Football is a game of clichés, and Arsenal have more levelled at them than most, if not any other team in the land.
Whereas there is the argument that there is no smoke without fire (football is also a good place for idioms), there is always the danger that these half-formed opinions, often resulting from poorly researched articles, become self-perpetuating, and they somehow become the received wisdom purely because enough people are telling you it is so. This is especially true with a media desperate to fill column inches, and the game being played as much in social media as it is on the turf.
The likes of Talksport, Match of the Day and the back pages of practically every newspaper, whatever its size, or the colour of its masthead, dine out on “the lack of an Arsenal leader”, “Wenger’s unwillingness to spend”, our “losing mentality”, or “inability to perform in big games”. Many of these have at least a kernel of truth but you have to wonder if there weren’t so many people so eager to tell you about them, would they be such a problem?
One of them that does stand up to statistical analysis however is Arsenal’s performances in November under Wenger’s tenure. Put simply, in Arsene’s time at the club, they have found the net fewer times in November than in any other month, conceded more than in any other month and garnered less points than in any other month. They have also suffered more injuries in November than at any other time of the season.
Is that purely a statistical anomaly, something that is simply down to the fixture list? Yes and no. November traditionally has a fairly high number of games compared to most other months, something that is exacerbated by Champions League games – usually crucial Champions League games, as well as the league cup. There has more often than not been at least one, and usually two or more games against top six teams, another area where Wenger’s teams of late have struggled. It all adds up to a perfect storm, where there is less chance to rotate the players, meaning the ones that do play are more likely to get injured, hence giving us a weakened team. So on, and so forth. The size and quality of the squad of course plays its part, which once again is a topic that rears its head on a weekly basis in the various media outlets.
Will this year be any different? By 1st December, will the bookies see Arsenal as a top four prospect, something they certainly do not do at the moment?
The fixtures don’t make for pleasant reading. Away from the EPL there are two Europa League ties, including a tricky game in Cologne, and a Carabao cup tie. It is in the league though where the computer has been particularly unkind. Away at Man City, followed by Spurs at The Emirates. The month ends with a trip to Turf Moor and a Wednesday evening home game against Huddersfield who have shown they are no walk over. Anyone predicting more than 5 points from that is a bigger optimist than me.
It certainly is not against the realms of possibility though that we cannot put the November hoodoo to bed once and for all. We have shown in glimpses, away at Chelsea and Everton for example that we do possess that steel so often found lacking. Last season, November was a relatively good month for the club, drawing at Old Trafford and at home to Tottenham and picking up all three points against Bournemouth. Away from the league however it did see us bow out of the league cup, and fail to secure top spot in the Champions league. Whatever the reasons, Arsenal’s poor November is a reality, and the only way to stop people talking about it, is to change things where it matters – on the pitch. At least then, they can go back to talking about our lack of a leader. Or Sanchez. Or Ozil.