By Tony Attwood
Going on holiday during the season does allow one to gather a certain perspective on life, the universe and Arsenal, although last week in Cyprus I did manage to watch the Bolton game live on an Arabic station with English commentary.
But get back home and what do I find: this in the Guardian…
“Five games, four points, 14 goals conceded,” weeps Andy Rafferty. “When did Arsenal last have such a bad start to the season?”
Which is, I think, a sort of variation on “when did you stop beating your wife” – although not quite (if you see what I mean).
By chance the first Arsenal thing I had to do upon my return yesterday was write an article for the club programme in the Arsenal Uncovered series which the club has commissioned this season. My theme in that article was changes to the rules governing goalkeepers, and how Arsenal has been involved in the action.
By way of introduction I wrote about the change in 1992 which gave us the present rules through which keepers cannot pick up the ball after it has been deliberately kicked back by a team mate, nor handle the ball again once he had released it.
Now my point here, and the relationship between that and the headline of this article is this. The aim of that rule change was to increase excitement and the number of goals scored but for Arsenal at least it didn’t work. We scored 81 goals in 1991/2 under the final season with the old rules, but only 40 league goals the following season.
Yes, 1992/3, what a disaster that was. There was that crap defensive shield of Seaman, Winterburn, Dixon, Adams, Bould, Campbell (although we were compensated by an FA Cup and League Cup double that year). We came 10th, won 15 league games and lost 16.
Oh, and we did the impossible. We won both Cups – FA and League. First team ever to do so. Just thought I would mention that.
So my point is, these simplistic questions like the one from the person writing to the Guardian are meaningless because they focus on a statistic selected to prove the point – in this case that the club is doing badly. If the statistic involved all of Arsenal’s first team games then we might include such minor details as a couple of fine (very fine in fact) games against an Italian team, and a knock out show against the German champions.
But no, that would spoil the stats, just like mentioning the Cup Double spoiled attempts to say how awful that first season with the new goalkeeper rules was.
Here’s another interesting point from the Guardian. “The last time Arsenal conceded 14 or more in the first five league games was back in 1963-64, when they shipped 19, including a 7-2 defeat at Leicester.” So that was a naff season, 63/4 in which we scored, oh look, 90 goals, in the league. Yes we lost 7-2 to Leicester, and we beat Ipswich 6-0. Oh yes and we beat Everton 6-0. And a finishing position of 8th. Not wonderful, but still…
Funny things these statistics.
And just in case you want to remember, the team included such fun guys as Geordie Armstrong, Joe Baker, George Eastham, Terry Neill, and Bob Wilson – although to be fair to our Bob, he was still and up and coming at the time.