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Champions League: Man U get the easiest group, Man City get the most difficult, and Arsenal left gunning for second

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal will be delighted with UEFA’s new seeding method as it ensured them the easiest group in this season’s Champions League.

In previous seasons UEFA seeded the draw purely using their UEFA club coefficient which measured a team’s strength by how far they progressed in European competitions over the previous five years. This season, the top pot was formed by the champions of the top seven associations; Spain, England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia – plus the Champions League winners. Since Barcelona won both the Champions League and La Liga, UEFA seeded the top pot with the winners of the Dutch Eredivisie, the eighth ranked league. That lucky team was PSV Eindhoven.

The remaining three pots were divided hierarchically by their UEFA club coefficient with the next eight highest ranked teams in pot 2, the next eight in pot 3, and so on.

The draw was held on Thursday and the groups are as such:

Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmö
Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moskva, Wolfsburg
Group C: Benfica, Atlético, Galatasaray, Astana
Group D: Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach
Group E: Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov
Group F: Bayern München, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb
Group G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Group H: Zenit, Valencia, Lyon, Gent

UEFA’s club coefficient is generated by a team’s performance in Europe over a five year period. The further a team goes in either the Champions League or the Europa League the larger their club coefficient. Further, that number is cumulative, so that the longer and better a team performs at the highest level, the larger their coefficient.

By adding each team’s UEFA’s club coefficient we can judge how strong each of the eight groups are based on total coefficient in that group. Essentially, by adding all those coefficients we are measuring how experienced each group is at winning in Europe. In order of strongest to weakest they go:

Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmö — 371 total coefficient
Group F: Bayern München, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb — 352 total coefficient
Group G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 337 total coefficient
Group E: Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov — 332 total coefficient
Group D: 
Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach — 296 total coefficient
Group C: Benfica, Atlético, Galatasaray, Astana — 293 total coefficient
Group H: Zenit, Valencia, Lyon, Gent — 277 total coefficient
Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moskva, Wolfsburg — 249 total coefficient

By this measure, Real Madrid have the hardest group and Manchester United have the easiest group. Real Madrid’s group is stocked with European experience: the Spanish club just won their 10th Champions League title two years ago and have the highest coefficient in Europe with 172. Malmo is a minnow club but PSG and Shakhtar combine to make a 186 point coefficient. This could be a good group to watch as Shakhtar might give PSG a real run for second place.

At the bottom of the table, Man U got the dream draw. PSV would have been put in pot 3 but for UEFA’s change of the rules this summer. And given that the Champions League winners often win their domestic league and that the Champions League winners are almost exclusively from the top four leagues, UEFA’s rules change in essence ensured one group would have two pot 3 teams. In this case, United’s group.

Further sweetening the pot for United is the fact that they purchased PSV’s top striker, Memphis Depay, this summer and VfL Wolfsburg’s top playmaker is going to be playing for Man City. If Manchester United don’t win their group handily it will have to be considered an utter failure.

That total coefficient table above is heavily weighted by teams with huge coefficients. Teams like Real Madrid and their 172 coefficient or Barcelona with their 165 coefficient push their groups artificially high making it look like they have a tough group. They don’t necessarily have the toughest group because they may actually be the thing making the group tough. So, if we subtract them out of the equation and average the bottom three teams the table looks like this:

Group D: Juventus, Manchester City, Sevilla, Borussia Mönchengladbach — 67 avg. bottom 3 
Group A:
 Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk, Malmö — 66 avg. bottom 3
Group F: Bayern München, Arsenal, Olympiacos, Dinamo Zagreb — 66 avg. bottom 3
Group G: Chelsea, Porto, Dynamo Kyiv, Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 65 avg. bottom 3
Group H: Zenit, Valencia, Lyon, Gent — 59 avg. bottom 3
Group C: Benfica, Atlético, Galatasaray, Astana — 57 avg. bottom 3
Group E: Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma, BATE Borisov — 56 avg. bottom 3
Group B: PSV Eindhoven, Manchester United, CSKA Moskva, Wolfsburg — 49 avg. bottom 3

Now the table looks a little different. Man U still have an absurdly easy draw against their bottom three teams. Again, the easiest three teams they could possibly hope for. Barcelona also have an easy draw. But above them, Chelsea, Arsenal, and especially Manchester City all have tough groups.

In Group D, Manchester City have one of the most difficult groups in the competition. Manchester City’s group was seeded with Serie A winners, and last season’s Champions League runners-up, Juventus which could have made for an easier group since Juve has a relatively low UEFA Ranking of just 95.102 but as the luck of the draw would have it, Group D is comprised of three teams with a UEFA coefficient of 80 or more: Juve, City, and Sevilla.

Juventus lost star striker Carlos Tevez and kingmaker (not just a playmaker) Andrea Pirlo this summer and things could get easier for Manchester City if Juventus sell Paul Pogba to Chelsea as expected. Sevilla, however, are not going to be an easy team to beat — as their relatively high UEFA ranking suggests. They have a dynamic and powerful midfield duo of Ever Banega and Grzegorz Krychowiak serving up assists to center forward Carlos Bacca.

Group F has the second highest total UEFA Coefficient at 351.963 but this is no surprise as the Gunners were drawn against Bayern Munich and their ranking of 154.883. But excluding the German giants, Arsenal’s group has an average of 65.693 which is the third hardest group by that metric.

Bayern Munich are expected to win Group F easily and that leaves Arsenal fighting with Olympiacos for second place.  Arsene Wenger has never taken a single point against Olympiacos when playing in Greece, a record that the Gunner’s boss will be desperate to correct, no doubt.

Only the top two teams in each group advances to the knockout phase, or Round of 16. The teams that win their groups are seeded against the teams which finish second but they can’t be matched with a team from their own country or a team they faced in the previous round.

That means that if Arsenal advance, they will almost certainly be paired against another big club in the round of 16, where the Gunners have been eliminated in each of the last five seasons. Arsenal’s most likely opponents are Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, or Barcelona. It looks like the pain in Spain is in the cards for Arsenal this spring.¹

Qq

¹I’m excited!

Giroud looks releived, like a man who had been waiting for an hour to take a piss at an open air festival

Arsenal have taken the most shots of any team in top five leagues but just keep missing the target

Fact: with 61 shots, Arsenal have more shots, total, than any other team in the top five leagues. And the Gunners aren’t banging them in from distance either. They lead the top five leagues in shots inside the penalty area with 36. The problem is that despite getting 61 shots already this season, Arsenal have only scored 1 goal.

This is the point where you scream “sample size sample size sample size” like a kid trying to get his mom to buy him candy and there is a truth to that: 61 events is a pretty small sample of the entire season, especially since Arsenal will probably take over 600 shots (last season they took 611, in fact).

It’s also true that Arsenal have only played three games and that, because football is a low scoring sport, three game streaks with only one goal scored are not uncommon. So, what I’m not going to say is “Arsenal could only score 10 goals this season at the rate we are converting.”

But Arsenal have taken 61 shots and only 18 of them have been on target. That’s 30% on target which is pretty poor. Last season Arsenal were shooting at a 37% clip, which if they were doing this season would mean 4-5 more shots on goal than last season.

Last season, Arsenal scored 69 goals (minus own goals) on 611 shots. That’s a goal every 8.85 shots. If Arsenal were converting at that same clip, we would be looking at an Arsenal side that scored 7 goals already this season.

Arsenal aren’t the only team struggling with offense. Liverpool and Man U have also only scored two goals this season. And if you look at Liverpool’s goals, the referees have admitted that Benteke’s goal didn’t count. Meanwhile Man U have been the beneficiary of an own goal, like Arsenal, and so it’s fair to say that Man U and Liverpool have scored just one goal, like Arsenal.¹

The problem is that Arsenal’s players are taking shots but none of them are pure finishers. Alexis and Giroud have taken the most shots and of those two players, I’d say Alexis is the better finisher, even though Giroud has the one goal and it was pretty spectacular. But it’s not just Alexis’ missing, all the Arsenal midfielders and attackers are missing the mark:

Player Shots Outside 6 yards 18 yards Goals
Alexis 13 2 1 10 0
Giroud 13 1 2 10 1
Ramsey 9 5 1 3 0
Ox 7 3 - 4 0
Cazorla 6 4 - 2 0
Ozil 4 2 1 1 0
TOTAL 52 17 5 30 1

Those 6 players have taken 52 of Arsenal’s 61 shots this season and scored just the one goal. Some will point to this chart as proof that Arsenal need another forward but remember that this same cadre of players scored 69 goals last season. So, this is just a slump.

And there are encouraging signs in the numbers above. Last season, Sanchez took a lot of shots from distance, almost half of his shots were from outside the 18 yard box. So, to see that change to a player taking the majority of his shots in the box, where he will score more often than outside the box (about 5x more often) is hugely encouraging.

I’m not saying that Arsenal will go the rest of the season like this. In fact, a three goal outburst could happen at almost any minute and that drastically changes our maths above. Rather, the numbers show me an Arsenal team which is lacking sharpness and composure in front of goal. They are getting the shots, they are getting the shots in good areas, but they need to start getting the shots on target and past the keeper. And once they do that, the goals will flow like whine.

Qq

¹Replays show that Ramsey was onside for his goal against Liverpool yesterday and if we count that, Arsenal would have scored two goals on 62 shots.

Unwelcome surprise home defeat to West Ham.

Two smartly taken opportunistic strikes either side of half time condemned a sluggish Arsenal to an opening premier league campaign fixture defeat on a sticky, hot August day in north London.

Having finished the previous season strongly and started pre season well very few Gooners would have predicted a loss to a mid table finishing team like Wham.

Company in the trophy room for the 2014 FA Cup

Company in the trophy room for the 2014 FA Cup

The mood was therefore suitably upbeat before the game as I took my seat in block 7 (one of the “unofficial” standing areas), however little did I realise that I may have been better off looking at the underside of the red Action banner for the next 90 minutes, rather than what I saw on field.

A different view

A different view

After a bright start, with the Ox impressing with his energetic runs, it really did feel like a goal was imminent. It was also apparent that the Bilic approach to play was to continue from their much curtailled/already finished “European campaign of 2015-15″, namely a fouling/tripping based strategy, as seen by a couple of early yellows.

It’s no wonder their glorious Europa Cup run saw three red cards for Wham in their 5 July games. Looking at the crude and vulgar gesticulations and antics of Bilic on the sidelines today they also have a manager who will be regularly sent to the stands this season.

Team wise the only surprise may have been Debuchy in place of Bellerin at right back and the presence of Alexis on the bench, for emergency use only presumably.

After early chances came and were missed frustration did begin to creep into the part of the North Bank lower I was in and although the usual suspects were being targetted, Özil and Olly, for me the key miss was Santi, who had one of those games where his influence was minor. When Santi’s twinkle toes are not playing a big part in our game, you know we are having a bad day.

And so it turned out, however before then two myths have to busted.

Firstly, excessive complaining about the failings of our team and NOT the sole preserve of the so called excessive entitlement younger generations as an octogenarian fan behind me was on the back of the team within 10 minutes of the start. Everyone was rubbish; they were too slow or too fast, they should have done “X” with the ball and not “Y” – at one point i was sure his false teeth were going to fly out, such was the venom of his barracking.

So when Wham scored after Cech made a ricket (aka total balls up) of collecting a cross the mood plunged and the home competitive debut of our sole summer signing (so far) was consigned to the “Day to forget” pile.

After a few minutes the home support gathered themselves and urged the team on again and the expectancy was that the second half would see an equaliser.

Little did we contemplate a defensive mix up leading to gifting possession to Wham soon after the restart would double the visitors lead.

And so onto the second myth to be busted: how good the Wham support is.

Aside from some applause at kick off the away support was barely heard till the second goal, when at last the latest batch of queue jumpers on Newham Coucil’s Housing list decided to rouse themselves from their afternoon slumbers.

While the home support is generally soporific, most of the away fans I have seen showed significantly better support and volume levels. The Eagles supporters, at the first fixture of last season, were far and away better supporters as they sang all the way through even though Crystal Palace lost the game – a far superior demonstration of away support

What followed was a final balf hour of amateur time wasting and frantic attacks by the Arsenal forwards which broke down, and led to much howling and clasping of heads by the dejected home support.

Olly takes one for the team

Olly takes one for the team

A long delay after a clash of heads involving Olly, plus 5 substitutions only 5 minutes of added time, when at least 7 seemed likely, seemed to sum up the Gunners luck.

Even the late introduction of Alexis couldn’t scare up a goal for the Arsenal, expecting him to be match sharp this early is beyond ridiculous

The final whistle was greeted with a mixture of boos and subdued applause for the team showing that two trophies in two seasons gets you some goodwill with the fans, but how long this lasts will be proved by the reaction to this result from the team.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)