Category Archives: Arsenal

Santi Cazorla

Man City v. Arsenal: Cazorla the keymaster

Arsenal play Man City tomorrow morning and I’m going to get to the preview, but first…

Someone asked what the best zodiac sign is for strikers and based on my research I can say definitively: in the Premier League it is Leo. Harry Kane is a Leo. Thierry Henry, Leo. Alan Shearer, Leo. Robin van Persie, Leo. Kevin Phillips, Leo.

My mention of Kevin Phillips should be a clue about how I came to this conclusion. I looked at the Premier League Golden Boot winners and matched their astrological signs. Turns out that Leos have won the Golden Boot 11 times since 1992 and there have been five different Leos who won the Golden Boot. That’s more than any other sign.

Aquarius (Ronaldo, Berbatov, Tevez, and Suarez) are second. Pisces are tied with Aquarius with 4 also but only three different players (Drogba, Anelka, Chris Sutton). Two different Aries have won it: Sheringham and Hasselbaink (2x). The rest have all been one-offs, except Capricorn and Virgo. There are literally zero top-goalscoring Capricorns and Virgos in Premier League history.

Sagittarius is an interesting sign. Like Leo it’s a fire sign (fire signs won 16 total Golden Boots, more than any other group). Michael Owen is a Sagittarius, so is Gonzalo Higuain and our very own Alexis Sanchez!

Looking further afield: Messi is a Cancer; Lewandowski is a Leo; Lacazette, Aubameyang, and this Janssen cat are all Geminis, the same as Kun Aguero; Lukaku is a Taurus and the only other Golden Boot winning Taurus was Dion Dublin; Zlatan, Giroud, and Andy Cole are all Libras.

So, there you have it. If you want to bet on a Golden Boot winner, pick a Leo. Pick Harry Kane.

Right, here’s the preview…

Will Man City bother to show up? How can they? Imagine playing in a Champions League semi-final and not even bothering to put in a performance? That actually happened this week with Man City.

People are blaming the appointment of Pep Guardiola and I can’t disagree much. The announcement earlier in the season clearly disrupted the play of Toure who is a sensitive soul. Maybe the Man City owners should have bought Toure a cake, one a day for every day since the announcement.

But Man City have structural problems that run deeper than Toure’s motivation. They have the worst tackling record in the League. They have been dribbled past 451 times this season, Arsenal are 17th in that category with 327. City will find it particularly difficult in this regard as Arsenal have more successful dribbles than any other team and the best dribbling rate of any team in the League at 69% of 724 dribbles.

Man City is the second best dribbling team in the League with 62% success rate but Arsenal are 9th best tacklers in the League. I think this is a key duel for both teams: the team that wins the dribble/tackle battle will create the most havoc in the opposite team’s system. Incidentally, the best tacklers in the Premier League are Liverpool and Tottenham who are only dribbled past at the rate of 28 and 29 percent.

In the first match between these two clubs, back in December, Arsenal only had 3 more dribbles than City and the match hinged instead on Arsenal’s turnovers. Arsenal were without Cazorla and played a midfield duo of Flamini and Ramsey. Giroud had one of his worst matches of the season, losing the ball 10 times, 8 of them just poor touches. In that match, Arsenal were so dominated that they needed to make 26 blocks (6 blocked shots, 20 blocked crosses). Arsenal average 6.6 blocked shots and crosses per game.

If Wenger can play Cazorla, I’d love to see him. He’s Arsenal’s best dribbler at a crazy 81% and he might be matched up against Fernandinho, who is one of the most dribbled-past players in the Premier League. Cazorla is also Arsenal’s second best creative player. His three assists and 2.6 key passes per game takes pressure off Özil but more importantly, frees Alexis from his creative burdens. With Alexis running in behind, Özil roaming free, and Cazorla creating havoc through the City midfield, Arsenal could take this match.

Moreover, if Cazorla can play and can play at his usual high level, Cazorla could prove to be the key player in this match.



How to scout for young talent: Batshuayi, Dembele, Lukaku

Yesterday it was revealed that West Ham offered Marseille £31.5m for Michy Batshuayi. Batshuayi is already 22 years old and will be 23 in October (Libra). He has played just 12,623 minutes of football and scored 78 goals in his career bringing his total to a goal every 168 minutes. In terms of cost per goal, West Ham has offered £400k per goal that Batshuayi has scored in his life.

Applying that same logic to Romelu Lukaku, who is also 22 and will be 23 in a few days (Taurus), we see that Lukaku has already scored 126 goals in his professional career. He has scored more because he has been played more, 20,394 minutes already. His rate of scoring goals is actually similar to Batshuayi, a goal every 162 minutes. But going by the £400k per goal formula, we get a price of £51m.

These prices are too expensive for Arsene Wenger and Arsenal. So, we need a method of scouting for players who are just under 21 and ready to break out and have a great career. Here, I invented one.

Step 1. Go to
Step 2. Click on “statistics”
Step 3. Scroll down to the player stats and click on the “detailed” tab
Step 4. In the age field select “less than” and put “22″ also in the appearances tab select “more than” and put “10″
less than
Step 5. Offer Osmane Dembele’s agent whatever they ask for

Obviously I’m not being serious but I’m going to continue anyway.

Dembele has scored 12 goals this season and is the highest ranked U21 player in the WhoScored system. That ranking is heavily weighted toward dribbles and he is an excellent dribbler completing 71% of 145 dribbles this season.

Anthony Martial has tried more dribbles than any other U21 player, 176 (81 successful), but just below him is Schalke’s attacking midfielder Leroy Sane. Sane is 20 years old and already has 7 goals and 6 assists.

If you’re just looking for the next forward, I would suggest looking at goals. Sanabria is a classic CF — he doesn’t offer much other than goals. He has 11. Mitrovic surprises me every time I see that he’s 21 years old. It also surprises me that he has 8 goals this season. Here’s a weird fact: last season when Lukaku was 21 years old, he scored 8 goals… In the Europa League. He scored 20 goals in all competitions for Everton last year. 25 this year. I also recently did some graphs on players reaching their peak. Lots of players have a single peak and that lasts like three seasons and then they fall off. It seems to happen young for British players (Owen, Fowler, etc). But there are a few rare players who hit a peak and stay there for years (Henry, etc.). Also there are players like Drogba who really only had two or three great seasons and somehow people think they are the best of all time. They aren’t.

For center backs, I think Jonathan Tah is going to be a name you hear a lot. He plays for Bayer Leverkusen, is 6’4″ tall and weighs 215lbs. He is a decent passer, wins 69% of his aerial duels, and (this is important for an Arsenal CB) he leads the U22 group in interceptions.

There’s a young Syrian kid named Mahmoud Dahoud who plays next to Granit Xhaka for Borussia MG. Five goals and 8 assists this season, decent passer (84%), decent dribbler (55%), will probably get picked up in the next year or so if he can improve his long passing, turnovers, and dribbling.

Lyon have continued their tradition of pumping out killer C(D)Ms with Corentin Tolisso the latest. He’s a 21 year old Frenchman who completes 72% of his long passes. That’s a fantastic rate for a young player. He’s also a 71% tackler and 85% passer. 6 assists already this season, 1 from a through ball!

Arsenal already have the best U22 right back in football, Hector Bellerin. The highest rated left back is Benjamin Mendy. He plays for Marseilles and he’s a 73% dribbler, which is outstanding even if he is dribbling in France (Bellerin is 70%). Mendy creates 1.3 key passes per game and is a 43% accurate crosser (Bellerin is 35% accurate, which is still good).

The real story here is the transfer prices for these young players. Batshuayi at £31.5m is just £11m less than Arsenal paid for Mesut Özil — the best playmaker in the world. Man U paid £60m (or will pay that much) for Anthony Martial, £18m more than Özil and just £5m less than Barcelona paid for Luis Suarez. The Premier League is awash with money from the new television deals and they are starting to look for players who will be with their teams for 5+ years. And so they are turning to ever younger players in search of the best deal they can get.



Home v. Away Conversion: two charts

As promised in yesterday’s post, here are two charts that show the conversion rates of Arsenal’s players home and away.

First, this is a small sample size — and even having to say those words makes me cringe. Second, stats don’t tell the whole story — and even having to say those words makes me cringe. Third, I’m not suggesting that any player is the worst player ever or that because some other player happened to score 2/9 goals that he should be included in the starting lineup.

These charts are simply an answer to the people who blame the “toxic home atmosphere” for Arsenal’s home struggles this season. If we assume that these people, the folks who like to blame the other fans rather than the players, are correct and the atmosphere is the culprit then we should see a “Gervinho effect” of lower goal conversion rates.

The home chart (below) shows that the problem is that if the home atmosphere is hurting players, it’s only a few players. Actually, it’s notably just three players: Ramsey, Giroud, and Özil. So far this season those three players have scored just 7 goals on 119 shots at home. If I include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in that group (he doesn’t show on the chart below because he has a 0% conversion) then the total comes to 7 goals in 132 shots or 5% conversion.


I want to be clear that I’m not picking on these players. I have no personal vendetta against any of them. I do find it interesting, however, that Özil, Giroud, Ramsey, and Ox are among the most controversial players at Arsenal.

I think most people agree that Özil is a world class creative midfielder. The only knock on him is his finishing. Which is pretty poor at the Emirates this season. Giroud has been hammered all season as a player with which “Arsenal will never win the title” and there is a certain truth to that: to win the League you need consistency and with Giroud you simply don’t get that. He can go months without scoring and/or he can be the kind of player who doesn’t score away from home one year and only scores away from home the next. Ramsey is loved and hated in equal measure for his forays forward while Ox seems to have joined the one or two players that most Arsenal fans want to see sold this summer.

The magical thing about football is that scoring solves all the problems. Fans seem to forgive players who score. Look at Joel Campbell. He is not a great football player but he scores goals. Welbeck as well. Fans are willing to forgive players their faults if they A) score goals and B) work hard. Thomas Vermaelen made a football career off of this, what I call “The Joel Campbell effect”.

One final example here of the “Joel Campbell effect” is Alexis Sanchez. This dude is insanely consistent, he scores goals, and he works his socks off. He is often criticized for his turnovers and sometimes for his poor passing but fans seem eager to forgive him because he is capable of scoring from direct free kicks and myriad other situations. Even headers!

Proof of his consistency is in the away conversion rates:


Alexis is 12% on the season, 12% at home, 12% away. And it’s important to remember that this has been a poor season by his standards. He has been run into the ground by Arsenal and his national team over the last three years and there is no end in sight for him even this summer. FIFA have set up another corrupt tournament that they can compel people to play in like slaves and Alexis will play, running himself further into the ground.

In the away chart we get a bizarre flipping of the scoring. Where at home Giroud and Özil are the most profligate, in away games they are the most efficient. Even Ramsey brings his numbers up in away games (to 11%) and Ox finally gets a goal (his only goal of the season so far). Is this the ‘Gervinho effect’? Are these players really more relaxed when they are away from the hot gaze of Arsenal’s cruel home fans?

Hard to tell. I’ve been to many home and away games with Arsenal. My experience is that the away fans were crueler toward the players than the home fans. Both at Anfield and the Liberty stadium, the away fans verbally harassed Abou Diaby. These were direct verbals: get out of my club and that sort of thing shouted down on him when he was mere meters away.

But what if these players are more directly affected by crowd unrest at home? If that is the case, that somehow the home fans are making Giroud, Ramsey, and Özil miss shots, what does that say about those players and their fitness for a title run? Because I wonder how a player would be able to bifurcate their home and away form? How do they pick themselves up to play in an away game but aren’t able to just do that in a home game?

Personally, this looks like coincidental data. Coincidental data that fits a weird narrative about confidence and home fans that has come out this season. A weird narrative that has been picked up on by the players and the manager.