Tag Archives: Premier league

The perception is that Sam Allardyce is actually a walrus

Arsenal v. West Ham Preview: who wants the ball?

First, a little housekeeping. I want to thank Naveen, Chary, Jonathan, and Les for all of their contributions to this site. Without them, 7amkickoff would be just another boring Arsenal blog. And more important than their contributions to my blog are their contributions to the discussion about Arsenal in general. Naveen’s tactical insight is yards ahead of everyone else and I’ve honestly learned more about football by editing his pieces than I did watching it, reading news reports, and listening to pundits for the last 15 years. Meanwhile, Les Crang’s history pieces are a wonderful reminder of who we are and where we came from, Jonathan’s monthly photo article is a great way to highlight fans from all over the globe, and I love Chary’s acerbic man at the match reports. There are other folks who contribute articles when they can but these four consistently give back to the Arsenal community through their writing and I am grateful for each of them.

As for the match, Arsenal host West Ham tomorrow for an 8am (PST) kickoff and Arsenal are at the time of the season where every point counts. At the start of the season points only count for half a point. Then, somewhere in the middle of the season, points start counting as 3/4 of a point. But now, every point counts as a whole point. I know, it’s complicated but just trust me, I’m the stats guy and I created the 7amkickoff relativity scale of points.

I also know a little bit about West Ham. West Ham is a team who concede possession (45% overall, 43% away). They not only concede possession but they also win a lot of aerial duels (almost 24 a game) and lead the League in Key Passes off long balls. 63 key passes off long balls or 2.5 per game — can I say that again? They average 2.5 shots per game, just off long balls. Arsenal, for contrast, average 1.3.

The Hammers also lead the League in shots per game off set plays, with 4.5. 34% of their shots are from set pieces. Arsenal only take 21% of their shots from set plays.

West Ham also lead the League in headed goals with 15. 15 of their 38 goals (40%!!!) are from headers. Arsenal have scored 9 headed goals, but that’s just 17% of their 52 goals.

West Ham also lead the League in (accurate) crosses per game with 6.1. They lead the League in crosses attempted. They lead the League in key passes (61) off crosses and in assists (12) off crosses.

West Ham are also second in the League in accurate corners and are second in the League in key passes off corners, though interestingly they have only managed 2 assists off corners.

So, to conclude, West Ham are a long ball team who concede possession but who still get the ball forward enough to get their wing players involved and put teams under pressure with aerial balls and wicked crosses from set pieces which they like to head home. And if you’ve been an Arsenal fan for more than five minutes, and watched Arsenal concede goals from crosses (this year) and corners (years past) while dominating possession against teams like West Ham then all of those stats will make you about as comfortable as a man wearing a wool sweater in summer. In the desert.¹

One last odd wrinkle. In the last meeting between these two teams Arsenal did something no one expected: they conceded possession. Arsenal have beaten West Ham in all of the previous 9 encounters and when looking at the data for those matches, Arsenal averaged over 60% of the possession. For example, in the last 6 encounters the possession numbers for Arsenal are 69%, 64%, 62%, 62%, 58%, 45%. I believe that there is a trend at Arsenal away from possession in general (which shows here as the numbers get lower over the years) and there is also a trend in the Premier League with teams like West Ham simply getting better but that drop from 58% possession to 45% possession isn’t in line with the trend, that is indicative of Arsène Wenger employing a tactical shift in that match.

More evidence that Wenger eschewed possession in that game comes in the fact that in the three previous encounters West Ham scored first and in many football matches the team who score first usually concede possession. And in the last encounter between Arsenal and West Ham, Arsenal scored first. You would think that was the reason for Arsenal conceding possession but when I look at the possession stats prior to the Arsenal goal (a penalty) the numbers are exactly the same as after the goal – 55% for West Ham, 45% for Arsenal.

I don’t think we will see this same tactic tomorrow. This was a one-time strategy dictated by injury. Wenger was forced to start with two destroyers, Flamini and Coquelin, in midfield. This time out, Wenger has all of his top midfielders available to him: Cazorla, Özil, Coquelin, Rosicky, and Ramsey. I expect to see a starting attack consisting of Giroud, Özil, Alexis, Cazorla, Coquelin, and Rosicky. In defense, I suspect we will see Bellerin², Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Gibbs.

The big question for me is who will start at keeper? Ospina is one of the smallest keepers in the League. He’s also not commanding in the penalty area and that is where West Ham will be lobbing in balls to head into goal. Do we start Szczesny? Against Man U, he was good in the air but there was that moment he decided to try to dribble around Rooney. He managed to beat Rooney but then had to play a forced pass to Koscielny, who kicked to Mertesacker, and then Mertesacker turned the ball over. Man U didn’t score off this mess but it was a moment of unprofessionalism from Szczesny.

It’s incredible to think that Szczesny has 179 games worth of experience and had literally just returned to first-team football after being benched for being unprofessional and he’s out there pulling stunts like dribbling around a forward in one of the biggest games of the season. But there you have it, that’s Szczesny. And I still think Arsenal have to start him.

This should be an easy match for Arsenal. West Ham are in terrible form and haven’t won a match since January 25th (P7 W0 D3 L4 F4 A13). Downing is the main crossing and set play threat and Song’s main two weapons are over the top balls and through balls. But without Enner Valencia (who cut his foot on glass) making runs behind the defense and Andy Carroll’s presence on headers, the Hammers shouldn’t be too much of a goal threat. Meanwhile, Arsenal will have an entire retinue of forwards they can throw at West Ham and a healthy midfield who are playing some of the best football of the season (P7 W6 D0 L1 F13 A7). If Arsenal can stay focused and professional, if Arsenal can keep their defensive shape, and if Arsenal can remember the lessons that Monaco taught them a few weeks ago, then all three points should go Arsenal’s way.

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¹Defensively, West Ham are a bit of an odd team. They concede possession but they don’t tackle a lot (they are 15th) and they don’t try to intercept the ball either (they are 13th). This is odd because we would normally expect a team who doesn’t have the ball to try to actively win the ball back but here’s the thing about West Ham: they don’t want the ball.

I’m being a bit cheeky here but the truth is that Allardyce’s philosophy is that he wants his team to control space first, then worry about the ball. West Ham’s approach to the game is to jockey the opponent into spaces that they don’t mind you being in and allowing the opponent to do things that they don’t mind you doing. So, they will allow Arsenal to keep the ball, grant them spaces to put in crosses, and when they win the ball back they will try to get the ball up the field in a counter attack situation (down the wings) where they can get in a cross to a forward.

It’s simple football but effective, as you can tell by the fact that West Ham are 10th in the League and basically safe from relegation.

I actually take a similar approach to football when I play. Amateurs are not very good at crosses and not only that but when you crowd the target area it makes crossing very difficult. So, if you stay compact and allow them to get in crosses you have a great chance of cutting the cross out and moving the ball up the field in a counter attack situation. It’s ugly football but effective. Also, I sell it by saying “we are going to play like Chelsea” instead of saying “we are going to play like West Ham.”
²Congratulations on the new deal. He deserved it after the great shifts he’s put in.

This wasn't even called a foul

QPR v. Arsenal: fire up the steamroller

QPR are supposed to be a threat. Especially at home. That’s what I heard. The narrative was cast by some producer/writer/lackey/blogger/guy on a forum and now everyone is ready for the mighty Arsenal to show up and get caught with their Bendtner’s¹ down.

Give me a break.

QPR are better at home than they are on the road which is like saying that the Daily Mail is better than the Metro. Yeah, it is. But reading either paper causes brain damage. The main difference is that the Metro has the added benefit of intestinal bleeding. I accidentally clicked on a Metro article (claiming that Arsenal have a pre-contract signed with Schneiderlin) the other day and I have been nauseous ever since.

QPR’s much vaunted home form includes four consecutive matches without a win. They haven’t won a game since they beat West Brom on 20 December and they have scored 1 goal — ONE GOAL — since January 1st. That was on January 1st.

Yes, they took a lot of shots against Man U, 19, but they can’t dominate the ball, can’t control possession, and can’t seem to control space without the ball since teams basically score at will and get a high volume of shots on target.

QPR will be rested, though, because they have had a 12 day break. And that will mean they will be ready for a fight!!! I’ve read columns about how they will harass Arsenal’s midfield, because they will be so fresh. Maybe. And frankly, Arsenal don’t look like a very good team in possession at the moment. Arsenal used to struggle with the ball when the opponents “got in their faces” but this season that’s been doubly true whenever Arsenal don’t have Arteta as gatekeeper in midfield. Look for old friend Karl Henry to get in a few choice kicks.

Ramsey is supposed to be back and could be selected for this match, though I don’t see why. I’m not bashing him to say that he’s obviously not on form this season. Again I suspect this is down to Arsenal missing a midfield pass-master. Ramsey isn’t that player, he’s the runner for the passer. He needs an Arteta to play next to him, having someone in midfield who finds the perfect pass every time frees Ramsey up to make late runs, to get deeper into the opposition final third, and to harass the opposition by pressing high up the pitch.

Coquelin will probably start and he has lots of good qualities as well: he’s brave, strong in the air, likes to get stuck in, reads the game well, and doesn’t abandon his defensive duties. He’s had a minor surgery so that his nose doesn’t look like Louis van Gaal’s but he will probably start, with the mask on.

Still, for all Coquelin’s good qualities, he’s not a passer.

That said, I don’t know if Arsenal need a passer in this match. Here’s a weird thing: QPR are terrible when they have the ball. They have less clue what to do when they have the ball than a teenage boy has a clue of what to do with… pretty much anything. They are a possession abdicating team, like West Ham. I would like to predict that Arsène will do what he did to West Ham here today and just toss QPR the ball and tell them to beat us. But every time I predict something, the opposite comes true.

But it seems to me like that’s the right strategy here. Force QPR to play with the ball and hit them on the counter with speedy players like Walcott, Özil, Cazorla, Alexis, and Welbeck. Tell Gibbs and Bellerin that if they break the half-way line you’ll fine them a week’s wages and sit back to hit QPR on the counter. They certainly don’t have the center backs and fullbacks to deal with Walcott’s speed and I can almost guarantee a penalty if Arsenal get out on a counter.

If they take the lead, then you can bring on Giroud and try to batter them with corners and set plays. But otherwise, I would start with lithe players who like to hit the opposition on the counter and make old Pumpkin Face² try not to foul them in the box.

One other thing to note, QPR have scored 18 goals at home this season. 7 have been from set plays, 1 from the penalty spot and they have caused a further 3 own goals. They are the kind of British team which falls over like one of those collapsing plastic dolls whenever they get touched in the opposition half. They do this so because they cannot get actual ball penetration, so the easiest way to get the ball into the opposition box is to fall over and claim a foul (which the British refs love to give) and earn a set piece.

QPR want Arsenal to control possession. Arsenal controlling possession, in that case, is not “asserting our personality on them” it’s actually playing exactly the way the opposition wants. Why on earth would we do that?

With that in mind, my guess is that Arsenal will try to control possession. This could be a clever ruse on my part to have the opposite come true or it could be a transparent attempt to cover my bases since I predicted the opposite just a few seconds ago.

But ultimately, Arsenal have the talent to beat this team. Özil, Cazorla, Alexis, Welbeck, Walcott, Ramsey, Coquelin, Bellerin, Koscielny, Gabriel, and Gibbs are of sufficient quality that they should be able to beat a team like QPR. Especially if you throw them a curveball and make them play in possession.

My prediction: 4-0  to the Arsenal. Big blowout victory. Alexis hattrick — just to troll the reporters who want to write a story about how he hasn’t scored in 8 games.

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¹What is Nicklas Bendtner up to these days? 95kg is my guess.
²Rio Ferdinand’s toothsome grin and giant mouth reminds me of the horrible grimace of a Halloween pumpkin.

Arsenal v. Leicester preview (don’t take it seriously)

  • Nigel Pearson is the manager of Leicester City
  • Nigel Pearson has not been sacked, this was revealed after it was revealed that he was sacked
  • Nigel Pearson was seen sort of choking James McArthur in their match against Crystal Palace but wasn’t charged by the FA.
  • No one knows how the FA decide whether to charge or not charge people. Personally, I think they look at chicken entrails because if putting two hands around a player’s throat isn’t a chargeable offense but gently stroking someone’s face is, I’m not sure what’s real any more.
  • Leicester are in 20th place on 17 points, 1 of those points they earned in a 1-1 draw against Arsenal earlier this season
  • The Leicester goal scorer that day was Ulloa
  • Ulloa has scored 7 League goals
  • 5 of his Premier League goals came in his first 5 League games, since then he has scored 2 goals in his last 19 games
  • He does have a knack for scoring against top 4 title rivals: he scored twice on Man U and has scored on Arsenal, Tottenham, and Everton
  • Alexis Sanchez scored his first Premier League goal against Leicester
  • Sanchez has a reverse knack from Ulloa: he likes scoring against lower level opposition with 11 of his 12 League goals against bottom 10 teams
  • Leicester are going to play football the Arsenal way: meaning that they will probably sit back and use Schlupp to hit Arsenal on quick counter attacks. That’s what worked last time.
  • That begs the question of who Arsenal are going to start. Space is at a premium in the attack and with no spaces to run into to exploit his speed Theo Walcott is basically useless in this match. For that reason, he starts up front where he can do as little damage as possible. Meanwhile, Cazorla’s best position is in the middle running the match, that’s why he will start on the left. Özil likes to drift from the middle to wide and he’s the best crosser on the team, he will start on the double left wing, behind Cazorla. Wenger will not play a right winger, Belllerin will be expected to shoulder the right wing play, play right back, and also the central midfield role he kept playing for some reason against Spurts. Ramsey will play the part of the handsome bearded fellow in the middle of the park. Boy his form sure took a nose dive after he got married. Let that be a lesson to you kids, don’t date women, they want your essence, your precious bodily fluids, and they will suck them out of you like a succubus, until you’re nothing but a desiccated old corpse. Next to him will be Coquelin, who will do his level best not to make a creative pass the entire game. Monreal will start at left quack. Yes, quack. He runs like a duck. Next to him I think we’ll see Gabriel blowing his horn and signalling the apocalypse because Koscielny looked tired. I think Koz has been carrying a secret knock all season. Well, it’s not really that secret. He’s been suffering all season and Arsene needs to get Gabriel some playing time to see if Koz can get the surgery he probably needs. Mertesacker, ja ja. And did I mention Bellerin? Double Bellerins. Or a Giroud. Oh yeah, Giroud. I’m not even sure how many players I just picked. Ospina? Maybe. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger starts Szczesny. The Tomas Rosicky Appreciation Society will have to pine openly on twitter for him to start but I don’t think he will. I wish he would get a run of starts so that people would stop asking for him to get a run of starts and start complaining that someone else should get a run of starts, that’s “playing football the Arsenal way!”
  • Liverpoo play Spurts today and everyone wants to know: will Spurts have the same energy levels or have they been drained by the Arsenal?

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