Arsenal v. WBA: Perfidy on a Thursday Night

All right you negative nancies, there are just five games left of this abominable season and then we can all go hiking*. That means just five games left for us to say things like “we have to put this right” and “Man City handed Arsenal a real opportunity there by dropping points.” And only five games left for Wenger to say things like,

“Our job is to give absolutely the maximum until the last day of the season. You expect that from ambitious, professional football players.

We have values at this club that we respect and that we have to respect until the last minute of the season.”

He is right, we have values at this club and have to give maximum effort in every game as the season winds down. Anything less would be, well, it would be sort of like what happened against Crystal Palace the other day.

I watched Adrian Clarke’s breakdown and he made some interesting points (which we will get to in a second) but the biggest one for me was that Arsenal looked a bit lethargic. Welbeck in particular didn’t get service, when he did get service “the ball didn’t stick”, add to that the fact that he didn’t make his usual runs. This allowed Palace to park the bus, forcing Ozil to collect in deep areas where he was less effective.

Clarke ended the piece by suggesting that Arsenal will regret not creating more after Palace scored — they took just 1 shot (Gabriel header) in the last 12 minutes of the game. In essence, Arsenal looked like a team already on vacation.

Wenger’s quote above was made in his pre-match presser and sounded like a speech to the players. Like “yes, you are disappointed, we all are, but we have to finish the season strong.” And he’s right, Arsenal could easily drop into the Europa League places if they aren’t careful here. So, as I said at the outset, it’s a good thing Man City dropped two points because it gives Arsenal a little chance to get back ahead of them in the race for the top four. However, that’s going to be a tough call because if the players are on vacation, the fans seem to be ready to join them and Arsenal need all the support they can get right now.

There are a number of supporters who are planning on staying home Thursday and there is a sense that despite the announced “sellout” of the game the stands will look like a Serie A match. This is being billed as a “protest” but it’s not. There are a few angry voices glomming on to a weird series of events and pretending that they are doing something meaningful.

There are going to be a lot of empty seats because: there is a planned train strike, the game is on a Thursday night, the game will be on telly, the season feels like it is over, fans are burned out on this team, and some people will be protesting.

Don’t get me wrong, I support people protesting the team. If they are that angry, they should get together, form a platform, and make some demands. If the demands aren’t met, then start a series of direct actions – walking out of games, not going to games, not watching games on TV, not buying shirts, not clicking on the dot com, not renewing your season ticket, unfollowing the official news feed on Twitter, and so on. That’s how protests work.

The few people who will be protesting with their undefined platform of zero demands will naturally try to make this into a bigger event than it is. Arsenal will not be impressed. Like I said, you have to have some organization to these things if you want to make real change. Undefined rage almost never gets answered.

I’m not saying that the game won’t be weird. I do think that there will be a lot of empty seats and for the few who do attend the fan atmosphere at the Arsenal right now is downright toxic. There you have it, Arsenal’s players look like they have one foot in Ibiza and they are about to play a tough game in front of a hostile home crowd. Should be fun.

And let’s not underestimate what Tony Pulis’ West Brom will look to do. If Crystal Palace parked the bus (and they did), Pulis will park the bus and have his players “put themselves about a bit” (meaning foul foul foul). As Wenger put it,

“They are a team who are very physical, very committed and are very well organised. They don’t concede many goals so it is a difficult proposal for us.”

Pulis’ WBA have kept 21 clean sheets in his first 51 games in charge. That is how he coaches his teams to play football. That is what Arsenal face.

Clarke pointed to a number of problems in the Crystal Palace game which Arsenal will have to overcome again in this one. One of the big ones that he spoke of right off the bat is that Arsenal lacked midfield runners: players making a late run into the box. I think this was aimed at Ozil because later in the broadcast he pointed out that Ozil played too deep and that he would like to see Ozil closer to Welbeck to support the striker.

But Tim Stillman wondered (on Twitter) whether Wenger might start Ramsey along with Elneny to give Arsenal that extra runner that Clarke wanted. It’s a good shout. Wenger brought Ramsey on in the last 10 minutes of the Palace game probably because he saw exactly that problem. It didn’t really work but it could presage Arsene doing the same again.

The only problem with playing Ramsey and Elneny is that it leaves Arsenal vulnerable to counter attacks. Clarke also pointed out that Gabriel probably should have fouled Adebayor early in the build-up to the Palace goal, rather than letting him run 60 yards into the heart of the Arsenal final third. If Arsenal play without Coquelin, they will need to be more cynical in those counters. They can’t give Berahino time and space to run with the ball.

To end on a high note, there were two things that I liked from that Palace game. The first was Alexis Sanchez finally getting behind the opposition’s defense. He’s been forced to drop deep and create for others for most of the season and I love seeing him playing as a striker more. Let’s hope this wasn’t like that one time Santi Cazola got a hat trick from doing the same thing and then next game went back to playing deeper.

The other was that cute little training ground corner that Arsenal did. It was a neat little short corner, where Coquelin makes a late run and then scoops a ball over to Iwobi. I love to see more of that kind of stuff. That’s the kind of thing your team does when they are having fun playing football.

How was that for a match preview? Did I cover all the bases? I didn’t talk about Wilshere because I don’t care if he’s healthy for the last few games. That’s just practice for his national team, kinda like what he did last year. I am excited to get Cazorla back — his injury is almost certainly why Arsenal didn’t win the League this season. But Cazorla’s probably not going to be fully ready for a few more weeks.

Qq

*Until the forests catch on fire because of all the global warming and lack of rainfall in the PNW

Nooo-Meme-Darth-Vader-04

Why Tottenham are favorites to win the League

So, I watched Spurs demolish Stoke yesterday and that wasn’t fun. At all. It was about as much fun as that time a few months ago I went back and purposefully rewatched Star Wars Episodes I-III.

If you watch Star Wars IV and see the light saber battles there and compare them to the light saber battles between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Episode III, where they are jumping around on rocks floating on magma, and you don’t want to gouge your eyes out with the sheer illogic of it all, then you probably would have liked Stoke v. Spurs. All I could think of while watching the match was Darth Vader rising up like Frankenstein’s Monster:

Nooo-Meme-Darth-Vader-04Before the match Harry Kane tweeted a photo of some lions on the hunt with the caption, “coming for you Leicester” or something like that. In the match, that’s exactly what Spurs looked like, hungry lions.

Lions I assume for the England/English connection of Kane and Alli. And in the match it was Kane and Alli who pounced on poor Stoke. But the lions metaphor works well for the whole team, they hunted in packs, they were organized and stuck to their game plan.

I know what all the models say. I know that they have Arsenal finishing 2nd and Leicester finishing first. Some of them have Leicester winning the League by 90%+. But there is something in my gut (my database, actually) telling me that Spurs are going to overhaul Leicester.

First, Leicester have lost Vardy for Swansea and Man U for his diving and then telling the referee off. I have a feeling they are going to drop points in those two matches. Second, Spurs don’t look like the feeble Spurs team of the past. Kane’s strike was world class and came at the moment he decided to take over the game. Meanwhile, Alli missed a sitter. The worst miss I have ever seen in a football match. But it didn’t perturb him in the least and he came back and scored the fourth goal, a brilliant volley. Watch the highlights, the 4-0 score line flattered Stoke.

I’ve been telling people for months that Tottenham are a threat. Tottenham take the most shots in the League and concede the third fewest. They have scored the most goals and conceded the fewest. Not only that but they create Big Chances on par with Arsenal now, having put in 74 to Arsenal’s 88 and they have the best SiP saves rate of 65% and the 2nd best Big Chances saves rate.

They are also on a massive run of good form. In the last 14 matches they have created 38 Big Chances, 2.7 per game. And they have scored 31 goals in those 14 matches. In the previous 20 matches they created 36 Big Chances (1.8 per game) and scored 33 goals.

In this run, they have also limited the opposition to just 13 Big Chances, allowed 9 goals, and kept 7 clean sheets. As a point of contrast, Arsenal have created 30 big chances in the last 14 matches, scored 23 goals, conceded 13 Big Chances but also conceded 16 goals, keeping just 6 clean sheets.

Last 14 games Arsenal Spurs
Goals 23 31
Big Chances Created 30 38
Goals conceded 16 9
Big Chances Conceded 13 13
Clean sheets 6 7

This is what it looks like when a team is hunting like hungry lions. Maybe it’s unsustainable? Maybe they will revert to the mean? Maybe they are already reverting to the mean and this is their mean?

Meanwhile, Leicester still haven’t changed. They still allow way too many shots in prime (137 this season, compared to Arsenal’s 86 and Tottenham’s 92) and have allowed 44 Big Chances compared to Arsenal and Tottenham’s 34 each. Schmeichel is saving 57% of the SiPs he faces but also just 40% of the Big Chances.

In their run of the last 14 matches Leicester have been dominated by their opponents: 198 shots to 171. But they have only conceded 8 goals and 15 big chances, kept 9 clean sheets, while scoring 21 and creating 36 big chances.

Leicester is riding a wave of luck at the moment: their opponents have only put 45 shots on target out of the 198 shots they have taken, that’s 23% on frame which is 10% below season average for the Premier League. Can they keep this pace of blocked shots and opposition misses going? I’ve said no all season and they have defied me all season. Maybe they will continue to do so. But from what I’m seeing, Leicester would be the most improbable of League winners.

I think it’s going to be a tight one and we won’t know until the end of the season. But right now, given the form they are in and the underlying stats, I have Tottenham as favorites to win the League.

Qq

 

Stroll

Come on Stoke, put it up em

Guess what Arsenal need today? Stoke to beat Tottenham. Yeah, that’s right! For one day, every Arsenal fan is temporarily a Stoke fan.

Let’s try to comport ourselves in a manner that suits this new team we support: we will boo players we injure, we will tell foreigners to “go support your local” as a thinly veiled form of xenophobia, we will be outright with the xenophobia and say things like “what do Yanks know about football”, half of us will lose 3/4 of our teeth, and we will mock Arsene Wenger.

That last one, some of you already have down pat.

We find ourselves in this unenviable position because yesterday the Arsenal couldn’t do what needed to be done and see out a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace. Oh yeah, Arsenal had the game in hand. Crystal Palace didn’t even threaten us. They weren’t tackling, they weren’t shit-housing the game up with all kinds of fouls, and they weren’t even attacking; yet the Arsenal managed the most Arsenal result of the season and the game ended 1-1.

It was a result made even more frustrating by the early game. Leicester eked a 2-2 draw after some insane refereeing decisions. That puts them just 8 points ahead of Tottenham, who have today’s match as their game in hand. Leicester will also lose Jamie Vardy for their next match and I wonder if things aren’t getting a little hot in the Foxes’ box about now. I have to think that three points for Spurs today will pile more pressure on Leicester in this, the closest and dumbest title race ever.

So, thanks to the Arsenal we are now all Stoke fans. Thanks, Arsene, for ruining my Sunday and my Monday.

I’m actually starting to get a little worried that Spurs will win the League. If they win today, they will be just five points behind Leicester. Leicester have to play Swansea, Man U, Everton, and Chelsea and don’t think for a second that those last three matches will be easy. None of those teams are going to take it easy on Leicester. Meanwhile Tottenham have Stoke, West Brom, Chelsea, Southampton, and Newcastle. Oh yeah, they have the much easier schedule. Any little slip up by the Foxes and the Cocks could run riot in the henhouse.

I know what the stats models say. They have Leicester winning the League at something like 85-90%. They also have the Arsenal finishing 2nd at something like 75%. But thanks to yesterday’s pile of Tottenham, the Arsenal are currently in 4th place and just 4 points above Man U in 5th.

I know that some Gooners are cocksure about Arsenal finishing in the top four. And it makes sense too, we have been a top four team for the last 20 years. But that hubris is what might just kill us. I know us Goonies “never say die” but I have to think a big part of every Arsenal supporter will die if Spurs win the League and we finish 5th.

What happened yesterday was entirely predictable even if the shot that scored their goal wasn’t. For the first 20 minutes Arsenal were patient in their build-up — meaning, they passed the ball around a lot with no end product. I lay on my couch and watched in disbelief, thinking, well this has a 0-0 draw written all over it.

Then Alexis scored a header. Is there any player who is more underutilized than Alexis Sanchez? I don’t mean that he doesn’t get enough playing time, I mean the fact that he is shunted off to the wings is killing his productivity in front of goal. Somehow this tiny titan has to shoulder the burden of creating, finishing, and playing defense.

I like Welbeck but I wonder why Arsene isn’t playing Alexis through the middle up front? He’s not going to be the best hold up player and he’s not going to win the ball a lot when we have to lump it forward but seriously, this has to be the weirdest decision of the season that Arsene isn’t using Arsenal’s most potent finisher as a finisher.

For those who think that Arsenal don’t have wingers, come on. Joel Campbell, Ox, Welbeck, Iwobi, Ramsey, and even Jack Wilshere have done it. If you don’t like those options, why not try Hector Bellerin as a wide player: the kid can dribble LAMF and has a killer cross. He already has 4 assists, that’s the same as Alexis and Giroud this season. And he’s one of the better defenders in the League, with his speed he could more than cover for Chambers and his lack of speed.

I know that I’m being unrealistic: Wenger isn’t changing the system in the 34th game of the season. So, yeah, I’m just venting frustration. But it’s a frustration that has been building all season. Arsenal couldn’t finish yesterday and they have been incapable of finishing all season. It’s not a new thing and it has killed the Arsenal’s season.

So, this is where we are. Thanks to a perfectly placed shot and Cech’s inability to stop long shots* we are all rooting for fucking Stoke today. Let’s hope they really “put it up em” against Tottenham. I heard that Spurs don’t like it up em. I mean, Stoke, they love it up ‘em but Spurs don’t.

Is that the correct phrase “up ‘em”? I’m trying to be a Stoke fan for the day and I want to get all the vernacular down. Wait.. if I’m going to be a Stoke fan and I’m just a Yank, shouldn’t I fuck off and support my local?

It’s hard being a Stoke supporter.

I have to go brush my tooth.

Qq

*It could just be a statistical anomaly but he is one of the worst ‘keepers in the League at conceding goals from shots from distance.