Who Lifted Arsenal More in Their First Season: Ozil or Cazorla?

This is a very polarising topic and one that I have really struggled to write. This is particularly difficult for me because I am against pitting Arsenal players against each other. I am a socialistic supporter: the team wins because all players are great and loses because they all didn’t do enough. Of course, I am not that blinkered to think that all players make equal contributions but I prefer to not over criticise under-performing players and not over-praise the ones on form.

With this mindset, why embark on a venture to draw a line under the performances of 2 of our most important players? Why start a Cazorla vs Ozil battle? Well, as much as I want all Arsenal players to be viewed the same as much as possible, I have no power to make everybody else do this. The implication of this is that people keep praising individual players and giving accolades which aren’t always deserved while making critiques that aren’t always fair. The Libran in me struggles with this injustice and ultimately my desire for justice trumps my unwillingness to pit Arsenal players against each other.

I have had to argue too many times on this site about the impact of Ozil on Arsenal this season and I won’t be surprised if some readers have already concluded that I dislike the guy. Unlike maybe 90% of Arsenal fans, I was not over the moon when I got confirmation that we’ve signed Ozil. I had exactly the same feeling as when I first saw Koscielny with the number 6 jersey on Arsenal.com a few years back. I have always welcomed new signings with a reserved enthusiasm that goes like this:

“Welcome to Arsenal (name inserted), I know you must have good prospects for Wenger to have signed you. I hope that you realise those potentials for the team.”

I know that I am in a very tiny minority but that was my sentiments about Ozil. And yes, I am quite aware of his stats and reputation, I just like to base my accolades on what players have actually done for the team rather than what they are reputed to be capable of. At the same time, I was rooting for Ozil to succeed just as I had rooted for Sanogo and every Arsenal player signed before him. I don’t give a damn about how much it cost to bring Ozil over and to be honest, his high price tag (yes, I know we got him for a bargain) was a kind of put off for me. It’s not about Ozil, I am just against huge transfer deals in principle.

As we all know, Ozil was brought in at the tail end of a campaign of calumny against the manager because he “wouldn’t spend the fucking money”. Spending over £42 million and bringing a player of Ozil’s calibre was like killing 2 birds with a stone. A quality player has been brought in and the “fucking money has been spent”. When I hear the media and many of our fans repeat the mantra: “Ozil has lifted Arsenal”, I want to tear out the little hair in my balding head. Ozil has not “lifted” Arsenal; spirit or performance. Some fans’ obsession to see a big name signing has just been appeased by who the player is and how much he cost; no more, no less. We did not lose to Aston Villa in the first match of the season because the “fucking money hasn’t been spent”. We had also gone on to win our next 4 games, home and away, before the “fucking money” was spent. In short, the Aston Villa loss was quickly proven to be a freak result and the team was back to its usual self before the signing of Ozil was completed.

Ozil hit the ground running and even if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t give him any stick over it. The guy is real class though and we all agree that the money was well spent. I, unlike many Gooners that I know, however, was never comfortable with the over the top praise of Ozil and I get agitated whenever I hear anyone ascribe the team’s success to his signing. It is not only wrong and unfair to all our other players but shows lack of any sense of perspective on the part of those doing it. I have looked at all our results against the top teams (our one true fair criticism at the moment) and compared pre and post Ozil ones head to head. We came out a little better pre Ozil! Our results against the lower teams have been pretty consistent pre and post.

So, how exactly has Ozil lifted Arsenal? Making disgruntled “buy-buy-buy” brigade happy does not count in my book. I decided to write this piece after thinking about the circumstances that we were in at the time of Ozil signing and that of Cazorla’s. I therefore decided to compare the impacts of the 2 players and hence the title.

Cazorla joined Arsenal for £15 million from Malaga in the summer that we lost our most important player along with arguably our most important midfielder. The loss of RvP and Song was a very big one and it was a despondent time for most of us fans. We did not finish the season before that anywhere near being the best team at the latter half of the season and we have lost 2 very important players. Cazorla hit the ground running and for me personally, he was a beauty and great joy to behold. Cazorla amassed Man of the Match awards match after match and he was the Player of the Month for his first 2 months in the club according to voters on Arsenal.com who I want to believe were Arsenal fans.

Nobody in the media or amongst our fans ever said that Cazorla lifted Arsenal despite the overwhelming evidence that he actually did. Yes, Cazorla got the accolades that he deserved but that silly line about lifting the club was never used. Cazorla ended the season with 5 Player of the Month awards and was justifiably voted Arsenal Player of the 2012/13 season. That was his first season, in case anyone is wondering.

May 2013 Aaron Ramsey
April 2013 Santi Cazorla
March 2013 Santi Cazorla
February 2013 Santi Cazorla
January 2013 Olivier Giroud
December 2012 Theo Walcott
November 2012 Theo Walcott
October 2012 Theo Walcott
September 2012 Santi Cazorla
August 2012 Santi Cazorla

Cazorla joined a badly depleted team that was really low on morale after losing its captain and league’s best striker along with our best midfield enforcer. He joined a team that was not in any kind of consistent run from the previous season. True we came 3rd in the league but it was a crazy season in which Newcastle came 5th and the Tinies threw away a 13 point lead between within 3 months! Okay, I love that bit, especially them making way for 6th placed Chelsea as UCL winners. Happy days! Bottom line, before I wander off again, is that Cazorla indeed lifted Arsenal in his first season and his numerous awards are a testament to that fact.

Ozil joined a very stable Arsenal team that was the best team in the second half of the previous season’s league and that had a very successful pre-season for £42.5 million. The team had already proved with their next four victories that the debacle against Aston Villa was just a blip and they were just carrying on as they ended the previous season. But if anyone had been asleep for the last year, they would be forgiven if they thought that Ozil joined a failing team and single handedly turned its fortunes around.

List of winners of the Arsenal.com Player of the Month awards for the season so far:

January 2014 Santi Cazorla
December 2013 Theo Walcott
November 2013 Aaron Ramsey
October 2013 Aaron Ramsey
September 2013 Aaron Ramsey
August 2013 Aaron Ramsey

In the absence of an objective means of comparing Arsenal players, I think the player of the month is a pretty decent yardstick because it is based on votes by Gooners and they have never been controversial. They are close sometimes but they are never controversial. If an Arsenal player is ‘lifting’ the team, I would expect that Gooners will recognise that and honour him accordingly with votes but the best that Ozil has done is come a very distant second in September and a close second in October, both to Ramsey. A cursory look at the tables shows a few important facts.

1. If we were so eager to use the term “lift the team” for any player, we should have used it for Santi Cazorla who indeed lifted the team in his first season.

2. Ozil is a great guy, a fantastic player and a very humble person but he has not lifted Arsenal. The fact that those who are desperate to see us spend are happy that we signed him is not the same as him lifting the club.

3. We have done incredibly well in the absence of our most important player – Aaron Ramsey. Let’s hope that he gets back soon and returns with his pre-injury form.

An objective look at this team for the last 14 months shows that we are a great team that has been made better by the inclusion of talents like Ozil and Flamini. Based on available evidence, no new player is lifting the team.

Finally, if there is any good thing that can be taken from the media’s latest campaign against the player that they had originally labelled as our saviour, it is the fact that if we win a trophy this season, they (hopefully) won’t give the credit to Ozil. That will be a great injustice to our dedicated band of brothers. All for one and one for all!

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Can Footy Fans Do Their Jobs and Just Support Their Teams, Please!

It’s another transfer window; the most annoying periods in the football calendar. Footy fans are now busy watching Youtube 30 second clips for the names of the next saviours of their clubs, which they will then spam their online support forums with.

“We need to sign a lethal/world class/potent (etc) striker” – This is always on the wish list. No transfer speculator would be worth their onions if their list does not include a striker, described with one ‘killer’ adjective or the other. Many would be kind enough to list a few of such strikers, thanks to Youtube. Interestingly though, on the same threads, somebody would pop up to burst their bubble with detailed information on why the speculated striker signing cannot be possible. Usually, the speculator would just move unto other names, oblivious of the lesson that they’ve just been taught: player signing is very, very complicated!

It is understandable why football fans play the transfer speculation game. We all want our teams to do well, and we naturally want to do our bit to make success possible. This is a noble thing. However, while it would also be noble to rush into a burning building to save people, it would be stupid to do so when the fire-fighters are already on the scene. The fire-fighters are professionals. They know what to do. Any other passionate person around (perhaps with relatives inside) would only be hindering the professionals from doing their jobs by going in with them. Or in respect of us online football fans: screaming ideas and instructions at them from the sideline.

Many of us have been following the beautiful game all our lives. That’s a very long time no matter ones’ age and this gives the false impression of skill at running the game. But all that following football gives us fans is knowledge of facts of the game. In other words, we know the history. Period. I have been wearing clothes all my life but I cannot sew a shirt; and I have used hundreds of them. Some people may be able to sew shirts but it will only be because they’ve learnt how to from tailors. To be fair, anyone can sew shirts but I doubt many would be proud to wear theirs.

One of the major accolades (amongst many) bestowed on the then Senator Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential run was that “he knows what he does not know and he always get people who know to help him out”. Another term for this is self awareness. Know what you are good at and stick to it. At Untold Arsenal, I can guess who wrote an article just by the title. If it is historical, financial, about the media or Tottenham, it is very likely to have been penned by Tony. If it is about officiating or a very enthusiastic title in support of the team, Walter must have written it. Other Untold writers have their forte and tells which can be guessed more easily the more one reads their articles. That is precisely what makes Untold Arsenal what it is today. There are different writers, different ideas and perspectives but all in support of Arsenal.

What also makes Untold great for me is that we don’t play the transfer speculation game here. Damn, I hate that stupid game.

Is Bacary Sagna going to sign a new contract? I have no bloody clue. Am I worried that he might leave at the end of his contract? Of course, I am. I love Sagna. He is the perfect professional or the closest thing to one (but that is only because I don’t want to sound like a sycophant). There is nothing that I would love more than to see him extend his contract (okay, maybe the 2013/14 EPL title).

There are 2 things that we need to take cognizance of here:

  1. Players don’t do ANYTHING because we want or wish them to. They would listen to their agents and others in their entourage before they listen to us. That is if they ever listen to us at all. To be honest, I don’t blame them for looking out for themselves. Football fans would start slagging them off as soon as their forms drop. Or asking for a better player to be signed to take their place. For example: Olivier Giroud!
  2. Whatever worries we might have about Sagna or any of our players for that matter, Arsene Wenger has more and if he doesn’t, it must be that we are worrying for nothing because there is nothing to worry about. Whatever the issue may be with any member of the team, I have full faith in Arsene Wenger to handle it in the best possible way for Arsenal Football Club. He is a consummate professional and a father figure to many of our players. I trust him to act in the best interest of all concerned.

At the beginning of the season, many Gooners did not give the team any chance to do as well as they currently are and this is almost exclusively because Arsene Wenger did not listen to them and splash the cash on world class players. Unlike Chelsea and ManchesterCity who “spent some fucking money” in the summer and are as a result going to compete for the title between them; Arsenal are going to struggle to get 4th place as usual.

This prediction has so far failed to come to pass. The team has led the league most of the season so far. The point gap has gone up and down but no team has had more points than Arsenal, after playing equal number of games, in months. Chelsea and Man city have only led for very brief periods and at the time of writing, 20 games have been played which means all the teams have played each other plus one.

Normally, common sense would dictate that if you’ve failed at a venture, you either give it up or tread more carefully in future when trying again. It sounds ridiculous to read comments admitting to being wrong about the team’s progress so far but then followed with not just expression of doubt but outright certainty about how the team is not going to make it in the end because the same Man city or Chelsea are going to win it. This line is understandable from the fans of the other 2 contenders. Fans are supposed to be optimistic in favour of their teams. It is indeed their duty to prop up their teams and spread confidence amongst the supporters, many of whom will take that swagger to the stadiums, resulting in louder support.

I hope it is not too much to ask the same of us Gooners. I am not oblivious of the doubt that many of us have about how this season will turn out. I have it too. This is what you get after almost a decade of winning nothing despite coming close on many occasions. Doubt is the enemy here and we need to conquer it. Unless one can see into the future, we can never totally conquer doubt but we can limit it or more importantly, desist from spreading it. Believe me when I say that whatever doubt you have about the team, many others share it but are only keeping the faith because that is what supporters do. Don’t reinforce their doubt by repeating yours ad-nauseam. You are not being realistic, as you like to claim; you are spreading gloom and undermining the same team that you claim to love and support.

It is the season of speculation and every fan wants to show off their (often) non-existent knowledge of the game by pulling out assorted, usually, exotic names. My hope is that we will give it a rest and the let the manager do his job as he and his team see fit. If we do ours as supporters by spreading positive vibes about our team, this team will land us the silverware that we all so desperately desire.

Keep the faith.

Sometimes you just can’t let it go

I am not the biggest fan of Mondays. I don’t hate them but Friday and Saturday are my favourite days of the week. While I’ll just get on with it at the dawn of most Monday mornings, I hate that sinking feeling that I get on the ones following bad weekends for Arsenal. Something tells me I’m not alone here. On the other hand, I love Mondays following great weekends for Arsenal. I’ve been having lots of those recently thanks to the Wenger boys.

One of my daily rituals is reading the Metro newspaper during my train commute to work. I quickly flip through the pages, perusing the headlines for happening around the UK and the world. I always read the readers feedback on recent stories and issues about a third way through the paper. I love reading other people’s opinion of issues. It gives me a sense of where I am compared to others and every now and then, someone writes in something profound that changes my view of things. All of these though, are like forcing yourself to eat your vegetables so that you can have your sumptuous dessert in the end. Once I’ve read the readers feedback, I move on to the back pages. If any other story is important enough and not some celebrity gossip, it would be in the early pages.

The sport pages are my actual destination and I take time to read rather than rush through as I do with the other sections. I think Metro does not have any agenda one way or another on Arsenal. They mostly parrot whatever common wisdom is being touted about the club but their match reports and basic reporting on state of things are usually fair, in my opinion. Every now and then, they’ll write something annoying about my beloved Arsenal and I’d just wave it off and let it go. Well, sometimes you just can’t let it go. Today is one of those days.

There is a 2″ by 4″ snippet on Arsenal that is written by one Peter Wood. I quote the snippet verbatim below:

“Arsenal fan and Club Metro reporter Peter Wood is still feeling worried” – Metro’s introduction.

Peter Wood now says:

“You don’t win the league with 11 players, you win it with a well rotated squad. But Wenger has never been a fan of a big squad. So far this season, we’ve dominated with consistent performances and we have managed that because we have not rested players. The problem is, they are now starting to look jaded – they need a rest.”

If I or any Arsenal fan wants to be responding to every rubbish written about our darling team, we’ll not have time for any other thing in our lives. But crap like this just grind my gears. Especially because the writer is an “Arsenal fan”. I will now deal with each of the points raised one by one.

“You don’t win the league with 11 players” – No shit Sherlock. Who knew that you cannot execute a 38 game campaign with 11 players?

“You win it with a well rotated squad” – This is just like the mantra, “spending will help you win trophies”. While not entirely wrong, it isn’t exactly fool proof. Besides, it’s not rotation that helps you to win; it’s having quality players performing consistently in the key areas of the game. What is probably most wrong with this comment is that it is false. Arsenal have already used 25 different players in the league this season. That is 25 players in 13 matches! I don’t know the statistics for other teams in the league but I doubt many have used more. Also, rotating your team is not always a good thing, especially when you are winning. What happened to “never change a winning team”?

“But Wenger has never been a fan of a big squad” – Here is another bullshit statement that is not based on reality or any evidence. Prior to this season, there was a lot of noise about the “dead wood”, about having a big squad of average players and so on. Arsene Wenger has always believed in having a well-balanced squad. It is not really about numbers. It’s about what the members of the team can do and how many of them can do the same thing. In other words, versatility is preferred over huge numbers. A look at our bench last Saturday tells anyone who knows anything about the game that we have strength in depth.

This was our bench on Saturday: “Subs: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Monreal, Rosicky, Flamini, Walcott, Gnabry””

Anyway one looks at this statement, it is still bullshit that was not well thought through.

“So far this season, we’ve dominated with consistent performances and we have managed that because we have not rested players.” – First part of the sentence is basic statement of fact while the other is, well, silly. Only an Arsenal “fan” would write nonsense like this. Why should we rest players who are consistently getting us results? Should we rest Ramsey, the league’s current best player or Szczesney, the league’s current best goalkeeper? Which team did this in the past? Do Barcelona rest Messi or do Manchester United rest RvP, unless they are not fit to play? Apart from dishonest statements, I also loathe whining just for the sake of it. This is whining just for the sake of it!

“The problem is, they are now starting to look jaded – they need a rest.” – As you read this line, please remember that the writer is a REPORTER! I wonder what Arsenal team he has been watching but “jaded” is the last word that any objective observer would use to describe the team after Saturday’s game. This writer is one of those who actually put words in the newspaper for us ‘unenlightened’ folks! He doesn’t know jack! But sadly, someone somewhere would read that and start parroting the same and before you know it, it becomes common wisdom, especially if the writer is well known and therefore influential. Thank goodness he isn’t!

I understand Mr Peter Wood’s apprehension. Even the most optimistic of us (e.g. yours truly) have our moments of doubt but common sense and reality must still prevail. If the players and management are doing their best and succeeding on their way to win our first silverware in over 8 years, the least that we supporters should be doing is supporting and believing in them. We shouldn’t be allowing our own fears to cloud our reasoning to the point of jettisoning the confidence that our good and consistent run have created.

Thanks for reading. See you in the comments

Who Took The Better Penalty This Week: Giroud or Özil?

I know this question sounds like a no-brainer or even rhetorical. Of course, it’s Giroud! Now, may I ask why? The honest answer would be: because he scored! The two penalties were taken the same way except Giroud placed it to the right while Özil went left. Both were low placement kicks with Özil’s being farther to the left than Giroud’s was to the right. Both tried to send the keeper the wrong way. One succeeded while the other failed.

Ricky Lambert said recently: “Penalty kicks are not complicated, just place the ball on the spot and kick it well”. This is not the exact quote but I have written the core of his point. Lambert is on point. One of the reasons why many (often gifted) players miss penalties is over-thinking and being too fancy. Penalty taking is probably the strangest footballing activity. It is, in my opinion, the easiest (as in requires the least effort) while usually having the most dramatic outcome.

I was a pretty poor footballer in my youth. I was never good at the game despite my best efforts. That fact is one of my life regrets. What I would have given to be described as a mediocre footballer! But one area that I excelled in was penalty taking. I used to enjoy the end of our “set” of games when we’d just have one-on-one penalty shoot outs, with the players also being the goalkeepers. Despite being even worse at goalkeeping than in outfield play, I rarely lose in those games. I belong to Ricky Lambert school of thought when it comes to penalties: kick it as hard and as far away from the goalkeeper as possible.

Let’s quickly go back to Giroud and Özil’s penalty kicks and the problem with them both. Every time a penalty taker kicks the ball low and within 2 metres of the goalkeeper, I wince. Every time I hear match commentators say: “he sent the keeper the wrong way”, I think to myself: “no, he was lucky that the player went the wrong way”. The same goes when goalies are showered with praise for saving penalties when they have only gone the “right way”. Readers that are familiar with my writing know my opinion on luck and its influence on success in football and virtually everything in life. There is no aspect of football where luck plays a bigger role than in penalty shoot outs. For anyone in doubt, may I remind you that Chelsea won the Champions’ league in the same season when they finished below Newcastle United in the Premier League! Giroud was lucky with his kick while Özil was unlucky with his.

There are basically 2 ways of taking penalties. There is the Ricky Lambert way, which is about force and precision; and the “tricky or cheeky” way, which is about sending the keeper the wrong way, lobbing over the keeper and other tricky skills. The latter is favoured by flair players and many of them have perfected it to devastating effects. Less skilful, or more appropriately, no-nonsense players prefer the former. Both methods have their merits and flaws. Tricky penalty kicks are a joy to behold when they come off. The problem is that they don’t always come off. And when they don’t, the taker always looks like a mug while probably feeling worse. Forceful and precise penalties on the other hand are bland to watch and they could also come off the post or go wide. But they mostly go in.

By calculation of chance, the forceful penalty is better than the tricky one. Penalties taken with pace and placed as far away from the goalie as possible but not too close to the goal post are the best because they go in all the time. Smashing the ball into the top right or left corner is also brutally effective with the same drawback. Personally, I prefer the forcefully and precisely taken penalty and not just because they are more likely to go in but because their misses are usually easier to stomach and the taker looks less silly. While the effect is never less devastating (depending on what’s at stake), it’s a little easier to let go of a penalty that come of the post or missed the target by a few inches. I know how mad I get when the keeper goes the right way and the ball bounces off his chest or he just grabs the lobbed ball. In the end, the objective is to get the ball into the net. Beautiful penalties don’t count for 2 and bland ones don’t count for ½.

Forceful and precise penalties require conviction. Conviction comes from practice. Penalties like this require lots of practice in order to be able to get it right every time. Ricky Lambert’s unblemished record gives the impression that despite his modesty, he practices his kicks. He reminds me (and I am sure, the many Naija Gooners reading this) of the late Nigerian legendary striker: Rashidi Yekini. He was also reputed to have never missed a penalty. His style was power and precision. Conversely, another Nigerian great that we are all familiar with, Nwankwo Kanu, is notorious for missing penalty kicks! He, as we all know, is a flair player. No other player epitomises the folly of tricky penalty kicks more than Kanu. Many of his misses were just plain embarrassing!

Back to Özil and Giroud’s penalties and the debate that they have generated, I think Özil played the better penalty because it was farther from the goalkeeper than Giroud’s. Mandanda had to stretch to stop it. Had it been hit with more force, it might have gone in and would then be classified as great by the same people criticising him. Olly was fortunate that Boruc went the wrong way as the ball would have bounced off his chest if he had guessed right. His penalty against Fenerbahce at Istanbul on the other hand, is the real deal.

The point of this piece is not to knock Giroud or kiss Özil’s butt. I almost copyrighted the phrase: “I feel good about Giroud” during pre-season when many were salivating over Higuain. I have also commented against the talking point that Arsenal’s season has only been going well because of Özil. I love both players as I do anyone who wears the Arsenal shirt. Being revisionist in order to over praise flukey achievements while knocking unfortunate errors is where I differ from most. Özil’s penalty loss was partially tempered by the fact that it shouldn’t have been in the first place. We were spared the unnecessary tag of “controversial” being attached to our well earned victory.

My hope is that we continue to get our deserved penalties in all competitions and that they regularly get smashed in with power and precision.

What Makes Teams Title Contenders?

One of the hottest debates currently going on in football Chatosphere is about Arsenal being contenders for the English Premier League title; although the biased Gooner in me thinks we are only having this debate because Arsenal is currently topping the league. No one would be asking the question if it was Chelsea or either of the Manchester clubs sitting atop the table. Well, the debate has already started and from all indication, it will continue till either Arsenal finally become mathematical winners or any of the other of the favoured clubs overtakes them. So, let’s get in the game.

What makes teams contenders? In the past (i.e. last few seasons), the team that is topping the league after 8 to 10 games is considered a contender because after 8 games, all flukey results would have evened out and whichever team is leading then must have been the most consistent. In other words, consistency was the most important criterion for labelling teams as contenders back in the days. (Please note that we are talking about being contenders here; not being favourites or eventual winners).

Today, however, the team that was tipped to fall out of top 4 (for the umpteenth time) this season is leading the pack with 25% more points than its nearest rivals. The team has been more consistent than any other team in the current calendar year and this is now showing in the league table. Consistency, which was the reason why before even a ball was kicked, some not only considered Arsenal to be a title contender but believed they could actually go all the way.

Alas, the rule has now changed. Consistency is no longer the most important factor for consideration for being a contender. There was a time when it was based on ability to beat the top teams – about 6 or 7 of them. But even that has now changed. It is now the ability to beat the 2 most favoured teams i.e. Chelsea and Manchester City; and probably on their home turf.

Yes, that is the new standard. Since Tottenham and Liverpool got well beaten at the Emirates, the goal post has been shifted.

But here is the problem with this new criterion for being contenders: it is mathematically ridiculous. It is ridiculous in context of what we have seen so far in the 2013/14 season. There are 38 games to be played by each team which makes the total possible point haul to be 114 for any team. The league is always handed to the team with the highest number of points irrespective of how they got them or who they got them against. No questions asked! The team with points nearest to 114 always win. I hope you see where I’m going with this.

So far Arsenal has lost 5 of those 114 precious points with others losing at least 10. According to the pundits and the media generally, losing 12 points to Chelsea and Man City (at 6 points each) means that you cannot win the league (ok, let’s just say it makes you a non-contender). There is a need to remind ourselves at this point that this whole “you must beat the favourites or your nearest rivals in order to become a contender” mantra is based on the premise that you and your rivals are going to amass about the same number of points from the 15 to 17 other teams in the league (depending how you define a top team). And this is where the whole premise falls and shatters into a billion pieces.

As pointed out by yours truly, these so called small teams can fetch up to 102 points while the maximum possible from the 2 ‘Super Big’ teams is a meagre 12. Now let’s look at the ‘real contenders’ and their point collections so far.

Chelsea lost to Everton and Newcastle while drawing against Tottenham and Man United (who are no longer contenders according to the pundits). While they have a 100% record against the other super contender, they have gained 17 of the possible 27 points from the 18 ‘lesser’ teams. If we project this forward, they could get about 68 points from a possible 108 in their games against the latter. If they maintained their 100% record away to Man City, they would have 74 points by the end of the season.

Man City lost to Cardiff and Aston Villa while drawing against Stoke City. They have also lost one of the ‘must win’ games against their co contender, Chelsea. They have gained 19 points from 27 against the non-contenders. If we project this forward, they could get 76 from the remaining 108 from the ‘lesser’ teams. If they win their home game against Chelsea, they would have 79 points at the end of the season.

Now let’s look at Arsenal

Arsenal has lost to Aston Villa and drew with WBA for a gain of 25 points from a possible 30 against 10 of the 17 ‘lesser’ teams. If we are to project these results, the club could get 85 points of the 102 available from the non-contenders. Even if Arsenal loses all 4 games against the ‘contenders’, they could still end up with more points if they maintain their form against the other teams.

This is why the pundits’ fixation with ties against Chelsea and Man City is so ridiculous. You don’t win the league by beating other contenders (although it really helps); you win the league by collecting more points against all opponents than any other team.

Period.

Before abuse and insults start flying in the comments section, the point of this piece is not to argue that Arsenal will win the league based on our current form and league standing. The point of this article is to argue that Arsenal CAN win the league based on our current form and league standing. And we are therefore, contenders. Leagues are won based on stone cold calculations and not sentimental speculations. There are 28 games to go; we’ll see who amassed the most points by 5pm on the 11th day of May 2014.

Arsenal just passed another ‘test’ as I was rounding up this article by beating Dortmund on their home turf. The next ‘test’ is on Sunday against Man United. If the boys pass it, you can be sure that another one would be set immediately. That was how Tottenham and Liverpool found themselves among the ‘lesser’ teams and non-contenders. Poor sods!

Looking back to 2007/8 and our first game of the season, I worry about the perpetual bad-mouthing of Arsenal and down playing of our chances. I worry because this talk of Arsenal not going to make it may soon become conventional wisdom (if it isn’t already) which will give referees leeway to screw us over, safe in the knowledge that the football following public would just shrug their collective shoulders because they have been conditioned to believe that we would ultimately fail.

While leading with 5 points in February 2008 (as we have done for most of the season), Alan Hansen and Shearer were still adamant that we wouldn’t win on Match of The Day. When the Eduardo incident happened and Mike Dean added insult to the injury (pun not intended), the duo did some concern trolling, focusing on Gallas’ tantrum with no complaint on the wrong penalty call. As referees kicked us further and further down, there was no outrage because, remember, we were mere stubborn pretenders! The people have been conditioned for our eventual demise; nothing strange was happening.

Despite having the best pre-season of all the English teams, including thoroughly beating one of the ‘contenders’, Arsenal’s state of preparedness for the season was being reported as shambolic at best. I believe to this day that Anthony Taylor was emboldened by the prevailing public view of the club to officiate the Aston villa game the way he did. All his bad calls were either forgiven or overlooked because, well, Arsenal haven’t “spent the fucking money”. That same team won their next 4 games, including 5-0 aggregate win over Fenerbahce. And that was before the arrival of Ozil.

It is absolutely important that we start getting recognition as contenders because the officials don’t live in media vacuum. Our games will be officiated with more fairness if the referees know that we are respected and expected to do well. A lot has been said about Ferguson’s bullying of officials but Man united got many favours because of their reputation and the fact that referees know that they would get called out by all and sundry for bad calls against them. Many wrong calls in favour Man United have been justified as them making their own good fortune.

It will be nice for Arsenal to be accorded a similar status and respect. Please say it loud and clear Gooners: We are contenders and we have earned the right to be considered as such.

Why British Children Struggle with Mathematics

A report on the state of numeracy of peoples of 24 selected countries shows Britons came 21st and British young people have about the same numerical skills as their retiring grand parents. I don’t know about you but as a teacher of secondary mathematics, I am shocked not.

What normally follows news and reports like this is the government setting up a committee to look into the report and come up with recommendations to reverse the trend. Hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions, would be spent on this mission to save the good people of the United Kingdom from innumeracy. This is not unlike the joke about America’s NASA spending millions of dollars to design pens that will write in space, where lack of gravity makes conventional pens useless as the ink don’t drip into the writing tips. Although NASA succeeded in creating this non-gravity dependent pen at a huge cost, the Russians achieved the same purpose of being able to write in space (the bottom line) by using pencils!

Just like the punch line of this joke, I will suggest that the government take a different approach and save tax payers’ money. I have a very cheap alternative based on my professional diagnosis of British secondary school students that I teach on daily basis: make it mandatory for children to learn the 1 to 12 multiplication or times table before their 10th birthday! Perhaps, not mandatory, as we live in a civilised and free society where it is not fashionable to force people to do anything. The DfE can perhaps encourage parents to help make their children learn the times’ table before they are ten.

You might be wondering why learning the times table is considered to be so important in tackling innumeracy and the answer is found in why British young people are so poor at numeracy: most don’t know the times table! I know that this sounds redundant but please bear with me and read on. Being numerate means being able to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers. The extent of our numerical ability is measured by factors like: (i) how quickly we can carry out calculations and (ii) the complexity of numbers and operations that we are capable of calculating.

Speed of calculation is perhaps the most important reason to learn the times table. While it would take a 12 year old child who knows the times table about 2 seconds to find the answer to “7 times 8”, it could take a peer who doesn’t more than 30 seconds to do the same. And the latter is likely to get the answer wrong! This leads to frustration in the youngsters making them conclude that they are poor at mathematics or, even worse, that the subject is incomprehensible. At the very early stages, it makes sense for kids to count their fingers when adding small numbers. This strategy, however, needs to be “weaned off” as soon as possible. Try reading this piece by spelling every word and then putting them together to form words as you did when you were first learning to read! You might notice how laborious it is. Worse still, you can’t really comprehend what you are reading because too much time elapsed between the words! What you experienced here is similar to what children who count fingers go through when carrying out calculations or learning new numerical concepts in maths lessons.

The easiest of the 4 numerical operations is addition. Multiplication is repeated addition. Subtraction is backward addition while division is repeated backward addition. In other words, if you can add numbers, you can also multiply, subtract and divide them. How quickly and accurately we do these is what varies among individuals. Individuals who know the times table have one advantage: they have a bank of ready made answers stored in their memory that they can quickly recall when needed. You could say that they have a sort of phone ‘contact list’. When they need to call a friend, they don’t have to put the numbers together; they just look into their ‘contacts list’ and voila! They get the number quickly and they never mix digits up as many of us did before the golden age of mobile phones. The question: 72 divide by 8 would take a 12 year old who knows the times table about 3 seconds while a peer who doesn’t could take more than 30 seconds and still get the answer wrong. Students who don’t know the times table by heart will struggle with division, fractions, powers (squares, cubes etc) and roots (square roots, cube roots etc). It does not get easier as they grow older and have to learn more complex concepts, according to the age based curriculum.

Many British young people do not know the times table by heart due to the education system’s discouragement of learning by rote. Learning by understanding is encouraged and personally, I find it to be a much better way. We don’t need children to regurgitate facts, we want them to be able to interpret and analyse these facts and give their own judgement on what they have learned and how to apply them in different circumstances. I spent a lot of time memorising different formulae for my mathematics, physics and chemistry final secondary examinations in my native country. On hindsight, I think too much time was spent memorising the formulae at the expense of exploring their meanings and applications. The only students who succeeded were those who through excruciating mental labour were able to memorise the formulae and learn how to interpret and apply them. There is the possibility that students who might have been better at interpreting and application could have been screened off on the account of not been able to memorise the formulae.

British students do not have this problem as all the complex formulae in the subject curriculum are provided in the examinations. The examinations test ability to interpret and apply these formulae but not the ability to remember them. I prefer this as a teacher because being able to interpret and apply the formulae is much more important than being able to recall them. Interestingly, those who can interpret and apply are also (mostly) the ones who can recall but that is not the point here. The students at least have one less thing to worry about: forgetting the formulae or worse (and more likely) mixing up the variables. Unlike the system of rote learning, we can be sure that our best students are those who have excelled in application of the concepts and not just those who are best at remembering them. This is particularly so because the concepts and formulae are always in reference materials and while it is good to know them by heart, it is not important to do so in order to use them in real life applications.

While students who combine the ability to memorise formulae with interpretation and application will usually beat those who have the need to look at reference materials, especially in quiz competitions and similar settings, winners of these quiz competitions don’t end up as Nobel Laureates. We may compare them with winners of Spelling Bees competitions; they don’t always become literary giants!

As I have tried to show above, I am not in favour of learning by rote but the problem being highlighted in this piece is not on the high end of the intellectual spectrum of our students, it is on the lower end. The damning report that brought about this piece is based on general numeracy among young people in the participating countries and not about how well the whiz kids compete against each other. The solution need not be some complex or exotic policy but a review of how British kids are doing in their maths classes. We could start by asking secondary maths teachers of their experiences in teaching the subject and the abilities of our children as they enter Key Stage 3 (junior secondary). Far too many come in without any knowledge of the times table. Students in countries with some rote learning would have learned the 12 times table in primary school. They would therefore appear to be better than those who don’t in general numeracy.

The bigger impact of knowledge of times table is in the ability to comprehend other numerical concepts. First of all, students who know the times table would not fall into low maths sets upon entrance into secondary schools. In some cases, knowing and being able to apply the times table for division, for example, would get the child into top set in Year 7! This is because most of what is needed to get the sort of attainment level needed to be in a top set is around multiplication and division. Knowledge of the times table is by no means a silver bullet and it does not guarantee that a student will be good in maths but it helps more than anything else at junior secondary level.

When new concepts are being taught, knowledge of the prerequisites is assumed and the teacher just gets on with what needs to be learned. In teaching area of rectangles and squares for instance, the teacher would assume (and correctly so) that the students can multiply numbers. S/he would also expect the students to be able to find missing sides when areas are given by dividing or finding square roots. In teaching long multiplication and division, knowledge of the times table would again be assumed. The student who lacks this knowledge would be lost and frustrated in the class. Things would be happening too quickly for him as it takes far too long to count fingers (including the likelihood of getting the answer wrong by plus or minus 1).

The concept being taught might not be out of his scope of understanding initially but as the exercises comes in fast and furious, he loses the connection and frustration sets in. Conclusion: maths is too hard! This student would now be apathetic to the subject and a vicious cycle begins. Often times, students who come into secondary school without knowledge of times table (usually on Levels 3 and below) would end up making little to no progress at all the way through secondary school. I know of several instances, on the other hand, where such students learned the times table and quickly became high achievers.

Children shouldn’t be counting fingers beyond early primary school. Mental addition and subtraction should be encourage as early as possible and the ultimate mental activity for children under 10 is random recitation of the times table. From ‘1 times 1’ to ’12 times 12’ there are exactly 78 unique answers out of 144, because two numbers yield the same answer when multiplied irrespective of the arrangement. Take away the 1, 10 and 11 times tables which are ridiculously easy to remember, and we have roughly 40 unique multiplication answers to be memorised. There are no tricks here but plain memorisation. Parents can download multiplication sheets off the Internet where there are countless colourful ones. To encourage the children, parents can play assorted multiplication games with them. Games could vary from speed based (e.g. who can recite the 7 times table the quickest) to random recollection (e.g. 2 players quiz each other randomly) and division games when the times tables have been memorised.

With dedication, any 10 year old can learn up to 12 times table within a month; they learn to play more complex games in less time! Considering the good that this basic knowledge do to our children’s education, I hope that the government encourages knowledge of the times table and that parents, more importantly, see it as an absolute skill that they must help their children acquire in order for them to not only cope but compete in the real world. The competition starts much earlier than most people think.

How Can Any Sane Fan Not Be Frustrated After 8 Years without a Trophy?

I had a barbeque/garden party recently to mark an important milestone in my family. I had my friends and extended family over for the celebration and as anyone who knows my circle can take a certain bet on, the men at the party ended the day with football talk. The women always do their best to ensure that footy doesn’t come up, whenever we have social get-together, till late in the evening or at least after all important activities of the day have been concluded. When we start football talk, that’s all we’d do till it’d be time for everyone to depart for their homes! If you think that we have heated debates here at Untold Arsenal, you need to see me and my friends & family slug it out 🙂

 As you might have experienced in your own social settings, whenever there is a footy debate with an Arsenal fan involved, the topic would sooner or later become Arsenal’s trophylessness and the cure for it. This occasion was not different. It was actually pretty reflective of the larger footy fandom! We had supporters of the major teams and of course, the patient and the impatient wings of the Arsenal family.

I wouldn’t say AKBs and AAAs because none of the Gooners that I know holds the sort of views expressed by the AAA. Most of us patient ones are AKBs though. The impatient ones don’t hate Arsene (a key characteristic of the AAA) but if his departure would guarantee a trophy, they would happily kick him out. Many of them actually suggest this solution but with AW being given another role in the club rather than shown the door.

There was so much concern trolling from our rival fans about the ‘sad’ state of Arsenal football club. That once great football club that used to either win the league or come a very close second; win FA cups and doubles; go a whole season unbeaten etc. That has now become a shadow of its old magnificent self. How sad? Are you Arsenal fan going to just sit still and accept this?

I see why some Gooners get influenced by this type of talk although I expect them to have more fortitude and show better understanding of the true fortunes of their own club rather than receive lectures from people whose knowledge and intention on the subject matter are at best questionable.

Is it just me or do Man United fans tend to lecture other fans about how a club should be run? My Man United supporting friend lectured us on how Arsenal can do it. Sadly, his ‘insight’ is the same as I have heard every other ‘expert’ proffer on how Arsenal can win trophies. Yes, it was to “splash the cash”! But he said it with such certainty and sense of superiority that one would mistake him for SAF himself if not for his skin palette and accent! Man United fans can be very annoying.

So the question was soon asked of us patient Gooners by everybody else: how can any sane fan not be frustrated after 8 years without a trophy? My short answer was: because football is only a game and being a fan is not that high on my life priorities, so if things are not going according to plans for the club that I support, I have very little grounds to be frustrated. I have a life that I’m actually in control of outside football.

Okay, maybe not so short 🙂

The more nuanced answer:

While it is true that Arsenal haven’t won a trophy in 8 years, it has made giant progress as a football club. Silverwares are great and for a European club, none is greater than the Champions’ League trophy. Nottingham Forests won this trophy twice but are not in any position to vie for it in probably decades to come. Trophies are great but being in a position of strength to always compete is greater. You have to be in it to win it. Brazil went through 24 years without getting into the final of the world cup and then reached 3 consecutive finals winning twice.

Arsenal, pre Arsene Wenger and the Emirates stadium, was just another club in the upper half of the English premier league. Yes, we won trophies every now and then but so did clubs like Leeds United and Aston Villa. The arrival of Arsene Wenger gave us an unusual trophy rush that was not symptomatic of Arsenal’s pedigree. This will sound crazy to the circa 1998 fans but there is a reason why Arsene Wenger has remained our most successful manager even after going through 8 trophyless years. The 1997 to 1995 era was golden for the club but we’ve been there before. We have always had spurts of successful years that are then followed by droughts. Sometimes it is because we had a benevolent chairman while at others, we had a superb manager. Our success had never been because of our size or because of our earning power.

During another spurt of successful years and armed with a highly efficient and thoroughly dependable manager, the board decided to make Arsenal one of the biggest football clubs in the world by building a world class stadium that would immediately increase our earnings by roughly 50%. I have no official source for this but I have read in several places (with no one disputing) that AW was a key part of why the banks loaned us the funds for the stadium construction. Qualifying for ECL was also key to the negotiations. Arsene Wenger has been steadfast in his loyalty to the club and has helped to make Arsenal competitive during the repayment period by always getting the team into ECL. The loan is now almost paid up.

Arsenal is now one of the 5 biggest clubs in the world by revenue or by market value. That is without winning any trophy for almost a decade! The club is definitely moving in the right direction. We are getting bigger as an entity and because of our size and financial strength; the likelihood of falling into bad times is now remote.

This is a huge deal and one that intelligent pundits understand.

Unlike our previous periods of trophy drought, however, this one is different. We have a great stadium to show for it. Plus in the same period, we have appeared in an ECL final (our first and only), we have been in two League cup finals and have come very close to an EPL title. It is not like we are languishing at the bottom of half of the league or barely qualifying for Europa cup. It hurts us all, especially us AKBs (contrary to popular belief), that the team has remained trophyless for so long but lack of silverware is not synonymous with regression for a football club. While Everton haven’t won anything in 18 years, does it mean that they are beneath Portsmouth, Swansea and Wigan who have?

Today, we are told to “splash the cash” the cash, you know, the one that we have painstakingly accumulated, on “3 to 4 marquee signings” so that we can win trophies; although no one can guarantee that we’d indeed win any trophies with this prescription. It is a conjecture that while not inaccurate, has got its potency from mindless repetition rather than empirical or indisputable evidence. Manchester City won nothing last season while Swansea and Wigan did. I know I am also repetitive on this but the only way to deal with a repetitive claim is to repetitively debunk it.

Lest it be misconstrued from this piece, I am in no way against “marquee” signings, I just defer to the judgement of the people who have led Arsenal to its current position of strength on when and how to sign such players.

I am not frustrated as a fan of a club that has not won any trophy in 8 years because I see the progress that my club has made in a much more important area: future financial stability, strength and resilience. With our new found squad stability and going by the team’s pre-season performances, I am also optimistic about this season as I have written before.

I am not frustrated as a fan of a football club that has not won any trophy in 8 years because if all else fails, I take succour in my health, my career and my family & friends. Yes, the latter will give me “hell” in banter due to my team’s empty trophy cabinet but they fill my life with what I need to avoid frustration: true companionship!

Bring on the 2013/14 season!