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Notes from all 20 goals Arsenal have scored this season: surprise Arsenal don’t score off set pieces

Just a quick follow up to yesterday’s post and the post from the day before in which I broke down Arsenal’s troubles staying focused on set plays. Although somewhat controversial in my methodology I provided my notes from each of the 14 goals that Arsenal have conceded so far this season and my opinion is that there is a clear commonality: whenever either Arsenal or the opposition get a break in play and time to set up, Arsenal seem to relax. After that they are playing catch-up either positionally or trying to make up for a defensive mistake and are then caught out for a goal.

Of the 14 goals that Arsenal have conceded this season 10 have come either as a direct result of a set play or in the few seconds aftermath of a set play. Ten of 14 is 70%. Seventy percent of Arsenal’s goals conceded have come from a result of a set play. And that includes several set plays in which Arsenal initially have the ball but take a poor throw or take the free kick too soon and are immediately hurt by the opposition (Chelsea, Spurs, Dortmund).

In order to get a better sense of Arsenal’s playing style (and because I’m a glutton for funishment), I looked at all 20 of the goals Arsenal have scored this season and used the same criteria to judge whether these goals were scored via set plays.

The result is pretty clear; of the 20 goals that Arsenal have scored this season they have scored just 6 times off set pieces. That is a directly inverse relationship. 70% of the goals Arsenal have conceded this season are from set plays and only 30% of the goals that Arsenal have scored are from set plays.

What isn’t clear is exactly why this is happening. The impulse is to suggest that Arsenal are just poor at set plays and there is some evidence to suggest that this is the case. Last season, Arsenal were 16th in the League in set piece goals scored with just 11 — three of which were penalties. However, in the season before that, Arsenal were 7th in the League with 17 — five of which were penalties.

What we do know is that Arsenal are terrible at corner conversion. I have a piece coming up on that on Arseblog news soon so I don’t want to spill any beans but we are pretty bad. We don’t even get the ball into the right zones for attacking on corners. It’s poor.

But other explanations could shed light. For example, Arsenal tend to score more goals than the opposition. This means that we score multiples in some games. If the opposition is looking for just one goal and then not attempting to really score more we could have a situation which distorts their goals tally. In other words, they get one off a corner and they stop trying. We score one off a corner and keep going for a second or third goal.

Regardless (or irregardless as my friend would say) I thought I’d post you some more notes on this topic. Saturday we have the match and Naveen’s match preview should be up on Friday for you all to “banta” about. I think I have something from Les for Saturday and a Man at the Match report from Chary on Sunday.

I also want to give a plug to Jonathan Blaustein’s monthly column the Match Day Photo of the Month. Get out the cameras and start recording your match day experience. Send the photos to matchdayphotofthemonth@gmail.com. This is a fantastic way to share your match day experience with others. And no, you don’t have to be one of the luck few who go to games at Highbury North East, You can just take creative photos from anywhere and send them in. Sure, even a picture of a tortoise. Whatever you want! Send them in!

Anyway, here are the notes as promised.

Qq

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Galatasaray

First goal (Welbz, Alexis assist)

Szczesny passes to Koscielny who passes to Gibbs. Gibbs is completely unmarked and casually slides a ball up to Alexis. The Chilean is also unmarked and allowed to dribble, he turns inside, sees that Welbz has caught Melo napping and slots in a through ball.

Analysis: Galatasaray fell asleep on the goal kick and failed to press the ball at any point. Melo was at fault for letting Welbz get past him on the run. 8 seconds start to finish. Arsenal score on a set play.

Second goal (Welbz, error Melo)

Flamini wins the Gala goal kick with a powerful header but sends the ball back to the Gala right back. He failes to deal with the ball (put under pressure by Alexis) and heads it back to Melo. Melo is asleep again and Welbz beats him to the ball. A nifty little header to himself, Welbzz skips away from Melo and scores past their hapless flappy keeper.

Analysis: another goal coming almost directly off a set play, this time it’s from their own goal kick. Galatasaray caught napping and Welbz takes advantage. Again, Melo largely at fault but Welbeck did show good strength to beat Melo to the ball. 8 seconds again from start to finish. Arsenal score on the opposition set piece.

Third goal (counter attack, Alexis, Ozil assist)

Mertesacker intercepts the attempted through ball to Yilmaz and plays a 40 yard pass to Ox. Interestingly, Arsenal have no one in the actual midfield for this play, Ox, Ozil, Welbz, and Sanchez are all forward with Welbz standing offside. Anyway, Ozil plays in Sanchez, Alexis cuts back and beats his marker and picks out the far post for an easy goal.

Analysis: Galatasaray had 6 men back but Arsenal got in a series of vertical passes which leapfrogged the two defensive mids. Ozil’s pass left Sanchez plenty to do but the Chilean beat his marker deftly. I think that Arsenal overloading the space behind the Gala DMs was a gamble on Arsenal’s part which paid off. Arsenal open play goal

Arsenal 4th goal Gala (Welbz, Ox assist)

Welbeck drops deep to receive Gibbs’ ball in midfield, under pressure he plays to Cazorla who is in even more trouble. Somehow the Spaniard splits two defenders deep in our half and finds Welbz. Welbeck then dribbles forward and passes to… Alexis in midfield. Alexis plays to Ox and Welbeck makes a diagonal run behind the defender. Ox nutmegs his marker and Welbeck ghosts in for a goal.

Analysis: Probably a lack of communication between the two center halves but other than that this was just all around stellar play by Arsenal. There were a few moments where it looked like Arsenal could give up the ball in a bad area but they broke pressure and scored. Arsenal open play goal

Tottenham (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 74)

Tottenham fail to clear (Lamela actually plays the ball back into their own box), Sanchez collects at the edge of the area and passes to Cazorla. Cazorla has a shot from outside the box which wasn’t going to bother Lloris but it takes a deflection and pops up to Welbeck. Welbeck dummies (ha!) and the ball comes to Ox in the perfect position to lash it home.

Analysis: Tottenham could have done better to clear the ball but really this is one of those goals which prove that every once in a while the players should just have a go at goal. Good things happen, especially if the ball is hit low and hard and the box is packed. Open play goal.

Southampton (direct free kick, Sanchez)

Arsenal score on a direct free kick. Fonte fouled Alexis leading up to the shot. Keeper couldn’t do anything about it. Arsenal set play goal.

Aston Villa

First goal (Ozil, assist Welbeck)

Fantastic one-touch play between Ramsey, Ox, and Welbz opens Villa’s midfield. Welbeck drives at the defense, Senderos is caught ball watching, the Villa right back is a bit lazy, and Ozil ghosts in behind where Welbeck plays him in.

Anaysis: the speed of this play takes Villa out of the game and Senderos doesn’t see the danger until it is way too late. I think his fullback partner, who could see this develop, probably should have given a shout but just raises his hand instead looking for offside. Open play goal.

Second goal (Welbeck, assist Ozil)

Lovely one-touch from Ozil to Ramsey, Ozil makes a run and the Villa right back doesn’t track. Senderos is pulled over to block Ozil and Clark covers Welbeck. Clark inexplicably stops short of the full run and Welbeck gets behind him.

Analysis: despite the fairly shoddy defending, Ozil still had plenty to do with the cross and puts in one of the best passes he’s made all season.  Welbeck finishes and makes it look easy. Open play goal.

Third goal (own goal Cissoko)

Villa fail to clear, Gibbs pokes in a long shot (or was it a cross?), Cissoko really has to do something about the ball (because Ox is at the far post looking to score) but does the wrong thing. Still, open play goal.

Man City (Wilshere goal, Ramsey assist)

Koscielny presses high up the pitch, Aguero is dispossessed, Arsenal break with five players in a central position. Ramsey is the furthest forward, collects Alexis’ pass, passes to Wilshere on the right. Wilshere skins Clichy and neatly chips Joe Hart.

Analysis: ha ha ha… Gael Clichy. But seriously, Arsenal push a lot of players forward, I think there were four midfielders behind the City defensive mids. It’s kind of crazy actually but it worked out. Open play goal.

Second (Sanchez goal, Wilshere assist)

Another top quality goal from Arsenal. Ramsey clips over a cross that Kompany heads away (little shove from Welbeck). Wilshere heads the ball back in to Sanchez and the Chilean strikes it first time.

Analysis: a goal worked from almost nothing. The chip from Ramsey wasn’t the best and Wilshere’s header back into the box was powerful but a bit lucky. Alexis really made the most of the chance though. Open play goal, Arsenal.

Leicester (Sanchez goal)

Leicester had managed to keep a semblance of a shape until the ball was pinged around several times, then the entire Leicester defense formed a sort of Maginot Line with what I swear is 8 players lined up across the 18 yard box. How do you neat the Maginot Line? Cazorla plays a neat little chip over the top to Sanogo and the Frenchman tries to get a shot off against the onrushing Schmeichel. I don’t know if it’s a shot or a block but the ball comes to Alexis and he blasts it into the back of the next.

Analysis: Leicester were quite sloppy and disorganized but the Cazorla chip was good and Sanogo did OK to get a shot off. Arsenal rewarded by having Sanchez I the box. Arsenal open play goal. One of the few were Arsenal are playing the ball around the 18 yard box.

Besiktas (Sanchez goal, Ozil assist)

Arsenal win a throw but the ensuing cross is cleared out. Monreal wins the second ball and passes to Wilshere. Wilshere passes to Ozil and Ozil plays in a perfect pass. Sanchez runs onto the end of the pass (beating Wilshere) and slots home his first Arsenal goal.

Analysis: Beskitas didn’t switch off on the set play. Instead, the fault lies with #10. He tracked back on the intitial cross and then as the ball was cleared ran back out, past Alexis and Wilshere. I think he was either trying to get an offside or start a break. But either way he leaves the space for Sanchez. Arsenal open play goal.

Everton

First goal (Ramsey goal, Cazorla assist)

Is this a set play goal? This one is stretching the boundaries for sure. Arsenal win a throw. Monreal, Ozil and Cazorla ping the ball around in the Everton final third for few seconds before Cazorla drives at the Everton defense. Cazorla is covered by two defenders and plays a splitting ball into the 6 yard box. Ramsey had made a run and Osman and Baines ran with him but Ramsey just beats both to the ball.

Analysis: Everton looked tired on this play. Lots of lazy clearing and lazy movement. The speed at which Arsenal are able to play is nearly quiescent. Still, the organization was right and both Cazorla and Ramsey were covered by two players. This wasn’t Everton mentally switching off as much as physically faltering.  14 seconds from start to finish, Arsenal open play goal

Second goal (Giroud, header, Monreal assist)

Monreal collects a terrible Ramsey cross, pings a good ball back into the area and Giroud just out-muscles Distan towin the header and score. Flat footed. Open play goal Arsenal.

Crystal Palace

First goal (indirect free kick, header, Koscielny, assist Alexis)

Hangelaand was marking Koscielny but Koz loses him too easily, no one attacks Alexis’ cross, and the result is that Arsenal get an easy headed goal from a set play. Arsenal set play goal.

Second goal (Ramsey)

Arsenal win a corner but Palace clear through Chamakh at the edge of the 6 yard box (first defender). Ball is passed around the box, Ox puts in a poor cross, Koz wins the header back in, Giroud knocks the ball down, Debuchy has a shot saved, Ramsey puts home the rebound.

Analysis: scrappy goal. 14 seconds from start to finish. Arsenal set play goal? Sort of.

Man City Community Shield.

First goal – Cazorla, open play.

Second goal – Aaron Ramsey, counter attack, open play. Arsenal clear to Alexis, he slots a curling ball to Sanogo. Sanogo holds up well and passes to Ramsey. Ramsey skins Clichy and scores.

Third goal – Olivier Giroud, Arsenal set play, assist Ramsey. Szczesny takes a goal kick, Giroud flicks to Ramsey, Ramsey passes back to Giroud and he takes a shot from Downton Abbey, scoring over Caballero.

 

2012-2013 Corers

How bad are Arsenal at corners and other set plays? What is a word that rhymes with Schmitty?

If we compare Arsenal to Chelsea, Man U, Man City, and Liverpool in League play and just look at set play numbers for the last two full seasons we get the following facts:

  • Arsenal are consistently one of the best teams among the erstwhile Top Four in terms of Aerial Duel %, averaging over 53% aerial duels won.
  • Arsenal average the fewest corners won per game of this group over the last two years with just 5.55
  • Arsenal score the fewest goals from corners, 4 per season
  • Arsenal have the worst conversion rate off corners, around 2%
  • Arsenal score the fewest goals from direct free kicks, just 2 in the last two years
  • Arsenal score a decent number of headed goals, averaging over 11 per season over the last two years
  • Arsenal score a decent number of goals from crossed free kicks, averaging 5 per season
  • And Arsenal averaged 4 penalties per season over the last two years
  • Add it all up and Arsenal are one of the worst teams in terms of set play goals scored
  • But then, so are Barcelona
  • Except Arsenal ain’t Barcelona

I’ve written about Arsenal’s corner woes, Benjamin Pugsley’s written about Arsenal’s corner woes, and anyone who has even watched a single Arsenal match in the last four or five years knows: Arsenal are terrible at corners.

Let’s get this out of the way, some teams, like Barcelona, simply don’t do corners. And the math adds up for those teams. The fact is that corner conversion, even for the best teams, is somewhere around the same percentage as a long distance shot. So, for example, Man U two years ago had a 7% conversion rate off corners and last year Liverpool had a 5% conversion, both topping this group of teams. Arsenal, meanwhile, had a 2% conversion rate.

A team like Barcelona is more comfortable controlling possession rather than lumping the ball in to the opposition defense and exposing themselves to a swift counter. They would much rather work the ball into a dangerous area than have a speculative shot at goal from a corner, this leads to the often comical scene of Barcelona playing in short corners and working the ball back out to the midfield to work it back in toward goal. But even with their weird non-corner corner routines, Barcelona scores more goals from corners than Arsenal, 6 per season compared to Arsenal’s 4.

2012-2013 Corers

Unlike Barcelona, Arsenal take their corners. They actively try to score off corners and they are simply terrible at it. This means that Arsenal don’t even have the added benefit of not lumping the ball into the opposition box. Thus Arsenal get the worst of both worlds: exposing themselves to counter attacks while not really threatening to score. In short, Arsenal winning a corner has become something to dread rather than something to celebrate.

2013-2014 cornersWhen we look at all the data for Arsenal over the last two years and compare to the other top teams Arsenal seems to have the resources available to be a decent corner scoring side: they are consistently at the top of the group in terms of winning aerial duels, they score a decent number of goals from crossed free kicks, and are right there in terms of headed goals per season.

2012-2013
Arsenal Liverpool Man City Chelsea Man U
Goals from Corners 4 6 8 11 15
Corners per game 5.55 5.89 7.45 6.55 5.68
Corner Conversion Rate 2% 3% 3% 4% 7%
Goals from Crossed Free Kicks 6 2 4 1 6
Headed Goals 11 10 6 18 14
Aerial Duels won % 54% 52% 51% 51% 53%
Goals from Penalties 5 5 4 9 4
Goals from Direct Free Kicks 2 3 2 3 1

But the one place Arsenal are consistently incapable of threatening is from corners.

2013-2014
Man U Arsenal Chelsea Man City Liverpool
Goals from Corners 3 4 8 12 12
Corners per Game 5.68 5.55 6.55 7.45 5.89
Corner Conversion Rate 1% 2% 3% 4% 5%
Goals from Crossed Free Kicks 3 4 4 3 7
Headed Goals 11 12 6 12 14
Aerial Duels won % 48% 53% 54% 51% 49%
Goals from Penalties 5 3 5 6 10
Goals from Direct Free Kicks 5 0 2 5 6

Arsenal, despite having a team full of technical wizards, simply don’t have a player who can step up and belt in a corner. Corner crossing is a skill just like many others in football and one that teams like Liverpool and Man U practice. When Arsenal first hired Steve Bould as assistant manager the team looked like we were going to try some new routines off corners: Mertesacker was sent to be the first man and flick headers on to the back post. But that routine soon died and Arsenal reverted to simply floating balls in to the penalty spot, much to the delight of the opposition defenses.

The reality is that Arsenal’s weakness from all set plays is evident and has been evident for years. Teams routinely foul Arsenal near the 18 yard box and simply don’t mind giving away corners to Arsenal because the team aren’t a threat in those situations. I suspect teams actually relish Arsenal corner situations because my perception is that the Gunners are far more likely to be scored on from a corner than to score from a corner¹. Given that reality, there are just three choices for Arsenal: 1. practice corners, 2. buy someone who can take a corner, 3. stop taking corners.

Qq

¹This stat doesn’t exist and there aren’t any video compilations called “Arsenal, all goals conceded 2013/2014″ so that I can compile the stat. I also don’t have time (today) to go back and watch all 38 League games last season and compile up a stat for all goals conceded off corners that Arsenal won. But do you think it’s really a stretch to say that we conceded 4+ goals off corners we won?

Bundesliga

Toward a model of adjusting player stats for the “personality” of the team and the league

As I said in my first article on this topic I think that Ted Knutson from StatsBomb has a good idea. Individual player’s stats are deceptive and need to be grounded in the context of the “personality” of the team he plays for and the League he plays in. The idea of adjusting individual’s stats for the personality of the team, in his formula he used possession, is solid. The problem is that possession doesn’t map to defensive stats because possession is simply a ratio of passes.

The reality of football is that teams vary wildly in terms of their defensive aggression. How often a team attempts tackles or gathers interceptions has a very weak correlation to possession stats. I want to be clear that I’m not trying to hammer anyone here. Rather, I’m trying to build on Ted’s idea and create a new model which will help us to understand individual player’s stats better.

To that end, take a look at the chart of Premier League teams below (click to embiggen):

defense

In this chart I have sorted the 20 League teams by possession. I have broken down each team’s tackles and interceptions. Then I have taken the League averages for the tackles and interceptions (added together) and the averages for tackles and interceptions. Then I have done a +/- over the average for total, tackles, and interceptions.

What you can see very clearly is that the top five teams who dominate possession also are among the most aggressive defensive teams in the Premier League, with the exception of Arsenal who are essentially an average defensive team. Those top five teams are making more passes than average (that’s what possession measures) and more tackles+interceptions than average. The next three teams are known as defensive teams and yet they have fewer tackles+interceptions numbers than average.

I think that the Chelsea numbers are a good clue as to why teams who have a reputation for boring and defensive football also are less active defensively. If you look at the whole chart, teams with a negative overall defensive number are all well known to be disciplined defensive sides. They aren’t diving into tackles or playing the passing lanes. They sit back, in two banks of four, and play positional defense. That’s my theory anyway.

So, perhaps we could adjust player’s stats based on an overall “defensive aggression” number? Even if we did that, however, we might be wrong adjusting certain player’s stats, like say tackles, on a team like Swansea who (as you can see from the chart) aren’t a very tackle oriented team.

Looking at the next two columns we see a further breakdown of each team’s defensive personality. For example, the most aggressive tackling teams are Stoke, Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Southampton, and Manchester City. I think that’s a fair assessment of the Premier League, actually. Stoke and Liverpool play smash-mouth football, which may offend some Liverpool fans but for anyone who has seen them play you know that they are scrappy and a bit dirty on the defensive end. Crystal Palace is another interesting team. I bet they avoided relegation last year simply with their amazing defensive work rate, that +299 with + in both tackles and interceptions is really crazy.

Regardless of whether you agree about my analysis of Liverpool and Crystal Palace, I think I’ve made my point here with regards to using possession as a means of adjusting player’s stats. Instead we should probably be looking at the personality of the team and using that to adjust a player’s stats. How, exactly, we adjust for that I haven’t figured out yet. I don’t have a math genius here to bounce ideas off of, like Ted does. If you’re a math wiz and you want to help, just leave me a comment below. I’ll get back to you.

In the mean-time, one more thing to consider: a team’s stats also vary from league to league. For example, the Bundesliga is a far more aggressive league in terms of tackles than the Premier League.

BundesligaRemember that Bundesliga teams only play 34 games a season and yet they are averaging 339 more tackles per season than their Premier League rivals! That’s 10 more tackles a game. Per team. For my money that seems like a much more important thing to adjust for than possession.

How do we do that? I don’t know, yet!

Qq