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.




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.


*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.


Wenger admits that he needs players this Summer but claims it will be hard

Ahead of this weekend’s football match versus Crystal Palace, Arsene Wenger was asked the only question that really matters: “how many players are you going to buy this summer?”

Wenger gave an answer which is more milquetoast than portrayed in some quarters but also understandably upsetting,

If you look at the top three teams, you will see they have not changed their team a lot. We have to strengthen our squad but it’s not obvious to find the players despite the money the English clubs will have. We are already working but we have to find the players and that is not easy.

You cannot dismiss that the players are young: Alex Iwobi is 19, Mohamed Elneny is 23, Francis Coquelin 24, and they will be stronger next year but you need to keep a core of players and strengthen where we can. The team is going the right way.

The first part of Wenger’s answer is very cheeky and one of my favorite things about Wenger is his wit and charm. Yes, the “top three” teams — Leicester, Tottenham, and Arsenal — are not historically known as big spending teams.

But Wenger seems to overlook the fact that Leicester and Tottenham refreshed in key positions and that both teams bought more players than Arsenal did.

Leicester were actually the big spenders of the three, splurging £35m on Kante, Huth, Okazaki and Fuchs (free) among others. But contrary to Wenger, Leicester’s Summer transfers were crucial to this season’s success. They had some flops (Inler and Amartey) but there is no question that Huth, Fuchs, and Kante have been instrumental signings with Kante tipped as player of the year.

Meanwhile, Tottenham made a net gain from transfers of about £10m. But again, they sold players who were flops last season (Soldado, Capoue, Townsend, Paulinho, etc) and brought in key new players like Son and Alderweireld.

Far from “not changing their teams a lot” Tottenham purchased five players this Summer and sold a whopping nine; Leicester bought five and sold two; but Arsenal bought three (I’m really stretching here, adding The Jeff and Bennacer) and sold just one (Podolski, meanwhile several others who have played one or two games for Arsenal were let go on a free, like Abou Diaby).

Given the league position and the glaring holes in several positions on the pitch Arsenal supporters are rightfully upset at this season’s lack of transfer activity. Wenger went into the Summer saying that he had a strong enough and deep enough squad and that despite fans, including Thierry Henry, begging the manager to buy a striker, he wouldn’t be doing any business. This is what he said in May 2015;

“We are not in need of absolute change,” Wenger said. “We have a strong squad. We have some strong young players behind.

“I believe that some players who were questioned, like Mesut Ozil, have made big improvements in the second part of the season and becomes slowly the leader you want him to be in guiding our game.

“We have a big squad now. Lukas Podolski, Joel Campbell, Yaya Sanogo will come back from their loans. If you add that to the number of players we have, you can see we have a big squad now.

“We feel we have made up some ground, that will be the challenge of next season from the start, let’s show we are there and capable to fight for it.”

At the time, people said that Wenger wasn’t being serious and that we can’t take what he says seriously when it comes to transfer windows but he was being serious. He bought just one senior player in the Summer, which proves that he felt the team were strong enough.

What bothers me about Wenger’s quotes is the sense of defeatism that permeates. Transfers are “not obvious” and “not easy” despite the money available to the club. This is certainly true and is reflected by other manager’s statements about bringing players in. Slaven Bilic pointed this fact out when he said,

Sometimes it’s much easier for West Ham or Leicester to get Kanté, he was playing in Caen and not a big star there,” said Bilic. “It’s much easier to join Leicester or West Ham than to go straight to Manchester City or to Chelsea.

And last Summer, when Arsenal were saying that they didn’t think forward Anthony Martial was available, Louis van Gaal was reluctantly forking out extra money to get the player,

He called the $55 million fee paid for Anthony Martial, rising to a potential $89.5 million with bonuses, a “ridiculous amount of money” and said that United are routinely quoted “$15 million more” than other clubs.

But despite the fact that transfers are not obvious and not easy they can be done and are done. Teams manage transfers in important positions all the time. Wenger, in fact, addressed a long-standing need for a midfielder who can play the ball this January when he bought Elneny.

We have heard that transfers are hard now for the last 11 years of Wenger’s tenure as manager. I don’t think that there is a single, sane, person who thinks that transfers are easy. All managers and fans are aware that because of the money in the Premier League transfers are going to cost more and that there is going to be increased competition.

But Arsenal are one of the richest clubs in the world, they have plenty of money in the bank, the future money for the Premier League is looking rosy by an additional £40m a season, they are playing in one of the most globally visible leagues in the world, and plying their trade in the Champions League. They can offer more money, more visibility (and thus endorsements), and club football at a level that is rivaled by only a few teams in the world (Chelsea can’t even offer Champions League).

It’s not going to be easy, Arsenal will probably have to pay over the odds for the players, but if Arsenal want to win the League and want to build a team that can challenge for the Champions League, they need to get players in that will make this team stronger and deeper. And the good news is that Wenger admits that new bodies are needed.

The job is hard, the job is not obvious, the job requires that the manager balances new acquisitions with academy players, but that’s what Wenger is paid the largest managerial salary in the history of English football to do.