Category Archives: Arsenal

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Is Walcott in a slump or does he just suck?

Is Theo Walcott in a slump or does he just suck?

Since the announcement of his 10 years at Arsenal there has been a meme making the rounds in the comments sections here, and everywhere else I write, that Walcott is simply not good enough for Arsenal. It’s a response to my insistence that Walcott is simply in a slump and that one or two goals might see a flood.

Walcott is in a slump. His main job this season is scoring goals. And in terms of scoring goals, this season is the lowest conversion rate of his career at Arsenal — he is converting just 7.8% of his total shots. That’s below the football average of 9.5% for all shots and well below what we would expect to see from a forward.

Kun Aguero is an amazing forward. Using the data from ESPN and looking at all the competitions he played for Man City (minus friendlies) he had 652 shots from 2010-2016. He has put 290 of those shots on target (44.5%) and has scored 124 goals. 124/652 means that his overall converversion rate for the last 5+ years is 19%.

That’s tough to top.

Lewandowski is scoring at 18% this season in the Bundesliga, Messi 15%, Ronaldo is 14%, Rooney 14%, and Luis Suarez is scoring 25% of his shots — needless to say that’s a career high for Suarez who converted 12% (21/187) in the year Arsenal bid on him and that jumped to 17% the next year.

A lot of those players are their team’s main striker and they are expected to take a lot of shots which will often drive their conversion rates down. If you look at players like Benzema (28%), Neymar (22%), Muller (23%), and the like they average a MUCH higher conversion rate of 20% or more.

All of which is to say that Walcott’s 8% (rounded up) is absolutely not good enough. I’m not biased against Theo, Sanchez is only scoring 10% right now and that also isn’t good enough, especially considering the fact that he score 24/171 shots last season for a 14% conversion rate.

But the reason I have been so high on Walcott coming good is because he has hit that mythical 18% conversion twice in the last 4 years: 2012/13 and 2014/15. In 2012/13 he had a breakout season and scored 21 goals on 111 shots for an 18% conversion rate. He wasn’t playing with a main striker (Giroud only scored 11 League goals that season) so despite his 10 assists and playing wide in that pseudo-support striker Wenger put Walcot in, he wasn’t really a support striker like a Benzema or Neymar.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: 2014/15 doesn’t count because he was injured and took just 38 total shots. Therefore, his conversion rate was skewed because of “sample size”.  It’s not sample size but yes the problem is that he scored 7 goals on 38 shots last season. If he had scored 6 goals he would have converted 16%, 5 goals 13%, and so on. But notice that even if he had only scored 4 goals last season (he didn’t, he scored 7) he would have converted above 10%. And this season he is converting around 8%.

If you’ve been paying close attention, you might have noticed that Walcott suffers from Wayne Rooney’s disease: he has one good season followed up by one bad season. And this is, in fact, the pattern we are seeing with Walcott.

Walcott-comversion

But even if this was an “off season” for Walcott his low is still well below his other lows which are all above 10%!

That is the definition of a slump.

Bonus:

  • If Walcott had converted 18% of his shots this season he would have scored 12 goals.
  • Walcott is currently Arsenal’s most profligate forward, having scored just 2 of 12 big chances. These should be converted at a 40% rate.
  • Walcott has never been a ball hog. In his “breakout” season he averaged 16.6 passes per game and he’s down to 14.4 this season, but that can easily be accounted for with him playing through the middle where he is supposed to make runs behind, not drop and collect
  • All his passing numbers are down from that high in 2012/13: assists down from 10 to 2, key passes per game 1.3 to 0.8, crosses per game 0.9 to 0.1, even dribbles are down from 1.5 to 1.2.
  • Walcott’s shots data, all competitions, source ESPN.com
Season Shots Shots on Goal Goals conv sog%
2015/16 64 27 5 7.8% 42.2%
2014/15 38 22 7 18.4% 57.9%
2013/14 53 23 6 11.3% 43.4%
2012/13 111 55 21 18.9% 49.5%
2011/12 86 38 9 10.5% 44.2%
2010/11 93 51 13 14.0% 54.8%
2009/10 43 16 4 9.3% 37.2%
2008/09 57 23 5 8.8% 40.4%
2007/08 61 26 8 13.1% 42.6%
small-arshavin-shot

Arsenal sees shadow on Groundhog Day

21 February 2009 was a beautiful day. As we filed into the stadium, the seats and pitch were dappled in bright winter sunlight. It could have been a trick of the sun, or of the mind, but that pitch was greener than any I had ever seen. It was as if each cell of each blade of grass was drinking in the sun and pouring out green light in return.

The weather matched our collective optimism. Arsenal were a ship in irons, no wind to push our sails, and had faltered to two consecutive 0-0 draws. In those draws Arsenal looked ponderous in midfield with Song and Denilson tacking Arsenal back and forth but never seeming to gain ground. But on the day we we all jubilant from the fact that Arsene Wenger had finally broken down and purchased a forward, a player who would come on, score the goals we needed, and push Arsenal back into the Champions League places, where Aston Villa sat in our stead.

small-arshavin-shot

That player was Andrei Arshavin and he did come on that day, but he didn’t save us and he only excited in brief moments. It was such a boring match that half way through the second half, I noticed the two guys in front of me were sleeping. It ended 0-0 and the Sunderland fans danced. 

The next game ended 0-0 as well. Four consecutive matches ended 0-0 and by the end of that run, Arsenal were 6 points behind Aston Villa in 5th place and just 2 points above Everton in 6th. 

That was the last time Arsenal went three or more matches without scoring. Until Tuesday.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that like 2009, Arsenal fans were excited at the prospect of facing Southampton again. This time with superstar Alexis Sanchez in the team the Gunners had a chance to right the wrongs of the 4-0 loss handed out when Arsenal were at their lowest ebb of the season.

And just like that sunny February day in 2009, the match ended 0-0, and our tiny savior didn’t save us.

Just a few weeks ago Arsenal were League leaders and to paraphrase Eduardo Galeano “well-informed sources in London were announcing the imminent fall of Leicester and Manchester City, it was only a matter of hours.” Galeano was talking about well informed sources in Miami and the fall of Castro. As we know now, Cuba remained under Castro’s rule until his death in… wait, he’s still alive? Damn, by the Law of Metaphors we now know that Leicester City will never fall.

Leicester and Manchester City didn’t fade away but Arsenal did; the Gunners have earned just nine points from the last seven matches. Leicester have earned twelve points from their last seven and Man City fifteen points from their last seven (they are undefeated). And while no one was watching Tottenham even overtook Arsenal.

Sitting in 4th place the title race isn’t over for Arsenal, mathematically. And on a positive note, Arsenal did create 21 shots, including 5 “Big Chances”, against a staunch Southampton defense and their ally Lee Mason. That was Arsenal’s best performance since… since they took 26 shots and had 5 big chances in the 5-2 win over Leicester back in September. On another positive note Leicester have to play Man City and Arsenal next and Man City have to play Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool in their next three fixtures. So, the next three games could see Arsenal climb back to the top.

But in the negative camp, the 0-0 draw against Southampton means that the title race is out of Arsenal’s hands. Even if Arsenal win every remaining game, including the match against Leicester, Leicester still have to drop points for Arsenal to win the League.

I don’t know why I haven’t seen this mentioned but Tuesday was Groundhog Day. Literally, the Groundhog Day. Maybe it’s been beaten to death, “Groundhog Day” used to be a fan favorite as a metaphor for Arsenal finishing 4th every season. But on the day that was both literally and metaphorically Groundhog Day, the day in which a rodent was pulled from a stump and the day in which Arsenal slipped to 4th place, silence.

via GIPHY

As depressing as it seems at the moment with Arsenal slipping to their inevitable 4th place and with the dreaded Tottenham above Arsenal in 3rd (and playing some pretty great football), in the film, Phil offers this line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sonnet Work Without Hope:

And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!

That is the most evocative line from the poem and an oddly beautiful moment in the film. But the point of that poem is meaningful here for us Arsenal fans at one of our lowest moments. Work Without Hope was written in February (1825) in contemplation of the impending spring. It ends with this final couplet…

Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.

The Arsenal are the work, and we are the hope. That’s how this relationship works, I guess. It’s going to take me a while to make sense of that. Until then, like Phil, I think I’ll just have a straight shot of whiskey.

Qq

sOUTHAMPTON

Arsenal v. Southampton: must win

Don’t you hate the cliche “must win?” It’s usually trotted out when there is plenty of time left in the season to get the points needed to win the League. For example, here, in this article I am writing today, Arsenal have 15 games left in the season and there is only a three point gap between them and the League leaders Leicester. So, technically, even if Arsenal lose today and Leicester win there are still 42 points on the table for Arsenal to win and thus, technically, this is not a “must win” game.

But it feels like a must win because every dropped point from now on out means that the leaders also have to drop points and that means that Arsenal’s destiny is not in their own hands. Also, dropped points mean that Arsenal must have fewer future slip-ups; as the season winds down each loss closes the future margin for error.

So, even if you have to say it through gritted teeth it’s ok to say that *this feels like a must win match for Arsenal*.

These two teams met five matches ago and Arsenal got served with a 4-0 spanking. In that match Southampton came with a two-pronged plan: harass Arsenal’s midfield and defense when out of possession and attack Per Mertesacker in possession. Below is the chalkboard for Southampton’s tackles (green triangles for successful and red for unsuccessful), ball recoveries (yellow triangles), and key passes (yellow boxes).

sOUTHAMPTONSouthampton was simply quicker to the ball than Arsenal were. Unlike this weekend’s match against Burnley, you don’t see a ton of tackles high up the pitch or in the center circle but instead we see just ball recoveries. This means Arsenal were making unforced errors in their own defensive end of the pitch and as we all know losing possession in that part of the pitch is one of the most dangerous things a player can do. Arsenal lost possession 12 times in their own half. Several of those led directly to key passes, or passes that resulted in a shot.

The problem on the day was that Arsenal’s midfield — Ramsey, Flamini, and Özil — all lost possession deep in their own half. And since then the Flamini-Ramsey midfield partnership hasn’t looked anywhere near the quality needed to win the League.

You would think that simply changing one or both of those players would solve the problem and Wenger does have choices in that regard. He could simply replace Flamini: Flamini is the backup to Coquelin and now Coquelin is back healthy so it seems normal to put him back into the starting lineup. But it’s not that simple. That’s a crucial partnership in the center of the pitch and I don’t think we have seen much of Coquelin and Ramsey together.

The other suggestion is to play new guy, Mohamed Elneny, along with Coquelin in midfield and push Ramsey out wide. Coquelin and Elneny did have a great game on Saturday against Burnley and complimented each other well, with Elneny making himself constantly available and Coquelin cleaning up messes when they appeared.

Burnley pressed the midfield hard, it wasn’t a soft introduction to English football for the Egyptian, so he has proven he can maybe handle the heat. But it was just one game and Burnley aren’t Southampton, they are significantly lower quality than the Saints. So, do you roll the dice again and see what Elneny’s made of?

Up front, Wenger has a similar selection headache. Alexis Sanchez also returned from injury this weekend against Burnley and immediately showed us what we had been missing by scoring one goal and setting up the other. Having his energy and quality in attack is going to give Southampton fits for sure.

But with Alexis on the left, what the right wing? We have already mentioned Ramsey and that’s a great choice if you want a team that’s just going to run the opposition into the ground. Ramsey, Alexis, Elneny, and Özil almost never stop running. So to have all four of those players on the pitch at the same time would be pretty amazing.

But Wenger might opt for adding an attacking threat with Theo Walcott. In theory, Walcott is the kind of forward who makes runs behind the defenders. Putting him on the pitch should pin back the Southampton defenders, creating space for Arsenal’s midfield. Walcott’s runs also give Arsenal’s creative players, Özil and Alexis, a different option on the pass, forcing the Southampton defense to stay honest.

But the problem is that Walcott hasn’t scored in 629 minutes of play. His last goal came in the 33rd minute of the match against Man City, the match just before the last match against Southampton. Walcott had a chance to score with one of those trademark runs against Burnley on Saturday but instead dribbled into the hands of the keeper. It was terrible and Walcott looks like a player bereft of confidence at the moment. But as you know, one goal and the floodgates might open for him.

As for defense, I wonder if Wenger will choose Gabriel over Mertesacker. The German was targeted by Southampton in the last match because he’s slower than Koscielny. But Mertesacker has been the main target of the opposition in every match he’s played in since December. Liverpool’s key passes graphic shows that the Scousers attacked almost exclusively down Arsenal’s right:

bellerin-mertesacker

 

And Mertesacker was sent off against Chelsea when they created a 1-on-1 with him and Costa. Wenger may consider playing Gabriel in that spot instead, or he might need to give orders for Bellerin to stay back more often and help out with his speed.

Guessing who Wenger will start is a fun pastime but the key to this game is controlling midfield. Southampton are almost certainly going to play the same way as they did last time; concede possession, win the ball high up the pitch, and try to spring Shane Long on the counter attack down Arsenal’s right. Arsenal, however, have the midfielders available – Coquelin, Elneny, and Ramsey – to cover that threat and control possession. Arsenal also have the attacking personnel to win this match: Ozil is the League’s assists leader and Alexis Sanchez is Arsenal’s most potent offensive threat. Along with leading scorer, Olivier Giroud, and with Theo Walcott long overdue for a goal, I expect Arsenal to get on the score sheet. Several times.

As much as I hate to say it, this game is a must win. Wenger and the players all know it as well and will likely approach the match with that attitude. This season is Arsenal’s best chance to win the title since 2007 and if they don’t want to fall away in the title race they need to get a win here today.

Qq