Tag Archives: 4th place cup

podolski

Arsenal’s controversial threesome lift the Gunners over the Hammers

Arsenal came back from a 1-0 deficit to beat West Ham 3-1 yesterday. It was a match which featured a Podolski brace, a Giroud wondergoal, the return of Aaron Ramsey and Arsenal climbing back into 4th place. And after the match, the fans went into hyperbole overdrive.

Aaron Ramsey limped off injured the last time these two teams met on Boxing Day and has been slowly working his way back to full fitness for three months. He played 112 minutes in the FA Cup win over Wigan and Wenger gave him a rest to start this game but when he did come on in the last 20 minutes Arsenal’s pace quickened, they controlled the midfield, and they created a number of good chances. In just a short 20 minute cameo, Ramsey created two shots for teammates, including a cushioned header assist for Podolski’s second goal, and took two shots himself. He also put in a tackle high up the pitch which resulted in a good chance missed and provided Arsenal’s front line with deadly service throughout. It says a lot about Ramsey that he can miss 3 months of football and still be in contention for our player of the season.

I say that knowing full well the dangers of post-match hyperbole. But Ramsey is simply a tireless worker who is constantly presenting himself for the pass, who demands the ball in pressure situations, who quickens the pace of Arsenal’s midfield, and whose vision for finding teammates and for getting himself into important positions upsets the opposition defenders. And when Arsenal lose the ball he works hard to get the ball back. It’s no coincidence that he leads Arsenal in a number of those stat categories, then, and that his reintroduction to this Arsenal team couldn’t have come at a better time.

Meanwhile, Lukas Podolski scored two goals yesterday and after the match slipped into the role of New Arshavin: the player everyone argues over whether he is being played out of position, whether he needs more playing time, whether he should bother defending, and whether he is not getting the respect he is due.

Podolski is actually a simple player to figure out. He is inconsistent away from home (scored in just 6 of 30 away appearances) and not terribly good against top clubs. He also requires excellent service to score but once he has that service he is deadly. He has a wicked cross on him and has hooked up with Giroud on numerous occasions to great effect. He’s not going to play defense and you almost don’t want him to because when he does it’s usually messy. He is almost certainly a better forward in a two striker system, but you can’t really play him as a number 10 because he’s not creative enough.

Fortunately, he is perfect for the final five game run in. First, Arsenal will be playing all little clubs for the remainder of the season. Second, Arsenal’s 4-3-3 is a fluid formation meaning that Podolski is basically playing as a second striker, albeit a wide striker. And third, while the defenders were yelling at Podolski to drop back against West Ham, Cazorla, Kallstrom, Arteta, and Vermaelen were all able to cover for him. So, Podolski’s good qualities should win out over the bad, I think, for these last 5 games.

Giroud also suffers from post match anti/pro hyperbole and he’s also not really much of a mystery. He’s a hard working player who, because Arsenal didn’t have a viable backup, has basically run himself into the ground — he had a combined 14 lost possessions yesterday (dispossessed, turnovers, offsides) which is high even for him. Even when fully fit he has a tendency to miss gilt edged chances and his record over the last two seasons as the player who has missed more of them than any other proves that. But if he just plays instinctively, he’s able to pull off moments of football so beautiful that you wonder if he’s even the same person! Yesterday was a perfect example of Giroud: playing little chips in to teammates, being harassed off the ball, missing a shot one-v-one with the keeper, and scoring a goal from a long pass which he plucked softly out of the air and simply powered past the keeper.

Every match is critical now in terms of earning a 4th place finish and the team knows it. Podolski was interviewed after the match and his assessment of the end of season run-in was perfect for its simplicity: “The FA Cup is after the season. We’ll leave that for the moment and focus on the Premier League… we must understand that we have hard matches to come – we play away at Hull City and Norwich. It’s not easy but if we win all of our matches we’ll qualify.”

For anyone who feels like finishing in the top four isn’t important you only need to take a look at how the media (ironically) play up the fight for fourth between Arsenal and Everton. These same reporters who guffawed at Arsene Wenger’s suggestion that 4th place is an achievement are snapping at the story that plucky upstarts Everton might nip Arsenal to the 4th Place Cup. Finishing 4th is worth 10s of millions of pounds, both in terms of prize money but also in terms of player recruitment in the off season. Everton want to convince Lukaku to stay and they will have a powerful hole card if they can offer Champions League football. Meanwhile, Arsenal need to recruit possibly 4 players this Summer and the cost of doing that kind of business will be doubled if we don’t have Champions League football to offer.

In the end, a good win for Arsenal and puts the Gunners back on track for 4th place. We still have to win every remaining fixture and hope that Everton drop points but given the opposition that they face I’d put the money on Arsenal to finish 4th again. I’d also put money that our three most talked about players from yesterday’s match, Podolski, Giroud, and Ramsey will have a big say in where we end up in the League table at the end of the season.

Qq

photo (19)

Everton v. Arsenal Preview: who has the easier run in, plus how much injury hurt Arsenal

I was listening to the Guardian Podcast yesterday when the topic of the race for fourth place came up. Barry Glendenning laid out an argument, which I think is shared by many pundits, for why he wants Everton to beat Arsenal to fourth place. Now, I like Barry, I find him delightfully cantankerous, so I say that not to pick on him, he is a pundit and they are paid to have an opinion. Rather, Glendenning is just one example of many pundits who all seem to want the same thing: Everton to beat Arsenal to 4th place. The pundits all have their different reasons but they mostly come down to wanting to see some new blood in the Champions League. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt.

But for the first time in a long time there is very little between the two teams vying for the 4th Place Cup: Arsenal are on 64 points after 32 games (2ppg), Everton are on 60 points after 31 games (1.94ppg); Arsenal have a goal difference of +19, Everton +18; Arsenal’s leading scorer (Giroud) has 13 goals and 7 assists, Everton’s leading scorer (Lukaku) has 12 goals and 6 assists; and the list goes on*. Granted Arsenal should be doing better but we aren’t and I’ll get to that in a bit. The fact remains that despite our rather large differences in transfer and salary spending, both these teams have very similar records at the moment.

If you’ve been paying attention you will note that Everton are just 4 points behind Arsenal and with a game in hand. This has the pundits (and some rather strange Arsenal supporters) thinking that if Everton can beat Arsenal tomorrow, they will be within 1 point and might could pip Arsenal to the 4th Place Cup.

Arsenal’s final 5 games of the season, though, are against some of the easiest opposition you could hope to face: the relegation fodder and middle-teams who have nothing left to play for. And before you say “yes but Norwich are in a relegation battle, they will fight!” Of course they will fight, so will West Brom, and Allardyce loves to get one over on Wenger, and Hull might even be an FA Cup final preview. But you couldn’t ask for better opposition to play for the final 5 games of the season because these are some very weak teams. For example, Arsenal beat all 5 of them last season, except Norwich who are significantly worse this year than last.

Everton, on the other hand, play Man City, Man U, and Southampton along with Sunderland, Palace and Hull to finish the season off. I feel like Everton might get 11 points from those games whilst I am expecting Arsenal to take all 15. Arsenal should finish 5 points clear of Everton, even if the Toffees win tomorrow.

I don’t think anyone would disagree if I said that Everton do have a slight advantage tomorrow and a win for the Toffees wouldn’t be a far fetched result. I’m not predicting a win, loss, or draw (draw is the most likely result I come up with) but rather just stating what I think is the obvious: If you look at Arsenal’s injury record and current form (P10 W3 D4 L3), along with Everton’s lack of injuries, current form (P10 W6 D1 L3), and home advantage wouldn’t you offer up the draw before kickoff?

And injuries have hit Arsenal hard this season. Insanely hard.

Few predicted that Aaron Ramsey would be the stud that he was at the start of the season. In the first 18 game, Ramsey scored 8 League goals and added 6 assists. That’s good enough to make him Arsenal’s third best goal scorer and playmaker, despite missing the last 14 games. It is impossible to predict how many goals he would have scored or assists he would have laid on but 3 goals and 2 assists more wouldn’t have been at all unreasonable.

More than just goals, Arsenal also missed Ramsey’s work rate: his constant movement meant he was available for the ball and the result is that he led Arsenal in total passes and was third in passing percentage. His defensive work all through the midfield is another key indicator of his work rate, he was first in tackles per game.

Perhaps even more than Ramsey, Arsenal have missed Theo Walcott. It’s common among Arsenal fans to ridicule Walcott as “Unlucky Walcott” but the truth is that it’s been “unlucky Arsenal” to not have him. Last season, Walcott scored 21 goals and had 14 assists on 111 shots, 55 of which he got on target. And this season he was already off to a start that looked set to repeat the feats of last, 6 goals, 4 assists on 53 shots, 23 of which were on target. All in just 18 appearances!

Moreover, the whole team missed Walcott. All of Wenger’s great teams have been built on pace: Overmars and Henry had it in bags and their pace won Arsenal trophies. So, it makes sense that Wenger has groomed Walcott over the years to be the next wide player burning defenders on counters. He’s progressed nicely as a finisher despite what many think and he’s also the kind of play who has grown in terms of creating his own shot, contrary to what you read other places.

2013 2012 2011
SpG 2.944444 2.581395 1.931818
SoG % 52% 45% 45%

Walcott also offered players like Özil, Ramsey, and Wilshere a target man to send through behind the opposition defenses and I literally (literally figuratively) have lost track of the number of times I have heard people say that they wished Arsene had bought a player to do exactly that.

How much have Arsenal missed these two players? You can never really know how much a player would have contributed. But I really feel like Arsenal would be challenging for the title right now had both stayed healthy all year.

It’s a big game for both teams tomorrow and I expect they are going to give everything that they have to win. Arsenal might not have as much to give owing to injury but Ramsey will be on the bench and might even get a cameo at the end depending on the score. After that, Arsenal have to stay clear headed and try to win the double: both the FA and the 4th Place cups are still up for grabs.

Qq

*Even in the top 7 mini-league, both these teams are very similar: Arsenal have a -10 GD, and have earned 1.18 PPG and Everton have a -6 GD and have earned 1 PPG. After Sunday’s match that will change but Arsenal are done with top teams and Everton will have two more left to play.

Gambatte Arsenal

I made myself French toast for breakfast. I had an egg, some day-old brioche, and some half and half leftover from making crème fraîche* and the idea of French toast just struck me. I suffered greatly while eating that I can tell you. It started very well, was a bit dry in the middle but went down well with a giant cup of coffee. I just had to make do with what I had and it turned out pretty good.

There was a similar feel to the QPR v. Arsenal match yesterday. Arsenal got off to a great start, Theo Walcott scoring in the first 21 seconds, but then spent the next 60 minutes in an exercise of playing with the handbrake on. Which they followed up with 30 minutes of trying to increase the scoreline but just falling short. In the end though, they scored early, tried to get some more goals at the end of the match and kept the clean sheet through a combination of great play in the outfield and by the finger-tips of Szczesny. But in the end, they made due with what they had and it turned out pretty good.

We can’t underestimate the change in the way that Arsenal have played football with Giroud this season. The Big Gallic Galoot has attempted 231 aerial duels this season, which is 136 more than Robin van Persie attempted last season. In fact, Arsenal’s total aerial duels attempted is up from 765 last season to 1118 this season, 39% of that increase is accounted for just with the difference between Giroud’s attempts and van Persie’s last season. That is in a season, I should mention, in which all aerial duels are up mostly because Stoke have attempted 75% more aerials this season than last. I’m serious, Stoke have tried 746 more aerials this season than last. That’s 21 more aerial duels per game from Stoke. They try 50 a game. FIFTY.

Regardless of Stoke’s Hail Mary tactics, Podolski is no Giroud. In the last two games, Arsenal have kept trying to play the same style of football that they worked on under Giroud but unlike Giroud, who is 56% in the air, Podolski has only won 5 of 17 attempts. Podolski is passing the ball better  than Giroud but he’s not creating anything for anyone. Against Norwich, Giroud had one of his best games of the season, scoring a goal, and setting up 4 chances for teammates. Not only that but as much as we have a moan about Giroud’s finishing, he does get shots off with a season average above 3 shots a game, which is around his career average. Podolski on the other hand has never been a prolific shooter (two year average 1.9 per game) and it shows, he’s had just three shots in his two games up front for Arsenal.

I did a poll on twitter (accurate as hell, I know) and the results were close but 38% would like to see Theo Walcott given the chance to start at center forward with second place going to Gervinho. My vote was for Podolski. Not because I think he’s been good in the position but because I don;t think Arsenal are well drilled enough to play a new style at this point in the season and he is bigger than Theo and against QPR he did put himself about a bit better than he did against United. He won 5/12 aerial duels against QPR and did have two shots, though he still didn’t create anything for anyone else.

Theo, on the other hand, is not being stifled at all by playing wide. He’s had 8 shots (5 on target) in the last two games and under Arsene’s non-system system has the freedom to drop into the middle to clog things up by being an extra body all he wants.

I’m leery of saying that there has been some kind of “sea change” at Arsenal but over the last 14 games Arsenal have been statistically unlike the Arsenal that we are all used to seeing. They have scored 26 goals (5 of them against West Ham) for an average of 1.9 goals per game (1.75 if you take the West Ham match and one of the 0-0 matches out) which is about right for an Arsene Wenger side. But what’s different is that they have only allowed 10 goals in that time, which is an average of 0.7 goals allowed per game, and they have kept 6 clean sheets.

As I wrote in my By The Numbers Column, that’s not because Arsenal are limiting the chances of the opposition, as they did with the tiki-taka football under Cesc Fabregas, there’s something else going on here: pressing from the front, fighting for possession, winning defensive headers, helping each other on defense, all of that seems to have taken hold at Arsenal. And I feel more confident about the Arsenal defense than I have all season.

There was a momentary bit of anxiety toward the end of the West Brom game but yesterday against QPR I honestly felt that the result was never in doubt. Even though it did require a fine save from an otherwise dreadful Szczesny.

So, I don’t see Arsenal changing things much. It’s been a very successful formula over the last 14 games and Arsenal are the form team of the Premier League because of it. I know that’s rather boring to say and that there is some “brilliant” blog out there right now with the headline “Why Arsenal need to give Gervinho the starting center forward spot” or some such nonsense but then grinding out 1-0 wins can get rather boring. For those who wanted their “Arsenal back”, they got it.

And one last thing because I know that everyone is trying to figure out the permutations of how Arsenal could finish 4th or whatever. I did see that Chelsea won today and there are a lot of worried Arsenal fans that think that means more pressure has been heaped on the players. But the reality is that Arsenal needed to win every game in this run-in no matter what so if these players didn’t already have pressure on them then there was something seriously wrong.

When Arsenal drew with United that essentially took the finish out of our hands and now we have to hope for Chelsea to beat Tottenham. But for me, I’m not worried. I’d like for Arsenal to finish in the top four but its not a prerequisite for me as to whether I support the club by flying over at great expense and seeing games — it will only change where I fly to. And as for whether the club will or won’t invest if they lose out on Champions League money, that makes for great speculation in the blogosphere but no one has one shred of evidence that they know what this board and manager will do this summer.

The season is going to be over in a few weeks and we will have all summer to bitch and moan about transfers. In the mean time, let’s just enjoy the football we have left. And for those of you wanting to do the math on what happens if Chelsea win against Tottenham or whatever, here’s a simple formula: root for Arsenal to win every game.

And that’s all we ask, right? Do your best, gambatte in Japanese. And if they fail at the finish then they just get back up and try again next year.

Qq

*Real crème fraîche contains at least 30% butterfat. So what?