A week ago I read a fascinating article about the American political analyst Nate Silver, who runs the FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times, and had just successfully predicted the presidential election result for every single state. The quote that stood out for me was:
“Our basic instincts tend to be not very good. We tend to overweigh new information.”
Which made me think of Arsenal, because most things do, and how one of the truisms in football is you’re only as good as your last game. In the Internet age of instant reaction, into which I project my own fairly shreiky voice, your team is arguably only as good as its last misplaced pass. There are brilliant, analytical, statistically-minded bloggers out there (like 7amkickoff and, when he fancies it, Gingers4Limpar) – but I am not one of them. I like to think I’m more of a stylist. Less kindly, but more accurately, you might say I’m more of a reactionary gobshite.
And the reason for this rambling preamble - preramble? - is that my immediate reaction is to once again go weapons free on a team and manager that at the current rate of point accrual is set to finish about sixth. I want to bemoan players who sometimes click, but often don’t, and when it doesn’t work seem to abrogate responsibility by endlessly laying the ball off in the hope that someone, anyone, will sack up, take some some risks, and win the game for them.
I’m even more tempted - because if I do have a specialty, it’s this - to moan extensively about the composition of the squad, and how anyone, certainly a manager as experienced as Arsene, could see the problems that were stored in it at the start of the season.
Specifically: even if Giroud settled, which wasn’t a certainty, were we expecting him to play centre forward in every match in all four competitions? What if he got tired, or suspended, or injured? I mention him not because he’s the only position in which we lack tenable cover. We’ve already seen the impact of an injury to Szczęsny, while losing Cazorla or Arteta doesn’t bear thinking about.
No, I mention it because seeing the big French striker go off today, replaced by a defensive midfielder in Coquelin and a smattering of “you don’t what you’re doing”, only served to underline the weakness of our options, and the limitations of our ambition. I get that no-one, not least Arsene, likes Chamakh anymore - but oughtn’t he at least be there on the bench as an option in case we need to try to nick a winner? Plan Z, if you will.
What happened to piling attacking players on to snatch a goal? It might be the tactical equivalent of running naked at your opponent with a hammer, but it’s been as effective as the analogy suggests plenty of times for us. This… This just felt craven. In the same way that the players shuffling the ball between themselves feels craven.
The other controversial decision centred on a change which wasn’t made. According to those at the game, Jack Wilshere never even left the bench - despite it crying out for exactly his kind of dynamism in midfield. Which begs the question under what circumstances he would have been used? Or was he just there, as at Norwich, to make up numbers on the bench. To create the illusion of a deeper squad, in the same way as bodies were propped on the walls of the fort in Beau Geste to scare off attackers.
After the game Arsene claimed that the relentless rain was the reason he decided not to use Wilshere in the end, fearing an injury on the increasingly swampy pitch. If that’s the case then I sort of understand, although I’d suggest investing in a phone with a decent weather app. Much as I’d suggest in investing in about three new faces come January. But then that’s my answer to everything.
I’m only slightly being glib there, too. I really do think, on a fundamental level, that it’s lack of options - quality, battle ready, proven options - that has been killing us for some time. I do think spending is going to be a significant part of the fix for this team. Roll your eyes all you like. But it will be a goddamn shame if the extra money injected by the new Emirates deal ends up being blown on covering the shortfall created by not qualifying for the Champions League.
Before the game I was torn about the team: We obviously needed to rotate, because otherwise the first XI is going to run out of gas before Christmas. But equally I felt immediately nervous that if the players brought in didn’t spark we could end up with another flat Norwich away performance. And so it was.
The instinctive response afterwards is to say that this was just the latest instalment in the long-running series titled ‘Arsenal takes supposedly struggling team too lightly and drops points’. (Don’t worry if you’ve missed an episode, there will be a re-run soon.) Nobody thought we were world beaters after the Spurs game, or after qualifying for the Champions League, but the mood was rightly upbeat. Signs of life were there. But now it feels like we’ve lapsed again.
It also feels like a lot of the frustration with the team, both in attack and defence, is because it’s almost impossible to predict whether either will turn up. It’s certainly rare both do. Today: another clean sheet, but toothless up top. On it goes.
And on we go, reacting instinctively after each game. Basking one week, feeling betrayed the next, always placing the greatest weight on the latest information, even though a more circumspect approach would tell you Arsenal usually finish in the top four somehow, Spurs always blow up, and we definitely won’t spend big in the next window. Even though I worry endlessly about all those things. So, in conclusion: Football!