Category Archives: Arsenal

Granit Xhaka

From A to X: Xhaka the natural replacement for Arteta

83 88% 7.4 207 67%

2.4 0.8 3.1 77%

2.7 2.6 (2.9 2.2)

23 3 7 3 2 1

6 29 35 83

Those are the stats that prove Arsenal want Granit Xhaka as a replacement for Mikel Arteta. But as they say, stats don’t tell the whole story and that is why I also use… words.

As limited as stats can be, as misleading as they can be, and as much as people use them in ways that frustrate me, they are useful when comparing two like things. For example, when comparing two classy center mids like Granit Xhaka and Mikel Arteta.

83 88% 7.4 207 67%

Like Arteta, Xhaka is the best passer on his team and also like Arsenal, BMG are the type of team who build from the back. Their center back Andres Christensen averages 60 passes per game and passes at an 88% rate. If you just look at short passes Christensen is a 92% passer and his partner at the back, a young guy named Havard Nordtveit, is an 89% passer. Both center backs are about 50% with their long bombs and are numbers 2 and 3 in total passing volume. Their job is to get the ball to Xhaka.

Arsenal deploy two ball playing center backs whose job it is to get the ball to two ball playing midfielders. At peak Arteta (2012/13) he was partnered with a midfield runner in Aaron Ramsey. This was before Hollywood Ramsey and all the goals, Ramsey’s job was more to provide an outlet for Arteta.

Xhaka leads the team in passing volume with almost 83 passes a game. His midfield partner is Mahmoud Dahoud and he averages just 40 passes per game. In the Arteta/Ramsey midfield, they averaged 81 and 54 respectively. Much of the burden for getting the Borussia Monchengladbach (BMG) attack going is shouldered by Xhaka.

And in his more lone role at the base of the midfield, it’s probably no surprise to learn that he also leads the team in long passes, completing 7.4 per contest. BMG are not a long ball team, they are 4th in the Bundesliga in both possession and pass completion percentage. This long pass just happens to be one of Xhaka’s talents. He is a 67% long passer, making 7.4 out of 11 in each game.

In his pomp at Arsenal, Mikel Arteta was a similar, though much more accurate version, of Xhaka. In 2012/2013 Arsenal were number one in the Premier League in possession and pass completion percentage and Mikel Arteta was a huge part of that. Arteta led Arsenal in passes per game with 81 and had a pass completion of 91%.

Arteta also led Arsenal in long passes, though with a very special difference to Xhaka; Arteta was the most accurate long passer I have ever seen. He completed 5.3/6.1 long passes per game for Arsenal in that season, 87%. Laurent Koscielny (who took over for Vermaelen that season) was an 87% passer, in short passes. Mikel Arteta was as accurate hitting the ball long to a forward as Laurent Koscielny was passing the ball to Arteta. Even Fabregas at his peak with Barcelona was only an 83% long passer.

Arsenal don’t hit a lot of long passes, they have been 20th in the Premier League in long passing volume for four years straight. But having the long pass in the Arsenal is an important weapon and one which Arsenal have been missing for two years. Despite all of his obvious talents, Santi Cazorla is only hitting 3.5 accurate long balls per game this season and at a 65% rate. Instead of moving the ball to midfield where Arsenal can dictate play a little deeper in the opposition half, most of the long passes are now coming from Arsenal’s goalkeepers, where the accuracy is below 50%. Lumping up 50-50 balls from the keeper is a big reason why Arsenal aren’t able to retain possession as well as they have in the past.

As far as I’m concerned Xhaka is on par with other top level center mids in terms of his passing and is a welcome replacement for Arteta who lost his legs two years ago. That leaves some other stats to consider.

2.4 0.8 3.1 77% 3.2 1.1 4.3 74%

The numbers most people look at when it comes to a center mid is tackles. Most assume that if you see a player who tackles 8 times a game, he’s a Beast. But the reality is that there are a number of reasons why a player might be making a lot of tackles and they have very little to do with whether the player is in fact a cerebral, hairy, member of the X-Men.  

The biggest reason why a player might have low/high tackle numbers is that teams have different playing styles: Sam Allardyce teams are notorious for not tackling (they prefer killing the game by other means), Tottenham and Liverpool are playing an aggressive high press and despite excellent possession numbers are in the top of the League in tackles. Meanwhile, Arsenal don’t play a high press and don’t aggressively tackle and they are consistently last in that category.  

You might think that I’m getting ready to say that his tackle numbers are bad. They aren’t. BMG are a middle of the table tackling team and he leads his team in tackles with 2.4 per game. He doesn’t tackle as much as Arteta did in 2012/13 (3.2 per game) but when he does tackle he wins 75% of those challenges. Again, this is similar to Arteta who won 74% in that season.

I am curious to see how much more he will have to tackle at Arsenal. The Gunners are notorious for pressing high up the pitch and leaving their central midfielders in tons of space. Anyone who has played the CDM role for Arsenal has averaged over 3 tackles a game and has made 73% of them or more.

2.7 2.6 2.9 2.2

One of the stats Arsenal are most famous for is interceptions. Arsenal typically lead the League in this category despite also leading the League in possession. This season they were usurped by Leicester who made it their mission to win all the defensive stats on the way to claiming the Title but that doesn’t mean that Wenger doesn’t like interceptions any more.

Coquelin led Arsenal with 3.7 interceptions per game last season. At peak Arteta he led Arsenal with 2.9 per game. Granit Xhaka leads BMG with 2.7 per game. I would expect this number to go up at Arsenal.

One other number there, the 2.6. That is the number of fouls per game by Xhaka. Granit is hard and he has no problem fouling. He also has 3 red cards this season along with 5 yellow cards. This is a stat that people point to as a problem with Xhaka to which I would reply: yes, he will need to watch himself but also, those fouls and cards were picked up in the Bundesliga.

He’s a tough character who has no problem “taking one for the team” and fouling on a breakaway. He will also stand up for his teammates and has no problem tackling in retribution. And he also has a bit of a temper and can pick up red card for silliness, like he did this December when he just kicked a guy.

In his Bundesliga career he has 5 red cards and that’s a problem for some people. But I don’t have a problem with his feisty nature because he reminds me of Patrick Vieira. And let’s not forget that Vieira has 8 red cards, the most in Premier League history.

23 3 7 3 2 1

Did you know he’s left footed? Yep. 23 shots with his left, 3 with his right, 7 with his head. He also scored 3 goals this season for BMG and none of them from open play. He scored a long-range pile driver from a set play and two headers from set plays as well. He’s not a shooter, he doesn’t set others up (though he can), and he doesn’t really go forward. He’s much like Arteta in that way: he would much rather stay back and dictate play from deep in midfield.

6 29 35 83

This was the combination to my locker in High School and with that I can say that now you know the whole story.

Conclusion

For those who need to see all the players compared, here;

Xhaka

Basically, he’s your Arteta replacement. A younger, tougher, slightly meaner version of Arteta who can play a cultured ball over the top, play the safe pass in midfield, and stand up for his teammates. All around solid midfielder who reminds me of Vieira. I’ll take three!

Qq

Never will you see a more loving embrace

Pochettino’s Spursy collapse lauded by pundits who irrationally put them above Arsenal

There have been some fantastically memorable Tottenham collapses in my time as an Arsenal supporter. There was the Lasagna incident of 2005-2006; where most of the team ate the same meal and ended up getting food poisoning. They lost their final match of the season, Arsenal beat Wigan 4-2, and the Gunners pipped 4th by just 2 points. T

here was the 3-2 win over West Brom on the final day of the 2011-2012 season, where Arsene Wenger clutched a gawping Pat Rice as West Brom missed a sitter which would have drawn the match level. Arsenal needed that win to finish 3rd and take the final Champions League spot away from Tottenham, who finished 4th but were denied when Chelsea managed to steal the Champions League.

There was the “negative spiral” finish of 2012-2013; where Andres Villas-Boas boldly proclaimed that Tottenham were in an upward spiral and Arsenal were in a negative spiral after a 2-1 win put Spurs 7 points clear on March 3, 2013. Arsenal took fourth place, again by 1 point on the final day of the season.

But of all the times that Arsenal have finished above Tottenham, a stretch of seasons going back to 1994-1995, this one, where Arsenal finished 2nd over Tottenham was the most dramatic St.Totteringham’s Day in all the years that I have been following Arsenal.

I have heard reports that my local pub has become a Spurs bar. That it was packed with Lilly Whites on the final day of the season and only a few Gunners braved the “banta” and popped in to be the fly in the ointment. Spurs fans were talking all kinds of stuff before the match, boldly predicting a power shift in North Tacoma that mimics the one they think is happening in North London. That must have been a sight to behold. Imagine being one of two Arsenal fans in a Spurs bar on the final day of the season as Tottenham lost 5-1 to 10 man Newcastle and the Gunners beat Aston Villa 4-0. It must have been like being at a poker tournament and your nemesis went all in on trip aces, only to lose to four kings.

Pochettino’s angry rant after the match was the icing on the cake. Blaming the players for having a weak mentality, apologizing to the fans and the families, and calling it his worst ever day in management. It was a Mourinho-esque moment from the young manager and one which may come back to bite him next season if his players decide that he’s too harsh on them. It’s not fashionable to talk about “player revolts” and fans hate that kind of talk but that’s what happened at Chelsea this season and in these days of player power it can happen at any team where the manager throws the players under the team bus.

Suppose, by some miracle, Spurs did manage to win the tie. Is that really in the best interests of the team? The biggest prize on offer this season is Champions League football next season. It’s the Champions League that will ensure the current squad stays intact during the summer transfer window. It’s the Champions League that will guarantee the big bucks TV money. It’s the Champions League which will attract the best players to Tottenham. – John Crace, ESPN

Poch can complain about the mentality of his players but it was another Spurs friend of mine who pointed out that he may have help set up that mentality. Tottenham deliberately tanked the Europa League when they fielded a weakened side against Borussia Dortmund and were spanked 3-0. The punditocracy snidely complimented Poch for his brilliant tactic of focusing on the League (above) but as my friend pointed out, trying to lose one tournament in order to win another is a loser’s tactic. Eventually you’ll have to use those players who you just sent out to lose and you’ll have to rely on them to help you win an important match. That is exactly what happened and their weak mentality shone through against 10-man Newcastle, just like they had practiced against Dortmund.

Pochettino was also oddly specific about the physical fitness of his players saying that they weren’t tired. His clubs have a reputation for falling apart at the end of the season, specifically in the last four games, because they have run themselves into the ground to get to where they are at the end of the season.

I’m not sure whether that reputation is fully deserved or not but it hangs around his neck like an albatross. Coming from the Bielsa school of pressing, another manager whose teams collapse like an old grey nag at the end of a long season, Pochettino asks a lot from his players physically. In his seven seasons as a manger, his teams have fallen apart in the last four games five different seasons. If we aggregate those five seasons, his teams have just 1 win and 6 draws in 20 games. In the previous 34 games in each of those seasons his teams averaged almost 1.5PPG, in the last four games, 0.45PPG.

PPG in last 4 PPG in Previous 34
Espanyol 2009-2010 0.75 1.21
Espanyol 2010-2011 0.25 1.41
Espanyol 2011-2012 0.25 1.32
Southampton 2013* 0.5 1.58
Southampton 2013-2014 2 1.41
Tottenham 2014-15 1.5 1.71
Tottenham 2015-16 0.5 2
Average 0.82 1.52
*Appointed January

Pochettino has also blamed the referees and the League for suspending Dembele and Alli but that too is sour grapes. Spurs have been a dirty team all season and it finally caught up with them. Snide little kicks, Dier’s crazy tackles in midfield, and Lamela’s firecracker temper (he has been subbed out of several games to stop him getting a red card) have been the hallmark of this Spurs team. In fact, Lamela got away with a stamp on Fabregas in that heated Chelsea match as eventually the emotions boiled over. But Spurs couldn’t hold it together and when they were under pressure, they lost the plot first to West Brom and then to Chelsea.

A lot of pundits have been giving Tottenham good marks for this season, even saying that Spurs had a better season than Arsenal. But the table tells a different story and for good reason. Can you truly claim to have had a better season if your team collapses in spectacular fashion in the last four games of the season?

Arsenal were the best team in the first half of the season, topping the table in January for a few weeks as their title rivals all sputtered. Arsenal were also the most creative team in the League, fashioning more shots and more big chances than any other team. But Arsenal dropped off and finished second as Leicester beat all the top teams (except Arsenal!), strengthened their weaknesses, and took the League through superior defense. Saying that Tottenham were better than Arsenal this season would be like Arsenal fans saying that Arsenal were better than Leicester because Arsenal created more chances and had the better first half.

Arsenal, though, shouldn’t get too excited with finishing 2nd. Tottenham’s Spursy finish to the season doesn’t mean that they can be dismissed outright. They have a team that boasts the best young player in Europe (Dele Alli) and the Premier League Golden Boot winner (Kane). Arsenal boast the best playmaker in Europe (Özil), the best right back in the League (Bellerin) and the Premier League Golden Gloves winner (Cech). Arsenal, however, scraped a second place finish while carrying a lot of dead weight and next year’s Premier League looks like it’s going to be one of the toughest tests in years as Man City are getting Per Guardiola, Man U are getting Mourinho, and Chelsea won’t have any pesky European matches to play. If Arsenal want to keep North London red for a 22nd consecutive season they will need to strengthen this summer.

Qq

helen

To Do List: Summer 2016

  1. Quit smoking
  2. Write a review of Futbol en Sol y Sombra worthy of the book itself
  3. Finish Amy Lawrence’s book on the Invincibles
  4. Read 12 other books on football and write reviews, including Pep Confidential and Tony Adams’ Addicted
  5. Go on a backpacking trip with my friend Randy Tom Jones*
  6. Apply to various newspapers to write a stats-based column on soccer like the one I write for Arseblog**
  7. Camp 2nd beach with my daughter
  8. Camp 3rd beach with my daughter
  9. Hike the desolate plains of Mt. St. Helens and reach the waterfall
  10. Write weekly pieces on stats for Arseblog
  11. Get in shape to climb Mt. St. Helens on my birthday with my friends
  12. Go watch five Sounders matches, take various people, write about that here
  13. Read more long-form essays, write more long-form essays, in order to tell the story of football
  14. Look at the feasibility of a stats-based podcast with everything else I have going on in my life
  15. Help my friend Jason in his fight against cancer
  16. Stop worrying about who Arsenal will sign because if I have learned anything about football this year it is the fact that for Arsenal to win the League, Wenger’s going to have to catch a whole bottle of lightning bugs and each time he opens the jar to catch another, he can’t let a single one inside the jar escape. Every player from 1-20 is going to have to be a winner. The team needs a new soul. The mentality of the team has to change. They have to become something like the team who beat the Italians in the San Siro 5-1 after losing 3-0 at home – a team that was made up largely of subs and with almost none of the main stars. Reading about the Invincibles has convinced me that with Wenger’s coaching style and with Arsenal’s budget it will take something magical, like what Leicester have done, for Arsenal to win the League.
  17. Write about that. In long form.
  18. Fall in love with Arsenal again.
  19. Plan the Spring trip to England/Spain with my daughter to go see the home of football, to show her my beloved London, and then to take her to Barcelona for a few days of sun.

My your to do list:

  1. Stop reading the Metro, the Mail, the Star, the Telegraph, the Times, all the non-stop daily football blogs, tweets, facebooks, and all those other advertising companies masquerading as news outlets.
  2. Read the Guardian, the BBC, and Arsenal.com — once a week is probably enough.Trust me, I’ve been reading British papers for 8 years, you don’t need to know who Arsenal supposedly just barely missed out on, whether Arsene is getting a new deal (he isn’t), and which players are feuding with the boss (they aren’t). If you wait two days you can see the whole stupid news cycle unfold.
  3. Don’t buy me any more books!!!
  4. Go fishing
  5. Go hiking
  6. Bake a pizza with someone you love
  7. Show the people you love that you love and appreciate them
  8. Ask for help if you need it
  9. Live in truth
  10. Don’t yell at people on the internet – we are all just as dumb as each other about something.
  11. Don’t worry about Jack Wilshere
  12. Don’t watch FIFA this summer because you don’t want to add to their corruption, and because they are the reason Alexis is so tired.
  13. Don’t watch the Euros, if someone astounding emerges from any summer tournaments you’ll read about it on the Guardian. If you need to see the astounding things they did, they will be on YouTube. If Arsenal sign them it will be on the dot com.
  14. Remember that Arsenal don’t sign almost all of the players, so in a sense, Arsenal “miss out” on almost all the players, thus, it’s pointless to fret over the players that Arsenal “missed out” on.
  15. Did I mention not reading the blogs? Don’t read this blog!

Qq

*His real name, this isn’t a play on the novel Tom Jones.
**Feel free to offer advice, leads, tips, critiques, and any other suggestions in the comments below.