Significant Digits: Özil’s Form, Arsenal v. Bottom Clubs, United’s Ball Hoggery, Big Chances, Campbell-Ox, and Top Keepers


While Jaime Vardy has gotten all the press for his 12 game scoring streak, Mesut Özil has quietly been building an even more impressive streak of seven consecutive League matches with an assist. He actually broke the record (6) with his pass to Kieran Gibbs against Tottenham and extended the record to 7 matches in the loss to West Brom. Oh yeah, the Özil assists streak started… at Leicester.

Özil has never had a streak like this at any club. He’s had an occasional 2-3 game run (including fantasy assists) but most of the time assists are spread out over a few matches. How long can he keep going?


There is some debate about whether you start Ox or Joel Campbell. There is no debate, Ox averages 4.79 successful dribbles per90, creates 2 shots per90 for his teammates, is a better passer, and Joel Campbell is a good tackler. Against a team like Norwich, who are going to simply sit deep and harass, you need a dribbler who can unlock the defense. If Ox is 100%, he plays, for me. We don’t need a tackler against Norwich.





Arsenal head into the match against Norwich already leading the Premier League in Big Chances created with 41. Arsenal have created on average 3 big chances per game and have not failed to create a big chance in a single match this season. I hope I didn’t just stats-jinx them!

Arsenal also have more Shots in Prime (SiP) than any other team with 77 (Man City has 76). But the problem is that Arsenal’s conversion rates are still lagging and they are about 6 goals shy of where I expect them to be based on my Expected Goals formula. This is a hangover from the start of the season where Arsenal struggled to score. They have since reverted to mean and are scoring at just about the correct rate.

Along with the creativity, Arsenal have also been exceptional in terms of limiting the opposition’s Big Chances and SiP. Arsenal have let a League best 12 Big Chances and 25 SiP. Last season I showed a correlation between Coquelin and Arsenal limiting the opposition’s Big Chances, we will have to see what impact his absence has on Arsenal’s defense in these two categories.


Arsenal also have the best keeper in the League: Petr Cech has saved 75% of the SiP he has faced and 67% of the Big Chances he has faced. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the other two top keepers are Lloris and de Gea. Tottenham concede a lot of shots in prime, 39 so far this season, but Lloris’ 73% SiP saves, along with some unusual profligacy in terms of shots on goal, has saved them… I don’t know how many goals. This is the first time I’ve done these calculations and I can’t quite figure out how many the keeper has contributed. I do know that Tottenham are about -6 goals (conceded) below (better than) my Expected Goals calculations. They have conceded 9 and I expect them to have conceded about 15.


Two years ago, Arsenal were the League’s flat track bullies and averaged 2.69 PPG against teams who finished in the bottom third of the table. The next season they did it again, 2.62 points per game against bottom third teams. In two years Arsenal only lost 1 time to a bottom third team. This season, Arsenal only have 1.5 PPG against bottom third teams and have already lost twice.

Now, it’s early in the season, but the good news is that Arsenal are top of the League in PPG against top third teams with 2.00 PPG. If you asked me which I’d prefer, it’s beating the top clubs. Because in theory, if you can beat the best teams, you’re probably going to beat the bottom teams. Probably.


Manchester United fans have recently taken to chanting “attack” whenever their club has the ball and for good reason, Man United average 74 passes per key pass. That’s 74 passes for each pass that ends in a shot. To put that in context, Leicester lead the League in passes per shot with just 31.



Just taking the number of passes per shots doesn’t do much which is why I included the passes and key passes in my graphic. As you can see, Leicester City have the best shots to passes ratio and that’s because they have such a low number of passes. Low passes, high shots, they are a terrific counter attacking team. West Ham are similar to Leicester in that regard and Tottenham are somewhere in the middle.

Meanwhile, Arsenal, Man City, and Man U all dominate passes (possession) but Man City has almost the same number of passes as United and created nearly twice as many shots!

Man U and Leicester played to a 1-1 draw today, Leicester had an off day and took 53.2 passes per chance created (not per shot). Man U also had an off day and took 84 passes per chance created. The only thing that saved that match from being the worst match of the season was Jaime Vardy’s goal.

I honestly don’t know what Van Gaal is doing with that United team. They aren’t waiting patiently and only taking shots in key areas, they shoot 50% from distance, and on paper they have the players to create (Juan Mata led the League in key passes at Chelsea, for example). They just aren’t creating.

What they are doing is converting big chances at an unsustainable rate: 65%. There’s no way that they are going to keep that going for the rest of the season. It’s going to be funny when they drop back down to 35-40%.



I was on transfermarkt.co.uk looking at Özil’s assists record and discovered this:


Apparently, the Rapture happened and only Özil’s knee ligaments were pure enough to be taken to heaven. I honestly don’t remember my Chick Tract Christianity very well, if the Rapture happened and his knee ligaments were sent back to earth does that mean we bypassed Satan’s rule or was the period with Özil’s raptured ligaments during Satan’s rule? I suspect it’s the latter, didn’t Chelsea win the League?


Bender, Xhaka, Krychowiak, Guilavogui: Four January DM Options For Wenger

With Wenger admitting that he’s looking to buy this January all the red tops are reporting that the Arsenal manager has Lars Bender as his top target this January. It’s an easy call on their part, Wenger has expressed interest in Bender in the past, Arsenal need a player to replace Arteta eventually, and Bender is having a great season. But Bender isn’t the only option out there and here are four examples of players who could be persuaded to join Arsenal this January: Bender, Xhaka, Kychowiak, and Guilavogui.

First, whenever I do these people as “do you have numbers for Carvalho?” and I always answer “no”. No one has numbers for Carvalho because Carvalho plays in the Portuguese league and they aren’t covered by Opta.

There are two numbers that you might want to know about Carvalho: 1) The Sun reported that Arsenal offered £29m for him this summer and 2) he has a release clause of €45m¹. A funny thing is that when Arsenal made that offer, the Euro was worth more and the £28.5m bid was about £9m short of the full release clause. But the Euro has taken a huge hit and €45m is now only worth £31m. I don’t have Carvalho’s numbers but my guess is if Wenger spends £30m on a defensive midfielder he’s going to be certain that the player is top quality.

Also, a note about the players I’ve selected. First, they can’t have been transferred this season. That ruled out a number of top quality DMs like Pedro Mosquera. Second, I didn’t pick any players from top clubs because I assume that teams like PSG and Man City aren’t interested in selling to Arsenal. And third, I picked obvious candidates. I didn’t pick any youth players, or guys who aren’t putting up good numbers but who might have a breakout season. Will a player like Rick Dekker make the jump up from averaging 29 passes a game and 79% completion rate to a team like Arsenal where DMs need to make over 85%? If I had that answer I wouldn’t be sitting here, doing this for free. I’m sure that clubs would pay top sterling for someone who could reliably predict future performance.

Defensive Stats




The first thing that needs to be said about Lars Bender is that he has a long history of injury. He is currently sidelined with an ankle injury picked up October 29th. He’s also had a history of muscle strains, especially last season. So, while maybe the Daily Mail thinks Bender is Wenger’s top target, I’d be surprised if Arsene wants to gamble on him.

Kychowiak’s injury record is relatively clean. According to Transfermarkt, he’s only missed two games total due to injury.

I should also note that Guilavogui is on loan to Wolfsburg and has been on loan for two seasons. I can’t tell if he’s allowed to be purchased or not so I included his numbers here anyway.

As far as defensive numbers, all these players put up good interceptions numbers. So, they read the game well and play the passing lanes.

Tackling is a bit different. Granit Xhaka’s tackles and fouls numbers are a bit like lemon juice in the eye. The kid is aggressive but doesn’t seem to win the ball much. That meshes with what I’ve seen from him when I’ve seen him play.

That said, his failed tackling numbers largely come from him trying to dispossess opponents who aren’t dribbling. In 1 on 1 duels, he’s a solid tackler who wins 77% of his challenges:

Bender 72% of 7.1 tackles per90
Xhaka 77% of 3 tackles per90
Krychowiak 77% of 3.1 tackles per90
Guilavogui 82% of 3.3 tackles per90
Coquelin 75% of 5.1 tackles per90

Again, these are all solid choices for players. You might be impressed by Bender’s overall numbers but large numbers of tackles mean that the player is either being targeted for lack of pace and/or that his team plays a tackling game.


Xhaka… I feel for you.


Xhaka might be a tad too aggressive in defense but he is an exceptional passer. This season he is completing 78% of his long balls, that’s 9.4/12 per game. PER GAME. Krychowiak’s league numbers (passing) aren’t very good but in Sevilla’s Champions League play, he jumped from 83% to 91%. And his long passing went from just over 50% to 77% 4.6/6 per game. This indicates a player whose league numbers are being dictated by the style of play that Sevilla deploy — I haven’t seen them play but I would guess it’s a counter attacking team.

In terms of possession numbers Xhaka is a bit loose with his play. This is normal for a young player (he just turned 23) but his numbers are still a bit high, about 0.6 more lost possession per90 than our Coquelin.

per90 Dispossessed Turnovers
Coquelin 1.1 0.4
Bender 0.6 1.1
Xhaka 1.2 0.9
Krychowiak 0.5 0.5
Guilavogui 1.1 1.1

Honestly, Krychowiak’s dispossessed and turnover numbers are absurdly good. He’s getting the same number of touches as Coquelin and turning the ball over 1 fewer time per90. In the Champions League, he actually got better while his team got worse. He passed 91%, 60 passes a game, and was dispossessed 0.2 and turned the ball over 0.4. That’s the kind of ball protection that you want to see from your DM.


Pick Lars Bender if you want to take a huge gamble on a player who can’t stay healthy. Pick Krychowiak if you want a solid player who doesn’t get injured, who keeps the ball well, and who shows glimpses (in Champions League play) of dynamic passing range. And pick Xhaka² if you think you can develop him into a more aggressive version of Arteta.

I didn’t mention him in any of the sections above but you can see from his numbers that Guilavogui is just all round pretty good. A guy like that, who isn’t especially talented in any one category but also not particularly poor in any category could make a decent backup.


¹Krychowiak also has a €45m release clause.
²Xhaka has a strange release clause in his contract. It’s only €20m. But it’s not active until 2017. I suspect a bid of €40m would get him to the table, but that means Arsenal would *literally* be paying over the odds. Can Wenger do that?

Cazorla (1)

Cazorla shows size doesn’t matter as he bosses Dinamo’s midfield

The big worry ahead of the match against Dinamo was whether Santi and Flamini could work together as a midfield duo for Arsenal. It was mooted often that Santi couldn’t boss the area without the more physical Coquelin at his side. Santi, many said, would have to be shunted off to the right and someone else brought in for him. Someone bigger. Someone more physical.

Dinamo played a physical game against Arsenal and referee Viktor Kassai let the Croatian team get away with many hard tackles that probably should have been called as fouls. Despite being a Champions League tie, and the supposed less physical nature of those matches, Dinamo kicked and pressured Arsenal throughout the match and were especially physical in the first 30 minutes, as I pointed out in my By the Numbers column.

Flamini didn’t have a bad game but he didn’t offer much for Arsenal. Flamini had 2/3 tackles (one was a spectacular sliding effort) he made 2 interceptions, and he even managed 7 ball recoveries. But it was his midfield partner who actually bossed the midfield.

Cazorla led both teams in passses with 66/73.He also kept Arsenal’s attack ticking over with 21/27 passes in the Dinamo final third. He also led all players with 9 ball recoveries (tied with Nacho), was second on the Arsenal team with 3/5 tackles, made 2 interceptions, and even led Arsenal with 2/5 headed clearances!

To be fair, those headed clearances weren’t aerial battles in the middle of the box but rather Santi attacked the ball whenever Dinamo tried a short corner. And Santi also didn’t create a single shot for a teammate, which is unusual, and he was 0/4 on corners which is also unusual.

But it was his 7/7 dribbling which was most impressive. Whenever Dinamo tried to press him with a bigger, more physical midfielder, Santi simply slithered away with the ball. It was one of those dribbles which led to Arsenal’s opening goal. Santi broke pressure, passed to Flamini, Flamini to Alexis, and Alexis to Özil. And lest you think Santi was just abusing one man, he did it on both sides of the pitch.



Watching that performance yesterday left me wondering if the real secret to Arsenal’s success over the last year wasn’t down to Coquelin and his flashy tackling, but rather down to the fact that Cazorla is nigh unstoppable. He certainly wasn’t helped much by Flamini in midfield yesterday and yet he bossed the entire midfield, front to back.

There’s a bias against small people in general in most societies. But there’s an unfounded bias against small people in football. Whenever fans call for Wenger to buy a midfielder they often ask for someone over 6′ who is built like an American linebacker. But the way Cazorla played yesterday leaves me wondering if people shouldn’t have a rethink?