- In the last 4 meetings between these two teams at the Britannia stadium both teams have the same record: P4 W1 D2 L1
- In those same 4 meetings both teams have won 3-1 once, drawn 1-1 once, and drawn 0-0 once
- In the last meeting at the Britannia, Peter Crouch won 18/21 aerial duels and was only called for three fouls, all of which he complained about
- Thomas Vermaelen might start at left back and he won 6/13 aerial duels in that same game, leading Arsenal (Diaby won 6/17)
- Giroud won 5/12 aerial duels in that same game, none in the Stoke final 1/3, 1 in the Arsenal defensive 1/3
- In the last meeting Stoke only completed 150 passes
- In that same match both teams made 70 aerial duels, Stoke won 41 of them. Yes, 70 aerial duels in one game. Arsenal only averaged 17 aerial duels per game last season. Arsenal average 17 aerial duels per game this season as well.
- Peter Crouch is averaging 8 aerial duels per game this season, second in the League behind Christian Benteke
- Giroud leads Arsenal with 4 aerials per game
- Bacary Sagna is second at Arsenal this season with 3.8 aerials per game, just 17 fewer total aerials won than Giroud
- Sagna is 18 cm shorter than Giroud
- Vermaelen might start tomorrow at left back, he won 55% of his aerial duels last season. Crouch won 66%, and Koscielny wins 57% this season.
- Stoke will probably angle long passes in to Crouch against Koz and Vermaelen because Mertesacker has won 72% of his aerial duels
- Crouch has scored 7 goals against Arsenal, his second highest tally against any team (Opta stat that you’ve seen floating around)
- Over the last 10 years, Arsenal have only averaged 1.66 points per game away from home and Stoke have averaged 1.61 points per game at home
- This season, Arsenal are averaging 2 points per game away from home and Stoke are averaging 1.62 points per game at home
If you compare match for match last season to this season, Arsenal are dead even on points, have scored four fewer goals, and yet with the games remaining there is a very real chance for Arsenal to win their first League title since the Invincibles.
Many of the media elites argue that this is Arsenal’s best chance at a trophy in years — citing the closeness of the race, the fact that Arsenal were leading the League for much of the season, and the void left at the top by the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. And sure enough, looking at the Cann table from last year to this produces a rather dramatic presentation of the two seasons.
12 points clear with 11 matches remaining, Man Utd at this point last season were presumptive champions and the excitement in the League was in following which teams would get relegated; from the League and from the top four. Arsenal were four points behind Spurs and were just getting ready to start their “negative spiral” up the table to eventually overhaul their North London neighbors.
Now this season. The table is topped by Chelsea with Arsenal just one point below, Man City three points back (but with a game in hand), Liverpool four points back, and Tottenham 10 points off the leaders. Whereas last season there was a clear favorite, there are now three clubs who can take the lead on any given weekend and a fourth club who would need two good weeks over all three of the other clubs in order to get into the title equation. In that sense, you can see why people feel this is the most open title race in years.
But when you look at total spend on players, this race shouldn’t even be this close. You don’t have to agree but the fact remains that spending huge sums improves your club’s chances of winning trophies. Chelsea and Man City have proven that in spades and there is no end of the spend in sight for either of those two clubs. If Jose Mourinho’s team is a “little horse” it is a little horse with a gilded saddle and a feed bag full of caviar — the perfect little horse for Chelsea’s Napoleon to ride in on.
But while everyone was ogling the riches Man City and Chelsea are throwing around people seem to have forgotten that Man Utd spent their fair share as well. This season alone, Moyes spent £67m on transfers in to boost his squad, buying Mata and Fellaini. It’s not been for lack of spend that United are struggling, but for lack of management.
Meanwhile, plucky little Scouse underdogs, Liverpool, have had the same problem as Moyes. Brendan Rodgers is a serial spender in the transfer market, plumping out huge sums for players like Joe Allen (£16m) and taking a huge dump on Stewart Downing when they lost £15m selling him to West Ham. This season he spent another huge sum, £17m, for Sakho who has been “less than convincing.” Rodgers’ most important transfer dealings in his career has actually been to keep Luis Suarez. Without the Uruguayan having a career season, the Liverpool defense, which has more holes than a sunken ship, would be dragging them back in to mid-table mediocrity. And they might still yet miss out on 4th place if Suarez has his annual freak out ahead of the World Cup.
Top seven clubs, last three seasons transfer spend:
Man City £165m
Man U £159m
The media elites will go on about what an open season this is for Arsenal and what a chance to win the title but for me this is just the first of many rebuilding seasons with the Arsenal. Wenger’s grand plan to build a team around Cesc and van Persie has been utterly overhauled and he has now become much more pragmatic in the transfer market, buying seasoned professionals like Santi Cazorla, Per Mertesacker, and Mikel Arteta instead of players for the future. This season, he added a sparkling new gem to the squad when he captured German International Mesut Özil from Real Madrid so, with a hugely talented base of seasoned professionals, a framework of young players who have been at the club for years, and a topping of a big-money signing, what I’m looking for, then, is an improvement. Sadly, if we count results from this year to last, Arsenal have stayed a bit static, and by some measures even fallen a bit short.
Take a look at the graphic above. I’ve matched up Arsenal’s results from last term (on the left) with the results from this term (on the right). Then I took the points difference between the results, the goal difference between the results, and the goals conceded difference between the results and created a table on the far right. The colored bars are for the 11 matches Arsenal still have yet to play: red bars indicated losses last season, yellow bars are draws, and green bars were games we won.
The first thing to notice is that Arsenal are dead even on points with the results that we had last season. This, combined with our second place ranking, indicates that Arsenal had a relatively weak schedule to start the season off and when you look at the fact that of the 11 games remaining this year our record last season was W4 D2 L5, you can see that Arsenal are headed into a very rough patch of games.
Rough patch, or you could think of those 11 games as an opportunity to pick up some points. For example, using my color bars, think of the green as “must win,” and yellow or red as “opportunity to pick up points”. Then any red bar becomes a chance to earn points with either a draw or a win and the yellow a chance to earn points with a win. Now, Arsenal have 7/11 chances to earn more points than last season.
For example if Arsenal earn a draw at home to Man City, away to Chelsea, away to Spurs, home to Swansea, and away to Norwich they will actually be four points better off than they were last season. Draws in all those matches would hardly be a string of memorable results but given the results of the season prior would indicate that Arsenal are in better form over last season. Turn any of those losses into wins and we are even better off.
No, I look at the record Arsenal had in the comparable 11 games last season and I take heart. To finish this season with the same points total as last season, Arsenal would have to go W4 D2 L5 or some equivalent which would leave Arsenal earning just 14 points from our last 11 games. Losing 5 of the remaining 11 matches seems almost impossible, especially when you consider that Arsenal have only lost 6 League matches in the last three years worth of run-in’s from February to May.
Where all this starts is this weekend against Stoke. Arsenal earned a 0-0 draw in this match last season and a win there puts Arsenal 2 points better off than last season. The perfect way to kick off the end of season run-in.
I know that I’m going to get a lot of stick for this but it needs to be said, I hate to see a woman in public, shopping at the Safeway, hanging out at a bar, do anything but doing actual yoga, whilst wearing a pair of yoga pants. The form-fitting yoga pant, the biker shorts of the new millennium, may appeal to some men’s more prurient interests but whenever I see a woman wearing yoga pants in public I kind of figure she’s just gone ahead and given up on life.
And before you accuse me of being sexist, I also feel the same way about seeing a man in a pair of yoga pants, ever. Or a man, shuffling along this mortal coil in a pair of sweats. Wear the yoga pants to and from the gym. Wear the sweats to and from the gym. But wearing a pair of sweats to a craft fair or out shopping? No. They are disrespecting themselves by not wearing actual clothing in public.*
This is about self respect. You take a bath. You comb your hair. You brush your teeth. You get dressed. Life requires you to put a little effort into it, you can’t fake life. You do not just roll up off the couch in a pair of yoga pants and think for a moment that you’re going to impress anyone just because they are tight and hide all your imperfections.
And just to make this point perfectly clear, when I was in Munich I saw zero women wearing yoga pants in public and as soon as I landed in Seattle, yoga pants as far as the eye can see. See, the women in Munich had self respect, the women in Seattle, had yoga pants. Munich is a bustling city full of beautiful, intelligent people, who all speak multiple languages and Seattle is full of people who think they look great wearing their give up on life pants.
And yesterday, as I sat there re-watching Arsenal v. Liverpool**, I was overwhelmed with the thought that Arsenal had put on their give up on life pants. Arsenal weren’t just beaten, they looked like a team that lacked cohesion, that lacked a plan, and that lacked self-respect. And that last bit, about self-respect, that’s the hardest part to swallow.
Let’s get this out of the way; the first goal was offiside. And not only that, but it was an insanely soft foul. And the second goal, I don’t think Squirtle could hit that shot again in his lifetime. So, down 2-0 in the opening minutes of the game and what did Arsenal do? They pulled on their give up on life pants.
I lost count of how many times Özil was surrounded by three Liverpool players. Or how many times he was left on an island and had to bail himself out. Opta gave Özil two “error that led to a goal” marks on the day, making that easily his worst ever performance as a professional footballer. But for me, placing the blame for those turnovers all on Özil is harsh. If Özil has three Liverpool players on him, there should have been an open man to play the ball to, but each and every time he was dispossessed, Özil was left going it all alone. That is not a failure on Özil’s part, that is a failure on the whole team’s part.
Time and again, you saw the team not pulling together, not helping each other, and let’s just say it, there were a lot of players hiding. It was as if no one wanted to be seen in public wearing their sweat pants, so they refused to make eye contact.
Wilshere and Cazorla in particular left Özil and Arteta out to dry on numerous occasions. I made light of this in the ArseAmerica Podcast last week, but Özil often seems to be playing behind Sagna, and against Liverpool, Sagna’s positioning — well in advance of everyone it seemed — was exploited easily by Sterling and Suarez. That third goal for Sterling was entirely down to terrible team defense. Did you notice that Jack looked over and saw Sterling was wide open? Twice he looked, yet, he still covered the middle because he had a man in the middle as well. Not only that but I doubt Jack could have won that footrace, Sterling is just much faster and already had a jump on him. But someone should have been covering Sterling, or at least someone should have been in the right back spot, or a right wing spot, something, anything. And after Sterling scored, Sagna finished his jog back, looked at Jack and shrugged his shoulders. Give up on life pants.
Sagna shrugging his shoulders and Jack screaming at his teammates was exactly the problem. The team was disjointed and looked like they didn’t know what to do, offensively and defensively. As Todd so rightly pointed out in the comments yesterday, Arsenal didn’t defend as a unit and didn’t create as a unit. And worse, they played loose and free with the ball when they were 2-0 down, 3-0 down, and 4-0 down, so much so that I felt Liverpool were unlucky not to have beaten Arsenal 8-0.
And that’s really incredible when you think of how much work Arsenal have put in to perfecting team defense. Incredible when you think about Arsenal’s well earned reputation for slick team passing. Incredible when you remember that Jack Wilshere goal earlier in the season, or the swarming way that Arsenal attacked Napoli earlier in the season, and the way that Arsenal played defense for most of this season as a unit, defending set plays well and forcing the opposition into long shots rather than the tap-ins that Liverpool earned as we trundled around, 11 lost souls on a sea of despair.
It’s also incredible that this Arsenal team, who built their top of the table form by hitting the opposition quickly, jumping out to an early lead, and then parking le autobus, has now reverted to a team which boils slowly and has to play catch up. It’s not a perception, either, it’s real: Arsenal used to score early but have only score in the first half of games twice in the last 11.
It’s no coincidence that our tough run of form directly coincides with Ramsey’s injury. The Welshman is the man in the middle of the park. People asking for a defensive midfielder forget that Ramsey makes 6 tackles a game on average (winning the ball 3.7 times). Wilshere, gods bless his thunder thighs, didn’t attempt a single tackle against Liverpool. Zero. And he only attempts 2.2 a game on average anyway. Meanwhile Arteta, in the main holding role, is trying 5.3 tackles a game but he’s obviously not got the stamina and speed that Ramsey has and is far too easily bypassed by younger players.
In fact, Ramsey’s contributions all over the pitch are being missed right now. Remember last year when everyone lauded him for “not hiding” and were given a lot of stick? We could have used a player like Ramsey against Liverpool, since Cazorla and Wilshere were absent. We could have used his runs from midfield, which overloaded opposition defenses opening things for everyone else. We could use him next to Özil, helping to take some of the pressure off the German, providing that outlet, and getting his own great passes in to split the defense. Goals, assists, key passes, tackles, interceptions, ball recoveries, you name it, Ramsey does it. Arsenal, the team which relies so heavily on midfield to win games, needs our midfield maestro back.
But until we get him back, and fully fit, and 100%, Arsenal need to adjust. We need to look at how we lost that game, how they beat us by pressing, how we didn’t defend as a unit, and we need to get back to basics. Wednesday’s match is absolutely critical now. Man Untied will have watched all the tapes and will be prepared to copy what Liverpool, Man City, and Southampton did.
Everyone has a bad day and on that bad day you might be seen in public wearing yoga pants. Arsenal have had a few bad days. But there can be no more yoga pants. No more room for feeling sorry for ourselves. We are the Arsenal and we need to pull on our big-boy pants and show the world we have some dignity left.
*And don’t even get me started on this scam: somehow the folks at BetaBrand are marketing $100 “dress sweatpants.” Pants for the person who has no self respect, but doesn’t want anyone to know.
**Because I’m a masochist.
PS: I want to thank everyone who made yesterday’s blog a roaring success. I hope you all used it the way I did, as a tool for catharsis.
PPS: The Goonersphere Podcast is offering up an Anfield 1989 #4 Thomas shirt. You should really get in on that.
— Goonersphere Podcast (@GoonerspherePod) February 10, 2014