Author Archives: Tim

About Tim

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

Arsenal-v-Manchester-United

Arsenal 1-2 Man U: running over the same old ground

I’ve spent two days thinking about Arsenal’s loss to Man U and frankly, I can’t come up with anything brilliant to say. I can say that while the result was terrible, Arsenal played better than I’ve seen them play against Man U in a decade. I can also say that Arsenal really should outplay this Man U side because this is the worst Man U side I’ve ever seen. But in the end, as good as Arsenal were, the same old problems haunt this team and they couldn’t get over the mental and physical challenge to win against the old enemy.

If Manchester United were bad last year, shorn of their most experienced and best defenders (Evra, Vidic and Ferdinand) and with a midfield which started Marouane Fellaini along side Michael “passmaster” Carrick, this is arguably the worst Manchester United team I have ever seen. Their one saving grace is that they have a wealth of attacking talent in di Maria and Wayne Rooney.

This is a Man United team with no midfield and no defense and Arsenal exploited that beautifully. Carving open two glorious chances that should have won Arsenal the game. The first was a nifty through ball from Ox to Welbeck. Welbeck shot straight at de Gea.

The second was from Welbeck to Wilshere and that one is probably going to go down in the Torres Misses Hall of Shame. Wilshere was one-on-one versus de Gea, with the entire goal open in front of him, and he even had Alexis wide open on his left. Wilshere even got de Gea to commit and go down early. But he shot straight into the keeper. It was a dreadful shot and left Alexis gesticulating furiously.

A few seconds later, Wilshere should have won a penalty. It was a clear foul in the box with referee Mike Dean standing yards away. But the thing is, Mike Dean wouldn’t award a penalty if a Man U player chopped off an Arsenal player’s legs with a katana. He’d just make that silly scrunched up face, waggle his finger, and tell the player to get up.

I joke but it’s actually not funny. He basically did exactly that when McNair tried to take Jack Wilshere’s ankle off. Man U did what Man U does now, they started fouling Arsenal and targeted Jack Wilshere. McNair ended Jack’s night and gave him a few weeks in a boot with a horrible lunging tackle that was lucky it didn’t leave Wilshere’s ankles hanging by a thread.

The sideline official in that video has a perfect view of the tackle, he doesn’t waive the flag and Mike Dean doesn’t blow for a foul. Man U fouled the opposition’s best player out of the game. But they weren’t done there. A few minutes after taking Wilshere out of the game, Foullani shoved Gibbs into Szczesny, injuring both players. Instead of calling the foul or even stopping play because there’s an Arsenal player down on the ground in the penalty area who just got punched in the head, Mike Dean waved play on and Gibbs scored an own goal as he was laying on the pitch.

I don’t know, guys. I don’t want to believe that there is a referee conspiracy against Arsenal because that would mean that the games are not real. That would mean that the sport is not real. But I can’t help but think that there is something seriously wrong when I see how Arsenal are treated by the officials.

And once Arsenal were behind, they did the thing that Arsenal now do: damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Predictably, Man U scored the second (and could have had a third) off a breakaway. Alexis gave the ball away but the giveaway was on the edge of the 18 yard box. From there Fellaini made one pass to di Maria, who passed to Rooney and the hapless Nacho Monreal was left scuttling after the ball with hundreds of yards of space around him.

Where were the Arsenal defenders? Where was the Arsenal midfield? Where is the universe?

And so, an unfamiliar Arsenal performance, one in which Arsenal actually did dominate the game, had a familiar result, a loss coming from the opponent fouling and Arsenal playing recklessly to get back into the game.

What really frustrates me is that Robin van Persie should be suffering the choice he made to go to United but instead, every time we face our old captain, he gets the last laugh. It’s unbearable. It’s like finding out that your last girlfriend had herpes, via a text message that says “you should get checked”, after the breakup.

Van Persie left Arsenal in a huff, saying he didn’t like the direction the club was taking. He then won a League title and that seemed to justify his betrayal. But since that singular season he’s been laboring on two very poor United sides and has lost out on Champions League football. And Arsenal have been spending money, buying Özil and Sanchez from Real Madrid and Barcelona. Arsenal are on the up and Man U are on the down. We should be able to lord this over him but instead he gets to smile and say “we played a good game and got all three points, that’s all that matters”.

It’s all dreadfully familiar. Last season I wrote this:

And I know that we lost to Man U yesterday, in that heartbreaking fashion that we do with them: by being a bit timid in the first half, letting Nevra* and Rooney push us around, getting caught on a corner, and then having to watch as a traitorous backstabber dry-humps Wayne Rooney in front of 70,000 of their tourist fans.

They push us around, the refs let them get away with it, we squander several good chances, the ref doesn’t call a penalty, they injure two Arsenal players with fouls, they score on an error, we commit too many players forward, they score the winner on a breakaway.

Too familiar.

Qq

Arsene knows

Arsenal top the table once again but could have Achilles snipped this weekend

Every season since I started blogging about Arsenal, which coincides with Arsenal moving to the new stadium*, the Gunners have topped a different table. In the eight years I’ve been doing this Arsenal have won the Fair Play table, the Injury Table, the money table, the “over-achieved for total spend” table, the “Referees have done one on us Table” from Debatable Decisions (defunct), and the Total Shots Ratio table. Sometimes Arsenal have been so good that that have done the double or triple and topped multiple tables in a single season!  But all those tables pale in comparison to the new table Arsenal top. I am proud to announce that thanks to the international week Arsenal are still top of the table, baby. The “Expected Goals Table” that is.

I’m being cheeky but the Expected Goals table is actually not a bad table to top. The “xG Table” as it is known is the logical outgrowth of the Total Shots Ratio table and xG is a damn fine tool for predicting how many goals we would expect a team to score and concede over a given number of shots.

If you’ve been around my blog for any amount of time you know that I am a fan of total shots ratio. It’s not a perfect analytic tool but it makes a lot of sense, has a high rate of correlation, and it’s really simple. Basically, the best  teams shoot more and simultaneously limit the opposition’s shots and the result is that they tend to win more. This, however, isn’t always true.

The Invincibles had the lowest Total Shots Ratio (0.63) of any Arsenal side from 2000-2013. The only Arsenal side that had a lower TSR was last season’s Arsenal side, which had a TSR of just 0.60. Meanwhile, the Arsenal side of 09/10 had the best Total Shots Ratio I’ve seen in a long time at .69. If you remember, that was the season Arsenal leapfrogged into… third place. Arsenal probably could have finished better than third except that Arsenal allowed the opposition 13% conversion rate and as a result, shipped 41 goals that season. Up until that season, Arsene’s Arsenal had only allowed 40+ goals twice. After that season, 40+ is the new normal.

So, how did TSR not predict that Arsenal would finish 3rd? 2009/2010 was the first season, if you remember, that the opposition started to figure out how to play against Arsenal’s high defensive line and take advantage of Arsenal’s lapses in concentration at the back. Conceding against corners, set plays, headers, in addition to the route one counter attacks were all hallmarks of that team and remain the main method teams employ to beat Arsenal now. So, while we know that Total Shots Ratio is a good measure, it’s also flawed. Some shots are simply better than others!

This is a drum I have been beating for years. Shots in the box are converted at a higher rate than shots outside the box and shots in the “prime areas” are converted at an even higher rate. Moreover, headers, even in prime areas, are converted at a lower rate and, unless you’re Luis Suarez**, headers from outside the prime areas are almost never converted. We also know that crossing the ball is not as effective as playing a through-ball for an assist, that corners are a low percentage shot, and that one-on-one’s with the keeper are terrific chances. This is something you’ve probably heard me say here and on Arseblog News: all key passes are equal, but some key passes are more equal than others.

This is where the newest metric, Expected Goals, comes in to play. What folks like Michael Caley, have done is taken the idea that some shots are better than others and created a much more detailed version of the Total Shots Ratio. By analyzing where the shots are taken, not just how many, and where the teams are allowing the opposition to get shots and using them in a ratio, Caley is able to come up with a much more accurate predictor of League Performance.

And if you even take a cursory look at Caley’s tables, Arsenal are tops: they top Total Shots Ratio, they top Danger Zone Ratio (DZR), DZR minus crosses, Expected Goals, Expected Goals Against, Expected Goals Ratio, Strength of Schedule (actually they are third), and Adjusted Expected Goals Ratio. So, why are Arsenal in 6th place? Well, several reasons.

First, I have no criticism of the work that Caley has done. This is a tremendous boon to the stats community and something I have wanted to do for years but haven’t been able to put together the time. His model isn’t wrong, his model shows that Arsenal are generating great shots in great areas while limiting the opposition to fewer of those same shots. On average, we expect that Arsenal would score more goals and concede less goals than other teams who are taking fewer and allowing more of those same shots. The problem is that Arsenal often buck stats trends.

Like I showed above with the Invincibles and with the 09/10 Arsenal side the peculiarity of Arsenal is that while the boss plays the averages and uses them in his analysis of the game, the particulars, the Achilles heel, of Arsenal continue to be exploited.

crosses It’s not always the same heel that teams nip at. As you can see from the 7amkickoff Index, this season, the thing that teams are picking on is crosses. In the 11 matches Arsenal have played in the Premier League, Arsenal have conceded 6 goals off crosses and a further 5 of those crosses have been headed. Arsenal have conceded 13 goals in 11 games when the xG numbers say we should have conceded about 8. I mark that increase down almost entirely to headed goals conceded off crosses: a low percentage shot that Arsenal seem vulnerable to this season.

That brings me neatly to the weekend’s match against Man U. Arsenal are the most prolific crossing team in the League and Man U are just 1 cross per game average less that Arsenal. Man U get almost all of that crossing from just one player: Angel Di Maria. ADM is 1st in the League in crosses attempted, he’s 3rd in accurate crosses, he’s 2nd in accurate corners, he’s 3rd in the League in generating shots off crosses, and tied with Fabregas for 1st in the League with throughball key passes. If there was any player Arsenal don’t want to face on Saturday, it’s him.

Those who see the cup as half full will see that statistically Arsenal are doing the right things to prevent goals and to score goals. As Wenger would probably point out, the Premier League race is a marathon and this one statistical aberration of headed goals conceded off crosses should revert to mean. Thus, if Arsenal just keep doing what they are doing they should be a shoo-in for the top four.

Those who are cup half empty, spilling out into the streets which run red with Achilles’ blood, will probably point to Arsenal’s vulnerability to the same old faults and say “statistics don’t tell the whole story.”

 

*Kick 7amkickoff out of football!
**Scoring headers from this distance is almost unheard of. I would bet that there hasn’t been a header scored from the top of the box in 10 years. I know that Wilshere’s goal was beautiful to watch but given the rarity and skill on display here how this goal wasn’t even nominated for goal of the season is beyond me.

Adidas-Nitrocharge-Crazylight

Boot review: Adidas Nitrocharge 1.0 Crazylight

From time to time the good folks at SoccerPro.com send me boots to review. This is one of those times. Here’s the deal: I get free boots, they get free ads, you get a weird review of a pair of soccer cleats. Enjoy! – Tim

Sounders

Whale-eye

Ribbed

MiCoach

Foam

Crazylight

To make the new Nitrocharge Crazylights, Adidas stripped out the pre-molded protection pads and the protective mesh, slapped that upper on a new (lighter) sprintframe outsole, gave the whole boot a whale-eye pattern and for good measure even stripped off the iconic Adidas three stripe logo. The result? A completely stripped down boot which weighs in at just 225g. And if I were to give a review true to the boot it would be just the words above and a link to the shoe.

I’m an old-school player. I still buy Kangaroo leather boots, in black, and I prefer steel studs unless I’m playing in the summer or on ice. I think I bought a pair of white boots once a few years ago, and that was me really pushing my boundaries. Hey, they were on sale.

So, when Tise from SoccerPro offered to send me those Nike Magista’s this summer, I was up front with him that they weren’t the type of boots I would really consider buying. Heck, they wouldn’t even come up in a search because my main search terms when looking for boots are “kangaroo” and “studs that will break the metatarsals of kids in their peacock boots”. But I wore those boots all summer and I have to admit that they are very nice boots.

But these “Crazylights”? I don’t know, man. All I know is that when I was in high school, if a kid offered to show you his crazylights it meant something totally different.

My first reaction on seeing the shoe’s green tip which gives way to a blue and white tail was “hey, 80′s Seahawks colors.” Erm… I mean “hey, Sounders colors”.

Adidas-Nitrocharge-CrazylightMy second reaction was “is that a whale eye or is this supposed to be a peacock pattern?” I’ve looked at it dozens of times and I have decided that they originally wanted to go with a peacock pattern and someone, somewhere, told them to change it into a whale-eye.

I think it’s supposed to be a menacing whale’s eye but it comes off as sort of just grumpy. Or maybe with the squiggly blue line for a mouth it’s “whale’s eye with indigestion.” Like, maybe the whale ate too many Christiano Ronaldo’s and now has an upset tummy from all the hair product?

Then there’s this weird rubber thing on top, the “energysling”. There’s no other way to put this, it’s a ribbed rubber band around the boot. I guess it increases control but all I could think of every time I touched the ball was “ribbed, for her pleasure”.

There’s a neat little pocket for the MiCoach chip which I would like to request that SoccerPro send me next. The MiCoach measures a player’s activity level and I would love to see the Adebayorian level of laziness that I achieve whilst playing football.

I’m not sure what the rest of the boot is made out of. It feels like some kind of foam fabric.  But I can tell you this, they sure are light!

Pick one up and you can tell right away that it’s light. Lighter even than my Magistas. If the Magistas were roughly half the weight of my regular boots, these are roughly half the weight of the Magistas. That is… wait for it… wait…

Crazylight!

I played one match in them and the conditions were less than optimal. The ground was ice cold and hard as a rock. That was in the spots of our pitch where we hadn’t worn a hole. Once one of us ran around in a spot for a while, the ice gave way to mud. Needless to say, everyone was falling all over the place. But the studs on the Crazylight were very good and actually gave me an advantage. I only slipped once!

The other thing, and this has to be psychological, is that these boots are so light that I feel like my feet are quicker. I know, that’s stupid right? But I felt something similar wearing the Magistas and now these Crazylights. My feet felt, lighter.

In the end I’m pretty sure that’s the whole point of these shoes, to provide a solid base to play on and give the player a psychological quickness advantage. If you think your feet are faster, if the shoe is just that fraction lighter, maybe you are able to control and trick the defender a little more than normal?

Qq