose what McCain said, I can’t help thinking that booing of players by fans, in a similar way, reflects poorly on the fans themselves. No matter how good/bad the player is, s/he should always be given the minimum amount of respect for having put an Arsenal shirt. That is the basic raison’d’etre for a supporter. As 7amkickoff noted sometime back, the moment Arsenal as a football team starts becomng a vehicle for emotional fulfillment rather than a football team, these problems start cropping up.

    2. A quote from W. B. Yeats (The Second Coming). I think this was written when the First World War started:
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.
    Sounds a little familiar to the Arsenal blogosphere, isn’t it?

  25. lankylorde says:

    top notch article. by far d best i’ve read in recent past. thanks for givin us smthg positive.

  26. santori says:

    Very valid and succinct sir!

    I only wish you had better outreach in at least providing food for thought to some of the more entrenched fans out there.

    There’s a lack of balance currently because we have gone hollow for 6 seasons but as you mentioned, on reflcetion we are so near.

    AND we have been punching above our weight OMO.

    What will help push us up another notch. Well, better coaching and tactics for one, and one or two curical additions but as fans, the only thing we are in conrtol of is the mood we set for the players.

  27. bin kris says:

    This is by far the best article I have read for a long time now. Wonder what will happen if emirates crowd get behind their team for every match like they did against Barca!!

  28. Bottom line is AW has to go

  29. ak47 says:

    thanx des.

  30. afrogoon says:

    dude…you are a genius…u shld tweet more often so as to spread ya gospel…keep up the good fight bro

  31. idowu says:

    this is simply the best have come across in a while!..keep it up desi gunner!

  32. Finnish Hit says:

    Common sense prevails in these small corners of the internet.

    I don’t think we need to change much, just mental strenght and not being afraid to fail – the fear that has been brought upon the team by the short-sighted and simple-minded anti-fans, led by the horrible UK zero-class media horde.

    Let’s hope your posts keep keeping the dumbest fans out of this blog. I’m looking forward to your match analysis’ in the near future.

  33. […] I discussed in this article about Arsenal’s So Near Yet So Far predicament, the positives far outweigh the negatives at Arsenal. They always have. One just has to learn to […]

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