“Hey Tim, stats don’t tell the whole story”
Well, of course they don’t tell the whole story. Nothing tells the whole story except the whole story and even “the whole story” is a bit suspect unless it is written from an omniscient point of view.
Oh damn, wait, the story has a point of view? Well, then it’s not the whole story.
Take a finished novel, let’s even say a series of novels like the Harry Potter books. Surely that is the whole story, right? No, there’s tons of back story that J.K.* had to cut out, there’s interactions which she alludes to but doesn’t describe, and hell, you could write the books from a different perspective — like from Malfoy’s perspective, or from Neville’s point of view. You could even write the books from the point of view of someone who is inside the mind of the writer!
The whole story is boring, which is why writers tell stories from a specific point of view. And when I write my By the Numbers columns from the point of view of one of three evil masterminds: Lardon, the destroyer; Geekly, the meek; and Gofuckyourself, the angry Arsenal supporter.
As for today’s column here, I couldn’t imagine anything more boring than telling the whole story of the first half of Arsenal’s draw with Chelsea yesterday: “For Aaron Ramsey’s third pass, the ball curled slightly to the left and ended up not quite meeting the pace of Song. Song was forced to slow his run slightly and in the time he took to compose himself, Kalou closed down space and cut off his options. That was when inspiration struck Song “try a chip to Robin!” and he did. And the ball was duly kicked into Kalou, rebounded back and left Arsenal open for the counter attack…” etc, etc, ad nauseum.
From Lardron’s perspective the game started out like a bleeding wound, turned into a pus-filled bubo, and finished with the cannibalization of 60,000 Arsenal supporters. That is to say, it was “an horrible match.”
Switching back to Tim: I’ve been trying to think of a way to quantify the mythical “handbrake” and I came up with a method that looks at passes in the final third compared to shots. The idea being that “the handbrake” means that Arsenal lack an attacking edge and thus if there are a high number of passes in the final third without a lot of resulting shots then it would indicate the handbrake is on.
But in the first half against Chelsea, Arsenal had just 25 passes in the Chelsea final third and five shots or something. That’s a great pass to shot ratio but overall it’s a terrible amount of attacking from the home team. Especially in the context of knowing that Arsenal’s worst first half performance of the season in terms of passes in the final third was away to Liverpool where we managed just 24.
Just as telling is the criticism of Chelsea that they parked the bus against Arsenal as a sort of dry-run of their upcoming Champions League match against Barcelona. Sure, I accept that Chelsea sat back and looked to hit Arsenal on the counter. But the problem is that Chelsea had more passes in Arsenal’s final third than Arsenal did. And they had more shots than Arsenal in the first half. So, if Chelsea parked the bus then Arsenal… didn’t even get the bus out of the shed?
Wenger confirms what I can’t quantify (yet) and that is that Arsenal played with the handbrake on in the first half.
On our side I felt we had a very solid defensive performance. Going forward we didn’t find our quick passing game and the regret we have today is that we played offensively with a handbrake and not as clean technically as we can do. That is why we didn’t open them up enough. It was a bit similar to what we saw against Wigan and that’s a regret I have today.
So, I’m not sure how to quantify the handbrake but I know that I will find a way because it’s so bloody obvious when it comes on that it has to be quantifiable. Right?
Part of the blame for Arsenal’s slack ball movement in midfield falls on Ramsey’s shoulders and part falls on his teammates. In almost every way that I pointed out that Ramsey and the team needed to improve in order to fill Arteta’s rather tiny little boots they didn’t do.
Ramsey did pass the ball well, and that he lead both teams with 63/65 passes with 30 of them forward is a credit to him playing more reserved. But that was the only thing he did which was Arteta-esque. The rest of his game was like a caricature of Arteta rather than a replica.
In the first half, Ramsey was dispossessed 3 times (he ended the game with 4) and all three times seemed to be by Fernando Torres (who led all players with 4 successful tackles). I understand the frustration here, Ramsey needed to move the ball quicker and some of the blame for those 4 turnovers falls on his shoulders. But the team also deserves opprobrium; Ramsey needs an outlet to pass the ball too and I often saw his teammates running into the wrong spaces, leaving Ramsey on an island.
So, the first half came and went and I was left wondering why Arsenal looked so timid. Arsene believes there was a little hangover from Wigan and perhaps that does explain the game because like a good hangover, it blew off after 45 minutes of light jogging.
Arsenal came out in the second half with a renewed impetus and looked most likely to win the game with several great chances. Toward the end, Ramsey was playing more forward and he played a Song ball over the top which Robin tried to volley but blasted wide. We’ve seen him score two of those goals this season but I suspect the effect of playing almost every minute of every game this year for Arsenal has finally started to take toll.
In League play alone, Robin has played 35 games and a total of 3064 minutes this season. His previous two seasons at Arsenal he played 41 games and a total of 3023 minutes. It’s no surprise that he’s going through a poor run of form at the tail end of the season. That said, I have to wonder why Arsenal bought Park, Gervinho, and Chamakh if they are going to just run Robin into the ground?
Defensively, Arsenal were excellent and added a clean sheet to their haul of five in the last seven games. Sturridge was dominated by Arsenal and ended the game being dispossessed an eye-popping 9 times. If you think Ramsey is frustrating, you should read what Journos and others say about Sturridge on twitter.
I especially loved this tackle by Koscielny:
There was another bizarre moment when Theo Walcott was left on the pitch despite the fact that he had clearly pulled a hamstring. Just a few moments later he came up limping and now he’s got to be done for the season. This is why people wonder what is going on with the Arsenal physios. Everyone wanted him removed from the field, why was he allowed to continue?
In the end, Arsenal did enough to get the point and perhaps for some that’s not good enough. For me, I’m vowing not to panic until I see the ship is fully sinking and the lifeboats have all gone out to sea. Despite the draw, Arsenal are firmly in third place with 65 points. With Tottenham’s loss and Newcastle’s win, Arsenal’s nearest competitor for fourth is no longer Tottenham but Newcastle, who, if they should win their game in hand, would still be behind Arsenal on goal difference. Also, third is starting to look like a damn good bet because Newcastle have to play both Chelsea and Man City in their final four matches and while Tottenham are within 6 points with 12 still up for grabs, they are really listing badly and they have to play Fulham, the new kings of London:
Should be an exciting couple of weeks of football.
*We’re on a first two-name basis, she calls me Tim Todd.