Tag Archives: Arsenal

Compared to west ham

If Arsenal lose in the Black Forest does anyone care?

It’s an interesting morning in Arsenal land. Arsenal were comprehensively beaten in a listless display and no one seems to care. The only thing people seem to care about is the debate over whether Arsenal should or shouldn’t want to play in the Europa League and whether playing there will harm their chances in the Premier League.

I think what happened is that most fans resigned themselves to a defeat like this being inevitable. I think most Arsenal fans know that this club isn’t at the level of a club like Bayern.

“Ah but we beat them in the first leg!” I already hear you say. Yes. The first leg was a full-blooded performance by the Arsenal, getting in their faces, tackling, staying organized, working hard, and hitting them on the counter. Pep also made some tactical, uhhh, I hate to call them errors, but there were obvious problems with the Bayern set up in that first match¹. Problems which Arsenal were able to exploit.

The result was a win for Arsenal which decimated the entire right side of Arsenal’s attack and defense. Ramsey, Walcott, Ox, and Bellerin all played, they gave everything they had in that match, and they are now all injured. The very definition of a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.

The problem is that Arsenal can’t play at that breakneck level for an entire season of European football. And the other problem, the problem which underlies that first problem, is that Arsenal aren’t good enough to not have to play at that level.

In other words, as I wrote in my By the Numbers piece — Arsenal are to Bayern Munich this season as West Ham were to Arsenal in 2013. Bayern are just absolutely yards ahead of Arsenal.

Another way to read my numbers post is that any time a team put in a listless performance, or as Wenger put it “we were not at the races”, against a top team they are going to get hammered. That’s the other thing that happened last night, players simply stopped playing. There were a few brief moments after Bayern scored the fourth that Arsenal looked good in the counter attack but those moments were there because Bayern let them happen. It was fairly obvious that they had applied the handbrake.

But Arsenal fans weren’t even bothered by the lack of fight in the match. What happened to all this nonsense I always hear about “fighting for the shirt”, “respecting the badge” or “I don’t mind if we lose so long as we give them a good match”? Even Tim Payton, the guy who wanted an independent investigation into Arsenal’s transfer dealings, tweeted something about “meh, Bayern are the better team”.

Perhaps this is just how we wanted them to approach the game, I did hear a lot of folks saying they didn’t care about the result as long as there were no further injuries. Congrats, you got your wish!

The second worst part about this defeat is that it means we will now have to endure this tiresome debate about whether we want the club to be in the Europa League. It’s funny, though, that the prediction was spot on: we won the first match and got the hope, lost the second match (and Olympiacos won their match) and we got the dope. It was Hope-a-Dope.

But the debate is pointless, unless your goal is to fashion a club with which to beat Arsene Wenger — “why didn’t Wenger do this differently? He’s so naive! We could have won the league!” All arguments designed to come back at the end of the season and beat Wenger with. Never mind that winning the League is 27 games away and as far removed a certainty as Sandra Bullock falling in love with me.

Speaking of which, does anyone know anyone who knows Sandra Bullock? She seems like the exact woman that I’m looking for. I mean, I don’t really know her and she was married to that American Chopper guy², but I’m pretty sure, based solely on the fact that she’s attractive and a decent actress, that we would get along great.

Sorry about that. Uhhh, football, right. This weekend Arsenal have to play Spurs and I wonder if the other reason fans aren’t upset is that a poor performance, which showed little fight, would be quickly forgotten if Arsenal saved up their energy to beat Spurs.

In a sense it makes this weekend’s match a must win for the emotional health of Arsenal fans. I guarantee if anything goes wrong in that match, we will be reminded of this 5-1 loss.


¹Pep moved Costa to the right in last night’s match and brought on Kingsley Coman in his place on the left. When he did that, we saw more of the type of attack that Pep wanted from Costa in the first leg: rather than getting to the end line and playing in lofted crosses, he wanted lofted crosses to the far post from a higher angle. It was almost constant service from left to right last night. Coman getting past his man, freeing space for an unmarked Alcantara to lob in deadly balls to the back post. Which is exactly how they scored the first goal.
²He’s one of those “curly ball cap” guys we have here in America. Gah.

Wenger on FIRE

11 matches in: what do the underlying stats tell us about the top seven teams?

This morning I’m going to take a look at the teams who we presume will be fighting for the top six places this season.

In case you’re new to 7amkickoff here’s a thumbnail sketch of the stats that I like to use. First, we have “shots in Prime” or SiP. This is a stat which says there are great areas to shoot from (prime) not so great areas (in the box) and speculative areas (outside the box). Based on my research I’ve come up with a conversion rate of 25% in prime areas, 8% in the box, and 2% from distance. This is used to create a very simple “expected goals” for and against model.

I’m not interested in creating an expected goals model which could be used to predict anything. In fact, I don’t think that the models can do that. They are historical models. What they tell us is how a team has played so far and how much that team is deviating from the norm. You won’t be surprised at all to learn that the League winners tend to outperform the model and teams that are relegated tend to underperform.

The other stat I like is “big chances”. This is an Opta stat. It’s defined as a shot where the viewer would reasonably expect the player to score. I like this stat, not because it’s the most accurate stat that ever statted, but because of it’s inherent lack of objectivity. What this stat really counts are the moments in a game where the fans think their team is going to score or where they think their team is going to get scored on.

I love “big chances” as a goalkeeper stat and as a way to measure whether a striker is a “clinical finisher”. Fans assume that great goalkeepers stop big chances and clinical finishers score big chances. So, by using this stat we can measure our perception of these players.

So, Big Chances and Shots in Prime. Those are the two stats that I like to use when measuring a team’s performance on the season. If a team allows a lot of big chances or shots in prime, they are probably going to allow a lot of goals. If a team created a lot of those types of shots, they are probably going to score a lot of goals.


Arsenal are still the best team in the League in terms of big chance creation and shots in prime. The Gunners have created 34 big chances and 68 shots in prime (there is often overlap for these stats). Even better, Arsenal are also the stingiest defense in the League, allowing the opposition just 10 big chances and 21 shots in prime.

Where Arsenal are struggling a bit is in terms of putting away the big chances they create. Giroud is doing well at 50% and Alexis is fine with 44% but Walcott’s 22% on 9 attempts along with Özil and Ramsey missing all four of their combined efforts is dragging Arsenal’s finishing numbers down.

Defensively, though, Arsenal have the best keeper in the League. Cech has saved 75% of the big chances he’s faced and 78% of the shots in prime that have been on target. Only Hugo Lloris comes close to Cech with his 70% SiP saves.

Club BC saves % SiP Save
Arsenal 75.00% 77.78%
Chelsea 57.14% 50.00%
Man City 33.33% 60.00%
Man United 50.00% 61.54%
Leicester 15.38% 44.00%
Tottenham 50.00% 70.00%
Lollerpool 36.36% 35.71%


Chelsea’s problem is simple: they suck at defense and offense. It’s killing Mourinho but his defense is a shambles and it’s a shambles in every position. As a team, Chelsea have allowed 21 big chances this season. That’s more than any of the top seven teams. That’s more than Arsenal and Man City combined! They have also only created 11 big chances for themselves.

In terms of shots in prime they are basically break even: they created 41 and allowed 40. And as you can see from the chart above, their keeper (Begovic) isn’t keeping them in games.

Mourinho likes to have a moan about the referees not giving him calls on his offense but the reality is that it’s not Chelsea’s offensive production that is the problem. It’s that his team is leaking shots in good areas like an old dog with poor bladder control.

And I will point out that two of the goals they scored and one of their only clean sheets this season was entirely down to the abject refereeing of apparent Tottenham supporter, Mike Dean. A match in which Dean was rebuked by the FA and two of his major calls were overturned post match.

Man City

You won’t be surprised to learn that City is neck-and-neck with Arsenal.

Club Big Chances Created Shots in Prime Big Chances Conceded SiP Conceded
Arsenal 34 68 10 21
Chelsea 11 41 21 40
Man City 32 65 9 26
Man United 19 28 11 32
Leicester 26 50 15 56
Tottenham 22 35 11 30
Liverpool 11 28 12 32

Even without Aguero, Man City are still pumping out the goals and shots in prime areas. City’s one weakness seems to be Joe Hart. His big chance saves rate is the lowest of the top teams and his SiP saves is low as well. But I will caution here, we are only talking about 7 big chances and 12 SiP faced. That percentage could go up pretty quickly if he starts making a few saves.

Man U

Yep, they are as boring as everyone thinks. They don’t create and they don’t concede. What they rely on is a super high 63% conversion of the very few big chances they create. To put that in context: Arsenal and Man City convert 35% of their big chances. 63% is huge. Unsustainably huge?


Leicester plays wide open football. They created 50 shots in prime and allowed 56. They scored 17 goals in prime areas and allowed 14. They are a run and gun team. And the problem with teams who play like that is that the goals eventually dry up, but the defense doesn’t get any better. In other words, they are going to get into some games where they need to be solid at the back and they won’t be able to do it.

Or Chelsea will buy Vardy and Mahrez in January and the team will collapse.


Spurs are a more dangerous team than you might think. They have created a decent number of big chances for themselves with 22 (and converted 50% of them) and they have limited the opposition to just 11, which they have saved at a 50% rate. Those numbers are pretty good. But what’s amazing is that they concede a lot of shots in prime and, unlike Arsenal and City who haave low numbers there, Hugo Lloris is saving a lot of shots. 70% saves from shots in prime is keeping them afloat at the moment.


Liverpool have been dreadful. They are like Man U in that they don’t create or concede but unlike any of the top teams they have a goal keeper who can’t save (look at those save rates!) and they have forwards who can’t convert (they have only converted 7% of their shots in prime).

Their underlying stats are so bad that any manager worth anything who walks into that situation has to be a success.


The buzzword here has to be sustainability. Can Arsenal and Man City continue their early season dominance? Will Chelsea learn how to play defense? Surely Leicester can’t play end-to-end football for another 27 games, right? When will the bottom fall out of Man U’s finishing? Will Lloris continue to save Tottenham? And will herr Klopp be König der Kop and turn around their dreadful start to the season?

It should be fun to find out!

Post Script

I want to thank my readers who have been sending me books. I now have almost every book off my wish list and I guess I’ll have to start adding some more historical choices. But I’m holding off until I finish my back catalog of SEVEN books I have to read. It’s kinda nuts, actually. I’m a slow reader and I haven’t dedicated enough of my time to reading every day so as a result I’m still reading Inverting the Pyramid. It’s a book of uncommon genius and if you haven’t read it, do yourself the favor of getting it. I’ll do a book review when I’m done (two chapters left) but it’s an important book because it basically teaches you the history of football.

For example, once you read Inverting the Pyramid you realize that there is nothing special about Jose Mourinho. He’s actually a lot like several managers who came before him, managers who revolutionized the game. Jose hasn’t revolutionized anything. He just took basic ideas about football and did them with a lot more money. There’s a reason why the players at Real Madrid and now Chelsea don’t want to play for him.

I also want to give a shout out to my friends at SoccerPro.com. They have an amazing deal on last year’s away shirt. Just $60. I contacted my friend there and I’m trying to get Bellerin’s name added to the list of players available for the back of the shirt. I’ll let you know if we get that set up. I know a lot of folks want a Bellerin strip and since last year was his breakout year (he started nearly every game after January) it seems appropriate to get one from last season.


Mourinho Wenger

Arsenal and Chelsea: the Yin and Yang of English football

Chelsea and Arsenal seem to have an almost yin-yang connection. The season that Arsenal won the League undefeated was a building year for Chelsea, who went out and won the next title with just one defeat. And in the interim 10 years, as Arsenal have slowly worked their way out of debt, Chelsea always provided a nice contrast: high spending, high turnover, little patience with managers versus break even spending, losing our best players every year, and an almost endless patience with the one manager. And once again, over the last two seasons, these two clubs have proven themselves to be opposites once again.

For the first eleven matches of last season, Arsenal had gotten off to one of the worst starts in Arsene Wenger’s storied career. The Gunners had won just four matches, had lost two, and the remaining five were all draws. Arsenal fans were grumbling and there were plenty of hot voices who were ready to “cancel Christmas” and even more who were calling for a change of manager.

On matchday 12 Arsenal lost to Man U and referee Mike Dean. Dean had “missed” the tackle which broke Jack Wilshere’s foot and he also “missed” Fellaini shoving Gibbs to the ground to get their opener. It has since been proven that Mike Dean’s record as referee in Arsenal matches shows some highly unusual patterns. But there was a silver lining to that match: the Gunners outplayed United on the day and but for the referee, certainly would have given Man U a better match.

Still, that fan tension carried on through matchday 18. The underlying stats looked fantastic, Arsenal topped the Expected Goals table even if they were in 6th place in the Actual Goals table. But stats don’t win games and for many it was hard to see what Wenger’s game plan was.

Wenger had bought Alexis and it was clear that the Chilean played a different style of football to what spectators had seen from Arsenal for a decade. Alexis ran non-stop and wanted to press the opposition high up the pitch. And it looked like Wenger had been trying to get his team to learn that high pressing as a new style of football but they were struggling to adapt.

It all came to a head on New Years Day when Arsenal lost 2-0 to Southampton. The Arsenal first choice keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, made two errors for goals and was later reportedly caught having a cigarette in the locker room. Wenger dropped Szczesny, started Francis Coquelin in midfield, and from that day forward Arsenal lost just two matches to finish the season with a strong third place showing.

Chelsea on the other hand, started last season off in perfect form. They started the season top of the table and finished the season top of the table. They didn’t lose a match until matchday 15 and would only lose three times all season. By matchday 11 Chelsea’s midfielder and former Arsenal man Cesc Fabregas already had 9 assists and Chelsea’s leading striker, Diego Costa, had already scored 10 of the 20 goals he would get that season. Jose Mourinho was riding a wave of praise, the Special One was back.

The whole Chelsea story made Arsenal fans even more miserable than we normally are. Chelsea had signed Cesc Fabregas that summer and for whatever reason¹ Arsenal had chosen not to activate the buyback clause in his contract. Fabregas was playing the best football of his life, Arsenal were struggling in 6th place, and it looked like yet another one of Arsene Wenger’s famed “project youth” players would win the Premier League with another team.

Chelsea limped over the line and won the Premier League. Arsenal finished last season with the best record in the League but it was only enough for 3rd place after their poor start.

Oh my, what a difference a summer can make.

Somehow, Chelsea bumped their head into a ball of class this summer and sold their star keeper to their direct rival. Petr Cech’s arrival at Arsenal was greeted with incredulity. How? Why? What? Jose Mourinho said that he didn’t want to sell Cech but he was vetoed by Chelsea’s owner and in an uncharacteristically classy move, Chelsea thanked Cech for his service and let him sign for Arsenal.

Wenger, happy with his team, shut the transfer window and set off to the task of getting his team ready to fight for the Premier League title. The lack of transfer activity made some folks so angry that they demanded an independent investigation into Arsenal’s transfer policy. Which is possibly the strangest thing any group of fans has ever demanded.

Mourinho, meanwhile, started training camp with a group of players who looked well off the boil. Diego Costa returned to camp fat. Fabregas, who usually runs out of gas at the end of the season, looks like he forgot to stop off for petrol after his summer break. And John Terry, captain of the club, had lost his legs on a private beach in Ibiza. Abramovich sent a squad of specialists to find Terry’s legs but the mystery was never solved.

As a result of the lack of preparation Chelsea got off to a torrid start. You could almost tell how the season was going to go for Chelsea on the opening day of the League. After losing the Charity Shield to Arsenal the reigning champions were mired in a 2-2 draw with Swansea when Eden Hazard went down injured. The referee called the doctors on the pitch and in the heat of the moment, Mourinho lost it, publicly berating the doctor for treating Hazard.

Mourinho was angry because he didn’t think Hazard was really hurt. And so he fired Dr. Carniero for following the referees orders. In essence, Mourinho fired Carniero for treating a player who he was publicly calling a fake and a liar. How could that action possibly sit well with the players?

Then after some more struggles he dropped John Terry. This was the nuclear option. Dropping the captain sends a message to the team. Wenger has dropped the captain before, Thomas Vermaelen in March of 2013 after a terrible loss to Tottenham. The result was stunning. The players all stood up and listened to the boss. Arsenal went on an unbeaten run of 10 matches and qualified for the Champions League. But when Mourinho dropped John Terry, after the loss to Everton, the result was the exact opposite: 2 wins, 3 losses, and a draw.

According to respected BBC reporter Garry Richardson, one Chelsea player was quoted saying that he’d “rather lose than win for him (Mourinho)”. From the outside it looks like rather than getting their attention, Mourinho’s machinations have fomented revolt.

Meanwhile, it’s Arsenal who are off to a banging start. After three seasons of moderate spending Wenger now has the best keeper in the League (Cech), the best right back in the League (Bellerin) the best defensive midfielder in the League (Coquelin), the best forward in the League (Alexis), and the best playmaker in the League (Özil).

What makes this Arsenal side different from Chelsea is that Wenger built his team slowly and deliberately. And at a time when Özil was being criticized for “nicking a living” Wenger showed his player respect and stuck with him. And with Coquelin some critics like to say Wenger “lucked” into that appointment but it was part luck, part hard work on Coquelin’s part, and part faith on Wenger’s part to persist with this young man.

It wasn’t all just standing by your players, Wenger did drop Szczesny. But he had given Szczesny years to prove himself mature enough to be the Arsenal number one and the ciggy in the loo was the last straw. And Wenger did go out and buy Alexis Sanchez, and he has dropped several players this season, so it’s not all internal solutions and kid gloves with the players at Arsenal.

But the level of respect Wenger has for his players and vice-versa is clear to see and the results so far this season speak for themselves. Arsene Wenger has built a team with great spirit which is challenging for the Premier League title while Chelsea have built a team which is squabbling and backstabbing and is in 15th place².

Far from gloating or thinking that Arsenal have the League wrapped up. And far from thinking this is the best Arsenal team I’ve ever seen. But it is nice that for the first time since the Invincibles season, Arsenal’s Yin is topping the Chelsea Yang.


¹There are a few theories but only Wenger, Cesc, and Mourinho know what really happened.
²And needed an absolutely disgracefully refereed match, by Mike Dean, to get three points against Arsenal.