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Home v. Away Conversion: two charts

As promised in yesterday’s post, here are two charts that show the conversion rates of Arsenal’s players home and away.

First, this is a small sample size — and even having to say those words makes me cringe. Second, stats don’t tell the whole story — and even having to say those words makes me cringe. Third, I’m not suggesting that any player is the worst player ever or that because some other player happened to score 2/9 goals that he should be included in the starting lineup.

These charts are simply an answer to the people who blame the “toxic home atmosphere” for Arsenal’s home struggles this season. If we assume that these people, the folks who like to blame the other fans rather than the players, are correct and the atmosphere is the culprit then we should see a “Gervinho effect” of lower goal conversion rates.

The home chart (below) shows that the problem is that if the home atmosphere is hurting players, it’s only a few players. Actually, it’s notably just three players: Ramsey, Giroud, and Özil. So far this season those three players have scored just 7 goals on 119 shots at home. If I include Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in that group (he doesn’t show on the chart below because he has a 0% conversion) then the total comes to 7 goals in 132 shots or 5% conversion.

Home

I want to be clear that I’m not picking on these players. I have no personal vendetta against any of them. I do find it interesting, however, that Özil, Giroud, Ramsey, and Ox are among the most controversial players at Arsenal.

I think most people agree that Özil is a world class creative midfielder. The only knock on him is his finishing. Which is pretty poor at the Emirates this season. Giroud has been hammered all season as a player with which “Arsenal will never win the title” and there is a certain truth to that: to win the League you need consistency and with Giroud you simply don’t get that. He can go months without scoring and/or he can be the kind of player who doesn’t score away from home one year and only scores away from home the next. Ramsey is loved and hated in equal measure for his forays forward while Ox seems to have joined the one or two players that most Arsenal fans want to see sold this summer.

The magical thing about football is that scoring solves all the problems. Fans seem to forgive players who score. Look at Joel Campbell. He is not a great football player but he scores goals. Welbeck as well. Fans are willing to forgive players their faults if they A) score goals and B) work hard. Thomas Vermaelen made a football career off of this, what I call “The Joel Campbell effect”.

One final example here of the “Joel Campbell effect” is Alexis Sanchez. This dude is insanely consistent, he scores goals, and he works his socks off. He is often criticized for his turnovers and sometimes for his poor passing but fans seem eager to forgive him because he is capable of scoring from direct free kicks and myriad other situations. Even headers!

Proof of his consistency is in the away conversion rates:

Away

Alexis is 12% on the season, 12% at home, 12% away. And it’s important to remember that this has been a poor season by his standards. He has been run into the ground by Arsenal and his national team over the last three years and there is no end in sight for him even this summer. FIFA have set up another corrupt tournament that they can compel people to play in like slaves and Alexis will play, running himself further into the ground.

In the away chart we get a bizarre flipping of the scoring. Where at home Giroud and Özil are the most profligate, in away games they are the most efficient. Even Ramsey brings his numbers up in away games (to 11%) and Ox finally gets a goal (his only goal of the season so far). Is this the ‘Gervinho effect’? Are these players really more relaxed when they are away from the hot gaze of Arsenal’s cruel home fans?

Hard to tell. I’ve been to many home and away games with Arsenal. My experience is that the away fans were crueler toward the players than the home fans. Both at Anfield and the Liberty stadium, the away fans verbally harassed Abou Diaby. These were direct verbals: get out of my club and that sort of thing shouted down on him when he was mere meters away.

But what if these players are more directly affected by crowd unrest at home? If that is the case, that somehow the home fans are making Giroud, Ramsey, and Özil miss shots, what does that say about those players and their fitness for a title run? Because I wonder how a player would be able to bifurcate their home and away form? How do they pick themselves up to play in an away game but aren’t able to just do that in a home game?

Personally, this looks like coincidental data. Coincidental data that fits a weird narrative about confidence and home fans that has come out this season. A weird narrative that has been picked up on by the players and the manager.

Qq

Wenger on FIRE

Footballistically Speaking: Giroud among the Best

After scoring a hat trick at Olympiacos, Arsene Wenger was adamant that Olivier Giroud has cemented his place among the very best in Europe, saying,

He is at one of the best clubs in Europe and scores goals. If you look at the number of goals he has scored you have to give him credit. And he is not only a goalscorer, he works a lot for the team. He is among the best strikers in Europe.

Giroud has been in and out of the Arsenal first team this season but has still managed to score an impressive 13 goals in just 1179 minutes of Premier League and Champions League play. If we look at his total goals scored in the context of a Per90 measurement, he has essentially scored 13 goals in 13 full 90 minute games. This puts him on par with strikers like Lewandowski, Aguero, Aubameyang, Higuain, Suarez, and Vardy.

Goalsp90Lewandowski and Aubameyang’s p90 numbers are high but both are having peak seasons at their respective clubs. Aubameyang has already surpassed his total goals haul for any time in his career (counting domestic and Europe) and Lewandowski is 2 goals shy of his total from last season (again, only counting domestic league and Champions/Europa league).

Lewandowski is currently at double his output for last year with 1.2 goals per90: last year he averaged 0.6 goals per90. Aubameyang is even better, he averaged 0.5 goals per90 last season. To give some context to these numbers: if you have a striker who averages 0.5 goals per90 and he plays 38 games, he’s going to be a 19 goal per season striker. Anything above that is indicative of a top quality forward.

Where we have to be careful with Giroud is that he’s taken about half as many shots as Lewandowski, 56 to 106 (again, we are counting both domestic and European league play) and he has just scored a hat trick. Those three goals are 23% of his total haul on the season and right now his numbers are going to be at their peak because of that bump. Of course, Lewandowski, and Higuain both just scored a brace in their last matches, Aguero scored five goals 4 matches ago, Vardy went on a record-breaking consecutive goal scoring run, and Aubameyang had back to back hat tricks a few weeks ago. All of those players are also getting a bump.

What Arsenal fans are seeing is that Giroud had become significantly more efficient this season. Wenger also mentioned that,

This has been a typical Olivier Giroud year,” said Wenger. “That means that when it’s not working for him, he puts effort in. Recently he has come back with an improved game in his finishing (emphasis mine) and link play. Wednesday night was one of his best performances on all fronts.

All of the forwards in the comparison above have low passing percentages (below 70%) except Aguero and Lewandowski who pass above 80%. As an aside, Aguero is like a false 9 in that he passes above 88%, but he’s also like a 9 in that he scores goals. He’s truly a special player, when he plays. All this is to say that most forwards have a low percentage passing because they are usually passing in the most marked areas of the pitch.

But link up play aside, where Giroud has most impressed is an improved finishing each season with Arsenal:

Giroud career

Again, this chart compiles Giroud’s league and Champions League goals and shots since 2011/12. 2011/12 was his last season at Montpellier and his career high in terms of goals. Since that season, Giroud took a year to get acclimated to the League and has since consistently improved his finishing. Look at the bottom three numbers and you can see the trend is upward in terms of getting shots on target and converting those shots.

Comparing Giroud’s numbers this season to those players previously mentioned and once again we see that Giroud, despite a small number of chances, is looking a lot like a top striker:

giroud-europe

Wenger, as usual, knows: Giroud is currently among the best in Europe in terms of finishing. What remains to be seen is if he can keep his level this high. We have seen this trend with Giroud before, for him to go on a scoring streak and then quickly revert to the mean, and when he’s on the streak or on the down is typically when we see a spate of articles (like this one) either praising or bashing the player.

This article seeks to do neither but rather simply illuminate Wenger’s words. The debate over Giroud, much like the debate over everything to do with Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, will never truly be over until Arsenal win the League, the Champions League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, the Charity Shield, and six Arsenal players score goals to win the World Cup for England. Even then I suspect people will complain that Arsenal should have done it the year before.

Qq

Lick it up

Newcastle v. Arsenal: not the same old Newcastle

Arsenal travel to Tyneside today and if you’re expecting them to face the same Newcastle that Arsenal met last season when the Gunners won 2-1 you’re going to be in for quite a surprise.

John Carver’s manager-as-stand-up-comedian sideshow has been replaced with the more serious Steve McLaren’s “culture of excellence”. Young, hungry, serious players have been brought in after a season of turmoil and, even more important, the fans are back in the stands having temporarily forgiven owner Mike Ashley after a summer transfer splurge of £46m.

When these two teams met last season it was Arsenal who were in rude form and the Gunners sealed all three points off a two goal outburst from forward Olivier Giroud. Arsenal then held on to the lead, despite some sloppy defending which allowed Newcastle to climb back into the match, thanks to a great save from then starting ‘keeper David Ospina.

But fortunes seem to have reversed and Arsenal have managed to blow away any fog of goodwill they built up this summer with the capture Chelsea number one Petr Cech. The Gunners have struggled to get off the mark this season scoring just one goal off 61 shots and have dropped 5 points after some comedy defending in their two home openers.

Arsenal started the season on high having won back to back FA Cups and playing some fantastic pre-season football. Naturally, the talk was about “pushing on” and challenging for the League title. But after just one win in three matches Arsenal have had their wings burnt a bit and are fluttering back down to earth.

If Arsenal are going to be serious title contenders they need to start winning and start winning today.  Winning is about putting the ball into the back of the net and while it’s nice that Arsenal have created more shots than any team in the Premier League, the fact that they have only scored one goal from those shots (with their only other an own goal in a narrow 2-1 win over Crystal Palace) is surely a sign that Arsenal’s edge looks a bit dull.

Worse, the whole Arsenal team has lacked sharpness so far this season. Two errors for goals in the opening game of the season, one by Cech and the other by fan favorite Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, proves that Arsenal also need to work on their cohesion and communication across the pitch.

And Wenger seems insistent on playing Aaron Ramsey on the right, which is causing fans much dismay. Fans are traditionalists and would much rather see a player like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain play there in order to provide some width and trickery. The Ox is a much better player with ball at feet but Ramsey is the more complete player and despite his propensity to cut inside and make diagonal runs to the opposite channel it hasn’t hurt Arsenal at all — see above where I said Arsenal are creating more chances than any other team.

The main issue for Arsenal then is finishing and not making mistakes. Both of which show a lack of sharpness. Wenger is well aware of the problems and stated:

Finishing is a bit cyclic. We need to continue to create chances and the goals will happen. And I believe we have been a bit insecure at the back because we had just lost our two starting center backs [Koscielny and Mertesacker to injury] but we stabilized well in the second half.

As for the lineups Arsenal will continue with the replacement center back pairing of Chambers and Gabriel from the 0-0 draw against Liverpool on Monday as Mertesacker and Koscielny have not regained fitness. Cech had his breakout performance of the season with eight saves and having a ‘keeper in top form at the back should help the two young center backs with any lack of confidence. The rest of the lineup should also remain unchanged. Up front, Olivier Giroud is a not-so-secret weapon against the Magpies, having scored eight goals in six meetings.

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren has introduced a number of new players (and methods intended to clean up player attitudes) to his lineup but the Magpies are struggling with form as well having drawn two and lost one of their opening three matches. Though one of those draws was against Premier League big spenders Manchester United in an away game at Old Trafford.

Attacking players Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, and Florian Thauvin were bought this summer to add youth and speed to Newcastle’s attack. They haven’t gelled yet but Mitrovic and Wijnaldum were top players in the Jupiler League and Eredivisie last season and Thauvin revealed that Arsenal were after him this summer.

Thauvin in particular could give Arsenal fits if Wenger sticks with Ramsey on the right as he is a left footed player and could be used to spring counter attacks when Ramsey vacates his spot on the right to drift inside. As usual Francis Coquelin will have his work cut out for him containing both sides of the pitch as Arsenal press to look for an advantage.

Both Arsenal and Newcastle will be looking to get their stuttering seasons off to a start today. Arsenal have the quality to beat Newcastle but my suspicion is that the match will be won or lost in the first 20 minutes. Are the Gunners up for it?

Qq