Arsenal doing well, or going downhill? Sometimes it is hard to decide

Arsenal on Twitter @UntoldArsenal

This article was amended (by one word!) on 5 December 2013)

By Tony Attwood

On Untold Arsenal today 22 November 2010, a very irate fan (following the defeat to Tottenham) posted a whole series of comments which basically said that he had been supporting Arsenal for a very long time and this was the worst he had ever seen, and anyone who can’t see that Wenger was to blame was a cretin of the first order.

And as I walked away from the stadium last saturday, I wondered…  Is this the worst in a long time?

This is the History Site, and so of course I am going to look back in history – but not very far.  Consider this set of results in consecutive matches.

  • 18 Oct, Crystal Palace, Away.  Drew, 0-0
  • 26 Oct, Aston Villa, Home.  Drew, 0-0
  • 1 Nov, Derby County, Away.  Lost, 0-3
  • 9 Nov, Manchester U, Home.  Won 3-2
  • 22 Nov, Sheffield W, Away.  Lost 0-2
  • 30 Nov, Liverpool, Home.  Lost 0-1
  • 6 Dec, Newcastle U, Away.  Won 1-0
  • 13 Dec.  Blackburn R, Home.  Lost 1-3

Just in case that stretch of results is a bit numbing here’s the summary.  We won 2, drew 2, lost four.

You might already know when this was, but in case not, here’s another hint.  In the third round of the FA Cup we got Port Vale.  Our full first team was playing, and we drew 0-0.  In the replay we went through on penalties after extra time.

Have you got it yet?

The season was 1997/98, and if you know your history you will know that that was a year in which we really didn’t do much, except that we… well… won the double.

That season we played 38, won 23, lost six and drew nine.  We won the league by five points.  An in case you don’t believe me about the Port Vale thing,  our team in the 0-0 draw was Seaman, Grimandi, Keown, Bould, Winterburn, Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Anelka, Bergkamp.

Shall I just do a bit of that again?  Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Anelka, Bergkamp.

I have to admit that team took me by surprise.  I idolise those players, their genius, their ability, the joys they gave me, their everything.  And they drew 0-0 with Port Vale, and just managed to win the replay on penalties.

Now there is a point in this, apart from trying to point out the silliness of the comments on Untold today.  If you are calling for the evaporation of the manager it is not a bad idea to have some real live facts ready.

In fact if we go back to 2000-1 Man U won the league losing 8 games.  Go back to the 1950s and 1960s (significant as the last era in which Tottenham won the league) and losing up to 11 games a season was not unusual for the winning team.

My point here is twofold.  One is that just because we have lived through an era of a small number of defeats (an era that started with George Graham’s 1990/1 team losing just one game in a season – and of course getting no special recognition for the media) it doesn’t mean that it is always like this.  Indeed after the one-defeat season (“you’ll never see that again” said the media “that was a fluke”), we went back to the norm.

The other is that to claim that one is a long term supporter but this is the worst team ever, is either to suffer from terminal amnesia or to be a complete moron.

Consider if you will, 1994/5 in which we played 42, won 13, drew 12 and lost 17, letting in 49 goals en route to coming 12th.  A fairly awful defence you might say.  Yup – a team that regularly lined up at the back as Seaman, Dixon, Winterburn, Bould, Keown.

Now I will be fair and say that Adams and Campbell who might have been expected to play a lot were injured for some of the season, but they knocked up 27 and 23 appearances between them, so it wasn’t all useless – and those fellows Bould and Keown could play a bit too.

And we came 12th.

So when people now start writing that Wenger is lucky to have had such a wonderful defence given to him, and that the only reason he won the early trophies was because of this don’t believe a word of it.

The following season we came fifth, under Rioch, and that was another dreadful year – not because we clawed our way up the league but rather because of the style of play and the fact that players like Ian Wright were demanding a transfer.  If you don’t believe me, go and watch the videos of that year.  It was TERRIBLE.

Oh and in case you were thinking that I am being unreasonable in my analysis I will do the FA Cup for those two years too.

1994/5 Millwall, 3rd round, lost 0-2 at home

1995/6 Sheffield United, 3rd round, lost 0-1 away after a draw at home.

And let me tell you something else, if you think it is bad news to lose once in something like 17 home games to the Tiny Totts, try losing at home to Millwall.

My point therefore is simple – we readily forget the past, and make up all sorts of excuses and reasons to explain something we don’t like in the present.   What is happening in 2010/11 is not (at least so far) very different from what has happened much of the time in the not too distant past.

For Tottenham, the win in November 2010 however was a matter of great excitement.  They have not won the league in 50 years, while we have been winning it again and again.  They have, during the Wengarian era, played Arsenal 35 times.  We have won 16, there have been 15 draws and 4 defeats.  It is the best era ever for this fixture.

Let’s try another comparison.  On 3 January 1933 Arsenal went to Walsall of the Third Division North in the 3rd round of the cup.  Arsenal lost 0-2, which was something of a surprise, because Arsenal were top of the league at the time and went on to win the title under Herbert Chapman.  The previous season we had come second and lost in the final of the FA Cup. The season before that in 1930/31 we had won the league.

The reason for the defeat was simple – the team selection was all wrong.  Black, Warnes and Walsh are not names that survive as part of the 30s mythology – but they all played in that game.

I have no idea if there were idiots around calling for the head of Herbert Chapman at the time.  If there were then tragically the following season they got their way as Herbert Chapman died midseason – but Arsenal still went on to retain the league.

So to those screaming on Untold Arsenal’s comments section today – a quick word.  Try checking history first.

Untold Arsenal = the index

Woolwich Arsenal = the history

Making the Arsenal = the story, the Xmas present, life, the universe…

28 Replies to “Arsenal doing well, or going downhill? Sometimes it is hard to decide”

  1. What a relief finally some sense from someone who’s not twelve! Quality journalism for once! Can someone send a link to Le_grove?

  2. Great ready, actually, and I completely agree. Look, in derby matches anything can happen at anytime. Hell, in the EPL, anything can happen at anytime. This is not a situation to call for Wenger’s head, especially considering now only is he classy on the field, his management of this organization is 2nd to none. (see ManU, Barca, ManCity).

    the reality of it is that they just need to stop trying “not to lose” when they get a lead. Sometimes, possession in the attacking third is just one way to keep the other club off the ball. A little more confidence. By the way, theyre still only 2 pts back, even after the “atrocious” last 3 weeks.

    gooner for life.

  3. Absolutely brilliant.
    I love it when you put it all into perspective like this Tony.
    I remember times during the days of the famous back 5 , when goals were flying in from all angles. Altough they had some good seasons before,they became so much more consistent as a unit and individually when wenger joined. Also , the invinsibles contained only m keown( who was rarely used after the v nist incident @ ot) from the famous back 5 .

  4. In the third round of the FA Cup we got Port Vale. Our full first team was playing, and we drew 0-0. In the replay we went out on penalties after extra time.

    Have you got it yet?

    The season was 1997/98, and if you know your history you will know that that was a year in which we really didn’t do much, except that we… well… won the double.

    think you got that one wrong there,check again.

  5. Well done Tony. History ain’t what it used to be so the doomers & gloomers (“I want it now”) forget to look at the past.

  6. U hit the nail on the head yet.. there are ppl out there calling them self arsenal fans who try and create dount in our team.. u wont believ how much i hav had to talk down those ppl in blogs since saterday.. anyway i believe we still on track and if we dont lose a game we will be on top cum january… and we will because of the lost to totenham and those relegation sides

  7. Well Dan, you don’t tell me what the wrong “one” is, but because I try to be honest and regularly admit to cock ups I have spent a bit of time looking. I remember it as 97/98 because of what I was doing at the time, but I have dug out my Official Arsenal History (which also of course might be wrong) and it says, 1997/98 (page 210 of the 2009 edition) FA Cup 3rd round at home 0-0, and the team starting with Seaman in goal. We won the league, and beat Newcastle in the cup final.

    I never say I always get this right – and if you have read my stuff before you’ll know that I can make amazing cock-ups, so I am not saying I am definitive on this – but, I am saying, please rather than just say I got it wrong, tell me what is wrong.

  8. I thought it was the fact you said we lost to go out to port vale… then later in the article state we just managed to win? Just my 10 cents.

  9. Ahhhh – we drew with Port Vale, and then won the replay on penalties – that is what I meant to say. My point being that it was hardly a stunning start to a cup campaign especially with the first team out.

  10. I totally get it :), I think its just the line ‘In the replay we went out on penalties after extra time.’ Which sounds like we lost. Hope that clears up what I think Dan thought you might have mistaken.

  11. Calm down Sara – you probably just enjoyed The League of Gentlemen from which the photo at the top is obviously taken.
    There isn’t a team in the Premiership which is showing consistency at the moment – let alone their best form. Extrapolating long term decline from what might only be a short term blip is what has happened to quite a few clubs this season – while others, notably Bolton, are being talked up to be rising stars. Mostly the pundits will be wrong. History tells us this. But one thing is happening to everyone simultaneously and that’s the pressure to eliminate debt. Short term bursts of form or luck will always happen but systemic changes will have real, long lasting, impact.
    And who is to say that Bolton aren’t benefitting at the moment from the knowledge within their squad that some of them will leave fairly soon and they are all playing for it to be them!

  12. Go on Sara, send me your photo (but I have of course seen your email address – which no one else on the site knows about).

  13. Nice article with useful perspective. A bit of an overreaction, perhaps, to one commenter, but valuable.

    We’ve already had four losses, though, so one has to admit that the outlook isn’t terrific. It is possible we will go on a major run and that others will suffer inconsistency, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t issues to sort out. This team is underachieving so far this season, and I think Arsene Wenger would agree with that assessment. Can he turn it around? Let’s hope so. We’re still on for the quadruple, but the team has its work cut out for itself.

    This loss will not mean too much to us if we recover and go on to win trophies, defeating ManU and Chelsea along the way. But if we don’t, then at the end of the season, it will be time for an honest accounting rather than a lot of excuses and talk about our future potential. Our manager has said that this team does need to win this year. We’ve been developing that potential for the last several years and now have a talented and deep squad, capable of weathering difficult periods of injury to first team players because of this depth in quality. If we can’t win now when the top of the league has weakened, there is something more fundamentally wrong.

  14. Your article was spot on HOWEVER I’ve just watched the Barca Game & Another LOSS
    now I agreed that Wengar Is the Best Manager around But he needs to get this team to
    grow up quickly and accept their Responsibilities’ they need to want to win show some B–l,s It,s just not good enought I will always surport Aresnal & defend Wengar but please,please,get the players to show some Passion

  15. Thank you for this much needed perspective, Tony. This is why I look forward to Untold Arsenal posts everyday!

  16. Nice perspective and reality check! I have been trying to point out to my collegues that Arsenal is ONLY two points behind the log leaders. Victory over Chelsea and United during December and January will see Arsenal at the top for the rest of the season until the league is won. Another Champions league victory and into the knockout stages. I am willing to forfeit the Champions League becasue of its distractions from the League. Even more encouraing is that Arsenal’s losses are all Arsenal’s ‘correctable fualts’. Its no credit to Tottenham that they won, just a discredit to Arsenal for losing the match in that way. That’s what hurts, the nature of the loss rather than the loss itself. That hurt must become the main source of inspiration for the rest of the season. GO GUNNERS! YOU ARE MUCH BETTER THAN THAT!

  17. MoFire, you are so right. I love Tony’s articles because he always tries to be honest and fair. You have been just as honest with your comments. It’s the way we have lost that causes the pain. The terrible days of waiting for it to come right. Hoping Wenger has an answer but fretting that he doesn’t. God I hate when we lose like this.

  18. Its really funny that after beating us once at home, spuds think that they are the top dogs of london and after beating benetiz managed inter they think they are top dogs of europe.

  19. Nice try Tony. As ever hope you are right- what leads me to question this is our record against the top 2 and in key games in the CL in recent years. There is a self destructive element in our game which we saw again against Tottenham- a panic when there is real pressure and intensity evidenced by a needless handball by our captain. What you are describing is a different pattern- yes we lost games- but we were also capable of beating the best -(e.g. Man United in 97/98) which is not the case now. The first step towards fixing a problem- is acknowledging that you have one in the first place- and I fear your approach is one of denial. Whilst you may be satisfied with our defence and our defending, I am not and think this pattern is so strong – the team needs a change in personnel and approach before we will see an improvement.

  20. I love this site, make a lot of people look like idiots with reasonable perspective, a breathe of fresh air in the sea of negativity and falsehoods.

  21. spot on Tony to Quoate Harold Macmillan “youre never had it so good” this really fits how Arsenal have been transformed. I watched some of the worst matches ever at Highbury in the 60’s. The die hard support was less than 20,000 (in a 63,000 capacity ground). I cannot believe this is my Arsenal because of the brilliant style they play. I know there is a demand for Arsenal to win a trophy, but it is not everything. When people say nice football but they don’t win anything, I can tell you the reverse is far far worst. Turning up faithfuly week in and week out hoping that just once, we could play with some style. It has happened now and I am so gratful this is my team the eny of the world, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that Arsenal, my Arsenal would be involved in a match against Barcelona and win with style. It was brilliant on my telly. so to actually be there to see it to feel it “how lucky are they” to quoate a certain Blackpool Manager.

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