Category Archives: Arsenal

More than just Coquelin Arsenal benefit from healthy Özil, Giroud, and Koz

By Tim Todd, chief Stats Don’t Tell The Whole Storier

Let’s imagine that Arsenal had three periods of development this season. There was the early run where everyone at the club was struggling to find form. Arsenal were mixing in Alexis, trying to keep Özil healthy, working in Wilshere, and incorporating Ramsey into the lineup. From opening day (Crystal Palace) to the Chelsea match, Arsenal won 2, drew 4, and lost 1. It was the worst start in Arsene Wenger’s tenure as manager.

After that, the club went through a bit of a rough patch: Özil, Wilshere, Giroud, Arteta, and Ramsey all went down injured (for various periods) and Arsenal played the next 13 matches just bumping along and doing the minimum. The record at that time wasn’t great, but there were signs of green shoots and Arsenal won 7, drew 2, and lost 4.

Then, just around the turn of the year, Arsene drafted Coquelin in to the defensive midfield and started getting players back: Özil and Giroud key among them. Since January 11th Arsenal played 10  matches, won 9, lost 1. And we can actually see this transformation for Arsenal very dramatically when we look at the numbers for the 13 games between Hull and Southampton and compare them to the last ten matches.

Why did I choose the last 10 matches? Because I originally wanted to look at the impact that Özil had on the team. I assumed that since Özil returned, Arsenal would have a lot more key passes per game, and much better offense. That’s somewhat true, but what’s even more impressive isn’t the key passes (which are down) it’s actually the defense and I think, again, that’s down to Coquelin and (believe it or not) Giroud.

First here is the chart:

Hull-Newc

One other thing, people will complain that Arsenal have had an easy schedule lately and that’s true. The last 10 matches, Arsenal have only played Man City and Spurs, in the previous 13 matches, Arsenal played Liverpool, Man U, and Southampton (twice). I suppose an enterprising young stats guy could modify the numbers for strength of opposition but I suspect it would only make Arsenal’s last 10 games look even better. Let’s not forget that in those previous 13 games Arsenal lost to Swansea and Stoke as well as a 2-2 draw with Hull. Those were three of the worst matches of the season. And the Man U game, Arsenal shouldn’t have lost, while the Liverpool match we probably should have lost but drew. So, I’m comfortable with the weirdness of my sets (one being 10 games, the other 13) and their relative strength of schedules. After all, I’m not making some ground-breaking analysis here, it’s just a blog post. And mainly just a blog post about the importance of teamwork, a point that will probably be lost as someone delves into the minutiae and side-tracks the comments.

Back to the chart, as you can see, everything at Arsenal is up, except key passes! This is funny because I went into this thinking that Özil’s return would increase the number of key passes per game, but he hasn’t!

What  he has increased is the number of assists. In the period since the new year, Özil in second in the League with 4 assists. Guess who is first? Cazorla, with 5 assists. Neither player is putting a lot of key passes numbers up — they combine for just 33 (that’s fewer than David Silva who leads the League in that same period with 39 key passes — but crucially, instead of just shots they are creating a ton of assists. This indicates an offensive efficiency at Arsenal since the turn of the year.

What we see for sure is a huge increase in the defensive efficiency at Arsenal as well. The clearances number is absurd. It’s almost double what it was in the previous 13 matches. That workload is being handled by Koscielny, Mertesacker, and even Coquelin who averages 4.5 clearances a game.

An increase in clearances numbers is simply indicative of game state: Arsenal are taking the lead earlier in matches and defending to hold on rather than chasing matches as they did in the previous 13. This also would be a reason why Arsenal’s key passes numbers are down rather than up, despite the inclusion of Özil and Cazorla. This is a key point to remember when looking at individual player stats: just because a player is creating a lot of shots for his teammates doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a “better” player or even that he is helping his team. The same with clearances and tackles and pretty much every single individual stat. They are almost all dependent on how the team is doing at a specific time rather than an indicator of the relative quality of a player.

If David Silva creates 39 key passes and Özil creates just 18 in the same time period, against similar opponents, but Silva has 1 assist and Özil has 4, and Özil’s team has won 9/11 matches while Man City has won just 5/11 (all these stats are true) — which player is having the better performance?

The other defensive stats have increased as well and that also makes sense when we consider that Arsenal have been winning for most of the time in these matches. Still, I have to give special mention to Coquelin who (as you already know) leads the league in interceptions since the new year with 42 (Koscielny is 3rd with 37 and Monreal is 4th with 35). Coquelin also leads the League in duels won since the new year with 40/77 tackles (52%), 17/17 dribbles, and 42/69 (61%) aerial duels. Koscielny is also now winning 59% of his aerial duels (42/71) and big Giroud went from winning just 41% of his aerial duels in the previous 13 matches (the ones he played in) to winning 59% of his aerial duels. Just having Giroud in the team seems to have a protective effect on Arsenal’s ability to defend corners and headers. In the previous 13 matches, Arsenal conceded 5 headed goals and in the last 10, just 1. A much more thorough analysis of Giroud’s impact on corner defense is warranted by the data I’m seeing above

I don’t want to discount the impact that Coquelin has had on the team, I think he’s more than pulling his weight in midfield and in fact I think he covers Arsenal pretty well from the DM position. But I do want to point out that it’s the inclusion, in my opinion, of Giroud, Özil, and Coquelin which is making up the difference between the three periods of play. The team looks more balanced with these three players in the spine. Özil is playing efficiently (and driving people crazy), Giroud is doing his big man up front thing, and Coquelin is killing off opposition plays.

Plus Koscielny! That man’s just a beast! He’s leading Arsenal’s clearances and is second in interceptions since the new year.

The spine of this Arsenal team has put in a series of impressive performances. Knock wood that they put in another this weekend against Liverpool.

Qq

Van Persie and Rooney sing the body electric

Van Persie, Klopp, Szczesny, and transfers

By Tim Todd, chief senior editor at large (gained 4 pounds in the last month!)

Let’s get old school with today’s post and hit a bunch of Arsenal news stories all at once. If I ran this site at all like a business I would post each as its own “article” but I don’t. So, limber up those fingers because there is a lot of Arsenal news to talk about.

Surprise, van Persie is 5th highest paid player in the world

Robin van Persie is the 5th highest paid footballer in the world. Let that sink in for a minute. This is a player who publicly proclaimed that he was leaving Arsenal because he disagreed with the direction of the club and who was “suddenly” catapulted into the stratosphere as far as wages and endorsements are concerned. He makes more money than Zlatan Ibrahamovich.

There is never any doubt in my mind that when a player demands to leave a club the main reason is money. They will tell you it’s for football reasons or that it’s because of the “direction of the club” but as far as I can tell, the preponderance of the evidence points to money. In van Persie’s case, I suspect that he was tapped up in the winter before the transfer market opened up (something we are seeing now) and was told that if he joined United, they would not only top up his pay packet but also help him land huge endorsement deals¹. It was an offer too good to refuse.

He got lucky, frankly, and won a title in his first season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season, but he’ll never win another League title again. In fact, he may never win another piece of silverware. If that prediction comes true, Robin van Persie will have won 1 trophy with Arsenal and 1 with Man U.

We will never know what could have been but my feeling is that if van Persie had chosen to honor his time with Arsenal and repay the club for the four years he spent collecting a paycheck from the treatment room Arsenal would have won a League title with van Persie. Look at how close this club is now. Imagine Özil and van Persie playing together. It’s easy to see that Arsenal would have been serious contenders. I feel confident saying that even if van Persie is nicking a living off Man U.

Transfer Talk!

It’s international break and the transfer window closed two months ago and won’t re-open until… August? So, why is my news feed filling up with stories about Arsenal pre-signing no less than five players?

Apparently, the Gunners are after Luiz Adriano, Paulo Dybala, Carlos Castro, Dani Alves, and Mateo Kovacic. Also, Chris Smalling, Petr Cech, Schneiderlin, Marco Reus, and the remainder of the Borussia Dortmund team.

I know that clubs get their business done earlier than we probably think (see the van Persie story above) but is it now just so well known that clubs are tapping up players all over the globe that the papers, agents, players, and clubs can be so brazen about it?

My feeling is that Arsenal will buy someone this summer. It will probably be none of the names above. But long-term Arsenal need replacements for Mertesacker, Koscielny, Arteta, and Szczesny.

Szczesny in particular. Did you know that he’s been dropped nearly every season he’s been at Arsenal? I have to wonder how much longer Wenger will persist?

Wenger to be replaced with Klopp

This is one of my favorite stories of the year. I’m not one to subscribe to the Metro or the Express but I do subscribe to ESPN’s Arsenal news feed. So, imagine my surprise when I found an ESPN article in my feed claiming that Wenger might be out the door this summer.

Ian Holyman, the ESPN author, claimed that there were “reports” that Wenger could leave before the end of his contract. Those of us who have been following Arsenal for more than a minute know that Wenger has always honored his contracts. So, what are these “reports” that Holyman referred to?

An article in the Express which, and again I wish I was kidding, used the fact that a betting firm “slashed” the odds on Wenger finishing his contract as the basis for their “report.” I get approached to write articles like this all the time. If that betting firm didn’t pay the Express to write that article I’ll be surprised.

So, to conclude, ESPN used what looks a lot like an advertisement for a betting firm as the basis for “reports”.

I guess that settles that then?

Qq

¹This isn’t something unique to United, Arsenal do it too.

Cazorla-Hull-Final

Cazorla: Arsenal’s hummingbird

By Tim Todd, 7amkickoff’s chief ornifootbologist

There is a hummingbird who has been my constant companion at work for over a year. Every day when I come in to work he’s there in his tree chirping at me. And sometimes I even see him in the flower bush near the entrance flitting around, sipping nectar, while students trudge by with their Beats on oblivious to the small wonder just inches away.

He was gone for a few days, for over a week actually, and I was starting to worry. I imagined the worst: his tiny body, feathers dulled from the dust, lying unnoticed in the dirt somewhere. Or maybe, I hoped, he’d simply found a mate finally and moved off to her nest. I was still sad, though, because I’d seen the same bird every day for over a year and it felt like a real loss.

Over the last few days I’d seen other birds crowding his perch, there was a robin up there a few days ago and as I came into work yesterday there was a damn starling near his favorite perch. His tree was packed full of those ugly, vulgar, immitative creatures. If the hummingbird, who lives alone, stays rooted to one area, stands up for himself, and does his own thing, is a beautiful little creature, starlings are the exact opposite — they live in vast packs, they imitate other creatures, they are ugly, and they wet their nests. Well, ok, I’m not sure about that last part.

I thought about throwing some rocks at the starling. He wasn’t on my hummingbird’s perch, just near it. And I thought that maybe if I could scare him off I would get my friend back. But if I threw a rock I’d probably only hit a parked car.

Still, I had this penny in my pocket and I was turning that over in my hand and thinking about it like some common hooligan at a football match, ready to throw a coin down on my hated enemy. But just before I could lose my mind I heard the hummingbird song. Hummingbirds sing a song that sounds like birdsong being played at 78 RPM or maybe like an old cassette tape on fast forward. And they kind of make a spitting sound when they don’t like you.

Hummingbird

That spitting sound is what I heard and I scanned the sky and trees for my little friend, and sure enough there he was confronting the starling, buzzing around him angrily, and squawking. I don’t know if you’ve ever been confronted by an angry hummingbird but they basically don’t care how big you are and they will fly around you squawking at you and scowling. They have a scowl. I’m not exaggerating. I’ve seen one sipping nectar calmly until he saw me, then he flew behind a branch, looked around at me, saw that I was looking at him and scowled. Needless to say, after a few seconds of harassment, the starling flew off and the hummingbird landed on his favorite branch.

One thing you might not know is that hummingbirds like to perch on the very tips of trees. There, they will preen themselves and show off their iridescent colors by flapping their wings in the sun. If you think about it, the hummingbird rests more than he flies. It takes a huge amount of energy to fly the way they do, so the hummingbird can often be found early in the morning, sitting on top of his favorite tree, warming his engines in the morning sun.

in morning’s first light
hummingbird flutters his wings
revving his engine

In passing it might seem that this is an ostentatious display — sitting so high up in the tree and flapping your wings so that they glint in the sunlight, but it’s not pretentious. Hummingbirds perch on the tips of trees because they can. It is the suchness of the hummingbird that where a normal bird might bend the branch and fall over the tiny little hummingbird finds the smallest perches perfect. High above all the others, showing off his green and ruby coat for all to see, calling out his bird song loud and clear, the hummingbird isn’t showing off, he’s simply being himself.

I think of Santi Cazorla as Arsenal’s little hummingbird. I’ve seen my little friend the hummingbird, literally dart between students as he flies around campus, much the same way that Cazorla weaves between defenders and even his own teammates when he has the ball.

Cazorla can also be a bit showy. Not in the same way that the hummingbird does, what with a coat of iridescent green, but his dance celebration after the Giroud goal against Man City reminded me of the hummingbird flapping his wings in the morning sun.

Santi Cazorla dance Man City

And just like the hummingbird, Cazorla is tough and fearless. He’s not afraid to take on a starling like City’s Fernandinho, or Chelsea’s Matic — they may be bigger, but he’ll still scowl and chirp at them, and can out maneuver them on the pitch. Some lumbering starling like Matic can’t catch Santi Cazorla, that’s why Matic hides in his flock and Cazorla flies free. And Cazorla doesn’t shrink when he’s tackled by the Joey Bartons who like the robins of the world, tend to be just fat birds mostly confined to grubbing around in the dirt for a living. Despite his small frame and the fact that he takes on these bigger opponents in one-on-one duels, Cazorla has made over 45 appearances for Arsenal in each of his first two seasons and has (touch wood) rarely been injured. If he continues this trend he will make almost 50 appearances for Arsenal this season. Marking him out as one of Arsene Wenger’s “iron men” over the last three seasons.

Cazorla isn’t the biggest and he’s not the best, but he’s quick and tough, he stands up to bigger opponents without blinking an eye, and every once in a while, if you sit real still and are real quiet, you can see him up on the highest perch, warming himself in the early morning sun.

Qq