Last night, I went to the 7-11. Since I stopped drinking, I like to test my constitution with the occasional 7-11 hot dog and nachos – by “hot dog” I mean unknown roll-heated meat product and by “nachos” I mean day old corn chips with cheese lotion. Trust me on this, nothing keeps your guts working at peak like 7-11 food. “Food.”
And last night there was a sign on the front door. It was a recycled piece of printer paper on which were scratched the letters “H I R I N G”. Like an angry badger with a pen, they made each letter thicker by just going over the lines several times.
It was odd, 7-11 has this corporate patina. Like you go in and you know exactly what to expect. This isn’t a mom-and-pop convenience store, where the goods are randomly piled all over the place and you get porn mags next to crack pipes; almost every 7-11 is organized, bright, and covered with this month’s fresh advertising campaign. And here was this hand-crafted sign, hastily scrawled, taped to the door, reminding us that behind the corporate exterior, 7-11 is just another business.
Much like the 7-11, Arsenal last night hung out their hastily scrawled “HIRING” sign and promptly got robbed by the Cherry Hill Gang.
If Arsenal supporters are sick of the sight of Alexis or Ozil or think that Wilshere is some kind of savior they got a good look at what life is going to be like with Wilshere as the only star player. And let’s face it, like 7-11 nachos, it’s ghastly.
Arsenal fans have complained for the last three years about Alexis’ turnovers and poor passing and yet without him there to “turn the ball over constantly” Arsenal had their second worst turnover match of the season and their second worst passing performance of the season. Those other two matches (their worsts) came against Liverpool and Tottenham, hardly at the level of Bournemouth – who were in the relegation zone until Arsenal gave them the gift of three points.
Arsenal supporters have also complained that Wenger didn’t just take the money on offer for Alexis this summer but from what we saw last night we (myself included) have to admit that Wenger was probably right to hang on to the contract rebels. Or at least to wait until he could get a replacement in. There are a lot of rumors out there now that Arsenal might get Mkhitaryan for Alexis in a swap. It’s not ideal, Mkhitaryan isn’t anywhere near Alexis’ production and we would be strengthening a rival and a hated rival at that but Arsenal simply can’t lose Alexis or we might face a lot more matches like last night. Matches which expose Arsenal’s utter lack of depth.
One thing that’s pretty crazy about Arsene Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal is that he’s been insanely consistent regardless of personnel. I was looking at Arsenal’s attacking record (goals scored) over the last 20 years and apart from the Henry era Arsenal have had a consistent goals scored record. Where teams like Liverpool, Chelsea, and Man United have had a goals per game record as low as 1.24 per game and as high as 2.35, Wenger’s teams have averaged 1.89 per game with a high of 2 and a low of 1.71.
This consistency in attack is the hallmark of Wengerism. The problem is that offense doesn’t always correlate as strongly with League position at the end of the season as defense and it never correlates as well as overall goal difference.
Not to get too wonky but goal difference is nearly a .9 correlation to league position. When we compare two things like goal difference and league position 1.0 is what we call a perfect fit and anything above .7 is a great fit. 0.9, then, is a pretty amazing fit. It passes the common sense test too: goals scored and goals conceded should correlate to games won which should correlate to points and thus to league position at the end of the season.
So, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to learn that while Wenger’s attack has been consistent and even occasionally close enough to the top to win the League, his overall goal difference has been poor. Gooners will often say “Wenger needs to get the balance right” and here’s visual evidence of what they mean:
Again it’s kind of remarkable in its consistency – while Liverpool and Man U (and Chelsea, not pictured) have had wildly up and down seasons, Wenger’s Arsenal have stayed within just a few decimals in terms of goal difference per game. This season is his annus horribilis with Arsenal’s goal difference now dropping to 0.48. That’s 0.21 points below his 10 year average of 0.79 per game.
Even if we throw out this season’s highs (Man City have a goal difference of 2.17 PER GAME) and lows (Arsenal’s trash fire of 0.48) Arsenal’s average since 2010 is 0.80 per game with the highest being 0.92 and the lowest being 0.71. That’s pretty good but.. the League winner’s average goal difference per game since 2010 has been 1.27. That means Wenger has been 0.47 goals per game off the League winners.
And weirdly, because Wenger’s variation has been so consistent, his opportunities to win the League have been rare. The League winners have had a goal difference per game as high as 1.71 (again, not counting this season) and as low as 0.84 per game. Thus, for Wenger to win the League he would either have to have improved his team’s output (which the subtext here suggests that he is incapable of doing – even despite spending £200m on players in the last four years) or… stumble into a season where he could take advantage of a record low goals difference. That chance happened in 2015/16 when Leicester won the league. Their goals difference per game was 0.84 but Arsenal finished the season with 0.76.
I’m not saying this is a giant revelation. Neither was losing to Bournemouth and playing like a mid-table team without Arsenal’s two biggest stars.