Tag Archives: Walcott

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Everton v. Arsenal Preview: who has the easier run in, plus how much injury hurt Arsenal

I was listening to the Guardian Podcast yesterday when the topic of the race for fourth place came up. Barry Glendenning laid out an argument, which I think is shared by many pundits, for why he wants Everton to beat Arsenal to fourth place. Now, I like Barry, I find him delightfully cantankerous, so I say that not to pick on him, he is a pundit and they are paid to have an opinion. Rather, Glendenning is just one example of many pundits who all seem to want the same thing: Everton to beat Arsenal to 4th place. The pundits all have their different reasons but they mostly come down to wanting to see some new blood in the Champions League. As they say, familiarity breeds contempt.

But for the first time in a long time there is very little between the two teams vying for the 4th Place Cup: Arsenal are on 64 points after 32 games (2ppg), Everton are on 60 points after 31 games (1.94ppg); Arsenal have a goal difference of +19, Everton +18; Arsenal’s leading scorer (Giroud) has 13 goals and 7 assists, Everton’s leading scorer (Lukaku) has 12 goals and 6 assists; and the list goes on*. Granted Arsenal should be doing better but we aren’t and I’ll get to that in a bit. The fact remains that despite our rather large differences in transfer and salary spending, both these teams have very similar records at the moment.

If you’ve been paying attention you will note that Everton are just 4 points behind Arsenal and with a game in hand. This has the pundits (and some rather strange Arsenal supporters) thinking that if Everton can beat Arsenal tomorrow, they will be within 1 point and might could pip Arsenal to the 4th Place Cup.

Arsenal’s final 5 games of the season, though, are against some of the easiest opposition you could hope to face: the relegation fodder and middle-teams who have nothing left to play for. And before you say “yes but Norwich are in a relegation battle, they will fight!” Of course they will fight, so will West Brom, and Allardyce loves to get one over on Wenger, and Hull might even be an FA Cup final preview. But you couldn’t ask for better opposition to play for the final 5 games of the season because these are some very weak teams. For example, Arsenal beat all 5 of them last season, except Norwich who are significantly worse this year than last.

Everton, on the other hand, play Man City, Man U, and Southampton along with Sunderland, Palace and Hull to finish the season off. I feel like Everton might get 11 points from those games whilst I am expecting Arsenal to take all 15. Arsenal should finish 5 points clear of Everton, even if the Toffees win tomorrow.

I don’t think anyone would disagree if I said that Everton do have a slight advantage tomorrow and a win for the Toffees wouldn’t be a far fetched result. I’m not predicting a win, loss, or draw (draw is the most likely result I come up with) but rather just stating what I think is the obvious: If you look at Arsenal’s injury record and current form (P10 W3 D4 L3), along with Everton’s lack of injuries, current form (P10 W6 D1 L3), and home advantage wouldn’t you offer up the draw before kickoff?

And injuries have hit Arsenal hard this season. Insanely hard.

Few predicted that Aaron Ramsey would be the stud that he was at the start of the season. In the first 18 game, Ramsey scored 8 League goals and added 6 assists. That’s good enough to make him Arsenal’s third best goal scorer and playmaker, despite missing the last 14 games. It is impossible to predict how many goals he would have scored or assists he would have laid on but 3 goals and 2 assists more wouldn’t have been at all unreasonable.

More than just goals, Arsenal also missed Ramsey’s work rate: his constant movement meant he was available for the ball and the result is that he led Arsenal in total passes and was third in passing percentage. His defensive work all through the midfield is another key indicator of his work rate, he was first in tackles per game.

Perhaps even more than Ramsey, Arsenal have missed Theo Walcott. It’s common among Arsenal fans to ridicule Walcott as “Unlucky Walcott” but the truth is that it’s been “unlucky Arsenal” to not have him. Last season, Walcott scored 21 goals and had 14 assists on 111 shots, 55 of which he got on target. And this season he was already off to a start that looked set to repeat the feats of last, 6 goals, 4 assists on 53 shots, 23 of which were on target. All in just 18 appearances!

Moreover, the whole team missed Walcott. All of Wenger’s great teams have been built on pace: Overmars and Henry had it in bags and their pace won Arsenal trophies. So, it makes sense that Wenger has groomed Walcott over the years to be the next wide player burning defenders on counters. He’s progressed nicely as a finisher despite what many think and he’s also the kind of play who has grown in terms of creating his own shot, contrary to what you read other places.

2013 2012 2011
SpG 2.944444 2.581395 1.931818
SoG % 52% 45% 45%

Walcott also offered players like Özil, Ramsey, and Wilshere a target man to send through behind the opposition defenses and I literally (literally figuratively) have lost track of the number of times I have heard people say that they wished Arsene had bought a player to do exactly that.

How much have Arsenal missed these two players? You can never really know how much a player would have contributed. But I really feel like Arsenal would be challenging for the title right now had both stayed healthy all year.

It’s a big game for both teams tomorrow and I expect they are going to give everything that they have to win. Arsenal might not have as much to give owing to injury but Ramsey will be on the bench and might even get a cameo at the end depending on the score. After that, Arsenal have to stay clear headed and try to win the double: both the FA and the 4th Place cups are still up for grabs.

Qq

*Even in the top 7 mini-league, both these teams are very similar: Arsenal have a -10 GD, and have earned 1.18 PPG and Everton have a -6 GD and have earned 1 PPG. After Sunday’s match that will change but Arsenal are done with top teams and Everton will have two more left to play.

Think of them like collectables

How big a loss is Walcott and can Arsenal replace him with Gnabry and Ox?

First, a disclaimer: I actively dislike the “Arsenal’s record with X player is Y and without X player is Z” stat. I hate this stat because every season there’s one of these that’s published and it supposedly shows a player’s impact on the team but in reality they tend to just illustrate flukes, streaks, or minuscule differences that look big because of the way they are being presented.

Remember that stat about how Arsenal never lost when Djourou played a full 90 minutes? That made all the rounds until Djourou reverted to form and was shunted back to Deadwood.

But for whatever reason this stat captivates people, moreso than actually meaningful stats. So, when WhoScored tweeted:

People took a look at that difference in win% and thought, “oh no, Arsenal are going to lose 5.5% more games!” But, if you look at what that number actually means, you see that if you extrapolate +5.5% over the 8 seasons they measured, Arsenal would have won 9 more total games. Total. In 8 seasons. Twitter user @dorkkly made this graphic to illustrate the concept:

Dorkly

Some people took exception to me pointing that out on twitter and claimed that over the last three or four years Walcott’s impact has been greater. So I looked at that and sure enough, Walcott has had very little impact on the overall points difference for Arsenal whether he plays or not. The +5% win rate is the same but the PPG? 0.04.

walcott

 

This is Arsenal’s leading goal scorer last season, 14 goals and 10 assists, making almost no impact? Something tells me that this “X wins with and Y wins without” stat is at best misleading and at worst may be just downright wrong. Do you really think the club would have found 24 goals from someone else last year?

Maybe they would have. Maybe that’s when Cazorla steps up or Podolski steps in? Those contributions, though, have to come from somewhere. To paraphrase, those 24 goals aren’t going to score themselves. And most folks think Gnabry and Ox will step in and fill Theo’s speedy boots.

I really hope so, but based on my analysis this is a huge step up for them.

per-90

 

It’s difficult to say with both Ox and Serge because both of them have played precious few minutes and we know that most players need minutes, consistent minutes, to put down good stats. Gnabry, in particular, has so little data that I’m actually ashamed of putting those states in that graphic above. I’ll probably receive a stern warning from the Statslords for “excessive use of small sample sizes” but instead of looking at that chart and saying “they’ll never replace Walcott” look at Walcott’s numbers as targets.

Both players are better dribblers than Walcott and that’s based on both data and anecdotal evidence, so that’s a huge plus in their book. They are exactly the kind of player we want to help us break down teams that park the bus.

Gnabry and Ox also have that surprise factor, in that defenses don’t have experience dealing with their eccentricities so they can use that to their advantage, especially in the next few months.

What you might be tempted to think will go missing are Walcott’s crosses and key passes but here’s the thing… A lot of Walcott’s successful crosses and key passes come from corners. Corners that Cazorla and Özil can and will take from now on. That leaves the two young bucks to get crosses from the by-line in to others in the box, a Walcott specialty. With their control and dribbling ability, I think both of them will be able to perform that function admirably.

The big question for me is where Arsenal will get Walcott’s goals. Notice I didn’t do a “Per 90″ for goals and assists. That’s because goals and assists are unlike other stats in that they are rare and change games radically. This is where I am most hesitant to say that Arsenal will replace Theo easily. Walcott has a knack for scoring (or assisting) early in matches and this has been huge for Arsenal in the last year. Those early leads have allowed the Gunners to sit back soaking up pressure rather than camping in the opposition half trying to break down a team playing for a 0-0 draw, like Chelsea.

So, in some ways I think Walcott can be replaced: crosses, dribbles, and even shots will be redistributed among the others. But where I’m a lot less sure is in the place where it really matters: goals. 24 goals last season (scored and assisted) is a huge burden to place on the shoulders of two young men. The whole team is going to have to step up to fill in that stat.

And maybe they can? I mean, after all, without Walcott, the team only averaged -1.5 points per season less over the last 4 years.

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Gala

Why Walcott is going to be better and why Arsenal will land Suarez

Well, that loss to Galatasaray was predictable. Arsenal are controlling the match, Walcott scores a goal from a patented cross-cum-shot, and I start to get comfortable. Then I notice that Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder are warming up on the sidelines and I immediately think, “oh boy, Drogba’s going to come on and win this for them.” And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Granted, there was more to the story than that but that’s the gist.

The more to it is that Arsenal have looked a bit strange throughout this pre-season. The tiki-taka that we are used to has been replaced by players dribbling into culs de sac or dribbling straight at the opposition defenders to little or no effect. Napoli simply double-teamed the Arsenal midfield whenever they had the ball and took possession from us and Gala just let them dribble into the defenders and took the ball away there.

Oxlade Chamberlain has been particularly guilty of this throughout the pre-season and yesterday in particular made a hash of nearly every possession. At least that’s how it seemed. He drew a couple fouls but other than that he was largely ineffectual.

Perhaps it was the fatigue that Wenger pinned the blame on after the game. I’m sure that played a part. But I’m also sure that the team is trying something a little different this season with a number of players (TheOx, Theo, Ramsey) dribbling more than I’ve ever seen before.

Walcott scored Arsenal’s only goal and I think we can all agree that he didn’t mean it. He meant the cross, but when Mertesacker hesitated and let the dummy through, the keeper was caught out and the ball tamely bumbled into goal.

Meanwhile, Drogba continued his dominance of both the referees and the Arsenal center backs. Getting a penalty for a blatant dive and scoring a good goal when a clearly tired Mertesacker put in a performance from as the cart-horse turneth.

Walcott scored a lucky goal but forwards need some luck and overall the man is getting better every season since he’s been at Arsenal. So much better that if the Gunners were to fail in their bid for Suarez I wouldn’t at all be surprised to hear Arsene Wenger say that securing Walcott’s signature last winter was the most important piece of transfer business that the club could do this year.

Just because I know that some of you won’t believe me that Walcott is getting better. Here’s the chart of his shots per season (all competitions, including internationals) and shots on goal per season:

Theo

Note the trend upwards (more shots = more good, right?).

Here’s the chart for his games per goal or assist ratio:

games-goal-assist

Note the trend downward (that’s also good).

In all, Theo scored a career high 22 goals and got 16 assists last season. He got 51% of his shots on target and converted a career high 38% of his shots on goal. His overall career trend right now is up.

That’s not to say that Arsenal don’t need players. I think the fatigue in this tournament which Wenger said “was a real surprise” is indicative of the team’s lack of real depth in several key positions. And it’s a bit worrying because Arsenal built their 4th place run on solid defense and we seem to have reverted to a form from a few years back. Though, I pinky-promise not to get too upset over a loss and a draw in pre-season play.

Still, even if Walcott’s on the verge of coming good and Wilshere’s healthy and Rambo is ready to draw first blood, we need players, right? For example, right back. It would be a massive gamble to go into the season with just Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Sagna, Jenkinson, Gibbs and Monreal. I like Sagna as a center back, I think he shows all the qualities that we want from a central defender: he’s physically powerful, he’s a great tackler, he’s got loads of pace, and he’s Arsenal’s most dominant aerial defender. So I have no problem with Sagna competing with the others for the starting center back role. But what I don’t want to see happen is him holding down two positions (right back and center back) because if he gets hurt then we lose cover for not just one position but two.

If you ask nearly anyone in the whole world in Arsenal need to make a few signings they will read you the list: defender, keeper, defensive mid, forward, and maybe creative mid.

But that’s just the thing, the buzz around whether Arsenal will make some signings or not has reached the point of hysteria. After the game, some reporter asked Didier Drogba about what he thought of Arsenal ahead of the Premier League season: ”I think they are a good team. Every season that have a good team and good players. Every season is different so I cannot judge them on just this one game.”

Not getting the headline answer he wanted, the reporter pressed with “do you think Arsenal need to strengthen to get up there with Chelsea?” and Drogba quickly responded with “I don’t know. I’m not the manager of Arsenal so my opinion doesn’t matter on that.”

Once reporters are interviewing Drogba for his opinion on Arsenal’s transfer dealings I think we can confidently state that they have run out of people to interview for this topic. For an encore, I suggest that TalkSport has Wayne Brady interview a jar of Nutella for it’s opinion on Arsenal’s squad strength.

But even the rustiest of in Arsene we rusters has to admit that Wenger knows that Arsenal need to strengthen the squad and that Wenger is willing to splash the cash. You know for a fact that he bid £40,000,001 for Luis Suarez. £40m bids on one player is not chump change. That’s a bid that very few teams could or would ever lodge for a player. Meanwhile, Suarez may be despicable but he is widely seen as one of the few players in world football who could improve Arsenal and Suarez may prefer Real Madrid but he would gladly come to us because we are a major step up from Liverpool.

Nope, I think that Arsenal are going to get Suarez one way or another. I think that because we know for a fact that there is a £40m clause in the Suarez contract — though Liverpool are not revealing what that clause is. I have heard it rumored that the clause, however, can only be activated by a “Champions League” team. Arsenal have not yet, technically, qualified for the Champions League. Thus, if Arsenal qualify for the Champions League (on the 28th of August!), then it will activate the clause in Suarez’ contract, Arsenal will get their man and Liverpool’s nightmare scenario will come true: they will sell their best player to a key 4th place rival, and late in the transfer window to boot.

Or they won’t qualify and Arsenal will have to bid £50m for him. But I still believe Wenger and Arsenal are going to spend a big load of money before September.

Qq