UPDATED: Arteta V Wilshere: Are The Stats Really Lying? + Other Comparisons

November 15, 2011

I don’t think anyone who has seen Jack Wilshere play doubts his talent. Even anti-Arsenal hacks and pundits, and purveyors of ignorant, spiteful opinions in the Arsenalsphere rave about the youngster. From football legends like Wenger and Capello to common fans like this blogger, everyone has lavished undiluted praise on the next great English hope ever since he was a schoolboy.

So imagine my surprise when I compiled the following table using Opta stats from Eplindex (@eplindex). It shouldn’t be hard, just take a look.

Click on the image to view a larger version

It’s early days in Arteta’s Arsenal career but the Spaniard beats Wilshere on almost all stats. He makes more passes and with greater accuracy, creates a higher number of chances, losses possession less frequently, shoots more often and converts better, wins more duels, and has substantially superior tackling success.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t take anything away from young Jack. He’s earned every plaudit he’s received and more. With that in mind just ask yourself, how good a player Mikel Arteta really is? Was he really a panic buy?!

I made this comparison for two reasons. Firstly, I have observed, and noted in previous articles (here and here), that Arteta is compensating for the lack of technical contribution from the attacking players. His pass/min stat is outstanding and makes him the only Premier League player in the top 10 for most passes per game across the five major leagues in Europe. I’ll return to this while analyzing the wingers.

Secondly, I wanted to discuss the difference in common perception about the two midfielders. Arteta was discarded by many as a last-minute desperation-induced signing and has rarely received enough credit for the work he does. Add to it the baggage of expectations due to the similarities with Cesc and we have a player who isn’t seen as being good enough for Arsenal. Wilshere on the other hand is deemed the heir apparent to Fabregas and considered by many to be the best current English midfielder.

To an extent it could be a function of their individual playing styles. Jack has flair, flamboyance, and aggression. Arteta is more about experienced, understated efficiency. Wilshere has an “In your face”, ready to take on and beat the best attitude. Arteta is about dignified superiority.

Another factor is that the hype machine, probably based on highlights-worthy moments that stick in one’s memory, often blurs the difference between the current performances and potential. Wilshere could one day perform at a level that all the superlatives in the dictionary would fail to do justice to; but at present he lacks a vital ingredient, experience. Min/Loss of possession tells us the youngster tries an ill-advised dribble too many or often lacks that bit of control which gives the ball away (think back to his red card for that lunge against Zigic after a poor touch took the ball away). It’s a small detail but it affects the team’s performance, especially considering the position he plays.

Arteta also suffers from the fact that he can’t get into an outrageously gifted national side.

The point I am leading to is this – Popular opinion is off the mark more often than some would like to accept. There is a reason words like Good or Correct are not easily interchangeable with the word Popular. Of course, the depressing irony is that this little nugget is popularly ignored!

Arteta’s performances reinforce my ever-growing belief that there is an unmistakable method behind Wenger’s perceived madness, which, while not beyond scrutiny, certainly deserves greater respect.

Moving on, let’s explore what else the stats are telling us.

Surprisingly, Arteta tops the list for the frequency of chance creation. Since these players have rarely, if ever, figured in the front four of their respective sides, none of them is the main creator. In that context Arteta hasn’t been too bad, has he? Not quite Cesc, but still fab in his own way.

The former Everton man does lose possession a tad more regularly than the others. It could be related to the fact that he has relatively fewer options to pass due to the direct nature of the wide players at Arsenal. It’s also worth noting that Arteta had a 60.28 percent success rate in aerial duels for his former club last season. These are two areas where improvements can be expected.

Yaya Toure has been superb for City and has grown as a player with Premiership experience (has improved many of his own stats from last season). He’s on par with Arteta as far as passing and tackling success goes, and betters the Spaniard on the loss of possession figure. With 43 min/shot, Toure attempts a strike more often than the others so he can’t really be considered a defensive player either. Since City regularly play a technical player on the wings, it’s possible that the Ivorian benefits from having less of a passing burden and the availability of better angles.

Among the others, I am surprised there aren’t any stand out numbers for Modric given the general perception about his quality. Again, the point here is not to doubt the Croatian’s abilities but to put his counterparts in perspective.

Ramires has an astonishingly low pass/min figure. I double-checked the stats with another source because Chelsea pass the ball as often as Arsenal. It is possible their defensive players have a greater share of the possession. That’s another matter to be explored in the future. The Brazilian does have a pop at goal more often than most others. It’s quite possible that AVB has given him the task of getting on the end of chances created by their flair players. This might lead to a greater focus on making incisive runs instead of getting into positions to receive and make passes that keep the game ticking.

Charlie Adam’s passing accuracy is below the others but so was Liverpool’s when compared to the other top sides in the previous article. On the other hand, the former Blackpool man is winning an eye-popping 77 percent of his aerial battles. The experience of being in a relegation battle might be coming in handy.

Interestingly, Arteta and Adam show a noteworthy difference between the overall passing accuracy and that from open play. Both take a number of set-pieces for their sides whereas the other midfielders are closer on the two stats with fewer free-kick responsibilities. For Toure the two numbers are virtually identical.

Another oddity is that Wilshere, Yaya, and Modric – arguably the three most ‘gifted’ players in the lot – have noticeably lower chance conversion figures.

I will update this post with figures for through-balls, final third entries, and passes if I get the time tomorrow. As ever, there is more to be gleaned from these figures so am looking forward to your inputs.

Update:

I was able to compile these detailed passing stats to add to yesterday’s discussion. In the following image, FTE – Final Third Entries; FTP – Final Third Passes; DHP – Defensive Half Passes; AHP – Attacking Half Passes

Click on the image to view a larger version

As with the first table, it’s quite clear that Arteta has done very well across the board. He enters the final third more frequently than the others, makes more passes in that area and his passing accuracy in the attacking zone is exceptional.

More importantly, he isn’t playing in the attacking area alone as he is passing the ball in the defensive areas more frequently than all bar two others – Toure and Anderson.

He is also attempting a through-ball every 71 minutes which is faster than everyone except Wilshere. There is a bit of room in improving the accuracy as Arteta has only succeeded with 3 of his 10 attempts. But it must be noted that his success rate is better than Wilshere who, in fairness, is being measured over a longer period. Some others have better success rates with their through-balls but the percentages can be misleading as Anderson has only attempted two, while Ramires has managed 2 accurate ones out of five. Charlie Adam has been outstanding with 8 of his 11 balls finding a teammate. It is even more amazing if we consider that the Liverpool man is considerably behind the others in overall passing accuracy.

The FTE stat for Ramires is a curious one. As we’ve already seen, the Brazilian attempts a shot on goal more frequently than everyone else apart from Yaya Toure. But compared to the others he doesn’t enter the FT as often. Come to think of it, even the City midfielder doesn’t enter the attacking area that often. It is quite possible that both prefer to lurk just outside the final third in a defensive role and make a forward run only when a clear opportunity presents itself. It makes sense if we consider both these players would have significant defensive duties in their respective sides. It appears to be a fascinating example of excellent decision making that leads to a balance between attack and defence.

In conclusion, I just want to note that the idea was not to show that Arteta is better than Wilshere. I accept the various points made about the different roles of these players, effect of team tactics, impact of the number of games played, etc. And as I have clearly stated, there is no doubt in my mind Wilshere has the potential to be an all time great.

The point here was to highlight just how good Arteta has been for Arsenal. The other players serve as benchmarks of sorts. It’s obvious from the stats that the Spaniard is covering a lot of ground – he could not be leading the passing stats in the final third and attacking half, and doing well in the defensive half without racking up phenomenal yardage – and doing an excellent job of sustaining possession, creating chances, and tackling at the end of all that running. It wasn’t a meaningless platitude from a manager who’s lost the plot when Arsene called Arteta a complete footballer.


Thoughts On The Cologne Game and JET

July 25, 2011

Once again Arsene put the same eleven players on the pitch. Well, almost. Gervinho did take the place of Young Miyaichi but the rest of the starting line-up was same as the bunch that impressed in the Asia tour.

Many of us were eager to see how Gervinho performs, and I for one wasn’t disappointed. Far from it, I was well and truly enthralled by the half an hour he got on the pitch. Arsene probably bought him for his intelligent movement, well-timed runs, and the general ability to get into good positions on the pitch. If he can sustain the composure and finishing we saw in this friendly, the Ivory Coast striker will better the goals scored by Nasri and Walcott last year as I feel he is more natural in that role that any of the wide players Arsenal had last year. Previously, I had expressed concerns about his finishing, which seemed completely unfounded on the basis of that performance, but I’ll reserve my judgment till the end of the season. I think he will score when the opposition allows him space to exploit behind the defence. The true test of his finishing will come against tighter defences and parked buses. Nonetheless, Gervinho made as good a start to his Arsenal career as possible and that’s all that matters for now.

Like the previous two friendlies, this game too had the clichéd ‘game of two halves’ feel to it. Arsenal dominated the first period with excellent work in midfield by Song and the irrepressible Jack Wilshere. That kid is only going to improve and will undoubtedly end up in the team of the year when the votes are cast. They were ably supported by the back four and the front three who did their bit of chasing back and pressing. The new man impressed with his willingness and ability to provide support to Gibbs.

In an otherwise well controlled first half, and despite the best efforts of all the players, Arsenal had a few iffy moments when it seemed the defensive weaknesses were peeping from behind a curtain of wonderful free-flowing football.

The own-goal conceded by the hapless Jenkinson was indeed a once in a lifetime fluke that he wouldn’t actually score if he tried a hundred times. As I have said before, Arsenal concede so many freak goals because the defence gets into a mess more often than the other top teams. It’s a simple matter of percentages and, while we might not see the same accident in competitive games, there is no doubt other flukes are going to hurt the Gunners at vital moments unless basic problems in defence are sorted.

On the positive side, apart from Gervinho, Gibbs looked like he is getting back to his old self, Walcott put in some good balls into the box, Wilshere showed he is ready to chip in – literally and otherwise – with more assists this year, Vermaelen and Koscielny were actively looking to spread the ball from the back, and the delivery on the set-pieces seemed more meaningful (maybe it’s just me on this one).

The second half team once again lacked cohesion. There were too many individual moments when players tried to run with the ball or create something. There wasn’t enough focus on retaining the ball or the shape of the team. This put the defence under pressure but some good work by Mannone, some last gasp blocks by defenders, and Cologne’s lack of quality in the final third meant the equalizer was never scored.

Rosicky played some passes that were pleasing to the eye. But his work rate just isn’t good enough for a deep lying midfield role. It’s surprising because he has the talent and the ability to play that role. He can tackle, hold his own in a one-v-one situation, bring the ball out from defence under pressure, and play the simple passes or the exceptional ones. This performance reminded me of his pre-season games and early League ones from last season where he looked sharp. It could be that he loses interest when he doesn’t get enough minutes. It’s a hard one for the manager to solve but he has to get more from Little Mozart and that has to start with a much higher work rate.

Arshavin looks like he has rediscovered his shooting boots. Last season the Russian hit too many shots into the top tier or near the corner flag. In this game he tested the goalkeeper twice and went close on one occasion. Again it’s something that has to last the whole season for it to be valued.

Based on the recent rumours, it seems likely that there will be some significant movement in the transfer market. Wenger has mentioned the need for signing one more defender and there might be others if some players are able to secure their moves away from the club. I don’t want to speculate on most stories but one that intrigued me was the possible departure of youngster Jay Emmanuel-Thomas.

Only last season Arsene had said that he was banging on the first team door with both hands. Now he seems surplus to requirements and good enough only to interest Championship sides? Even the newly promoted Premiership teams are not interested in taking him?

To be honest, I am not surprised by this because I have always been sceptical about his attitude. JET looked like a lad who could dominate the reserves level and create some moments of real magic even in Championship games but just didn’t have the mental discipline to stay focused and perform week in, week out.  In fact, I won’t be surprised if Aneke and Afobe go the same way, especially the former.

It’s a real shame because technically and physically JET had a lot to offer. I don’t know if this mental weakness is an individual issue or one that is somehow linked to the training given to these youngsters. I don’t know the details so don’t really want to judge but it is possible that focus on technical development alone (while ignoring the results aspect of the games being played) could have had an impact on the players’ mentality. It’s a difficult balance to achieve. At a young age one would not want to force the kids to play for results. That would just produce hoof merchants. But an unwavering emphasis on technical skills could just as easily create footballers who can dazzle occasionally but can’t dig in deep when required. A top player needs the right combination of technical, physical and mental abilities. If any one is missing it can finish a career before it begins.

I am sure Wenger and coaches will be as disappointed as the fans if not more. They would not want to invest years of work into some kids only to sell them to some Championship clubs. They’ll have to look at the way the academy works and identify the problems. Only that can lead to a solution and better results with future prospects.

I do hope the transfer document, if and when it is signed, will include a buy-back clause alongside a good sell-on fee. You never know, a couple of years fighting for his place could just be what JET needs for he seems to have everything else.


Smart Choice By Wilshere. And By Bendtner?

May 23, 2011

Stuart Pearce has left Wilshere out of the U-21 squad. Coming soon after the honest interview given by Denilson that filled most of us with hope, this is the second piece of highly encouraging Arsenal news. I hope this trend develops and the summer turns out to be as memorable as the last few weeks have been miserable.

The England youth manager explained his decision by indirectly hinting that Wilshere wanted out.

I spoke to Jack last week and he explained that while he told me in March that he wanted to be part of the squad, he now feels he is not in the best condition to take part in the finals. That is based on the number of games he has played for Arsenal this season, sports science data which Jack was presented with last week and concerns he has for his fitness looking ahead to next season.

Since these aren’t the exact words of the Arsenal star, I don’t want to read too much into it. Some people could turn this into a negative story saying Wilshere’s turned his back on his country, but, thankfully, this particular news doesn’t seem to be going in that direction.

I think that Jack has been extremely smart about this issue and has taken the right decision based on valid, scientific facts and most probably his own exhaustion. Even without that data, many who watched the last few Arsenal games could clearly see that the youngster was struggling physically and perhaps mentally as well.

I am amazed by the maturity shown by someone so young. Playing for one’s country, even at the youth level, is a matter of pride. Balancing the requirements of the body against the emotional urges anyone is likely to feel when presented with such an opportunity requires exceptional clarity of thought and decision making abilities.

Going to Denmark would have done no good to Wilshere, Arsenal, or the English team in the long run. It was a classic lose-lose situation and the key men in the English set-up should have been experienced and knowledgeable enough to see that on their own.

A small but important point worth noting is that Wilshere was shown some sports science data last week that helped him make the right choice. I wonder who could have done that 🙂 The complexities and subtleties of a football manager’s job never cease to amaze me.

Hopefully, there won’t be further twists to this saga and the future of Arsenal will get a well deserved rest in the summer.

In another interesting rumour, that could further enhance the trend mentioned at the start of this post, Bendtner’s father has reportedly said that his son wants to leave Arsenal.

Nicklas is 100 per cent open now to a change of clubs. He has made his decision and he has told it to Arsenal. Nicklas needs to be playing regularly from the start, so, sadly, he must leave. He wanted to finish the season first, so no-one could say he didn’t fight for a first-team place right until the end.

I am not a fan of attaching too much value to third person statements on what a player wants to do, even if that person is the father of the player. But the future of Bendtner has been open for discussion and I have a feeling the best option for all concerned would be to let him go.

I like Bendnter as a player and admire his confidence and professionalism. He can carve a fantastic career in Italy or Germany. At Arsenal, I am not convinced he will be that useful in the system that Wenger is using. And based on the manager’s recent interviews, I am not sure he is too keen on adding certain variations that could get the best out of the Dane and make him a valuable player for the Gunners. If the manager cannot adapt certain aspects of his tactics to suit the players he has, he will have to find players who better suit his style.

This transfer could be another win-win for all parties if Arsene can get good value for the Danish international.

I want to discuss some other points covered in the recent interviews and press conferences that Wenger has given, hopefully in the next day or two. Some friends had come over from Canada and the weekend just passed in a blink without giving me much time to write. I wasn’t even able to watch the game so the match report will be delayed till later tonight when I can find a few hours to watch and write. Apologies to those who are interested in the match analysis and have been waiting.


PFA Awards Disappointing + Mourinho Learns From Arsene + Original Cesc Interview

April 19, 2011

I want to start with a mention of the PFA awards and the Team of the Year. Congratulations to Wilshere for picking up the Young Player of the Year award, and deservedly so. Gareth Bale was chosen as the Player of the Year and Nasri came in second. And in case you haven’t seen it, the team of the year is,

Van der Saar – Sagna, Vidic, Kompany, Cole – Nani, Nasri, Wilshere, Bale – Tevez, Berbatov.

Rather uninspiring if I may say so. One thing that struck me about this seasons list, and by extension the performances of the teams, is that none of the players really stood out. Last year Rooney, Cesc, and Drogba had truly great seasons. I don’t think the same can be said for the likes of Nasri or Bale who have been good in patches but have had relatively little impact in terms of goals, assists, or match winning contributions when compared to their counterparts from last year.

Even looking at the whole team, it’s difficult to say anyone apart from Nani or Wilshere would have gotten into last year’s selection. So have all these players suddenly dropped their performance levels? Has the league got that much tougher this season? Has this season been more about grinding out results than mesmerizing displays?

I don’t know the exact reasons for this change but one thing is for sure, when any team’s best player doesn’t perform at his peak the performances of the whole team suffer. In that sense it is safe to say the top three teams have been a little below par this year, for different reasons though. Rooney has been moved to a different position where he is more useful to the balance of the side but does not have enough personal stats to show for it. Cesc has struggled with injuries while Drogba was down with Malaria and more recently Torresitis (an affliction where a good player cannot get enough games/starts because a more expensive one who plays the same position is in the squad).

One interesting question that arises is – Has Wenger been justified in promoting Wilshere rather than breaking the bank on Yaya Toure as many fans wanted?

The smaller teams have certainly improved a lot. This could have led to lesser space in attacking areas, better organization and marking, more competitive games, and consequently fewer chances for any individual to truly stand out. I don’t think this is the sole or main reason for the distinctly lower quality individual efforts but it is certainly a crucial factor.

Moving on to Spain, I was watching the El Classico last weekend and noticed something interesting. Real Madrid really had a go at Barcelona in the final 15-20 minutes and almost stole a win. This might never come out but I am fairly certain Mourinho saw the way Arsenal troubled Guardiola’s side and has adapted his tactics to follow in Wenger’s path.

Of course, we will know more in the coming days as there are three more Classicos to play. Many might not understand this or believe it but to me it is a great testament to Wenger’s tactical acumen that an evil genius like Jose is copying his approach as he can’t really deploy the Inter style at Madrid. Kudos to the Special One too for being such a quick learner.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Wenger is a tactical genius (regular readers know my reservations on this topic) but it is certain that Arsene is not a tactically clueless idiot as some would have you believe. As always the truth is somewhere in between. More on this topic at some other time.

While we are still in Spain, I wanted to share a couple of links from the Don Balon site. These look like the original interview transcripts but I am not sure. Can someone who knows Spanish please provide a better, more in keeping with the tone and context, translation than the one we have seen in the English media.

On this link you will see the interview about the need for Arsenal to choose between winning and training. On this one Cesc talks about the Champions League tie, his performance, and injury. I’d really love a good translation of the second one as it seems very relevant and is quite a short one. Unfortunately, Google translate didn’t do a very good job.

I’d also like to mention that fans should not fall for the sensationalism of the tabloids or the doom mongers. Cesc is an honest person and has given his genuine opinion. It is not an ultimatum to the club and I don’t think he is trying to talk his way out. It wasn’t the best thing to say but I have said this about Arsene and the players on more than one occasion – they don’t know how to play the media and often give intelligent answers that come to bite them in the backside because the words are twisted way out of context.

Nobody including Wenger denies that there is plenty of room for improvement at Arsenal. I don’t want to get into this discussion right now, it’s a never ending argument so will leave it for the summer. But we must respect Fabregas for saying what he believes to be true. We can criticize him for the timing and perhaps a little lack of tact but it’s harsh to say he is sulking or trying to force his way out. In fact, if anything, it seems he is mentally preparing himself for the long haul.

Finally, I wanted to mention something about the last article and the responses. One chap left ten or more anti-Wenger replies under different names. I just saw them this morning and have since removed them. I don’t know how people find the time and energy to write so many pointless comments but it’s not difficult to see why many Gooners consider such commentators to be Spuds in disguise. From now on if I believe that the same person is leaving abusive comments without any real contribution I will delete the comments without any explanation.

I have no problems with those who disagree with the manager, the board, or any other part of the club. I am also quite happy to allow comments that don’t concur with my opinion. But I will not tolerate an abusive person pretending to be ten people while not making a single meaningful effort to make a point.

Those fans who genuinely support the club should also remember that if it seems there are hundreds of people against the club and Wenger, it is quite likely to be a handful of disgruntled idiots and some Spud trolls polluting the sanctity of the Arsenalsphere.

That’s it for now, I’ll do the NLD preview a little later in the day.


Video: Rosicky Scores Against Croatia, Walcott Assist

February 9, 2011

Good strike by Rosicky as he hit it, to borrow a cricket term, ‘on the rise’.

Good tenacity and delivery from Walcott. I was a bit worried when I saw blood streaming down his face just below the eye but it seems the injury was just a cut.

Anyone else impressed by the kid Eriksen? Too bad at Arsenal there are many players in the same mould.

Wilshere will need some of time to adapt if he has to play in that holding role but I was happy with some of his interceptions/tackles.


Can Wilshere Play The Makelele Role?

January 28, 2011

This evening I saw a spate of headlines after England coach Fabio Capello shared a meal with some journalists. It seems most of the talk was about England’s future i.e. Jack Wilshere.

Interestingly, Capello wants to play young Jack in front of his back four.

I want to put him in this position in front of the back four. I have to decide because he’s so young, he would stay alone in midfield and that can be dangerous.

It’s not difficult to see where the inspiration comes from. This season Wilshere has been excellent for Arsenal in a deeper midfield role. Capello has been keeping a close eye and has been suitably impressed.

I have monitored him for five months. He’s improved a lot. He’s a really interesting player.

The Italian has also seen Wilshere grow in confidence due to his regular starts at Arsenal.

When he started in some moments [occasions] he played without big confidence. He was timid, shy. Now every game he improves a lot, he plays with confidence, without fear and also the tackles he tries to win.

Capello gave his opinion on how Wilshere stacks up against greats like Makelele and Pirlo.

Wilshere is better technically than Makelele. He’s slower than Makelele but when he receives the ball he is more dangerous than Makelele.

Not like Pirlo. Wilshere’s too young. Probably Wilshere can be better but the styles are different. The style of AC Milan was to play long ball sometimes. The style of Arsenal is a lot of passes.

Then he also gave his observations about Jack’s work on the pitch.

Wilshere wins back the ball, he passes, he turns, dribbles, goes and shoots. I saw everything.

It was a real pleasure reading such insightful comments from a senior football figure. It gives us a lot to think about and will surely make watching future England games a lot more interesting.

Personally speaking, I’m not convinced Capello will play Wilshere strictly in a Makelele role. When I think of the Frenchman the following equation comes to mind

Makelele : Mourinho :: Cesc : Wenger

The former Real Madrid man had unparalleled defensive intelligence, defensive awareness, and defensive vision. He was phenomenal not because of great sliding tackles or a crazy amount of ball chasing, but because of his ability to be in the right position at the right time from a defensive point of view. I don’t think Wilshere will ever be that player. In fact, I’d hate to see him even try that for England as it will clash with his role at Arsenal.

Since Capello has made all the right observations – Wilshere can win the ball, pass, turn, run, dribble, and shoot – I don’t believe he will use the youngster in a Makelele role. The other most obvious role model would be Pirlo but the Italian has ruled that out for the time being.

That too is understandable. Milan, and Italy too for that matter, were primarily defensive teams. Pirlo’s the kind who could, from a deep position, exploit the acres of space in the opposition half really well. More recently we’ve seen Sneijder do that for Mourinho and Holland.

Capello probably won’t play that system and Wilshere doesn’t play the long balls that often at Arsenal. Not that he can’t, we saw a fantastic example against Ipswich, more like he doesn’t have to that often.

I have a feeling Fabio will use Wilshere in a hybrid of these two roles. Wilshere can certainly be a more combative and tenacious tackler than the likes of Pirlo or Sneijder. He can also be a much more effective and creative passer than Makelele.

Arsene is certainly training him well in that role. It will be interesting to see how Capello builds on it. Is this kid the man that England (and some might say Arsenal) have been missing?


Wilshere Makes A Telling Comment

December 21, 2010

The other day I read this article about Wilshere that had a few quotes. A couple of lines stood out.

You never get ahead of yourself, you just can’t. Take the boss, for example. He won’t say too much but he’s never completely pleased.

Even if you’ve had a good game he’ll always say, ‘You could have done this better’.

I’ve always believed that people who achieve greatness can only do so if they are constantly challenging themselves and those around them to do better. If one has real talent it’s not difficult to stand out from the pack of average humans (no disrespect to anyone, I consider myself pretty average). Moving from good to great is a much harder step.

If we take football for instance, most genuinely good players make it to the top leagues and the best clubs. The relatively ordinary ones play in lower divisions while many don’t even make the professional grade. But only those who really buckle down and challenge themselves to improve constantly can move from the genuinely good to the truly exceptional level.

Part of this process is acknowledging the areas of improvement and working on them. Unless mistakes are identified and acknowledged there can be no hope for betterment. This is where the above comment is so pertinent. When we add the fact that Wilshere is not the first Arsenal player to mention this, it shows that Arsene is rarely satisfied and is looking for more even from his best players and even on days when they’ve had a good game.

The reason I’m discussing this issue is that there is one criticism of Wenger and the players that really irks me. One of the great myths built by some bloggers and quite commonly seen on the internet is that the Arsenal players are a pampered lot and don’t care enough or get away without putting their heart and soul into games/training.

While I can see the observations behind these opinions – at times Arsenal players look disinterested, or lazy, or passionless – it’s really difficult to take them seriously. The main reason behind this is that judging based on appearances, and that too from a distance, without having any idea of the details involved is rather harsh. A player might be playing with an injury, there might be a tactical change that he could be struggling with, or the opposition might actually be playing really well. There can be so many reasons for a lacklustre performance that we cannot even imagine simply because we don’t know the crucial details.

More baffling is the persistent demand for using the so called hairdryer treatment. There are three inherent assumptions in this that are flawed. Firstly, it assumes that the players are not playing well deliberately or that they’re not trying hard enough. The second assumption is that just by shouting at the players the manager can change this. Finally, there is an assumption that all players will respond positively to a telling off irrespective of their personalities!

Can you really imagine any organization in the world, in any field, performing at the highest level if the leader/man in charge has to constantly yell at his co-workers/employees?

The way I see it, getting the best out of players from different nationalities and cultures, varying talent and experience levels, with diverse expectations and life goals, and unique personalities is a herculean task and should never be trivialized.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Arsene is perfect in the way he deals with the players. I’d not say that for any manager because there is always some room for improvement even if one wins all the trophies. So when the team is not performing at a level it should be there is definite room for improvement. But what we can see from Wilshere’s comment and those of others before him is that the manager is constantly looking to do better and wants more from his players. Without knowing actual details of what goes on in training and the dressing rooms, can fans really ask for more?

Unfortunately, too many fans can’t see beyond the ‘no trophies for five years’ curtain and in that blinkered approach any criticism seems valid and justifiable, but isn’t the view a lot different for those who can take distance and attempt to analyze individual issues objectively?