Tag Archives: Arsenal

Arsenal v. Man U: Opposites Repel

If you haven’t had a chance to watch Manchester United this season, you’re in for a bit of a surprise. Louis van Gaal has guided United to the top of the Premier League table but not with swashbuckling football, rather by playing a brand of controlled football which many have decried as boring.

Manchester United have never been known as a bulk shooting team. In all the years under Sir Alex, United led the League in shots per game maybe once or twice. And in his last season Fergie averaged just 14.7 shots per game, 7th best in the League. Fergie always prized efficiency over sheer numbers but surprisingly, since his retirement United have taken fewer and fewer shots per game each season, dropping to an all time low this season of just 11.4 per game. That’s 14th worst in the League, tied with Aston Villa.

Van Gaal is able to get away with this low total offensive output because his team is amazingly efficient. They have scored 11 goals this season (minus own goals) and 9 of them have been from Big Chances. Their Big Chance conversion rate is an astonishing 69% and they get 84% of their big chances on target. I can’t say whether that will “revert to the mean” because title winning teams often outperform standard metrics, that’s what makes them the winners, they are better than average. But I can say definitively that their conversion rates and big chance conversion rates are astonishing.

There is a hint that perhaps this is a Man U efficiency bubble. United only created three big chances in their first 4 matches. But since Liverpool, and the introduction of Anthony Martial, United have created 10 big chances in their last three matches. And while they scored 1 big chance of their first three attempts, they have scored 8 of their last 10.

What allows United to get away with such poor overall chance creation is not just the scoring efficiency but also the fact that they are the best defensive team in the League. They have conceded a League best 5 goals this season and have conceded the fewest total shots of any team, just 62. United have also conceded just 7 big chances to the opposition, and conceded 2 of those as goals, tied with Arsenal for the best record in that category.

Van Gaal’s apparent tactic is to win games by choking the life out of them and hoping that his superior talent will convert the few chances he gets and win them the game on the day. Oddly this is the exact opposite of what is happening at Arsenal at the moment. 

Arsenal are the most prolific shooting team in the league, averaging 21.1 shots per game. Arsenal have also created 23 big chances this season, more than any other team in the League, and yes, that counts Man City who have created 10 big chances in their last three matches alone, but who have only created 22 big chances in 8 matches.

Arsenal’s problem, as regular readers of the blog know, is that they have been wasteful in front of goal, converting a paltry 5% of their total shots and an abyssal 22% of their big chances. Both os these conversion rates are about half what we would normally expect.

Wenger is trumpeting his team’s win over Leicester, when the Gunners cruised to a 5-2 victory, and he has good reason to do so; his team finally converted their big chances, 3/5, and Alexis even added a low percentage distance goal to the tally. It remains to be seen if this was just a sprinkling or the start of a deluge for the Gunners.

Rooney is a nemesis, scoring twice in the last two matches and 14 times in 31 overall matchups with Arsenal, stretching all the way back to his days with Everton. Rooney isn’t the main focus though. United play 42% of their offense through the left side of the pitch, mostly running things through Depay. He hasn’t been prolific in front of goal (yet) but he is a dangerously quick and powerful young man and Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin will face a stern test.

Offensively, these two teams are direct opposites — Arsenal profligate, United frugal — and unless one of these teams abandons their form of the early season, this could be a very boring match.


Drink extra coffee to stay up for this match. I don’t expect an end-to-end affair like Arsenal’s win over Leicester but rather a cagey affair with both teams looking to kill off possession and hit each other on the counter. Rather than a goal glut, this is a match that will likely turn on a single conversion.


Leicester v. Arsenal: the whole pie

Leicester City are flying high in the Premier League. They are joint top goal scorers (with West Ham) and they have the best home record in the League. They have one of the most coveted young strikers in the League in Riyad Mahrez and they have the undeniably “feel good” story of the year as a small club who just can’t seem to take defeat for an answer. Leicester City are basically like your perfect pizza: the sauce is tangy but balanced, a little cheese but not too much to make it gloppy like an American pizza, and the crust is light and airy but not reminiscent of a cracker. There is even a little basil on there as an homage to eating something healthy.

But look in the kitchen and things aren’t all as they seem.

Leicester have only played against bottom of the table opposition. Yes, they beat West Ham at the Bolyen Ground and yes West Ham are in the top of the table but if there is another team in the League that’s a bigger overachiever than Leicester it’s West Ham. Leicester’s first six matches in this Premier League campaign read like a who’s who of relegation bound clubs: Bournemouth, Stoke, West Ham, Sunderland, Tottenham, and Villa. Leicester are undefeated in those six games but seeing who they have played is like looking in the kitchen and finding that their pizza sauce is tinned, and worse, it’s just Prego.

Even the cheese isn’t real. There is a right way and a wrong way to make fresh mozzarella. The right way is to use bacterial cultures and slowly ripen the milk at temp. This develops a great depth of flavor in the cheese and helps trap the butterfat in the curds to give fresh mozz that buttery taste. Then you (again) slowly turn those curds into pasta filata – the stretched final cheese — through the application of hot whey.

There are ways to cheat the process, however. You can simply use citric acid to mimic the proper pH of a bacteria curdled cheese, then pop it in the microwave and get it hot enough to stretch and you have a product that looks a lot like fresh mozzarella. You can even make this cheese at home without any experience. And there is a famous national brand of cheese, Belgiogioso, which makes their fresh mozz using a similar recipe. Just look at the ingredients of that chub of fresh mozz you’re buying. If you see “citric acid” you’re being cheated.

You’re being cheated because it’s a fugazi and I think Leicester’s goal scoring record is also a fugazi. They have played against the worst defenses in the League, they have been awarded more penalties than any other team in the League (3), and they have created just 10 big chances (7 minus the pens), compared to the 7 that they have conceded. Offensively, Leicester City are outperforming by every metric we know.

But the biggest worry has to be the defense. Leicester City have one of the worst defenses in the League — and again, remember, they have only played poor opposition, and they have conceded already 7 big chances for 5 goals and their ‘keeper hasn’t saved a single big chance yet. They are 4th worse in the league, conceding a total of 9 goals. Their ‘keeper has also already allowed 7% conversion on shots from distance, which is appalling, but he is saving them on shots in prime areas only allowing 6/26. Though even that is questionable because the opposition is scoring 50% of shots on target in prime positions.

In short, Leicester City may look like a tasty Neapolitan pizza but it is more akin to something you might get in a school lunch. Arsenal, who have created more big chances than anyone else, who have more shots in prime positions than anyone else, and who have basically only failed to convert because (as the manager admitted in today’s press conference) he’s rushed some of the players back a bit, should eat the whole pie tomorrow.



Chelsea v. Arsenal: which Lo Pan?

Which Lo Pan? Little old basket case on wheels or the ten foot tall roadblock? — Jack Burton

There’s a scene in the film Big Trouble in Little China where the character Jack Burton is trying his best to believe the unbelievable things he’s been seeing and asks his friend Wang Chi to explain how a character named “David Lo Pan” could both be a frail old man in a wheelchair and an 8 foot tall master of Chinese black magic. Wang tells him that Lo Pan was cursed to walk the earth forever as a spirit which vacillates between the two states of old man and young sorcerer.

As an old man, Lo Pan is a frail man in a wheelchair and certainly lacks the bodily presence to harm anyone. Though even from his wheelchair he commands an army of powerful followers to do his bidding.

As a sorcerer Lo Pan is a towering figure who can walk through walls, control minds, and conjure evil spirits. However, his main attack seems to be to shoot light out of his eyes and blind his opponents. That blinding, though, isn’t permanent and can be cured with a little splash of dirty puddle water. Lo Pan has another attack, where he shoots a beam of light out of his ring and conjures some sort of pinkie-controlled ancient Chinese warrior vapor guy. But that was easily defeated by a crazy old man with a gem from his Six Demon Bag.

In a lot of ways Arsenal are like Lo Pan.

First, they seem cursed to switch between 8 foot tall road block and little old basket case on wheels with each match they play this season. Arsenal were the 8 foot tall roadblock against Chelsea in the Charity Shield. Arsenal shot light out of their eyes and blinded Chelsea when Ox scored with a perfectly struck left footed goal. Then Arsenal stood in front of Chelsea, smiled and urged them to attack.

In the very next game, Arsenal rolled in on a wheelchair, mumbling “now this really pisses me off to no end!” as West Ham made Arsenal pay for their frailty. Then it was back to road bloc in the win against Palace, a first half basket case performance against Liverpool followed by a second half roadblock performance which actually carried over for a few matches up to the moment that Arsenal reverted back into a basket case on wheels and lost 2-1 to Dinamo Zagreb.

So, which Lo Pan are we going to get tomorrow at 4:45am local time? No clue. The pattern seems to be that the basket case version of Arsenal is more ephemeral than the road block and that they switch. One game bad, several good. This is a good sign because I’m hopeful that the terrible result in Croatia means we will get 8 foot tall imposing road block with light shooting out of our eyes tomorrow. Never you mind that the blinding light is easily washed out with a splash of water from a dirty puddle! We just have to make sure there are no puddles near by.

Chelsea for their part have been nothing but basket case this season. In fact, an Arsenal win tomorrow could literally put them at the bottom of the table. That’s how poor they have been on the pitch this season.

Chelsea’s problem is that they have been distracted by their manager’s antics. What were once quaint mind games and quirky personality traits are now starting to wear thin with his players and with his own staff. Mourinho is famously paranoid and hot headed so when he recently banned “banter” at the club I was left wondering if it was because he was afraid some of that banter might be about him.

Mourinho has cause to be paranoid, he is currently under investigation for apparently calling the female pitch-side doctor a “filha da puta” when she went onto the pitch to treat a player. And the doctor is reportedly considering a lawsuit against the Chelsea boss, though what the lawsuit is over I don’t quite understand.

On the pitch Chelsea have had a host of problems, most of which stem from many of their players not being up to par. Branislav Ivanovich has been a rock for Chelsea over the years but this season that rock has shown cracks. Mourinho dropped him for the mid-week clash and slid Azpilicueta over from left back into his natural position at right back and started Baba Rahman in the left back spot. This means Azpilicueta will be tasked with stopping Alexis Sanchez who typically plays on the left, despite being right footed.

Mourinho will also look to shut up shop and in all likelihood we will see him play four defenders and two defensive midfielders. You make think I’m joking but I can see him playing Kurt Zouma as a “defensive midfielder” along side Matic, with Fabregas free to do what he does best, create from deep.

Up front, unless Chelsea were sending out false intel, Willian and Pedro are both unavailable meaning that Chelsea’s right midfielder should be Oscar, though it could be Ramires, depending on how much Jose wants to dirty the game up. Oscar is a good all round player but Ramires is one of the dirtiest players I’ve ever seen. That choice will signal much of what Jose’s game plan is.

Of course, Ramires barely holds a candle to Diego Costa in the dirt department. Costa is the Pigpen of world football, a cloud of dirt swirls around him at all times but he will (hopefully) be marked by Arsenal’s Gabriel.

Gabriel got into a tussle with Stoke’s Arnautovich the other day and refused to back down, giving back exactly what he got. Lest we forget, Arnautovich is the guy who shoved Debuchy while he was in the air and dislocated his shoulder. But it was Arnautovich who was taken off the pitch, when his manager sensed a foolish red card coming on.

Gabriel is also Brazilian, which is where Costa was born, but he changed to Spanish citizenship right before the Brazil World Cup and as a result is one of the most hated Brazilians on the planet. So, while we often call these matchups “battles” in the figurative sense, we could have a literal battle between Costa and Gabriel tomorrow. My hope is that Gabriel winds Costa up and not the other way round.

On the left, Chelsea will probably start Eden Hazard. His job is to receive the long balls from Fabregas and fall over when touched. Wenger will almost certainly play Hector Bellerin to mark Hazard. Bellerin could have a tough game on his hands.

As for Arsenal, Wenger has a pretty easy decision about which team to field: none of the players he rotated impressed on Wednesday.

That means Arsenal will likely start Theo Walcott up front, much to the divided opinion of Arsenal fans. Walcott, though, is on form having scored 4 goals for club and country in his last three appearances. Walcott also likes to score against Chelsea and if he scores it will be his 6th goal in 15 apps against Chelsea, tying with Newcastle for his most scored upon team, so that might work a treat!

Behind him there’s Sanchez, Ozil, and after Ox’s disastrous game against Dinamo, Wenger needs to bring back Ramsey on the right. Yet another player who divides Goonerdom.

Ramsey is Arsenal’s ventilador, with his constant movement he breathes life into the Arsenal team. And while he is often criticized for drifting inside too much and making runs behind the defensive lines it’s always done to present his teammates with a passing option.

Ramsey for me is the key to Arsenal’s midfield. People look at the obvious — Coquelin breaking up plays and Santi on the ball (and those two need to start tomorrow) — but Ramsey’s movement on and off the ball is key to opening Chelsea’s defensive back six. Ozil does a similar thing with his movement and awareness of space, from a central position, and having two of those guys on the pitch at the same time makes it that much harder for Matic and Zouma to lock down the area around the 18 yard box.

On paper (and in real life) Arsenal have the beating of Chelsea. I’m not suggesting this will be an easy match, the easy match was Wednesday against Dinamo. Rather, I’m just saying that Arsenal could beat Chelsea. But which Arsenal will show up? The one which beat Chelsea in the Charity Shield or the one which lost the next game against West Ham?

The roadblock or the basket case?