Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Manchester United v Arsenal

Sunday is the title decider for Arsenal

I know I promised yesterday that I would talk about the other teams in the title hunt, Tottenham and Man City but I have run out of time for that post. So, instead, I’m going to write that tomorrow. If you take nothing else from this post take this: Sunday is a title decider for Arsenal, win and they have a chance; lose and they are out of it.

Right now the gap between Arsenal and Leicester is 5 points and there are 13 games left to play. If Arsenal lose on Sunday that gap goes to 8 points and 12 games left to play. So, what? You think, 8 points is easily overcome.

Nope.

Leicester are currently averaging 2.12 points per game and Arsenal averaging 1.95. If they win they rise to just 2.15 but Arsenal drop to 1.85. A 0.30 points per game difference. In order for Arsenal to make up the difference, 8 points, the Gunners would have to average 0.67 points per game MORE than Leicester.

Arsenal have a stronger schedule than Leicester, facing 5 top teams away while playing in the Champions League and the FA Cup. Leicester only have the Premier League left to play and after the Arsenal match they have a run of 9 games in a row against middle-table and lower teams. They do finish the season with Man U away, Everton at home, and Chelsea away, three tricky games.

But even if Leicester lose to West Ham, Man U, Everton, and Chelsea if they win the other 8 games they will finish the season with 80 points, 2.10 points per game. For Arsenal to catch Leicester, they would need 33 points from their last 12 games, in other words they would have to win 11 of their last 12 games. Not impossible, but highly unlikely.

Now, it’s possible that Leicester will slip and drop points against teams like Swansea or Newcastle, so let’s say they fall off a cliff and earn just 1.5 points per game from here until the end of the season. A meager 18 points to bring their points total to 74.

If Arsenal lose to Leicester on Sunday, and then Leicester goes on their terrible run, in order for Arsenal to catch them, the Gunners would still need 26 points from a possible 36 to finish the season, 2.16 ppg.

That’s what Arsenal are facing on Sunday; win the game and the title race is on, lose the game and the race is basically off, tie the game and stay where we are but one game closer to the end. All games are must win games, this one is just more must win than others.

But the thing is, Leicester should not be in this position. They are on their way to being crowned the least deserving champions in Premier League history. No team has ever won the League with a negative shot ratio. No team has ever won any league, as far as I can tell, with a negative shot ratio.

And we will talk about that tomorrow.

Qq

 

profligate

Leicester are winning the League through superior finishing

This is what I want you to take away from this post: it’s not the most consistent team who wins the League, it’s the most consistently over performing team who win the League. And right now, the most consistently over performing team in the League is Leicester City.

Now what I mean by “over performing” is specifically about conversion rates. “Finishing” in football parlance. The team that is most consistently beating the average finishing rate typically wins the League.

Last season, teams finished 9.5% of all shots taken. Chelsea won the League and lead all teams with a 13% finishing rate. Chelsea also had the best 18 yard box conversion rate (minus penalties) with 15%, League Average was 11%. And Chelsea had the best 6 yard box finishing rate of 45%, while League average was 31%.

The season before Liverpool actually led the League in bulk conversion with 14.7% but Man City was right there with them with 14.4%, League average that season was 9.8%. Arsenal actually led the League in finishing inside the 18 yard box that season with 15.75%, but… Man City was virtually tied with Arsenal at 15.1% and they took 101 more shots than Arsenal did inside the 18 yard box. So, converting at 15%, that was 15 additional goals. City also converted 7% from distance, something they actually have done consistently over the years, beating the League average by almost double every year.

The season before that Manchester United won the League by converting 50% of their shots inside the 6 yard box. That’s a ca ca ca crazy conversion rate. 30% is normal. United scored 25 goals inside the 6 yard box that season on the way to Ferguson’s tearful farewell and Robin van Persie’s retirement.

It’s not true every season that the League leader in conversion will win the League, but from what I can tell, you can’t win the League unless you’re over-performing in conversion.

Leicester have the best overall conversion at 14% while League average is 9.7% but it’s the inside the box conversion which is really crazy. They are currently finishing 17% of their shots in the 18 yard box. My research only goes back to 2009/10 but no team has ever finished a season that high. And that 17% finishing is with me removing their League leading 7 goals from penalties. If we include penalties they are finishing 20% of their shots in the box. The highest I’ve seen was the 2009/10 Chelsea team who finished 16% with penalties included.

The reason Arsenal have struggled this season is because they are only converting 9.5% of their shots in the penalty area.  Arsenal don’t typically lead the League in conversion but they have never been below 12% conversion in the 18 yard box.

To illustrate how poorly Arsenal are finishing in the 18 yard box, Leicester have scored 30 goals (minus penalties) on 176 shots. Arsenal have scored 23 goals on 238 shots. If Arsenal had Leicester’s finishing numbers, they would have scored 40 goals in the 18 yard box, an additional 17 goals over what they currently have. If Arsenal even improved to their average of 13% in the 18 yard box it would mean an additional 8 goals over their current tally.

Arsenal’s finishing in the 18 yard box is so poor because three of their players who have taken the majority of their shots in that area have been astonishingly poor finishers this season. Alexis, Walcott, and Ramsey are all finishing below 9% with Alexis the most profligate of all the Arsenal players finishing just 5% on 37 shots. Arsenal fans should be thanking Giroud every day, he’s Arsenal’s best finisher this season at 17% in the box.

profligateWhat’s boosting Leicester is the fact that Jamie Vardy is 16/64 shots in the 18 yard box. That’s 25% finishing. One in every four shots Vardy takes in the 18 yard box is a converted into a goal.

There are 13 matches left in the season. The question here is whether this is all sustainable. Will Leicester continue finishing at such a stupendous rate? Will Arsenal finally start getting some goals in the 18 yard box? Will Alexis and/or Walcott come good on their pre-season promise? Will teams stop giving Vardy so much room to run into and so many one-on-ones with keepers?

13 matches left to see.

Qq

Arshavin prepares for the North London derby

Defense wins Superb Owls

Good morning from post-Super Bowl America. If you’re not a USA American I wonder, did you watch the game? And if you did, I hope you didn’t find it too boring?

Sometimes, these defense-first teams like the Broncos can be a bit difficult to watch. Kind of like your Sam Allardycian West Hams and every game ever played by Stoke City, yes even the ones under the so-called attacking manager Mark Hughes. Add in all the stoppages for oxygen and commercials and even my USA American friends were tweeting out how boring this Super Bowl was.

For me, I can honestly say that I have never seen a better defensive performance in a Super Bowl. I thought the Seahawks had the best defense three years ago but the Broncos were several levels above that Seahawks defense yesterday.

Despite the few people who were moaning, watching a great defensive performance can be just as exciting and interesting as watching a great offensive performance. Sure, the score might be low but every single Panthers possession was thrilling, not for what Carolina were going to do, but for what the Broncos were going to do to them.

They hit Cam Newton almost from the very start. Von Miller just brutalized Cam, walked in, took the ball, and Denver scored a touchdown. It was at that moment that Cam Newton was rattled. That the whole Panthers team was rattled. From that point on, every time Cam Newton had the ball it seemed like he was rushed, sacked, tackled, or picked off.

At the end of the game there was another fumble, and Cam Newton was the first to see it, he went in to pounce on the ball but instead did something unusual: he jumped back. I don’t know what was going through his mind but he looked scared. It was as if Cam Newton was drawn and quartered by the Denver Broncos. I hear they plan to sew him back together for next season but I don’t think he’ll ever be the same.

If I can borrow a phrase from our sport (I’m talking about football now, not football) Denver played like a pressing team. Denver forced mistakes and pushed the Panthers back nearly every time they had the ball and it was so well orchestrated that they nearly got a safety, which is the equivalent of an own goal.

 

I’m not one of those boring writers who is ready to proclaim that defense is the new way forward but I will point out that in the Premier League there are two teams at the top of the table who play defense first. Though they execute their plans in radically different ways.

Leicester lead the League in interceptions and they are second in tackles, so they have a very active defense. They just play deep in their own half. And they do so on purpose, in order to create space for Vardy to run on to. The result is that they have the most counter attacking goals, the most penalties, and the fewest offsides (well, 3rd fewest).

Tottenham, on the other hand, press high. They have the fewest number of people dribbling past their tacklers, just 7.4 per game and they have the highest number of fouls per game. They try to hem the opposition in in their own half and win possession back. They also have the most number of set play goals this season and just 1 counter attacking goal.

Both of those teams, Leicester and Tottenham, just like the Denver Broncos, thrive on turnovers and causing instability in a team’s attack. And coincidentally, Arsenal are the third most dispossessed team in the League. Sure, that’s because Arsenal tend to have the ball a lot but there again, that plays right into Leicester’s hands this weekend.

More on that later this week.

For today, I enjoyed watching the defense first Super Bowl and I’m starting to worry about Arsenal against Leicester this weekend. Surely I’m not alone in that.

Qq