Tag Archives: FA Cup


Gunners dominate ‘Boro on the day after Valentine’s Day

Match Report on location of the Tacoma Couch

Olivier Giroud slotted in two goals in two minutes and Arsenal ran out winners against a defensive minded ‘Boro side at the Emirates. In addition, have I mentioned that I’ve been sober now for longer than I care to remember?

Arsenal were on the front foot from the beginning and it’s hard to tell whether ‘Boro were simply pegged back or if their game plan was to sit deep for 90 minutes and give their goalkeeper a workout. Either way that’s what happened.

Arsenal’s staarting lineup caused quite a ruckus when it was announced that Alexis would start up front with Welbz and Giroud, and Wenger would eschew a traditional midfield and instead play former footballer, Mathieu Flamini in his testimonial role as DM along with forwards Özil and Cazorla. Wenger also shuffled the entire defense, starting Chambo, Gabrielbo, Kozbo, and Gibbo along with Hookah Joe in goal.

It was a stunning gambit by Arsene Wenger: playing Alexis after saying he is injured, playing Gabriel after saying he will give up goals, playing no midfielders, handing a start to Flamini who lost both legs in the war, and starting a clearly injured Alexis risking further injury to an injury injured team. The team selection had every Arsenal fan, save three, wringing their hands in worry about Alexis getting injured.

But Wenger, always keen to top the table, must have intentionally selected that lineup for the sheer banta he would be able to dole out after the Gunner’s won. And, in fact, he now tops the Manager’s Banta table on goal difference over Louis van Gaal, despite the Dutchman saying that Rooney is the best striker in the League but he’s going to play him in midfield anyway. Which was an epic bit of banta and nearly knocked Wenger off the top of the table after the “hand that to Fat Sam” dossier banta of last week.

Arsenal took the lead when Cazorla played in Gibbs, who slotted to Giroud and then the French guy chipped, lefty, into the goal from an acute angle. This is such a thing with Giroud, this ability to get to the wrong side of the goal and chip it kind of over his shoulder that I’m starting to wonder if Giroud is even capable of scoring a goal from any other angle?

Have you ever played H.O.R.S.E.? It’s a basketball game between to people where each one has to make a shot and the other person has to mimic that shot. Usually this results in outrageous shooting from all over the court. “Over the back, off the backboard!” that kind of thing. Well, I think Giroud was playing H.O.R.S.E. and he was on the E when his opponent said “PROVE IT!” and Giroud had to shoot the same shot again. This time he made it even harder as Alexis whipped in a dipping corner and Giroud took a similar shot to his first, except off the volley and from an even more acute angle.

Can Arsenal please sign Mario Mandzukic and get rid of this Giroud guy?

After that Arsenal were in cruise control and I was able to come up with…

Your metaphor of the day

Caazorla’s hair looks like a shark fin which is appropriate because he’s like a little black-tipped reef shark. It’s one of the smallest sharks, it’s lightning quick, it darts in and out of spaces, and it just gobbles up minnows like Middlesbrough.

Cazorla was the best player on the day. I think he had, literally*, a million dribbles. He probably should have set up another dozen shots and goals and he ran the show in the Ramsey role.

Now, I know that Özil, technically, had 7 key passes and that both he and Cazorla had the same number of dribbles. And I also know that Özil had almost as many passes as Cazorla and that he was 4/6 from his crosses. But what do the stats guys know anyway? HUH???

Their keeper made 8 saves, by the way. Three of them were boring and the rest probably saved a great Arsenal goal. It was one of those keeper’s performances that Arsenal somehow get out of the opposition and had Arsenal not had Giroud, I imagine Arsenal would have been punished. Did I mention how much I love Mandzukic? I remember when everyone was all “dude, you’re clueless, Mandzukic is so much better than Giroud!” and I defended Giroud then, but I really can’t defend him any more. Until he starts scoring ordinary, boring goals I’m going to have to admit I was wrong, Giroud is much worse than Mandzukic. Where is Mario playing now? Is he backup to Torres at Atletico Madrid?

‘Booooro really only had a couple good chances. They were dug in deeper than an Alabama tick for most of the match but got forward toward the end when they put on their best attacker, the fullback named Reacher. One was snuffed out with a good tackle by Gabriel and the other was saved by Szczesny who celebrated with a stick of nicotine gum. Good lad. Off the smokes!

Arsene responded by putting on Rosicky and Walcott and pulling off Sanchez and Welbeck. I’ve always liked it when a substitution is described as “pulling off”. I also love it when one team “pegs” the other team. Pegging someone and pulling them off in any context except this VERY sober match report would certainly have the censors reaching for the homophobic red tape.

Anyway, Rosicky came on and played almost the exact same ball to Theo that he played against Hotspurms and instead of punting it into the end stands, Theo got a good shot off and forced a save. I guess his touch is improving and good for the boss to throw Theo on to peg Boro back and get Walcott some good touches.

In the box.

Arsenal scored. Arsenal kept the sheets clean.

Whew… I have to go play football.



fa cup

Arsenal v. Middlesbrough: stats preview

Here is something a statistician should never do: look just at a team or player’s stats and write an article. What I mean by that is, you need context to use data properly. If you see someone comparing Mephis de Pays’ stats in the Eredivisie to Cristiano Ronaldo’s stats in La Liga without some method of at least adjusting for the League and the team strength they are selling you snake oil.

This is a major reason why I canned an article this summer which compared all the defensive midfielders in the world to one another. You simply cannot take Paul Pogba’s tackles numbers (he is 48/64 in 1625 minutes) and compare them to Schneiderlin’s tackle numbers (54/81 in 1423 minutes) and confidently declare anything.

The leagues are different, they have different referees who judge tackles differently, and they have different league cultures with more and less freedom to dribble. The teams are different, Juventus have 60% of the possession yet are 11th in Serie A in tackles per game. Southampton are 8th in possession and 2nd in tackles per game. And each player’s teammates are different, Schneiderlin plays with Wanyama and Pogba plays with Vidal.

The same goes for team stats. So, for example, I want to compare Middlesbrough to Arsenal and it simply can’t be done. I can tell you how Middlesbrough plays within the Championship. I can tell you what their strengths and weaknesses are within that league. But I cannot tell you what Saturday’s match will look like. I can tell you stats, but only in their original context. If you abstract them out and try to fit them into the context of an FA Cup match, well, that’s on you. I’m not doing it.

With that in mind, here are some Middlesbrough stats, in the context of the Championship, which may indicate some of their strengths:

1 - They are top of their league by 1 point over Derby County and Bournemouth
28 - They have a +28GD which is actually third best in the Championship
20 - Their goal differential is based on the fact that they have the best defensive record in the Championship and have only allowed 20 goals in 30 games all season (.67 GA per game)
6 - They have given up just 6 goals in all competitions since November 2014. That’s 6 goals in 18 matches. And 12 clean sheets in that time. Yes, they have only conceded 1 goal in each of those games.
2 - They have conceded two goals on just two occasions this season and three goals just once. The remaining matches have all either been clean sheets (18!!!) or 1 goal losses, draws, and wins.
49 - They lead the Championship with 49 yellow cards for fouls
11 - They are second best in the Championship for allowing shots, just 11 per game
16 - They are 16th in the Championship in tackles per game and 17th in interceptions while also being 7th in possession (nominally more than 50%)
73 - They have the fewest blocked shots in the Championship, this (along with their fewest shots allowed stat, their tackles and interceptions stats, along with their possession stats, and the fact that they get a high number of offsides) indicates to me that they control the game in a bit of a higher block than I would have thought
48 - They have only scored 48 goals this season which is 5th best and well below the top 4 (4th place Norwich have scored 57 goals). It puts them in the same offensive group as teams like Ipswich and Brentford.
2 - They scored two goals on Liverpool and Man City in the League Cup and FA Cup respectively
8 - They have scored more goals from the penalty spot than any other side
11 - Grant Leadbitter, their defensive midfielder, is their leading goalscorer with 11 goals, 8 have come from the penalty spot
7 - They have scored 7 goals off corners this season, 6th best in the Championship, and have generated 43 shots off 100 accurate corner passes, 4th best in the Championship and 2nd best in the Championship respectively. They also have 5 direct assists off those 43 key passes. That puts Middlesbrough’s percentages thus: 50% accurate on their corners, of which 43% become shots, and 11% of those shots are assisted for goals. All total they are about a goal every 28 attempted corners. Watford lead the Championship with 9 goals off corners in 190 attempts. A goal every 21 corners.
10 - They haven’t scored off a throw in but they do have 10 key passes off throw ins, the second most in the Championship
188 - They are second in the League in accurate crosses (188 accurate of 665). This is important because Arsenal seem to have a bit of an Achilles heel off crosses. However, ‘Boro are 7th in key passes off crosses (97) and only have 8 assists off crosses. Percentages go: 28% accurate on crosses, 52% of those become shots, but only 8% of those are scored. They score a goal on average every 83 crosses.

My reading is that they are a defense-first team but not the kind that dives into tackles constantly or tries to play the passing lanes but rather patiently controls space. They are foul-happy and take a lot of cards but they don’t get a lot of red cards (just 2). Grant Leadbitter is their aplha and omega: he leads the team in goals (11), assists (7), yellow cards (8), passes per game and crosses. They are heavly reliant on penalties (they won a penalty in the Liverpool CC match). They cross well. They defend tough. But I think if Arsenal can keep Leadbitter quiet Arsenal should be able to get something out of this game.

The frailty of the defense-first team is that they eventually have to score. This is especially problematic if the defense-first team doesn’t have an outright goal scorer and instead relies heavily on a defensive midfielder to be the creator and scorer. For Arsenal, I would suggest that we need to be wary of the crosses. Don’t dive into tackles in the box. And play on the front foot for 90 minutes and Arsenal should have enough quality to beat them.

Saturday I will not publish. Sunday I will write a post-match reaction here and on Arseblog News. And Monday I’m going to share some of my thoughts on the new Premier League TV rights contract.

Until then.


BAHA 2-3 Arsenal: Super Tom saves the day

Arsenal got off to a bright start against Brighton and Hove Albion at the Falmer Stadium but needed a little late magic from man of the match Tomas Rosicky to move on to the next round.

Arsène Wenger made 11 changes to the team which beat Man City last week. In defense, Szczesny started in goal, Gibbs left back, Monreal second left back, Koscielny third left back, and Chambers played right wing. Flamini was brought in as defensive pointer, Ramsey played somewhere, and Rosicky was charged with running all over the pitch and being all around brilliant. Up front, Giroud did his hair, Özil played like a 150lb sack of feathers, and Theo Walcott was charged with dribbling straight into opposition defenders.

Chris Houghton’s men set out to obfuscate from the start but before the ink could dry on their game plan Calum Chambers galloped up the right side, played a good cross to Theo Walcott who took a touch to set the ball and stroked across the keeper. It was all Theo would do on the day and after that goal he went for a lie down.

Still, If Albion’s plan was to defend first, they failed at that within 90 seconds.

From there everyone expected The Seagulls to come out and attack Arsenal but there was no such impetus. Instead they sat back and allowed Arsenal to run roughshod over them. In that first half, Albion played the part of Switzerland and neither defended nor countered. And to carry that analogy further, Arsenal played the part of Italy and attacked Ethiopia, and nearly lost.

Arsenal were afforded as much space as they wanted with the ball, rarely being challenged on a dribble or even closed down when they made a pass. Tomas Rosicky simply waltzed across the Albion back line and when he spotted Özil in 10 yards of space inside the box, played a clever reverse through ball to him. Özil, who had more time in the box than a Christmas present, took two touches to settle the ball before firing into the short side for Arsenal’s second.

Arsenal finished the half doing whatever they wanted to Albion and no metaphor is needed here.

Perhaps Chris Houghton had a word with his players because Albion started the second half a little more dively than the first. Calderon, in particular, dove to win a free kick (which didn’t produce a save) and then dove again in the penalty box when he felt a little nip at the heels from Koscielny. He wasn’t awarded a penalty. Just saying that in case you think he was.

Albion put a little pressure on Arsenal when Monreal’s insane clearance went from the left side of the Arsenal box to Calum Chambers, the right back. Chambers didn’t challenge for the ball and an Albion player (does it matter which one?) climbed all over his back to win the knock down. Sam Baldock, who is not an ambiturner, turned left and his “marker” Flamini was left trundling at his side as Baldock shot into the short side between Koscielny’s legs who was trying to shy away from the shot. It was a very Arsenal goal to concede.

Then the moment of the match. Arsenal had Albion pinned down in a pill box and were peppering them with fire from their Tommy gun. I was having a lie down and watching the whole event unfold from my couch, like any good officer does, and when Rosicky tackled away the ball in the Albion final third, I sat up. He then avoided a sort of tackle and made a clever no look pass to Giroud who did that thing Giroud does where he just stands the ball up for someone. That someone was Rosicky who was being marked closely by teammate Aaron Ramsey. Rosicky shrugged off his marker and hit home a brilliant volley that basically said “ICH BIN EIN BERLINER.”

(The FA took down my video)

The whole time Rosicky was being brilliant and scoring goals of the season candidates Theo Walcott was wide open on the right side of the pitch screaming for the ball. That was my favorite moment of the match.

Arsenal should have won the game easily but Arsenal doesn’t do easily. So they conceded a second goal. That forced Wenger to go to the bench and bring on Akpom, Alexis, and Coquelin. Coquelin brought a measure of calmity to the proceedings. Calmity or calmitude? Whatever, Arsenal looked more solid.

Akpom was set free twice and both times had Alexis to his right, wide open and directly in front of goal. Akpom chose to shoot both times, sadly ending his Arsenal career. Alexis then hit a series of direct free kicks into various places that weren’t the goal. Though all were pretty close!

It was the kind of performance from Rosicky that will leave many Arsenal fans wondering why he doesn’t get more playing time. Rosicky had been no-looking and back-heeling, cutting back, and slipping in balls, all day. Also running around. Tackling. Dribbling. He was just super.

Arsenal are one step closer to back to back FA Cup wins. Which, if Wenger can manage that, will leave the Wenger outers with little choice but to say that the FA Cup isn’t really a trophy. Thus debasing even their hero, George Graham.