One thing that no internet-literate Arsenal supporter can ever complain about is having a lack of information about the club.
The 24-hour news cycle, the internet and, specifically, the plethora of Arsenal blog sites have swamped us with a tsunami of information.
Not all of it is accurate information of course. And a significant minority can fairly be described as deliberately wrong or even malicious.
But leaving aside all the bogus transfer stories and poison-pen articles, there is one sub-set of Arsenal information that at least appears to be rooted in hard, solid, undisputable facts.
I refer to statistics.
After every Arsenal game it is now possible to know such wonderful and enlightening facts as how many times Kieran Gibbs slipped over because his studs weren’t long enough; how many miles Andrei Arshavin has run during the match (usually about 75 yards); how many minutes Thomas Vermaelen has spent in the opposition half (almost all of them) and how many drops of perspiration have fallen from the beleaguered brow of our Giant German only to land as snowflakes on the hallowed turf.
When I first started watching football back in the late 1960s and early 1970s we also had statistics. There were three of them: goals for; goals against; bookings.
Well, actually there was a fourth: number of away fans arrested while attempting to “take” the home supporters’ end.
These days mobile phone apps like the FourFourTwo Stats Zone allow us to pick over the bones of a game in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago.
But statistics can be funny things. They present themselves all dandified in the clothing of objective truth – the numbers don’t lie, right?
Well, not everyone agrees.
Earlier this week one of AA’s regulars, Big Al, managed to tear himself away from the booze, birds, beer and beaches of Koh Samui for long enough to write an impassioned attack on the sloppy use of statistics.
In particular he had it in for the “stand alone stat”. An example of this – in an Arsenal context – would be someone posting a comment like “in games when Oxlade-Chamberlain has played wide right and Nacho Monreal has played left back, our results are: Played 3, Won 3. For 10, Against 0.”
If such a comment is posted, you can guarantee that somebody will pop up to say “that’s amazing – we should always start with Oxo and Nacho – then we’ll win everything.”
Big Al, quite rightly, points out that these hit-and-run stats are potentially meaningless because they do not take into account all the other factors that may have contributed to the apparent connection between the player selection and the results.
In response to a ‘stand alone stat’ I posted about goals conceded by one of our centre back pairings, Al said: “…how were the goals conceded? From inside or outside the penalty area? From inside the six-yard box? From 30-35 yards out? From corner kicks? From free-kicks? From penalty kicks? Headers? Shots? Deflections? Errors by centre backs? Errors by full backs? Errors by the goalie? Who’s to blame, if in fact any blame at all is to be attributed? That’s the stats required… not pointless ‘stand alone’ stats which show the centre-back pairing, but adding little or nothing else.”
I get it Al. And yet…
I cannot help but feel that sometimes even a “stand alone stat” can hint at a deeper truth.
So when Rasp wrote a Post about how, in our two recent away victories (over Swansea and Bayern Munich), we had (unusually) less ball possession than our opponents yet managed to win both games and keep clean sheets, it stimulated a really interesting discussion about our style of play.
Big Al is right: in and of themselves, Rasp’s possession stats didn’t prove anything. Playing devil’s avocado you could just as easily say that we won those games because we dropped Vermaelen and Szcsesny and the possession was irrelevant
But the fact that so many people responded to the Post by voicing frustrations about the way our attempt at tika-taka play sometimes produces sterile and toothless displays shows that Rasp’s ‘stand alone stats’ struck a chord. And maybe gave a glimpse of a truth about the way we play.
My conclusion: I can’t fault Al’s distrust of and skepticism about some of the Arsenal stats that are bandied about – but I also want to keep seeing them and discussing them.
No individual is forced to give them any weight, but others may see something in them that sparks an insight into the way we play and the way we can improve.
And the criticism that such stats don’t take all other factors into account could just as easily be applied to non-stat based comments. For example, if someone says “Ramsey was rubbish on Saturday and should be loaned out,” many might take issue with the lack of subtlety of the comment. It does not take into account his recovery from injury, the role he has been asked to play in the team, whether his team mates were equally rubbish in the game in question, whether he was coming off the back of a gruelling 90 minutes in midweek, whether he was carrying a knock, whether he got the right support from team mates etc etc.
I’ll conclude with a stand alone stat for Al. I carried out a quick survey and 83% of Arsenal supporters would like to keep getting stand alone stats to ponder 🙂 .