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Why you’re not ‘only as good as your last game’

Arsenal fans may not think so after the drubbing Chelsea handed out on the weekend, but Wenger is actually correct about the need for context in times of adversity:

“You have have to put it into perspective… we just came out of two convincing results at Bayern Munich and Tottenham with a very solid defensive performance so you have to think that was an accident… that doesn’t mean that you’re not a good driver. It just means we have played about 40 games this season and it’s not what happened on Saturday that reflects the quality of this team”.

What Wenger is referring to is essentially the performance versus results debate. It’s easy to mistake one for the other, but they are in fact very different; performance represents the actions you take and how well you execute them, whereas the result is what you get at the end of the performance (plus other factors, such as luck which is particularly relevant in a footballing context).

Few, including Wenger, would suggest that Arsenal played well or deserved a result from Saturday’s game, but context is key in these situations. Sports teams and businesses should always assess the underlying performance across the long-term, as opposed to the short-term (and often superficial) result. In this way, and staying with Wenger’s car crash metaphor, results can sometimes be explained as merely a bump in the road for a team heading in the right direction.

That’s not to say that Arsenal don’t have a problem of course. Wenger knows better than most that if you’re going to win the title, you must overcome your principle rivals in the ‘must-win battles’ more often than not, something Arsenal have failed to do on more than one occasion this season.

The need for ‘big game mentality’ is, however, a separate issue. And, in a week where the Nottingham Forest manager Billy Davies was fired for losing 5-0 to Derby County (when a win would have seen them rise into the play-off places), we are reminded that – although it hurts more to lose badly to a local rival than another team – it makes more sense to measure the underlying performance as opposed to the last result.

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