Category Archives: The 7amkickoff Index

OH GOD YES

Does Arsenal really have the best defense in the League? (Hint: YES)

The facts are in: Arsenal have allowed the fewest goals (19), have the most clean sheets (10), force their opponents to take 54% of their shots from outside the 18 yard box, where those opponents have scored just 2 goals, for a league leading defensive conversion rate of just 1.45%.

Arsenal are also 5th in the League in total shots allowed (lower numbers here are better), have only allowed the opposition to take 11 shots in the 6 yard box (second behind WBA), and when the opposition do get a shot off inside the penalty box, the opposition are only scoring at a 14% clip. The answer is emphatically, YES. Arsenal have the best defense in the League.

defense

Arsenal’s goals allowed from distance indicates an improvement on the part of Wojciech Szczesny. His shot stopping ability on long range shots is being tested constantly and he has performed admirably this season. In fact, Squawka ranks Szczesny as the best goalkeeper in the League this season.

The other stat there that’s really incredible is that Wenger’s men are only allowing the opposition to get 4% of their total shots off inside the 6 yard box. I can’t say for certain but it seems like Arsenal’s zonal defense is doing a number on keeping the opposition quiet on set plays. It’s not exactly a scientific observation but tell me that you don’t feel better about Arsenal’s set play defense.

Arsenal’s goals conceded is a truly incredible record when you consider the fact that 9 of Arsenal’s 19 goals conceded came from just 2 games. That means in the other 20 matches Arsenal have played in the Premier League this season, Arsenal have conceded just 10 total goals. That’s 0.5 a goal a match.

And why does Arsenal have the best defense in the League? Because the dual pairings of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in defense and Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta in midfield.

Arsenal’s tactic is simple: use the midfielders to press and tackle high up the pitch when they lose the ball and keep the opposition from having time to play long balls over the top. And once Arsenal have a lead, they are comfortable seeing games out with the calm presence of Mertesacker and Koscielny in the middle clearing all attacks.

Last season, Arsenal’s leading tacklers were Arteta, Jenkinson, and Sagna and this season, Arsenal’s leading tacklers are Ramsey, Arteta, Gibbs and then Koscielny, Flamini, and Mertesacker. Rather than Arsenal’s fullbacks shouldering the burden of last-minute or desperation tackling, Arsenal’s core are putting in the most work defensively. It’s a proactive approach to defense rather than a reactive approach and it’s clearly working.

With almost all the other defensive stats having stayed the same, Arsenal’s tackling in midfield has gone up significantly over last season:

2012/2013
24.8 clearances per game
2.5 blocks per game
16.7 interceptions per game
19.7 tackles per game (attempted 749)
15.6 tackles per game (won 593)
628/1163 aerial duels (54%)
16.5 aerials won per game

2013/2014
32 clearance per game
2.6 blocks per game
14 interceptions per game
31.5 tackles per game (attempted 694)
14.8 tackles per game (won 326)
360/686 aerial duels (52%)
16.4 aerials won per game

Interestingly, Arsenal are attempting almost twice as many tackles as last season but aren’t winning as many tackles as before. I’d have to look at the specifics of where Arsenal are losing those tackles but my gut tells me that the majority of them are happening in the opposition half. For example, Cazorla’s tackling numbers are very low, he’s 16/51 this season, and we know that Cazorla plays high up the pitch.* One caveat here, I wonder if Opta changed the taxonomy for what constitutes a successful tackle. They have done so with other stats in the past and there are some suspicious numbers between last season and this (e.g. Cazorla was an 80% tackler last season and is a 30% tackler this season, that same pattern repeats a lot with Arsenal players).

These last few games without Ramsey and Arteta show what the Gunners are missing in the core of the Arsenal midfield. Both men together average almost 7 tackles a game. And as important as Aaron Ramsey’s offense has been this season, with 8 goals and 6 assists, his defensive work in the midfield is equally (if not more) crucial to the Gunners’ success.

You’ll also note that Arsenal have added about 7 clearances per game. This is down to the fact that Arsenal essentially concede possession when they have the lead this season whereas in the last few years Arsenal attempted to see out games by playing keep away.

In fact, the central pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny shows improved stats in almost every defensive category for those two over last season:

Mertesacker Merte 12/13 Koscielny Koz 12/13 Vermaelen 12/13
Aerials 71% 69% 52% 64% 55%
Clearances 6.3 4.8 7 4.9 4.5
Tackles 1.5 1 1.9 1.7 1.5
Interceptions 1.6 1.5 2.9 1.6 1.6
Blocks 8 20 14 9 19

Mertesacker’s aerial ability has improved steadily over the three ┬áseasons he’s been with Arsenal. The Big German was just 63% in his first year, winning just 1.4 aerials per game. Last year he improved to 69% and won 2.6 aerial duels per game and this year. And this year he’s 71%, winning 2.9 AD per game.

Koscielny’s interceptions numbers have gone through the roof. This is indicative of his role at Arsenal as the stopper. He comes out of defense and tries to win the first ball in to the center forward. If he fails, then Mertesacker is there to clean up. Koz also has improved his nose for blocks and already has 14 this season. But don’t expect too many spectacular numbers there because Arsenal force the opposition into taking shots from distance and Koz isn’t going to be getting too many blocks on midfielders.

And there you have it. There are no bones about it, by pressuring high up the pitch with their center mids Arsenal are limiting the opposition’s big chances over the top and forcing their opponents to shoot shots from distance, where the League’s best keeper is gobbling up their low percentage shots. And that’s why, despite conceding 6 goals** to Man City, Arsenal have the best defense in the League.

Qq

*This is not a criticism, Cazorla puts in superlative effort on both ends of the pitch. In fact, Cazorla is what I think Wenger wanted Arshavin to be: a hard working creative midfielder who presses the opposition both with and without the ball.
**The squad had just played a crucial qualifier against Napoli and returned to England both tired and with half the squad stricken down with the flu. And they still scored 3, because Man City has the leakiest defense among the top teams.

If you only read one book about the history of Arsenal FC, Rebels for the Cause should be that book. From Wilf Copping to Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have always been a club that did things their own way. Iconoclastic from the start, iconoclastic to this day. Read about the rebels who changed football forever and made Arsenal FC into one of the most loved football clubs in the world.

Yanks:

Brits:

via http://redlondon.net/2013/04/11/classic-shot-forget-silverware-gunners-won-golden-premier-league-trophy/

17 games to go, which team has the easiest run in?

If we are looking at just the top 7 teams then the answer to the question “which team has the easiest run-in” is Liverpool. Tottenham, Chelsea and Man U have the next easiest, Everton is where Everton should be if the world is right (smack dab in the middle), and Arsenal and Man City have the two most difficult run ins.

Here’s how I came to that conclusion.

First, I assumed that all the top 7 teams will win every match they have against all of the bottom 13 teams. That is very unlikely but I’m not predicting points or results, I’m judging “difficulty” and everyone will agree that the team who wins the title has to beat the bottom 13 teams. In fact, Wenger today said that “we must boss the bottom teams”.

And so far Arsenal have been excellent in that category, losing just once (Villa) and drawing once (WBA) against the entire bottom 13. In fact, on average so far this season, Arsenal have been the very best of all the teams against bottom 13 opponents. That’s a far cry from the opening day howler against Aston Villa when fans called for the sacking of Tim Payton and John Cross.

tablesWhere Arsenal have struggled is against the top 7 teams, though, as you can see only one team has done exceptionally well in that regard, Man City. And why has Man City done so well? Should I answer that question? Do people asking rhetorical questions annoy me? They played all but one game against the top 7 at home, I just did, and yes.

Projecting results is a very woolly discipline, especially in football where an errant referee can easily throw a spanner into a game. And let’s be honest here — none of you (or me) are any good at projecting results or you would be making money hand over fist at the bookies (or working for a bookie).

One could look at past results over the last 10 years, or past managerial results, or home form versus away form, or squad value as a ratio of win/loss, or payroll costs, or some other measurement and probably get something close, maybe. But using this season’s results? That would be whack because this season is unlike any I’ve seen in the League since I started watching football.

But predictions aren’t the point of this article, difficulty is. And I have decided that for this season’s champs, the bottom teams have a difficulty of zero. I have also decided that among the top 7 teams they should average about 1.5 points per game against each other: 2 points home, 1 point away, average. This has some basis in reality, last season Chelsea was the best team in the mini-League with 1.83ppg and Man U won the League with a mini-League average of 1.67ppg — for those counting, that’s just two draws above my estimate.

That home versus away points per game in the mini-League is important because, as you saw above, not every team has the same home versus away schedule coming up. So, what I did was assign 3 points whenever a team faced a bottom 13 club, 2 points when they faced a top 7 team at home and 1 point when they face a top 7 team away. That produced a top 7 schedule difficulty:

top-7

The top 5 teams all have to play the top 7 teams 6 times and Spurs and Man U only have to play those teams 5 times.This gives Spurs and United a one to two point advantage over their top 7 rivals. In fact, much has been made in the press of how easy Arsenal’s last 5 game run-in is but it’s actually Tottenham and Man U who have the easiest final 8 games, with those two facing just one top 7 team whereas Arsenal, City, Liverpool and Everton all face three top 7 teams.

As I said above, Man City has the most difficult run in using my simplistic method. They have to play 5 of 6 away matches against top 7 teams.

But Arsenal has the second most difficult schedule using the simple method and the most difficult using just plain logic. Arsenal have the second most number of away matches (4/6) but also because they have to play 4 title deciders in a block, 3 of those matches are away games, one is a North London derby, 1 is an away match to Chelsea who have been undefeated in 1000 years under Mourinho, and that is a block which falls right after Arsenal go away to Bayern Munich.

And Liverpool, conversely, have the easiest run-in with just one away game against top 7 teams. Moreover, Liverpool don’t have any European matches this season and neither do Everton, both teams only have the FA Cup left.

This means that it looks like Merseyside will have a huge role to play in deciding the title: City have to play both Merseyside teams away in the final few weeks of the season and Chelsea have a crucial away match against Liverpool.

But here are some other facts for you to consider in bullet format:

  • Even if Arsenal only get 8 points from their 6 matches (P6 W2 D2 L2) against big 7 teams, they can still finish on 89 points as long as they beat all the bottom 13. And 89 points should be enough to win the title, as long as they keep their GD up!
  • If you want to argue that Man U are title challengers still, you have to do so by arguing that they will win every one of their remaining fixtures. This will not happen, thus, they are not title contenders.
  • Liverpool have to be considered title challengers equal to City, Chelsea, and Arsenal: they play 5 of their 6 big games at home, they aren’t in Europe, they have the best record against absolute dross, and Luis Suarez is the league’s biggest flat track bully (19 of his 22 goals have come against bottom 13 clubs).
  • There are two matches which will decide the title, in my estimation: Arsenal at Chelsea and City at Arsenal. I think Arsenal can beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge because Chelsea have to play Galatasaray four days before that match. I also think Arsenal can beat City at the Emirates because so far Arsenal are the only team to put three goals past City. I think that’s where Arsenal will win the League this season.

Qq

top-6-table

Arsenal much better in the mini-league than last season

Here are a couple of facts for you: the table is much tighter than you think and Arsenal have performed considerably better against top teams than the season previous.

One of the things we often hear is that “the team at the top of the table on X date (Christmas) usually wins the League. That was Liverpool this year, though Arsenal quickly took that position back on Boxing Day. You already know this but using a Cann table we can see visually how much tighter the table is this year over last.

cann

The reason why Liverpool were top of the table at Christmas is because of a rather beneficial schedule. Now that they have played two more of the top 6 clubs they have fallen back down to where they probably belong. Using statto.com we can compare clubs head-to-head and generate this table for the top six clubs so far this season:

top-6-table

And here’s what the same table looked like last season:

top-6-table-2013

With the table as tight as it is, these results against the other top 6 teams are going to matter more.

Qq