Category Archives: Arsenal


Arsenal 2015/2016: pulling out of challenges

I had a good friend ask me “Why would I support Arsenal?” yesterday and for a moment I was stumped.

I mean, I could say that we are a great club, that we have a long history of winning trophies, and that we have an amazing new stadium in one of the nicest cities in the world. I could point to Mesut Özil who broke the Premier League chances created record yesterday and Alexis Sanchez who is one of the most exciting players in the League. And I could point to young guys like Iwobi and Bellerin coming through the Arsenal ranks.

I could also say that Arsenal revolutionized football, twice.

The first revolution was with Herbert Chapman and his WM formation. Clubs played the WM for 50 years after Chapman invented it. That’s something special right there.

Wenger was also the first foreign manager to win the League. Bob Kyle is often cited but he was an Irishman when Ireland was part of the UK. Wenger was the first truly foreign manager to win the League. And he did so with a team that was largely foreign as well.

I would go one step further and say that those title races between Arsenal and Man U from 1997-2005 popularized the English Premier League. Arsenal challenged the monopoly of Man U and without Wenger’s Arsenal playing beautiful, incisive, flowing football, I doubt the Premier League would be as popular as it is today.

Those are good reasons to become a new Arsenal supporter but it’s all in the past. We are, like Liverpool and Man U, a club living in the past and I’m afraid we are going to keep living in the past.

My friend decided to jump on the Leicester bandwagon and I don’t blame him at all. I wrote about this before, I like bandwagon fans. Nothing wrong with bandwagon fans at all: they fill the coffers of the club, spread the club’s popularity, and some of them even stick around for decades after despite the lack of trophies. I was a bandwagon fan, I fell in love with Arsenal when they won the League at Old Trafford.

And now it looks like Leicester are going to win the League at Old Trafford. It would be a fitting victory for the way they, like Arsenal 16 years ago, have made football exciting again for the people who support clubs outside of the traditional quatrogopoly. They are an exciting team and what they are doing this season is nothing short of a miracle. When they beat Swansea 4-0 and their supporters were singing and partying it reminded me how exciting a real title race is. Something I haven’t felt for 12 years.

Meanwhile back in Arsenal land, Arsenal looked like a team that has given up on the season. They aren’t pressuring the ball out of possession and they aren’t moving off the ball in possession. You don’t have to take it just from me, Adrian Clarke opened with a similar bit in his breakdown. You know it’s bad if the official dot com site is calling out players for playing static on offense and lazy on defense.

A few players put in a running shift. Alexis moved, but then got grief for turning the ball over too much. Elneny was also constantly in motion, I don’t think Elneny could stand still in a queue, he’d probably have to run circles around it.

But for much of the game, Arsenal were playing at a standstill. Maybe it was because of the fact that this was Arsenal’s third game in six days. That was Wenger’s excuse and that’s an excuse for Özil and Iwobi, I suppose, but not for Giroud who was easily the biggest culprit. And if he was tired, why not start Welbeck?

And why isn’t Leicester tired? Or Tottenham? Why is Arsenal the only team suffering from this late-season run? We are built to be a Champions League team, right? Shouldn’t we have the numbers and types of players needed to mount a title challenge and a Champions League challenge?

I know that we don’t. We have several players on the books who can’t play football anymore. And we have players who seem to have given up on playing football at Arsenal.

Late in the match Theo Walcott pulled out of a soft challenge for a 50-50 ball and it may have been the right decision from his point of view but it symbolizes this season for me. This was a chance to win the ball in the Sunderland final 1/3 with no one left to beat and the goal gaping. But Walcott danced his way out of the challenge.

Like Walcott, Wenger pulled out of the challenge of signing some new players until we literally had no players left to play in central midfield. And there isn’t even any need to talk about forward players. I saw Andrew’s column on Arsenal needing an upgrade on Giroud and Walcott and thought “yeah! We have needed an upgrade there for three years.” It’s hard to find quality forwards, it’s a challenge. But it’s a challenge that has to be met and can’t simply be danced out of by saying it’s difficult.

And beyond Walcott and Wenger, Arsenal seem to have a number of players who simply pull out of challenges. They give up on loose balls too easily, they don’t get stuck into challenges, if they cough the ball up they fall to the ground, throw their hands in the aid and demand that the referee make a call, and it seems like under any kind of heat they just melt.

The season isn’t over. We can’t be pulling out of tackles. Arsenal have to play Norwich on Saturday and the Canaries are in a relegation fight – they won’t be pulling out of tackles. Man U is in 5th place and they are just 5 points away from Arsenal with a game in hand. They will be giving everything on Sunday to avoid letting Leicester be crowned champions at Old Trafford.

So, why would someone become a new Arsenal fan right now? Yeah, we have the great history and the records but this team, right now? Not unless you’re a masochist and enjoy watching a team limp over the 4th place line.


shots and goals

Sunderland v. Arsenal: stats preview

By Tim Todd at the Control Center in Tacoma

Sunderland host Arsenal at the Stadium of Light in a rare late season match with potentially big consequences for both teams. Sunderland need points from this match to stave off a possibly devastating Premier League relegation and Arsenal need points to stave off a possibly devastating Champions League relegation. With both teams statistically similar in many ways, expect the team with more determination in the middle of the park, or the team with more clinical finishing, to take the points.

With Euros this summer and Arsenal’s biggest star set to play a second consecutive Copa America Arsenal need to finish the season in the top three to earn a week’s rest at the beginning of the season. Slight problem, Man City beat Stoke 4-0 in their last match, giving them a 1 point lead over Arsenal and a +8 goal difference. Given that Arsenal still need to play Man City and the difficulty presented by that match, Arsenal need to get maximum points from matches like this at Sunderland.

The stats show Sunderland to be a typical Allardycian club: concede possession but generate very few interceptions, few tackles, concede shots, and when you win the ball back hit loads of long balls to win headers.

Interestingly, Sunderland aren’t very dangerous from set plays, which we would normally expect from a club which plays such basic football: they only have 20 key passes from set plays at home and have scored just 5 goals from all set play situations (minus penalties). Arsenal, not known for their set plays, have created 22 shots and scored 6 goals from set plays in away games.

Just like set plays, Arsenal and Sunderland are closely matched over the season when we compare home (for Sunderland) versus away (for Arsenal).

shots and tackles

What I’m seeing in the shots for, shots against, and key passes are two teams who are statistically very even. That his team are generating 13 shots a game and allowing 14 shows me that Allardyce has been relatively attacking this season at home. I can’t say that he will play an open game against Arsenal but that’s what I see here. Allardyce is true to his 18th century football roots, however, and as you see, Sunderland are 4th in Europe with long balls as a percent of their total passes, just 0.2% fewer than Long-Balls-Leicester.

Sunderland also tackle a lot more than I’m used to seeing with an Allardyce side but they aren’t very good at tackling and at home they are the 4th most dribbled team in the League. Arsenal are the most successful dribbling team in away games (203 successful) and this could be a key component in this match. If Arsenal can use their superior technical skill in one-v-one situations they could pull Sunderland out of shape and generate some good chances.

The one thing Arsenal have to avoid is the rash of turnovers caused by poor touch and by standing around with the ball at feet. In away games, Welbeck, Sanchez, and Ramsey are Arsenal’s most wasteful players. This can be especially problematic with Ramsey who gives the ball away more than 4 times a game in the center mid positions (that means filtering out his wide mid games). No other player in the Premier League is as profligate with the ball in the center mid. Only two players in Europe are more profligate: Pogba and Dabo.

shots and goals

One other factor here is that Arsenal’s home/away split is strange. In away games, Wenger’s men are number one in goals scored with 32 but they are also firmly mid table in goals allowed with 23. Meanwhile in home games Arsenal are mid table in goals scored with 26 and 2nd in goals allowed with 11. This is the reality of Arsenal’s opposition: they play Arsenal expansively (two up top) in away games and conservatively (5 man midfield) at the Emirates.

If Allardyce plays this match like an away game we could see many of these numbers flip-flop. In other words, we could see an Arsenal taking a lot of shots, limiting Sunderland to few, and yet conceding goals at an unusually high rate.

As for selection, I’d love to see Cazorla given a game but I don’t know if he’s ready yet. If Wenger sees Allardyce packing the box he may continue instead with the Elneny-Ramsey partnership. If he thinks Allardyce is going to go for it, he may start Coquelin-Elneny.

Either way, for Arsenal this match hinges on the form of Alexis Sanchez. He was Arsenal’s best player on Thursday and is in the midst of a four match scoring run and a run of 10 matches in which he has score or assisted a total of 11 of Arsenal’s 19 goals.

Meanwhile, Arsenal need to keep an eye out for Defoe. The speedy counter attacker has scored three goals in Sunderland’s last five games.


Arsenal count down the games to the end of the season of ennui

By Tim Todd on his couch

Thank the gods for Alexis Sanchez. The Tocopilla Tornado, a man who never seems to stop running, never seems to stop attacking, never seems to stop defending, Alexis Sanchez embodies all that fans want from a footballer. If only Arsenal had 11 Alexis Sanchez’s.

The crowd was spartan, not literally Spartans — that might have been fun to see the Spartan crowd slay the Albion supporters, but rather just sparsely populated as the combination of tube strikes, Thursday football, late-season ennui, and the call of a cool beer in a pub and watching Arsenal on television begged many fans to stay home. And as is the norm with an Arsenal crowd, those who were in attendance were sitting quietly, politely watching the match unfold.

Arsenal were playing football the Arsenal way and lulling the crowd to sleep with some highly accurate sideways passing when Alexis fell from the heavens, stepped in front of Ramsey’s pass, and turned so fast that he actually had to reach down and grab a bit of the earth to stop himself being flung off by centrifugal force.

Bypassing his marker Sandro, who looked like a cart horse and cart, Alexis looked up at the goal and from 20 yards out uncorked a champagne blast into the lower corner. The shot reminded the gathered fans why they go to football matches. They lept to their feet in joy and rained down cheers on Alexis.

Meanwhile, Sandro was still doing the math on how a cart horse and cart is supposed to do a 180 degree turn.

The way Alexis took the shot gave the impression that he was just fed up with Arsenal not winning and if someone else wasn’t going to win the game then he might as well do it.

Energized by the early goal, the crowd settled back in for a nap. This respite was made especially easy by the West Brom goalkeeper taking two minutes over every goal kick before kicking the ball out of touch.

Arsenal tried to liven the game up again with some incisive play around the West Brom box and Alexis again provided the spark, slipping in Elneny and Bellerin for some shots. And West Brom for their part remembered that they are a football team and managed to work the ball into the Arsenal end so that they could win their all-important corners.

I firmly believe that Tony Pulis’ one tactic is to get the ball to a wide man and his job is to get as deep as possible into the opposition half before trying to kick the ball off a defender and win a corner. I firmly believe this because that is what I saw.

Meanwhile, Arsenal played right into this tactic. Even at 2-0 up they played eight outfield players in the center forward positions leaving Per Mertesacker alone on more than one occasion with Salomon Rondon. Gods bless you Arsenal, never change! How else will I know that I’m watching Arsenal if I’m not screaming “WHY THE … ARE WE PLAYING A HIGH LINE AT 2-0 UP???” at the television?

The tactics make sense because West Brom play with six center backs. Shakespeare might say they make the beast with six center backs. If you know your Shakespeare then you are pretty grossed out right now about making six backs with Sandro, McAuley, Olsson, and the other three hulking dudes that I can’t name off the top of my head.

McAuley hit the crossbar with one of their corners and with West Brom fully spent from that penetration, they decided that was enough excitement for week and went back to play defense.

Sandro has at this point fully turned the cart and horse and stands in midfield beaming like a child who drew his first picture of mommy and daddy. Alexis collects the ball near him, runs circles around him three times, Sandro falls over, and the cart and horse collapse with little tweety birds circling his head.

Meanwhile, on my couch, I was looking up things on my phone. Summer is threatening and I ripped my shorts the other day. Yes, I was actually bending over to pick something up. How did you know my shorts are very old? I’m not fat. I’m big arsed.

Then Arsenal won a free kick! Ramsey! He was tripped.

Alexis set Mertesacker and Giroud in the wall and West Brom didn’t notice that Arsenal had just put our two tallest players in their wall. It was like that one time I was at that fancy French restaurant and they secretly swapped my coffee for a Big Fucking German and a Giant Handsome Frenchman. I don’t know how I didn’t notice.

Then Alexis tried to kill Mertesacker (this is a reference to the one time Sir Alex of Ferguson once said an Arsenal player tried to kill Robin van Persie by kicking the ball at his head) and luckily Mertesacker did what he does best and ducked an aerial challenge. The ball went in as Bananas Foster stood and wondered how Mertesacker and Giroud got in the wall. I expect an episode of “How it got Made: Arsenal’s second goal against West Brom” will uncover the mystery.

The second goal ensured that everyone could go on vacation.

Sandro was first, he was taken off to work on his cart horse turning mechanics. West Brom created one final good chance, from a… wait for it… CORNER. It was the third time in the game that no one on Arsenal collected, claimed, headed, or really noticed the ball in the box. This time when it fell to the back post where there was a West Brom “forward” he cleared the ball off the line. Saving his team the ignominy of scoring a goal.

Alexis was taken off for a much deserved early shower. After the match, Arsene Wenger said that this was a top quality performance and that fans should be here, enjoying this quality.

If you love football, you go out there and I think you see quality football. That’s what we try to give to our people. It was a special night as well, Thursday night, and I don’t know if you are intelligent enough, nor am I, to detect exactly why everybody that did not turn up tonight did not turn up.

I don’t expect Arsene Wenger to give anything less than a glowing review of any match that Arsenal win. But I love football and I don’t think yesterday was “quality” football. I think Arsenal have a special player who caught a West Brom side on vacation. That second goal in particular was the kind of defending that you don’t see from a team who are on their game. The same goes for the numerous chances that Arsenal conceded from undefended corners.

If a lot of people stayed away from the Emirates because they couldn’t be bothered, well that makes perfect sense to me. This is the end of our season of ennui.