Author Archives: Tim

About Tim

I'm the gaffer, I gaff things. I also make a lot of gaffs. Follow me on twitter @7amkickoff.

Wenger-jacket

It’s not the fans, it’s the team

“We lost the championship at home against the lower teams – we have the best record against the top clubs – but we played at home in a very difficult climate. We have to realise that, away from home, we are championship winners. At home, against the smaller teams, we lost the league. This club does have special values though and one I’ve experienced over the years is to stick together and support the team. There’s no success without that.

I groaned when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lost control of the ball in front of the Arsenal defense and Mauro Zarate scored West Ham’s second goal. The season was officially 56 minutes old and I was left with my head in my hands.

I wasn’t a negative person. I wasn’t trying to foment revolution among the Arsenal fan base. I don’t hate Arsene Wenger, I love and respect everything he has given to this club. Days before the match I had even written a piece explaining the logic behind why Arsene Wenger might not buy a single outfield player that summer: that he had a stacked team and wanted to give players like Ox, Theo, Wilshere, Ramsey, and Chambers the room to grow into the team. But I was devastated by a loss in the opening match of the season. I was angry about the errors by Cech and Ox. I was hurt. Because I’m a human and this thing I care about wasn’t doing as well as I had hoped.

I felt a bit of disappointment at the 0-0 draw against Liverpool in the second home game. It was the second home game of the season where Arsenal had been held scoreless, but there were encouraging signs; Arsenal were creating great chances, we just had to be patient and the goals would come.

And in the loss to Chelsea which followed a few weeks later I was furious: not at Arsenal or Arsene Wenger, not at the players, but at the referee, Mike Dean, who had wrongly sent off Gabriel and ruined the game. The match was so poorly officiated that Mike Dean received the second highest rebuke he could possibly get and had the red card rescinded for Gabriel and a red card retroactively handed to Diego Costa.

And even the loss to West Brom felt unlucky. Arsenal jumped out to an early lead but were pegged back by a sloppy set play goal and lost the game in the end to an own goal — against a team that created 4 shots. Not exactly the kind of game you expect Arsenal to lose.

But in the very next match, Arsenal again had the lead, 1-0 against Norwich away, and once again let the lead slip — this time because Gabriel was caught in a poor position and allowed his man to turn him easily. After the goal, it looked like Arsenal gave up. The stats bear that out: they created as many shots as Arsenal did. And it was that match, the second consecutive lead dropped in the second consecutive away match, where I started to feel like this team maybe lacked a little bit of that famous mental strength that Wenger always brags about. That this team could lose any sized lead.

That was November 2015. That was two consecutive away matches.

But it was Boxing Day that was probably my most angry moment of the season as an Arsenal supporter. Arsenal went to Southampton and were spanked 4-0. Not just beaten by a lucky deflection, or by an own goal, or a shot that hits a balloon, Arsenal were cut apart by a team that simply wanted the win more. They were out-hustled, out shot, out-tackled, and out-played at every level in that match.

I watched Southampton beat Arsenal 4-0 and felt like a pool of jelly. I was resigned at that point that this was a lost season. That Wenger’s gamble on Flamini, Walcott, Campbell, Ramsey, and Ox — all of whom played in that match and all of whom were subsequently dropped in varying ways — was an utter failure.

I don’t read the blogs and when it comes to newspapers I only read the Guardian, so I don’t read the muck rakers at the Metro, the Telegraph, and the Mail. I don’t follow any of the other Arsenal blogs. I don’t even read Arseblog. I don’t listen to people on twitter. I don’t get into arguments on twitter. I don’t follow the Piers Morgans. I don’t even have other people around me to talk to about Arsenal. I don’t go to games. I don’t have pints with people before and after the games and complain about times past. I don’t even read the comments on my own Arsenal blog half the time. I live in an Arsenal bubble. And I was livid.

I was angry because I had put my faith in Wenger to make the right call when it came to these players and he didn’t. I had also put my faith in the players coming good and they didn’t. I had trumpeted Arsenal’s expected goals and the rate they were creating. I called Cech the best goal keeper in the League. I was a true believer in this project.

I was wrong.

After January, it only got worse. There was the 3-3 draw to Liverpool away in which Arsenal dropped the lead. There was the 0-0 draw to Stoke away, in which Arsenal only took 8 shots and both teams combined for 20 tackles. That was a match in which it looked like neither team could really be arsed to show up.

Are you paying attention here? It was Arsenal’s away form against little teams in the early part of the season which ruined Arsenal’s title chances. Arsenal have only won 8 away matches. That’s good enough for 3rd best away form behind Leicester and Tottenham. We are far from “Championship winners”, as Wenger claims: Arsenal’s 1.67ppg in away matches is 3rd best this season, 4th place form last season, and 7th place form the season prior. Championship? You mean the League Championship? Nope. 1.67ppg in away games is still only third place in the League Championship.

After January, things only got worse and Arsenal took 11 of 24 points from away matches. Those include the ignominious 3-3 draw against West Ham, in which Arsenal had a 3 goal lead and flushed it down the bog, and the 3-2 loss to Manchester United’s U21 team. And I’m not going to recap the horrible 0-0 draw to Sunderland a game which was so lazy and clearly the team didn’t care that I spent the majority of the match playing games on my phone.

The fan unrest this season isn’t because of egos. People aren’t groaning because some unnamed media personality is tweeting negativity about the team or the manager. The first time I heard the Kroenke out chant was an away game. I don’t even go to games but at every match, when the fans, home or away, groan? I groan along with them. When they yell “what the.. Theo???” I tell it too. I do all of this from my couch. If the home fans or the away fans are to blame, then I guess us couch fans are to blame too.

I’ve been to a dozen Arsenal matches. I’ve seen Arsenal pass the ball sideways for 90 minutes and fans fall asleep in front of me. I’ve been to away nights in Munich where we cheered for 90 minutes after an early goal gave us hope that we would get through to the next round. I’ve been to Anfield as their fans sang their little song and then sat quiet for 90 minutes and we sang for 90 minutes about Tottenham minding the gap. I went to Liberty Stadium where the Swansea faithful sang the whole match and played a kettle drum and our fans rained down abuse on Abou Diaby because he had the temerity to get injured. I’ve seen Adebayor play the laziest brand of football known to man on a freezing night in February, when a header from Senderos won the match. And I remember my first ever match, 3-0 over Charlton at Highbury: the crowd were largely polite, sang a few songs, and everyone went home with a slight buzz from the rarity of watching Hleb score.

Ninety percent of the time it’s not the fans who set the tone in the stadium, just like I don’t set the tone from my couch. Fans are there to see something exciting. They are there to see their team win. To see new heroes emerge. To see a special shot. To watch an amazing pass. To hear a crunching tackle and watch the opposition’s shots parried away. To see their team play their hearts out.

It’s not been the fans who lost Arsenal the title this season. It’s not been the home fans or the away fans singing about Kroenke. It’s not twitter. It’s not Piers Morgan. It’s not Thierry Henry on SkySports. It’s not the bloggers. It’s the team. This team wasn’t good enough. This team doesn’t excite. This team doesn’t show the fight we expect. This team isn’t prepared. This team loses games it should win because they don’t even show up sometimes. This team is weak and stale.

And that is not my fault.

Qq

atleti

Atletico 1-0 Bayern: better call Saúl

Atletico Madrid beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the Champions League yesterday and now have 33 clean sheets in all competitions this season. Atleti have also been held scoreless 8 times, but they have just 8 losses, 8 draws, and 36 wins, and along the way they have beaten both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

People complain about Simeone’s “tactics”, mostly meaning the off the ball stuff like time wasting and feigning injury to stop the game. And in yesterday’s match against Bayern, the ball was in play for only 64 total minutes of the 94 minute match.

However, that number becomes less meaningful when you see that in Real Madrid’s match with Wolfsburg the ball was in play just 61 minutes and in the Real Madrid-Man City match, just 66 minutes. Purists might point to the Arsenal-Barcelona match and I would agree! In the 1st leg in London the ball was in play for 65 minutes and the return leg, the ball was in play for 64 minutes. Clearly, Atletico Madrid are the master time wasters.

What they do well, actually, is use good spacing and team play to push players where they want to them to be and thus limit the opposition’s chances. Bayern are well known for their wing play: Ribery, Robben, Comen, and Costa are Bayern’s biggest threats out wide. They can break down almost any team’s defenders with incisive dribbles, quick passes, and intelligent movement off the ball.

But Diego Simeone’s Atleti dominated the center of the park and controlled the wide areas. Atleti’s  two top tacklers, Gabi and Luis, made 9 tackles each down the flanks. Both players were crucial to keeping their team’s clean sheet as they won 7/9 tackles each, with their backup players winning an additional 7/10.*

atleti

Atletico made an astonishing 53 tackles in this game, but almost all of them were wide. If I count the flanks extremely narrow, Atleti only made 9 of those tackles in the middle of the pitch. If I divide the pitch into 3rds, they made just four. Four of 53 tackles in the middle of the pitch. Clearly Simeone had a defensive game plan and it worked.

Bayern took 20 shots to Atletico’s 11, which seems like great shot superiority until I tell you that both teams had just 1 shot in the 6 yard box, and Atletico took 5 shots in the 18 yard box compared to Bayern’s 7. Also, both teams hit the woodwork once, both teams had just four shots on target from within the 18 yard box, and Atletico Madrid even dominated big chances with a 2-1 advantage. Atletico also limited Robert Lewandowski to just one shot while the only big chance for Bayern was a header from Martinez. Not exactly threatening stuff.

It was a mazy run (in the 10th minute) and perfectly placed shot by Saúl Ñíguez (who is trying to break the bank with accent marks in his name) which tipped the scales of this match. Ñíguez attempted 6 dribbles in this game and completed three of them in his goal scoring run. Beating Alcantara, Bernat, and Xabi in the single move which announced him on the international stage, even if no one I know can agree on how to pronounce his last name. I guess we better just call him Saúl.

Atletico have it all to do once again, this time in Munich. Simeone won’t have the atmosphere of the Vincente Calderon to pump his players up and may need more than one goal to go through, but expect him to have a plan to stop Bayern. Or at least to slow them down.

Qq

*It’s important to remember that all tackles are successful events. A tackle always takes the ball away from an opponent but a successful tackle wins the ball back for your team.

P.S. as a point of comparison, in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Bayern, the Gunners made 43 tackles but they were much more central with their attempts. Here is Arsenal’s map:

Arsenal-Bayern

And Atleti’s full map:

Atleti

Like Atleti, Arsenal allowed Bayern 20 shots, but 9 were in the 18 yard box, and only 3 of those were on target. Bayern also created two big chances but allowed Arsenal four!

It’s important to note that I am giving credit here to Arsenal in their 2-0 win over Bayern for being excellent defensively in that match.

Arteta scores - no, really.

Not penalties for; penalties against

Quick fact: over the last 14 years Arsenal have been awarded 72 penalties. This number is in line with the other top teams in the English Premier League. Man U have been awarded 76, Man City 75, Chelsea 80, and Liverpool have been awarded the most penalties at 81. If we look at the eight teams who have been in the Premier League for the last 14 years the numbers show a pretty clear break between top teams and the others:

2002-2016 Penalties delta Total penalties
Liverpool 5.8 81
Chelsea 5.7 80
Man U 5.4 76
Man City 5.4 75
Arsenal 5.1 72
Tottenham 4.3 60
Aston Villa 4.2 59
Everton 3.9 54

As an interesting side note here, Barcelona has won 19 penalties in this season alone. I don’t have all of their data in the same format as I do for the Premier League teams but 19 penalties is 23% of Liverpool’s total penalties haul for the last 14 years. And even weirder is that Barcelona have conceded 20 penalties this season! And, we are going to talk about this in a second, but Man U have only conceded 36 penalties in the last 14 years. That means Barcelona have conceded more than half the number of penalties this season than Man U have conceded in 14 years.

And this isn’t a one-off thing with penalties in La Liga. Last season, Real Madrid conceded 18 penalties and were only awarded 13 penalties. The season before Barcelona conceded 15 and were only awarded 12. I’d have to look at this deeper but this is very odd to me: to see the best teams in La Liga penalized the most. Especially because…

While Man U may have been awarded just a few more penalties than Arsenal over the last 14 years, where they have been lucky is that they haven’t had hardly any penalties awarded against them. Just 36 penalties in the last 14 years have gone against Man U. That’s an average of 2.6 per year.

Looking at the chart of penalties against you can see that Arsenal are no longer in the top tier and have dropped into the league with Spurs and Everton when it comes to penalties awarded against:

2002-2016 Penalties delta Total penalties
Aston Villa 5.6 78
Tottenham 4.2 59
Arsenal 3.9 54
Liverpool 3.6 50
Everton 3.5 49
Man City 3.4 48
Chelsea 2.7 38
Man U 2.6 36

Arsenal’s penalty record is neatly bifurcated into pre-2008 and post-2008. Pre-2008, Arsenal averaged 6 penalties for and 2.3 against. Post-2008 Arsenal’s penalties awarded drop to 4.5 and the penalties against more than double to 5 per season.

As you know, 2008 is when Martin Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg. It’s not just the drop in penalties awarded to Arsenal, which is factually accurate — Arsenal have had two seasons where they weren’t awarded a single penalty at home, something that has never happened to Man U or Liverpool, or Chelsea. But worse than the drop in penalties awarded is that what you see after 2008 is five consecutive years that Arsenal’s opposition is awarded more penalties than Arsenal.

Arsenal finally broke the duck last season when they were awarded 7 penalties to 3. Those 10 penalties are just about average for Arsenal who have averaged 9 penalty events (for and against combined) per season over the last 14 years. But this season Arsenal are back down to just 2 penalties for and 1 against.

In fact all the big teams seem to have had the penalties dry up this season. Chelsea has been awarded 4 (4 against), Liverpool 2 (3 against), and Man U 3 (2 against). The only teams getting penalties this season are Leicester 11 (3 against), Man City 7 (1 against), and Tottenham 5 (1 against).

I have tried to correlate penalties with any other factor* and I got insanely low r^2 values. That should mean that penalties are random. And we know that penalties are stingily awarded in the Premier League compared to, say, La Liga. Since they are rare and random events that means that single penalties can play a much bigger part in the season outcome. So, when I see that a top team, one that has consistently finished in the top four, has been awarded fewer penalties than their opposition, something we don’t normally see with top teams, I wonder if something else isn’t at work.

Qq

*Passes, final third passes, shots, goals, tackles, etc and I think the best I got was .14