Category Archives: The 7amkickoff Index

Why the odds makers have Everton as favorites to win Sunday

I was talking to a friend yesterday about the differences between sports betting in the US and in the UK. As an example in the conversation I pulled up the odds for the Everton-Arsenal match for this weekend and I was surprised to learn that Everton are the bookmakers favorites to win the match: 40% Everton win, 30% draw, 32% Arsenal win.

I have to admit that I don’t gamble on sports. I don’t know why, other than it seems like gambling on sports would ruin sports for me. I’ll have a flutter every once in a while, but nothing serious, which would require me to build a model to find value in the Premier League market.

That latter bit would be the part that ruined sport because then I would have to see my favorite team as just another data point in the model rather than as some romantic metaphor.

But the bookmakers don’t mess around. The fact is that Everton have been favorites in this fixture now for two years and by basically the same margin. And in this same fixture last year you might remember that Arsenal were lucky to escape with a point.

Despite dominating the possession stats, Arsenal found it very hard to break down Everton’s defenses and only managed 3 shots on target. That includes Theo Walcott’s 1st minute goal which set Arsenal up for the draw. Meanwhile, Marouane Fellaini dominated the Arsenal midfield and as a result, Everton created 9 shots on target. That game also featured a poor clearance by Sagna which led to the Fellaini goal, a brash tackle by Gibson which I think should have seen him off, and a lucky escape by Arteta for a tackle on Pienaar in the box. It was a game that in many ways mirrored some of our worst performances of the season: sterile domination and an error prone defense.

From a sports-writer’s perspective it’s easy to tell why Arsenal aren’t favorites in this game: injuries and recent form.

Even with the great news that Aaron Ramsey is on his way back, you have to admit that Arsenal’s injured list reads like a who’s who of Arsenal starters: Walcott, Wilshere, Koscielny, Ramsey, oh and Özil. Meanwhile, Everton look almost certain to recover Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley for this match. Add to that the fact that all their regular starters, like Romelu Lukaku (who has scored 4 goals in the 8 appearances since his return from injury), and you can see that Everton are significantly healthier than Arsenal at the moment.

Recent form favors the blues as well. In League play, Arsenal have won just 3 of their last 10 matches, going 3-4-3 and taking just 13 points from a possible 30. Everton, on the other hand, are on a 5-match winning streak and have a 6-1-3 record in the last 10 games. Those three losses were all to top seven teams (Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham) but they were also all away games.

And head to head, home record v. away record, again favors the Toffees. Everton are 11-3-1 at home, losing just once to Sunderland (0-1) and drawing to Tottenham (0-0) and Liverpool (3-3). However, what is keeping the bookies’ odds close is the fact that Arsenal have the second best away record (29/48 points) and 4th best goal scoring record in away games (27 goals scored).

You could, however, simplify all of these arguments and just look at goal difference. In their seminal work Fitness, chance, and myths: an objective view on soccer results Heuer and Rubner lay out a compelling argument for why goal difference is the key stat for determining the relative strength of a team. This is something I have felt was true for a long time but never put the work in to prove it. Again, using goal difference, you can see why Everton are favorites. Despite their rather good record in terms of both results and goals scored, Arsenal’s away goal difference over the last three seasons has been just +14 (it is +/-0 this season) while our overall goal difference has been +79. And that figure is largely buoyed by Arsenal’s best-in-the-league away defense last season where we only allowed 14 total goals.

This season is another odd one. The Gunners have scored 27 away goals and have conceded 27 for a 0 GD. However, as you know, 17 of those 27 goals came in just three games. If we abstract those big losses out, Arsenal’s away record goes from one of the worst in the League to the best in the country, scoring 23 and conceding a measly 10 in 13 games. In fact, if we take out the big away losses in 2011-2012 (against Man U and Blackburn) Arsenal go from having the 11th worst away defense to the 3rd best. So, without the five big losses in away games the last three years, Arsenal actually have a pretty solid away defense conceding just 44 goals in 51 games but 29 goals in those five games. mentioned above. I guess when Arsenal lose they really are the best at losing!

If there is any “value”* to be found in the stats above it’s that Arsenal’s away record is so strange over the last three years that you might take pause. On the one hand, Arsenal have the most consistent, stingiest away defense in the League over the last three years. On the other hand, Arsenal also have allowed 29 goals in just 5 games.

Can Arsenal get a win in these circumstances or are the odds-makers right?

*The difference between the odds on offer and the probability of a result going in favor of the gambler.


Stoke City v. Arsenal: stats preview

  • In the last 4 meetings between these two teams at the Britannia stadium both teams have the same record: P4 W1 D2 L1
  • In those same 4 meetings both teams have won 3-1 once, drawn 1-1 once, and drawn 0-0 once
  • In the last meeting at the Britannia, Peter Crouch won 18/21 aerial duels and was only called for three fouls, all of which he complained about
  • Thomas Vermaelen might start at left back and he won 6/13 aerial duels in that same game, leading Arsenal (Diaby won 6/17)
  • Giroud won 5/12 aerial duels in that same game, none in the Stoke final 1/3, 1 in the Arsenal defensive 1/3
  • In the last meeting Stoke only completed 150 passes
  • In that same match both teams made 70 aerial duels, Stoke won 41 of them. Yes, 70 aerial duels in one game. Arsenal only averaged 17 aerial duels per game last season. Arsenal average 17 aerial duels per game this season as well.
  • Peter Crouch is averaging 8 aerial duels per game this season, second in the League behind Christian Benteke
  • Giroud leads Arsenal with 4 aerials per game
  • Bacary Sagna is second at Arsenal this season with 3.8 aerials per game, just 17 fewer total aerials won than Giroud
  • Sagna is 18 cm shorter than Giroud
  • Vermaelen might start tomorrow at left back, he won 55% of his aerial duels last season. Crouch won 66%, and Koscielny wins 57% this season.
  • Stoke will probably angle long passes in to Crouch against Koz and Vermaelen because Mertesacker has won 72% of his aerial duels
  • Crouch has scored 7 goals against Arsenal, his second highest tally against any team (Opta stat that you’ve seen floating around)
  • Over the last 10 years, Arsenal have only averaged 1.66 points per game away from home and Stoke have averaged 1.61 points per game at home
  • This season, Arsenal are averaging 2 points per game away from home and Stoke are averaging 1.62 points per game at home

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Match for Match, Arsenal dead even with last season but opportunity looms

If you compare match for match last season to this season, Arsenal are dead even on points, have scored four fewer goals, and yet with the games remaining there is a very real chance for Arsenal to win their first League title since the Invincibles.

Many of the media elites argue that this is Arsenal’s best chance at a trophy in years — citing the closeness of the race, the fact that Arsenal were leading the League for much of the season, and the void left at the top by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. And sure enough, looking at the Cann table from last year to this produces a rather dramatic presentation of the two seasons.

12 points clear with 11 matches remaining, Man Utd at this point last season were presumptive champions and the excitement in the League was in following which teams would get relegated; from the League and from the top four. Arsenal were four points behind Spurs and were just getting ready to start their “negative spiral” up the table to eventually overhaul their North London neighbors.

Now this season. The table is topped by Chelsea with Arsenal just one point below, Man City three points back (but with a game in hand), Liverpool four points back, and Tottenham 10 points off the leaders. Whereas last season there was a clear favorite, there are now three clubs who can take the lead on any given weekend and a fourth club who would need two good weeks over all three of the other clubs in order to get into the title equation. In that sense, you can see why people feel this is the most open title race in years.


But when you look at total spend on players, this race shouldn’t even be this close. You don’t have to agree but the fact remains that spending huge sums improves your club’s chances of winning trophies. Chelsea and Man City have proven that in spades and there is no end of the spend in sight for either of those two clubs. If Jose Mourinho’s team is a “little horse” it is a little horse with a gilded saddle and a feed bag full of caviar — the perfect little horse for Chelsea’s Napoleon to ride in on.

But while everyone was ogling the riches Man City and Chelsea are throwing around people seem to have forgotten that Man Utd spent their fair share as well. This season alone, Moyes spent £67m on transfers in to boost his squad, buying Mata and Fellaini. It’s not been for lack of spend that United are struggling, but for lack of management.

Meanwhile, plucky little Scouse underdogs, Liverpool, have had the same problem as Moyes. Brendan Rodgers is a serial spender in the transfer market, plumping out huge sums for players like Joe Allen (£16m) and taking a huge dump on Stewart Downing when they lost £15m selling him to West Ham. This season he spent another huge sum, £17m, for Sakho who has been “less than convincing.” Rodgers’ most important transfer dealings in his career has actually been to keep Luis Suarez. Without the Uruguayan having a career season, the Liverpool defense, which has more holes than a sunken ship, would be dragging them back in to mid-table mediocrity. And they might still yet miss out on 4th place if Suarez has his annual freak out ahead of the World Cup.

Top seven clubs, last three seasons transfer spend:
Chelsea £191m
Man City £165m
Man U £159m
Liverpool £110m
Arsenal £19m
Tottenham -£28m
Everton -£27m

The media elites will go on about what an open season this is for Arsenal and what a chance to win the title but for me this is just the first of many rebuilding seasons with the Arsenal. Wenger’s grand plan to build a team around Cesc and van Persie has been utterly overhauled and he has now become much more pragmatic in the transfer market, buying seasoned professionals like Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, and Mikel Arteta instead of players for the future. This season, he added a sparkling new gem to the squad when he captured German International Mesut Özil from Real Madrid so, with a hugely talented base of seasoned professionals, a framework of young players who have been at the club for years, and a topping of a big-money signing, what I’m looking for, then, is an improvement. Sadly, if we count results from this year to last, Arsenal have stayed a bit static, and by some measures even fallen a bit short.



Take a look at the graphic above. I’ve matched up Arsenal’s results from last term (on the left) with the results from this term (on the right). Then I took the points difference between the results, the goal difference between the results, and the goals conceded difference between the results and created a table on the far right. The colored bars are for the 11 matches Arsenal still have yet to play: red bars indicated losses last season, yellow bars are draws, and green bars were games we won.

The first thing to notice is that Arsenal are dead even on points with the results that we had last season. This, combined with our second place ranking, indicates that Arsenal had a relatively weak schedule to start the season off and when you look at the fact that of the 11 games remaining this year our record last season was W4 D2 L5, you can see that Arsenal are headed into a very rough patch of games.

Rough patch, or you could think of those 11 games as an opportunity to pick up some points. For example, using my color bars, think of the green as “must win,” and yellow or red as “opportunity to pick up points”. Then any red bar becomes a chance to earn points with either a draw or a win and the yellow a chance to earn points with a win. Now, Arsenal have 7/11 chances to earn more points than last season.

For example if Arsenal earn a draw at home to Man City, away to Chelsea, away to Spurs, home to Swansea, and away to Norwich they will actually be four points better off than they were last season. Draws in all those matches would hardly be a string of memorable results but given the results of the season prior would indicate that Arsenal are in better form over last season. Turn any of those losses into wins and we are even better off.

No, I look at the record Arsenal had in the comparable 11 games last season and I take heart. To finish this season with the same points total as last season, Arsenal would have to go W4 D2 L5 or some equivalent which would leave Arsenal earning just 14 points from our last 11 games. Losing 5 of the remaining 11 matches seems almost impossible, especially when you consider that Arsenal have only lost 6 League matches in the last three years worth of run-in’s from February to May.

Where all this starts is this weekend against Stoke. Arsenal earned a 0-0 draw in this match last season and a win there puts Arsenal 2 points better off than last season. The perfect way to kick off the end of season run-in.