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.



It’s not the fans, it’s the team

“We lost the championship at home against the lower teams – we have the best record against the top clubs – but we played at home in a very difficult climate. We have to realise that, away from home, we are championship winners. At home, against the smaller teams, we lost the league. This club does have special values though and one I’ve experienced over the years is to stick together and support the team. There’s no success without that.

I groaned when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lost control of the ball in front of the Arsenal defense and Mauro Zarate scored West Ham’s second goal. The season was officially 56 minutes old and I was left with my head in my hands.

I wasn’t a negative person. I wasn’t trying to foment revolution among the Arsenal fan base. I don’t hate Arsene Wenger, I love and respect everything he has given to this club. Days before the match I had even written a piece explaining the logic behind why Arsene Wenger might not buy a single outfield player that summer: that he had a stacked team and wanted to give players like Ox, Theo, Wilshere, Ramsey, and Chambers the room to grow into the team. But I was devastated by a loss in the opening match of the season. I was angry about the errors by Cech and Ox. I was hurt. Because I’m a human and this thing I care about wasn’t doing as well as I had hoped.

I felt a bit of disappointment at the 0-0 draw against Liverpool in the second home game. It was the second home game of the season where Arsenal had been held scoreless, but there were encouraging signs; Arsenal were creating great chances, we just had to be patient and the goals would come.

And in the loss to Chelsea which followed a few weeks later I was furious: not at Arsenal or Arsene Wenger, not at the players, but at the referee, Mike Dean, who had wrongly sent off Gabriel and ruined the game. The match was so poorly officiated that Mike Dean received the second highest rebuke he could possibly get and had the red card rescinded for Gabriel and a red card retroactively handed to Diego Costa.

And even the loss to West Brom felt unlucky. Arsenal jumped out to an early lead but were pegged back by a sloppy set play goal and lost the game in the end to an own goal — against a team that created 4 shots. Not exactly the kind of game you expect Arsenal to lose.

But in the very next match, Arsenal again had the lead, 1-0 against Norwich away, and once again let the lead slip — this time because Gabriel was caught in a poor position and allowed his man to turn him easily. After the goal, it looked like Arsenal gave up. The stats bear that out: they created as many shots as Arsenal did. And it was that match, the second consecutive lead dropped in the second consecutive away match, where I started to feel like this team maybe lacked a little bit of that famous mental strength that Wenger always brags about. That this team could lose any sized lead.

That was November 2015. That was two consecutive away matches.

But it was Boxing Day that was probably my most angry moment of the season as an Arsenal supporter. Arsenal went to Southampton and were spanked 4-0. Not just beaten by a lucky deflection, or by an own goal, or a shot that hits a balloon, Arsenal were cut apart by a team that simply wanted the win more. They were out-hustled, out shot, out-tackled, and out-played at every level in that match.

I watched Southampton beat Arsenal 4-0 and felt like a pool of jelly. I was resigned at that point that this was a lost season. That Wenger’s gamble on Flamini, Walcott, Campbell, Ramsey, and Ox — all of whom played in that match and all of whom were subsequently dropped in varying ways — was an utter failure.

I don’t read the blogs and when it comes to newspapers I only read the Guardian, so I don’t read the muck rakers at the Metro, the Telegraph, and the Mail. I don’t follow any of the other Arsenal blogs. I don’t even read Arseblog. I don’t listen to people on twitter. I don’t get into arguments on twitter. I don’t follow the Piers Morgans. I don’t even have other people around me to talk to about Arsenal. I don’t go to games. I don’t have pints with people before and after the games and complain about times past. I don’t even read the comments on my own Arsenal blog half the time. I live in an Arsenal bubble. And I was livid.

I was angry because I had put my faith in Wenger to make the right call when it came to these players and he didn’t. I had also put my faith in the players coming good and they didn’t. I had trumpeted Arsenal’s expected goals and the rate they were creating. I called Cech the best goal keeper in the League. I was a true believer in this project.

I was wrong.

After January, it only got worse. There was the 3-3 draw to Liverpool away in which Arsenal dropped the lead. There was the 0-0 draw to Stoke away, in which Arsenal only took 8 shots and both teams combined for 20 tackles. That was a match in which it looked like neither team could really be arsed to show up.

Are you paying attention here? It was Arsenal’s away form against little teams in the early part of the season which ruined Arsenal’s title chances. Arsenal have only won 8 away matches. That’s good enough for 3rd best away form behind Leicester and Tottenham. We are far from “Championship winners”, as Wenger claims: Arsenal’s 1.67ppg in away matches is 3rd best this season, 4th place form last season, and 7th place form the season prior. Championship? You mean the League Championship? Nope. 1.67ppg in away games is still only third place in the League Championship.

After January, things only got worse and Arsenal took 11 of 24 points from away matches. Those include the ignominious 3-3 draw against West Ham, in which Arsenal had a 3 goal lead and flushed it down the bog, and the 3-2 loss to Manchester United’s U21 team. And I’m not going to recap the horrible 0-0 draw to Sunderland a game which was so lazy and clearly the team didn’t care that I spent the majority of the match playing games on my phone.

The fan unrest this season isn’t because of egos. People aren’t groaning because some unnamed media personality is tweeting negativity about the team or the manager. The first time I heard the Kroenke out chant was an away game. I don’t even go to games but at every match, when the fans, home or away, groan? I groan along with them. When they yell “what the.. Theo???” I tell it too. I do all of this from my couch. If the home fans or the away fans are to blame, then I guess us couch fans are to blame too.

I’ve been to a dozen Arsenal matches. I’ve seen Arsenal pass the ball sideways for 90 minutes and fans fall asleep in front of me. I’ve been to away nights in Munich where we cheered for 90 minutes after an early goal gave us hope that we would get through to the next round. I’ve been to Anfield as their fans sang their little song and then sat quiet for 90 minutes and we sang for 90 minutes about Tottenham minding the gap. I went to Liberty Stadium where the Swansea faithful sang the whole match and played a kettle drum and our fans rained down abuse on Abou Diaby because he had the temerity to get injured. I’ve seen Adebayor play the laziest brand of football known to man on a freezing night in February, when a header from Senderos won the match. And I remember my first ever match, 3-0 over Charlton at Highbury: the crowd were largely polite, sang a few songs, and everyone went home with a slight buzz from the rarity of watching Hleb score.

Ninety percent of the time it’s not the fans who set the tone in the stadium, just like I don’t set the tone from my couch. Fans are there to see something exciting. They are there to see their team win. To see new heroes emerge. To see a special shot. To watch an amazing pass. To hear a crunching tackle and watch the opposition’s shots parried away. To see their team play their hearts out.

It’s not been the fans who lost Arsenal the title this season. It’s not been the home fans or the away fans singing about Kroenke. It’s not twitter. It’s not Piers Morgan. It’s not Thierry Henry on SkySports. It’s not the bloggers. It’s the team. This team wasn’t good enough. This team doesn’t excite. This team doesn’t show the fight we expect. This team isn’t prepared. This team loses games it should win because they don’t even show up sometimes. This team is weak and stale.

And that is not my fault.



Atletico 1-0 Bayern: better call Saúl

Atletico Madrid beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the Champions League yesterday and now have 33 clean sheets in all competitions this season. Atleti have also been held scoreless 8 times, but they have just 8 losses, 8 draws, and 36 wins, and along the way they have beaten both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

People complain about Simeone’s “tactics”, mostly meaning the off the ball stuff like time wasting and feigning injury to stop the game. And in yesterday’s match against Bayern, the ball was in play for only 64 total minutes of the 94 minute match.

However, that number becomes less meaningful when you see that in Real Madrid’s match with Wolfsburg the ball was in play just 61 minutes and in the Real Madrid-Man City match, just 66 minutes. Purists might point to the Arsenal-Barcelona match and I would agree! In the 1st leg in London the ball was in play for 65 minutes and the return leg, the ball was in play for 64 minutes. Clearly, Atletico Madrid are the master time wasters.

What they do well, actually, is use good spacing and team play to push players where they want to them to be and thus limit the opposition’s chances. Bayern are well known for their wing play: Ribery, Robben, Comen, and Costa are Bayern’s biggest threats out wide. They can break down almost any team’s defenders with incisive dribbles, quick passes, and intelligent movement off the ball.

But Diego Simeone’s Atleti dominated the center of the park and controlled the wide areas. Atleti’s  two top tacklers, Gabi and Luis, made 9 tackles each down the flanks. Both players were crucial to keeping their team’s clean sheet as they won 7/9 tackles each, with their backup players winning an additional 7/10.*


Atletico made an astonishing 53 tackles in this game, but almost all of them were wide. If I count the flanks extremely narrow, Atleti only made 9 of those tackles in the middle of the pitch. If I divide the pitch into 3rds, they made just four. Four of 53 tackles in the middle of the pitch. Clearly Simeone had a defensive game plan and it worked.

Bayern took 20 shots to Atletico’s 11, which seems like great shot superiority until I tell you that both teams had just 1 shot in the 6 yard box, and Atletico took 5 shots in the 18 yard box compared to Bayern’s 7. Also, both teams hit the woodwork once, both teams had just four shots on target from within the 18 yard box, and Atletico Madrid even dominated big chances with a 2-1 advantage. Atletico also limited Robert Lewandowski to just one shot while the only big chance for Bayern was a header from Martinez. Not exactly threatening stuff.

It was a mazy run (in the 10th minute) and perfectly placed shot by Saúl Ñíguez (who is trying to break the bank with accent marks in his name) which tipped the scales of this match. Ñíguez attempted 6 dribbles in this game and completed three of them in his goal scoring run. Beating Alcantara, Bernat, and Xabi in the single move which announced him on the international stage, even if no one I know can agree on how to pronounce his last name. I guess we better just call him Saúl.

Atletico have it all to do once again, this time in Munich. Simeone won’t have the atmosphere of the Vincente Calderon to pump his players up and may need more than one goal to go through, but expect him to have a plan to stop Bayern. Or at least to slow them down.


*It’s important to remember that all tackles are successful events. A tackle always takes the ball away from an opponent but a successful tackle wins the ball back for your team.

P.S. as a point of comparison, in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Bayern, the Gunners made 43 tackles but they were much more central with their attempts. Here is Arsenal’s map:


And Atleti’s full map:


Like Atleti, Arsenal allowed Bayern 20 shots, but 9 were in the 18 yard box, and only 3 of those were on target. Bayern also created two big chances but allowed Arsenal four!

It’s important to note that I am giving credit here to Arsenal in their 2-0 win over Bayern for being excellent defensively in that match.