Tag Archives: Giroud

Balotelli Italy World Cup

Giroud sparks French revolution, Balotelli gets the blame

There were World Cup surprises galore yesterday as France blew out Switzerland and Italy lost 1-0 to World Cup minnows Costa Rica, who now, improbably, top their group. With Spain bowing out, England limping out, and the Latin American teams putting in a great showing this is shaping up to be one of the most interesting World Cups in recent memory. Well, that is if countries like Costa Rica can continue their form.

In the France game Giroud continued his tremendous run of form and put in a man of the match performance. Sure, Benzema wins all the plaudits but it was Giroud working hard on and off the ball which got France the breakthrough and I count the opening goals as much more valuable than the 4th and 5th.

Giroud scored France’s opener off a bullet header in a well crowded box. Swiss defender Senderos was left gawking at the ball and is all the reason you need to know why he no longer plays for Arsenal. In fact, the Djourou/Senderos partnership was a disaster at Arsenal and neither player looks to have improved much since their time away from the Gunners.

Neither of the Swiss defenders can read the game and both seem to play like their heart isn’t in it. Worse, they have the footspeed of a Turkish camel and both were constantly opened up by the French forwards. When you see Djourou losing a footrace to Giroud, which happened for Olly’s assist, you know that’s a defender who is slower than molasses in January.

Do we need another metaphor for how slow they are? No? How about an illustration. Giroud’s assist was an impressive sequence of play which started with Giroud clearing the ball in defence and then racing up the field to receive the long pass as Johan Djourou sprinted to get back into position. Giroud looked up and saw Valbuena steaming forward and picked out a perfect pass. Then he invited Valbuena on to his back Masterblaster style.

Bartertown

With the result settled Karim Benzema decided to show up just as he had done in the previous match after Palacios was sent off. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh but it is odd that Benzema has won man of the match twice now but only turns on the afterburners once the result is essentially settled or down to 10 men. Not saying that he is “crap” but rather that has always been the case for Benzema, he doesn’t take over games when they need a winner but rather puts a gloss on a game once already won. Perhaps this run of form will go a long way toward settling that and turn him into the world class player he seems ready to become.

If you have £60m in your pocket, do you offer the starring role to Benzema this season? I would. But only if we can play against a 10 man Honduras and every opponent has Djourou and Senderos as the center back pair (SARCASM!).

 

In the Italy match there was a player who already is world class but who, more than ever, needs a fully functioning team running around him to be successful. In a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica, Andrea Pirlo put in a tired performance, man marked by the Costa Rica midfield for 90 minutes, and held to a mere 104 touches compared to his masterful 117 touches against England (SARCASM!).

People are so weird about Pirlo but he is the best midfielder in the game right now. His head is always on a swivel looking upfield for teammates. And he plays with such a beautiful economy of the game. He’s passing at nearly a 95% rate. In case you’re wondering, Pirlo has 221 touches in two games, he’s attempted 195 passes, he’s been dispossessed one time and turned the ball over one time, and he’s only misplaced 11 passes. What’s that, 6% of his touches have gone bad over 180 minutes? WASTER!!!

Watching Pirlo play is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel.

And by “touches gone bad” I mean that his teammates have not played up to his level. Let’s face it, the entire Italian side looked very poor yesterday. They combined for a tournament high 11 offsides in the game but it wasn’t because Costa Rica were good at springing the trap. It was because Italy were just terribly off timing. For example, even the Italian subs were offside. They kept just trying to rush their runs. In the end, Pirlo only created one shot for his teammates but he should have created at least 6. His incisive passes which cut apart the Costa Rican defense kept being hauled back for offside.

Balotelli got all the blame for that but only had three of the offsides and was the recipient of Pirlo’s master pass. Balo took the ball down with a heavy touch but got back in time to lob the keeper. His lob was well off target and it was the best chance of the game.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Balotelli had a good game, he was poor. I would merely say in his defense that the entire Italian team looked sluggish and off their game. If there ever was a game for Balotelli to carry his teammates it was that one. Sadly he was happy more as a passenger.

Lest I’m accused of bias against the Costa Ricans, I loved that they played such a solid game and implemented their tactics to a tee. I also loved that Joel Campbell showed a maturity that eludes Balotelli at times. Pushed over by Chiellini in the box he should have won a penalty for his team. After, he complained a bit but then got on with his game. And considering how little he saw of the ball he made quite an annoyance of himself which didn’t show up in the box score.

I like Campbell, I’m sold on him I think, though with reservations. I love the fire in his belly, his speed, and his vision. If you compare Balotelli to Campbell picking him over Balotelli is the safer bet. At £27m transfer fee and with a mooted salary of £185k a week, Balotelli would cost £65m over 4 seasons. Not bad if he turns out to be a great player. With Campbell there’s no transfer fee and I’m sure he’d jump at a 4 year deal at £75k a week. Even with rises every year you’re looking at £25m over 4 years.

The question would be what’s the payout? Which of those two players will turn out to be the next 30 goal a season striker? There is almost no down-side to Campbell but the upside is still unknown, he’s so raw. On the other side of the bet, the upside to Balotelli is pretty clear. But so is the down side — maybe his newly announced nuptials will tame him a bit?

Why pick just one? Buy them both!

More dispatches from my couch tomorrow after the USA match.

Qq

 

We all just want to get lucky (with di Maria or someone)

Arsenal beat Fulham 3-1 at Crave Cottage on Saturday to cap off an opening week of football that took us on a clichecoaster ride of downs and ups. In fact, the more I think about cliches, this week has been exactly like that song by that band. You know the song, by that band, and how they are all “struggles, overcome, a little, but not permanently, and yet we endure.”

Oh wait, no I mean that song by Daft Punk, “Get Lucky.”

I don’t know why but in all my years following football I never gave luck its due. Admittedly, I’m a bit of a plebe when it comes to understanding football. But still, I’ve been following Arsenal since the before the turn of the century and you’d think that in 15 years or so I would have picked up on something so fundamental as the large role luck plays in football.

The fact I never gave luck much credence makes even less sense when you know how much work I’ve put into trying to find statistical correlations between shots and goals and games won. Or how I look so closely at errors and play in the final third. Or the fact that I have ever watched a Stoke City match, a club which relentlessly relies on the six-yard-box scramble to stay in the Premier League.

They’re up all night to get replay.

But Wenger plays the long odds: the season is a marathon, he’ll tell you, and you need to build a team that can run the marathon. So, one unlucky break shouldn’t kill the season.

Losing on opening day is really no different than losing on December 26th or May 8th. It’s all just a loss, mixed in with, hopefully, a lot of wins and a few draws. It doesn’t hurt any less for us fans and especially coming as it did on the tails of our summer of discontent but I do understand the long-haul theory.

I can also understand Arsenal fans anger at the referee in the first match. Arsenal don’t get the benefit of a clear penalty call by Anthony Taylor, who gives Villa two penalties, and makes a whole host of other poor calls. Meanwhile just down the Seven Sisters Road, them lot have scored just two goals so far this season and have had both from the penalty spot. Those who are looking for the international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify Arsenal’s bodily fluids have been in full overdrive this last week.

But I’ll tell you what would fix the problem with referees instantaneously: instant replay. And don’t give me this guff about “delaying the game”. There are around 30 minutes or more of every game where the keeper is taking a kick, the players are throwing the ball in, someone is rolling around waiting to get treatment, Stoke are playing with their balls, etc. Football is a fast-paced game, but it is punctuated by plenty of down-time for kicks and arguing with the officials. Plenty of time for the rare instance of a review for an uncalled penalty or a penalty given.

Podolski just likes to have fun

Arsene Wenger admitted that he wants to hold on to Lukas Podolski after his two-goal haul against Fulham on Saturday and I see nothing wrong with that. Lukas isn’t the complete striker we all wish that he was and he’s actually not very consistent but he certainly adds value to the squad.

There was a lot of talk about his fitness last year and the fact that he played 51 times for club and country yet only completed 5 games is a clue that perhaps his fitness really was an issue. This is a player who averaged 80+ minutes per appearance over the three seasons prior, dropping to just 60 minutes average per app.

If he’s willing to take on a bench role he could be a super-sub. Though, I wonder if he’d willingly do that during a World Cup year.

Giroud’s putting away with aplomb

The one place that Arsenal have been lucky is that our big French forward has found his close-range shooting boots. I suppose I should have seen that coming but I was too busy fawning over Theo Walcott and his growth curve to see that Giroud would start finishing those big chances. He was 4 for 23 in big chances last season and that led everyone to conclude that he’s not a finisher. But he’s now 2 for 2 in that department and already off to a cracking start with three goals in three games.

Both goals had an element of luck to them but still all credit to Giroud for finishing. The goal against Fulham at the weekend was especially lucky, Ramsey takes a shot from distance, it gets tangled in legs and pops to Giroud who has the defender on his back and the keeper left to beat. Quick thinking little flick and boom he’s off watersliding into the corner flag.

We’re all uptight about Ramsey

You may have noticed this but Arsenal fans talk in metaphor based on a shared folklore. It’s like that episode of Star Trek the Next Generation where Picard is trapped on that planet with the Tamarian and he keeps saying “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra”. Instead of Darmok we have “Rooney, bombing past Denilson against Man U” and “Fabregas backheel at Barcelona” or “Bin-bag in the bus to Liverpool” all metaphors for our shared experience of Arsenal.

Ramsey seems to have an unusual number of strong metaphors tied to him. “Ramsey at Stoke” is the most prominent and will probably remain his most prominent metaphor, though he does seem to have been nudging the meaning of that metaphor slowly away from a sort of lode stone around his neck and into something much more triumphant. Maybe one day “Ramsey at Stoke won’t conjure up images of Ryan Shawcross breaking his leg but rather Ramsey getting a trophy winning goal.

Like Giroud and Podolski above I don’t want to get too excited by Ramsey’s play but the kid has been outstanding so far in the Arteta role. He’s leading Arsenal in tackles and passes, both things that Arteta did in his time, and he never hides when the club need someone to drop back and pick the ball up. A lot of defensive midfielders don’t want the ball, but Ramsey loves the ball.

He’s added a bit more guile to his game and watching him dance on the edge of the box then provide the pass for Theo to get the assist was pretty special. He followed that up with a goal and I wonder if it was a “Ramsey at Fenerbahce” moment?

We’re all in for Flamini?

I’m not kidding when I say that I have a Flamini shirt. I got it in 2008 when I went over and saw Arsenal play Blackburn on a freezing cold February night. Senderos got the opener in the 4th minute and Adebayor got the clincher in the 90th but in between it was Flamini who ran the show in the Arsenal midfield.

Flamini was so fantastic that night that the guy next to me remarked that Flamini was man of the match. I was all bundled up so he couldn’t see my shirt and I was still a bit shy about talking to strangers at games but I smiled broadly thinking I had bought well in the team shop.

The thing that gave Flamini that extra oomph was that he had a flare for the dramatic. Never one to just let a guy like Nani seal dribble all over the Arsenal midfield, Flamini would come from the other side of the pitch and put an end to that showboating.

By the time I returned to the States, Wenger was so full of praise for Flamini’s ability to control the tempo of the game and to get stuck in that he dubbed him “Flattuso”.

But the thing is, that was five years ago and he’s been a little used player at AC Milan during his time away. I can’t see him controlling the tempo of a game any more but I can see Cabaye doing that Flamini role with Cazorla.

 

Cabaye has gotten a rep as a pretty player but he has that flare for the nasty that marked Flamini down in everyone’s copy book with the phrase “prick” happily double underlined. Cabaye’s put in some rather nasty challenges, the one on Jay Spearing which had Kopites all reaching for their copy of Dr. Strangelove to see if the International Communist Conspiracy was against them the same way it’s against us (it’s a busy conspiracy).

I would welcome Cabaye at Arsenal. I liked him before he came to Newcastle and I think he’s got the bite we need, mixed with the class that Wenger needs. However you slice it, he’s a better buy than Flamini on a free. I mean, unless we just want someone to come on and kick people. In which case just play Frimpong.

And frankly? I’m kind of ashamed of my Flamini shirt.

Let’s raise our cups to the stars

Cabaye is the only player so far with a strong Arsenal link. I’ve said that phrase before and gotten people shouting at me but read it again, strong link. I’m hearing loads of rumors for other players but Cabaye is actually on strike and Pardew today said that they are looking for a quick resolution so I think that will happen Monday or Tuesday.

The Benzema deal was never going to happen, and his agent/dad/best friend’s cousin’s sister’s brother confirmed as much, but it was fun to dream for a minute that somehow Arsenal would steal the guy with the number 9 shirt at Real Madrid. Di Maria looks more likely than Benzema as they need to raise the money and Bale will take his place on the right side of the Real Attack.

Di Maria is a truly dribbly, left-footed wide player who has been deployed on the right to cut back in on his left in the trademark Mourinho fashion. He can play either side of the attack but would be especially suited to the left where Podolski is playing now.

In center back I wonder if Arsenal wouldn’t do better to just keep Sagna there and buy a fullback to compete with Jenkinson for the starting spot? I really like Sagna’s solid frame in the center of defense and he’s great in the air. He also seems to have lost a step since his two leg breaks and had some trouble keeping up with the speedy, younger wingers the last few outings at fullback. There are a lot of good right backs out there right now any of which would add depth to the club.

And finally, I’ve heard a lot about keepers this week and here’s my take on Wenger and keepers: I have no idea what he’s doing. This is a manager who tried in vain to get Schwarzer but wasn’t really going all out to get a keeper in for the last 5 years. It was more of a tepid attempt to sign a keeper than anything. And now I read that he’s after Casillas and Krul. Let me put it this way, I’ll believe that Arsenal have a new keeper when I see him playing for Arsenal.

Lick it up

Wasted chances and errors prove costly for Arsenal in the first 8 games of 2012-2013

 

We all remember how Arsenal finished 2012-2013 with a flourish and sealed a Champions League spot just one point ahead of rivals Tottenham. What we might not remember, however, is how the season started: with 3 wins, 3 draws, and 2 losses. Nor how the season started with Arsenal making several defensive errors and failing to convert on several big chances.

As you know if you read the comments from Les’ piece on Eddie McGoldrick, I am in the midst of a statistical review of Arsenal’s 2012-2013 League season. I am tracking goals, errors, big chances, and other data for a project that I am working on in collaboration with 11 Cannons.

Data points like “errors”, “big chances”, and “big chances wasted” is subjective data, but all sports stats are subjective. How do you as a fan decide when Theo Walcott is shooting the ball or making a cross? How do you decide when a clearance is successful? What constitutes an “assist’? Sometimes that’s an easy decision and sometimes it’s not but the point is that you decide. It’s subjective.

What stats companies like Opta do is create a taxonomy to help guide their stats collectors to seeing the data more or less all in the same way. So, for example, they define a “big chance” as something that a person might reasonably expect the player to score. Thus, this Fernando Torres shot versus Man U is a “big chance” and it was a “big chance missed”. All this is to say that me doing something similar isn’t significantly unusual.

I started this project, really, because I was curious how many goals Arsenal allowed off set plays, corners, headers, and other dead ball situations. That’s part of the accepted wisdom about Arsenal, that we are terrible from set pieces, and I always love to challenge accepted wisdom.

But then I contacted 11 Cannons to help, because I wanted a unique way of presenting that data and it has since morphed into me collecting all the above data, plus counter attacks, penalties, hitting the woodwork,and the aforementioned “big chances”.

I could get some of this from Opta but most if it is behind a pay wall and I have noticed that I disagree with some of their decisions last season. For example, Sagna wasn’t awarded an error for conceding the penalty to van Persie*. He wasn’t even awarded an error for the poor pass which started the series of errors that followed!

So, in collecting this data I am telling you right now that I have not looked at anything from Opta or any other stats provider (except in cases like the Sagna penalty above which I know was/was not marked as an error). Instead, I am watching the games and deciding. Some of you will say that I may even be deciding a bit harsh. But hey, you know exactly who to complain to if you don’t like a stat! And if you can give me a compelling reason, or if the response is overwhelmingly negative on a certain data point, I may change it. May.

With that in mind, yesterday I sat down and watched the 12 minute highlights for all of Arsenal’s first 8 League matches. This is actually my third, fourth, and some times fifth (!) viewing for some of these games so I know them pretty well. This is also my third time going through my stats database for this project so I feel that the 12 minute highlight reel is a good place to go to refresh one’s memory. And here are some thoughts on each of those games.

Sunderland 0-0 home: Arsenal missed four very good chances with Podolski missing two, Walcott one, and Giroud’s infamous miss in the 82nd minute. Meanwhile Sunderland only had the one real opportunity in the 4th minute from McClean. If there was any match in that first 8 that I can say definitively Arsenal should have won, it was this.

Stoke 0-0 away: I was surprised by how angry it made me to see Wilkinson hand the ball away from Podolski’s shot in the 8th minute. I was also surprised that was Arsenal’s only real chance in the game. Stoke made one opportunity for themselves as well but Walters is so terrible that it went wasted. And finally, I cannot say this enough: something needs to be done about setting the wall back 10 yards in the Premier League. Major League Soccer uses a foam line sprayed on the field and that is hugely beneficial to the fans, the players, and the refs. Against Stoke, the ref would set the wall back 10 paces, an Arsenal player would stand there, and the wall would creep up clearly leaving a gap! Then when the guy taking the free kick would start his run up, the Stoke wall would start running toward the ball as well! If I could introduce any technology to the Premier League this season it wouldn’t be Hawkeye technology to catch the one goal in 200 that might have crossed the line, it would be the amazingly simple foam spray technology to keep the defensive wall back somewhere around 8-10 yards instead of the 4-6 that is now customary.

Liverpool 1-2 away: first win of the season, Podolski gets a goal from a counter attack that he inspires. Vermaelen steals from Suarez and boots it upfield where Podolski is waiting, he clips it to Cazorla and starts the train a chugging toward goal. Fortunately, Liverpool’s Glen Johnson is slower than molasses in January and Podolski is played clean through by Caz for the goal.

Sterling hits the outside of the woodwork in the 38th minute and Giroud wastes a chance in the 41st minute. Cazorla scores his first Arsenal goal from open play in the 68th minute and Suarez has Liverpool’s only real chance in the 88th minute but skies it over. Overall, Suarez is dismal in this game.

Southampton 1-6 home: insano game: Gervinho converts 2 big chances, Soton score two own goals, Podolski scores from a direct free kick, Walcott scores from a counter, Szczesny makes an error, and Fox converts one of Soton’s three big chances in the game. Also, Ramsey hits the woodwork from his own big chance and it’s the only time that hitting the woodwork matters to me, because Gervinho converts the rebound.

Man City 1-1 away: I believe this is the match where I was finally fed up with Gervinho and what’s interesting here is that he converted two chances the match prior! Still, the Ivorian fails to convert on two massive chances and it’s weird how that’s what stands out, one in the 16th minute where he was played clean through and boots the ball to Hart whilst trying to control and one in the 90th minute. In fairness a point may be all Arsenal deserved as Aguero failed to convert three open chances. Meanwhile, both goals were the result of errors off corner kicks, Mannone comes for and fails to punch so that Lescott can nod home and Lescott fails to clear a corner and Koscielny hammers it home.

Chelsea 2-1 home: Arsenal’s first loss and a bitter one. Both Chelsea goals scored from set plays off fouls and both directed at Koscielny. Debate will rage over whether Koz should have been awarded a foul for Torres’ goal, I gave him an error because I felt he could have done better than to let Torres manhandle him. I also awarded him an own goal for the Chelsea second, even though there’s only the slightest touch. Cazorla and Giroud both fail to convert big chances with the Frenchman missing in the 91st minute.

West Ham 1-3 away: West Ham could have won this game, Kevin Nolan was presented with (at least) three gilt-edged chances and wasted all of them. Arsenal, meanwhile, converted their only big chance, Walcott, and Giroud got his first Arsenal goal with a hugely difficult goal off a counter,  while Cazorla added the icing with a long range effort. I awarded Ramsey an error for letting the lumbering Diame simply walk right past him and score. Pathetic defensive effort from the Welshman**.

Norwich 1-0 away: the excuse for this hot mess of a match was the international break. My answer to that is that perhaps then Arsenal need a bigger squad. The Gunners created just one real chance, Giroud, and he missed spectacularly. Meanwhile a combination of errors by Mannone and Mertesacker ensured that Grant Holt can write his name in the sky with the tears of Arsenal fans. Holt had a chance late on to double the lead but being Grant Holt he botched it and took a ridiculous chip instead of passing to his open teammate.

So there you have it. Arsenal created 19 gilt-edged chances and converted just 4 while the opposition was 2 for 15. Giroud was the most profligate, missing all four of his chances, Podolski converted 1 for 4, and Gervinho was 2 of 4. Meanwhile, defensively, the Gunners made 6 errors that lead to goals and the opposition made 3.

As for goals from set plays, Arsenal allowed three but all from top teams, and scored two in return — all totaled there was just one headed goal (Lescott!).

Arsenal took just 12 points from the first 24 on offer and by my count the errors and profligacy in front of goal were the two main causes.

Qq

*The rationale is that it wasn’t an error, it was a bad tackle.
**This doesn’t mean I think Ramsey is pathetic so climb down off your Sanctimonious Hobby Horse.