An Introduction to Zone Entries

By Danny Pugsley

Welcome to a little project.

 

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Both here at StatsBomb and over at my more regular home at Bitter and Blue there has been a lot of great work of late looking shots; areas such as placement, distance and conversion. My particular interest though has been to take a step back from this: to look at how shots are generated; what are the successful drivers behind getting a shot at goal and are there are any patterns that a side displays?

The germ of the idea, as, admittedly, a lot of the areas of analytics that spark my interest, was formulated with hockey with some great work having been done over the past couple of seasons (example here) led by Eric Tulsky, who had a paper presented on this subject at last years MIT Sloan Conference.

So, what do we measure? Well, for a start all the data has to be manually recorded so as much as the possibility of watching endless Premier League games thrills me, for now we will have to stick to just Manchester City. (Incidentally, one of the successes of the venture in hockey is the way in which it has spread across the NHL with a number of teams now having this data recorded).

Essentially, every time City either make a final third entry or concede a final third entry this is recorded. We note the entry type (carry, header, turnover or short, medium or long pass), the individual making the entry and the outcome (dispossessed, turnover, corner won, fouled or shot (inside and outside the box) with the shot outcome (saved, wide, blocked or goal)) also noted. Once processed, this then produces the following tables on a weekly basis, with the following tables being City’s early season totals after the Newcastle and Cardiff games:

Team entry summary

 

Team Carry Turnover Header Short pass Med pass Long pass Total
City 21 2 0 62 28 3 116
Opposition 8 2 0 14 8 11 43

 

Outcome per entry type

 

City Enries Dispossed Turnover back out Corner won Fouled Total shots Shot in box Shot o/s box Blocked Saved Wide Goal Shots p/e Goals p/e
Carry 21 8 4 0 1 2 6 5 1 1 3 1 1 28.57 4.76
Turnover 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 50.00 50.00
Header 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 n/a n/a
Short Pass 62 12 21 10 5 1 13 11 2 4 2 6 1 20.97 1.61
Med pass 28 7 8 2 2 0 9 8 1 0 3 3 3 32.14 10.71
Long pass 3 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
Total 116 28 35 12 8 4 29 25 4 5 8 10 6 25.00 5.17
Opposition Entries Dispossed Turnover back out Corner won Fouled Total shots Shot in box Shot o/s box Blocked Saved Wide Goal Shots p/e Goals p/e
Carry 8 1 2 1 0 1 3 1 2 1 1 0 2 37.50 25.00
Turnover 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
Header 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 n/a n/a
Short Pass 14 7 3 0 1 0 3 1 2 1 1 1 0 21.43 0.00
Med pass 8 0 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
Long pass 11 2 6 1 0 0 2 2 0 0 1 0 1 18.18 9.09
Total 43 11 19 2 1 2 8 4 4 2 3 1 3 18.60 6.98

 

Entry per individual

 

City Entries Carry Turnover Header Short pass Med pass Long pass
Hart 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Zabaleta 11 2 0 0 7 2 0
Clichy 20 2 0 0 12 5 1
Kompany 2 0 0 0 0 2 0
Lescott 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
Toure 14 0 0 0 6 7 1
Fernandinho 9 1 1 0 3 4 0
Silva 23 3 0 0 16 3 1
Navas 14 7 0 0 5 2 0
Aguero 8 4 0 0 4 0 0
Dzeko 5 1 0 0 3 1 0
Garcia 1 0 0 0 0 1 0
Nasri 5 1 0 0 3 1 0
Negredo 1 0 0 0 1 0 0
Milner 2 0 0 0 2 0 0
Total 116 21 2 0 60 28 3

 

Outcome per individual

 

City Total Dispossed Turnover Back out Fouled Corner won Total shots Shot in box Shot o/s box Blocked Saved Wide Goal Shots p/e Goals p/e
Hart 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 n/a n/a
Zabaleta 11 2 5 1 0 0 3 3 0 1 0 1 1 27.27 9.09
Clichy 20 4 7 2 0 2 5 5 0 1 2 1 1 25.00 5.00
Kompany 2 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 50.00 50.00
Lescott 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0.00 100.00
Toure 14 2 7 2 0 1 2 0 2 0 0 1 1 14.29 7.14
Fernandinho 9 4 1 1 0 1 2 2 0 0 0 2 0 22.22 0.00
Silva 24 5 6 2 1 2 8 7 1 1 2 3 1 33.33 4.17
Navas 14 5 4 1 1 1 2 2 0 1 1 0 0 14.29 0.00
Aguero 8 3 4 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 12.50 0.00
Dzeko 5 1 0 1 1 0 2 2 0 0 1 1 0 40.00 0.00
Garcia 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 100.00 0.00
Nasri 4 0 1 2 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 25.00 0.00
Negredo 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 100.00 0.00
Milner 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.00 0.00
Total 116 27 35 12 4 7 29 25 4 5 8 11 6 25.00 5.17

 

Ben also took a retrospective look at the zone entries for the Champions League final, and whilst the purpose of the project is to ultimately look at the data over the course of a season, it may also shed an interesting and insightful light on individual games.

We can also see over even such a short sample size that City appear to favour certain entry types (short pass or carry) with certain players also driving these entries.

What was interesting to compare between the two games in particular (which you can do with the data dump over at Bitter and Blue) was the increased number of turnovers against Cardiff than against Newcastle, the use of their full backs high up the field and how certain players (notably Edin Dzeko and Jesus Navas) had far less entries.

There is the data dump over at Bitter and Blue which I will update weekly and this is a topic I will return to regularly here as the season progresses but in the meantime I’d be interested in any initial thoughts or comments.

 

The StatsBomb Podcast – EPL Week 2

Our readers asked us to do an analytics podcast. Despite both Ben and I being fairly skeptical, we listened. Here’s our first effort, discussing Chelsea v. ManU, Real Madrid’s start to the season, what we like and don’t like from the first two weeks, transfer news from around the league, and finally some short previews of the big matches last weekend. [soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/107486809″ params=”” width=” 100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /] We’ll run this as a trial for 3-4 weeks and see what everyone thinks and then make a decision on the long-term. If you like it, tell us and your friends. Thanks! –Ted and Ben

10 Points: SoT% Rating, Bale, MNF & Newcastle’s Sunderland Impression (Wk 2)

By Ben Pugsley

 

1) Monday Night Football

Remember a time when Monday Night Football was an afterthought? It is very far from an afterthought now. In fact, MNF is easily Sky’s best football feature of the week. Ed Chamberlain anchors the program nicely, never overbearing or too talkative. The tech set-up is marvelous, but let’s be honest – this is the Gary Neville show.

Neville is punchy in his analysis, short and concise in his explanations of the intricacies of the game of football. But it wasn’t always this way. I distinctly recall Neville’s debut on MNF, it was Man City v Swansea, and Neville looked nervous and uneasy, unsure of himself.

Neville has come a long way since then, and this gives us hope that Carragher can follow a similar path – initial nervousness and a steep learning curve, before finally settling in and becoming a pundit who can teach us as much about the game as Neville already has.

This is excellent.

2) Arsenal Win!

Panic over!

After an Arsenal loss in week 1 panic was rife. Wenger was lambasted for his failure to spend, the team wasn’t good enough. Now, these arguments may have merit when looking at the bigger picture, but surely we can’t draw such conclusions after a single game. Or even two games.

Arsenal may need to strengthen in order to compete for a place in the top 4 and the club does have issues when playing against quality opposition.

What Wenger excels at is setting up his teams to crush sub-par opposition.

Arsenal’s Fixture List With Opponents Shots on Target Ratio At The Time Of Fixture.

 

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In 2012/13 Arsenal were a fine team when playing against opposition with a SoTR of less than 0.50. But problems arose when Arsenal played teams with a SoTR >0.50, a W 1 D 7 L 5 is testament to that.

In short, Arsenal’s opening day loss to Villa may have simply been ‘one of those results’, Arsenal’s win against Fulham was a return to normality and was completely expected. We shouldn’t have read too much into the opening day loss and we shouldn’t read too much into Arsenal’s away win against what will likely be a sub-par shots team.

The above graph poses a question, though: Is Arsenal’s failure to hold their own against >par SoTR teams a fault with Wenger’s tactics, or do Arsenal simply not have enough quality players?

3) Final Third Passing Ratio

As usual, I am counting a huge amount of statistics for the Premier League in 2013/14. One of the new categories this year is Final Third Passes. Now if you count final third passes for and against we can calculate a plus/minus number. We can also calculate a teams ratio of final third passe. If you set your database up correctly you can also calculate home and away and moving averages for final third passes.

Here’s what I have so far:

Final Third Passes

Team For Against + / – Ratio
Man City 368 137 231 72.87
Everton 372 182 190 67.15
Tottenham 302 187 115 61.76
Liverpool 337 216 121 60.94
Southampton 279 196 83 58.74
Arsenal 296 208 88 58.73
Chelsea 471 359 112 56.75
West Ham 248 215 33 53.56
Sunderland 242 218 24 52.61
Man United 284 292 -8 49.31
Swansea 240 250 -10 48.98
Norwich 266 299 -33 47.08
Newcastle 201 262 -61 43.41
Stoke 204 290 -86 41.3
Aston Villa 308 452 -144 40.53
Palace 194 288 -94 40.25
Hull 210 332 -122 38.75
Fulham 191 302 -111 38.74
West Brom 187 312 -125 37.47
Cardiff 151 354 -203 29.9

 

In the coming weeks I will explain in a little more detail just how we can use final third passes to evaluate a team strength.

4) Man City And Corners

Joe Hart and his Manchester City team-mates are taking a little heat right now for the 3-2 loss at Cardiff. That loss featured two Cardiff goals from just three corners. You probably don’t need me to tell you how rare conceding two goals from corners is in a single game. It’s rare. By my count, Man United (away at Reading) and Man City (vs Ajax) are just two of the teams who managed the infamous feat last year.

Both of Cardiff’s corner goals were created by excellent deliveries into the box, with Hart looking to be particularly culpable for Cardiff’s goal that gave the Bluebirds the lead. I don’t think anyone should over-react to the two goals that were conceded. Zabaletta switched off for Cardiff’s first corner goal and Lescott, surprisingly, was beaten to the ball on the second corner goal. Neither of those lapses by Zabaletta or Lescott are common occurences.

Shit happens, conceding two set piece goals in a single game likely won’t happen again all season. More on City defending those corneres can be found here (link).

5) Newcastle Zzzzz

There are a lot of interesting things going on at Newcastle, Kinnear, lack of transfer spend, Pardew’s job security. Unfortunately none of these things are taking place on the pitch, where Newcastle are doing their best ‘early season Sunderland 12/13 impression’.

Newcastle have had just one shot on target in ~190 minutes of football this season. I can forgive them for the away trip to Man City, red card and hammerings et cetera, but West Ham were an easy game for a home team in 12/13 and I suspect they may well be an easy game once again in 2013/14.

Newcastle are at home to Fulham next Saturday. If Newcastle don’t win, or at least put on an improved offensive display against another poor travelling team, then the polite early season atmosphere may become more toxic than darkly humorous.

6) One Nil To The Arsenal Spurs & Liverpool

Spurs and Liverpool both have six points on the board from their two games played, and although both teams may have been far from impressive in racking up their points totals, a win is a win. It is also worth noting that the early part of any season is a minefield. We have promoted teams, new managers and new players to bed in to new systems.

The newness can make early season form difficult to predict and considering Tottenham have the Bale distraction and about 39 new players to bed in, their results are just fine. Liverpool, well, they have new signings to integrate and are currently playing without their best player who, despite some of the protestations of the analytics community, will improve this team upon his return.

A win is a win at this early stage, worry about the underlying performance indicators after 7 or 8 games or so.

7) Gareth Bale

The Welsh Ronaldo. The shots volume monster. The one man team. I have written more words about Gareth Bale in 10 Points than any other player. I have been a huge admirer of Bale since I first created this weekend round-up – I implored City to buy him as early as last January – and these may be some of the last words I write about the player for the transfer deadline is approaching fast.

You know, Bale may shoot too much, he may be a greedy bastard, some of his goals scored may regress from last seasons high, but I still think this is a beauty of a player. He is 24, has all the physical skills that are so pleasing on the eye and Tottenham, although they have bought well, may have a hard time replacing his performance.

This (link) by the super smart @halfagain touches on the difficultly of replacing a outstanding player:

However, there’s another measure of value in football, one that’s ultimately more important: value per minute of available playing time. While their respective contracts and transfer purchase prices (Jovetic + Negredo < Cavani in total), will likely prove better value per dollar, and perhaps higher in absolute production, it requires minutes from two putative starter-ish players, rather than the minutes from one position.

If we replace Cavani with Bale and Jovetic & Negredo with Lamela and Soldado then the above quote clearly highlights the difficulty in replacing a superstars performance per minutes played. It may take two players to replace Bale’s performance and that likely means an minutes played efficiency loss for Tottenham.

I’m gonna miss Bale, 40 yard shots and all. He is a rare, exciting talent who is technically out of this world and the Premier League will be a poorer without him. Or……he may well stay at Spurs for one more season. My Lord.

 

8) Shots On Target % Rating

Bear with me on this one. Over the last year or so I have ran Shooting Accuracy% (SoT%) for and against, this is simply shots on target/total shots. Shooting Accuracy% (SoT%) measures how efficient a team is ast getting it’s shots on net and preventing the opposition from doing likewise.

This is where Shots On Target % Rating comes in. To calculate the rating we take each teams SoT% for and add it to that teams SoT% prevention number (if the opposition has 10 shots and 3 of them are on target the prevention% is 70%).

Add the SoT% to the SoT Prevention% and we end up with a table like the one below.

Week 2

SoT% Rating
West Ham 117.26
Palace 117.11
Southampton 114.95
Aston Villa 111.43
Everton 109.05
Fulham 108.1
Liverpool 107.86
Swansea 102.98
Stoke 102.97
Man United 102.31
Cardiff 102.1
Man City 101.59
Hull 100.79
Chelsea 97.49
Norwich 95.24
Arsenal 90.09
Sunderland 88.87
West Brom 80
Tottenham 58.97
Newcastle 58.61

 

Yes, Tottenham’s number is correct. League average rating is 100, and although we are only two weeks into the season some teams have a nice rating number.

This may well be something I come back to once a few (8) more game weeks have elapsed. I have these numbers by Game State too, which may well tell us some cool things about score effects and defensive shells. Again, we’d need more data first.

Any thoughts?

9) Kolo Toure

I don’t really know what is going on here, but I liked it. Via @Green_Scouser Obviously I was struggling to fill point #9!

10) Goal Of The Week

An honourable mention to Danny Sturridge but Dzeko takes it. A slight deflection?

Liverpool’s Defensive Shell

Despite the relative ease of Liverpool’s opening pair of Premier League fixtures, six points is a pleasing return. I thought yesterday’s win away at Aston Villa was mighty interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly what Liverpool didn’t do: counter attack with any great threat once they were one goal to the good. And secondly, what Liverpool did do: shelled pretty heavily. Now, I once again discussed defensive shells in last week’s 10 Points column, Ted then elaborated on that topic further in fine style. Teams who have a one goal lead tend to sit back, tighten up the defensive shape in an attempt to prevent the opposition from exploiting any space and creating good goal scoring opportunities. A good defensive shell should also have a threatening counter attack element to it. Yesterday, Liverpool’s shell did not have that.

Numbers

 

Tied Plus 1
Shots 4 / 1 1 / 16
SoT 1 / 0 0 / 3
Blocks For 1 / 2 0 / 4

  Liverpool took the lead in the 21st minute and thereafter proceeded to shell, and shell hard. Liverpool had just 1 shot for the remainder of the ~75 minutes that remained (injury time included) and this points to the counter attacking threat being non-existent. Although there was no counter threat, Liverpool’s shell worked pretty well. yes, Villa had 16 shots when Liverpool were employing varying levels of their shell but just three (18.7%) of Villa’s shots were on target. Let’s now look at Liverpool’s shell, what it restricted Aston Villa to and how self inflicted errors on Liverpool’s part gifted Villa their best shooting opportunity of the game.  

The Shell

 

Liv_banks_medium

This screen grab shows us just what Aston Villa had had to break down in the second half. Liverpool were in shell mode and it became visually obvious what kind of tactics Liverpool were employing once Villa gained controlled entry into the final third. Two banks of four, ten yards apart and twenty or so yards wide. What Liverpool were aiming to do is to prevent Villa from taking shots from central positions close to the goal. Liv_villa_scrren_medium Faced with Liverpool’s deep defensive shell and two banks of four setup Villa could attempt the following methods of attack:  

  • Central pass to the attacking midfielder who is dropping off.
  • Pass down the line for the wide player.
  • Shot from distance
  • Chip cross into the box in the hope of a knockdown/secondary ball.

Let’s see how Villa fared in trying to break down Liverpool’s shell.   ’44 Shot From Distance Villa_shot_through_shell_medium A failed clearance – the first of many – allowed Villa to work the ball to Weimann in a central area. The Villa player struck a fierce shot which looked destined to be on target but was blocked by a Liverpool player. This screen grab highlights just how difficult it is to get a shot through a crowd and on target. Liverpool were sat very deep with numerous bodies in front of the ball and it paid off with a vital block of a goal bound shot.   ’74 Snap Shot From A Secondary Ball

Liv_cross_against_medium

  Villa went for option 4, the chip into the box. Three Liverpool defenders won the duel for the initial chip cross, but as Villa had hoped, the secondary ball fell to a white shirt who was able to attempt a shot from a good position. Villa were only able to attempt a shot, which was off target, due to Benteke’s aerial prowess and the failure of the Liverpool midfield block to get closer to the defensive block once the ball had been chipped in. Kolo Toure, quite rightly, was extremely displeased. ’79 Shot From Distance Liv_shot_against_medium This time, Villa chose option 3 – a shot from distance. The play shifted in field from Villa’s right flank and the Villa player has options. Tonev could lay off to the player immediately to his left but the better option would be a 15 yard square ball to Agbonlahor who was not only in space but had his left-back available for support. Tonev elected to shoot from distance, and given the improbability of the shot resulting in a goal, the Bulgarian wasted possession. Tonev’s poor decision making prevented Villa from potentially carving out a higher quality scoring chance. ’86 Liverpool Chaos, Benteke Volley Live_clearance_failure_medium The sequence of events that took place just before this screen grab were important. Villa, once again, attempted a straight chip pass which Agger, Enrique and finally Gerrard failed to clear in 3 attempts. That failure to clear led to to flicked headers by Villa players putting Benteke clean through with the keeper for a volley opportunity. It was arguably Villa’s best chance during Liverpool’s spell of defensive shelling and that chance came through poor defending and a sequence of failed clearances which led to the giveaway.  

Final Thoughts

Liverpool’s defensive shell was effective. It gave up a high number of shots, but most of them were from distance or had to find their way through numerous defensive bodies. This is what a defensive shell does, it gives up the ghost in terms of possession-based attacking play and focuses on reducing the quality of opposition chances. The reduction in quality of Villa’s chances may be evident in the low number of their 16 shots that were on target. Liverpool’s shell worked, although they were a little too deep at times, which may have led to some of the fatigue and errors that gifted Villa some good quality scoring chances. Oh, and Liverpool, when shelling, need to offer way more counter attacking threat than they did. A better team than Villa would have overwhelmed this error-prone Liverpool shell with their skill and speed of ball movement. A hub player like Suarez will help with the counter attacking threat.

Premier League Strikers And Repeatability

The Summer of 2013 in football analytics was dominated by strikers shots performance and their conversion%’s.  Colin Trainor and Constantinos Chappas created their Expected goals metric (link), the 11tegen11 was the first to look at expected goals (link) and, more recently,  Devin Pleuler has begun tweeting out information on expected chance quality. Added to those smart pieces of work was information on shot quality and shot location (Colin Trainor) and all in all it was a tremendous leap forward in the investigation of quantifying striker performance. The one question I have with some of this work is repeatability or test-retest reliability over a number of seasons. Now, I know it’s not an entirely fair question as a lot of the data that these new metrics are built with is, well, relatively new. We don’t have 4 years of shot location data or shot placement data. Still, I wanted to know something about the ability of a striker to repeat a previous seasons performance. I have a little historical data on strikers so I thought I would take a look at which aspects of a strikers performance are repeatable and which are not. These are the metrics I will be focusing on, all penalty goals and shots are removed:  

  • Scoring% (goals/SoT)
  • Shooting Accuracy% (SoT/Total Shots)
  • Goals Per 90
  • Assists Per 90
  • Shots Per 90
  • Shots On Target Per 90
I searched through my database for strikers who played in the Premier League in consecutive seasons (year 1 to year 2) and found 174 data points, some of the outlying data points will be removed on certain charts. What we are looking for is a relationship between a strikers performance by a given metric between yr 1 and yr 2 (2011/12 to 2012/13 for example).
In short, are players who post, say, a high scoring% in year 1 likely to repeat that performance in year 2. There are some interesting results. I’ll start with the metrics that have the strongest year to year correlation.

 

Shots Per 90. R2=0.435

  Rel_shots_per_90_medium Shots per 90 has an R2 of 0.435 and although the correlation isn’t all that impressive, it’s the strongest correlation between year 1 and year 2 of any of our metrics listed in the introduction. If you are going to pick out any aspect of a strikers performance that may be repeatable year-on-year then shots per 90 should be the metric you use. A striker is more likely to reproduce his shot volume year on year than any other countable aspect of his performance.  

Shot On Target Per 90. R2=0.234

 

Rel_sot_3__medium

Shots on target per 90 is is the second most repeatable aspect of a strikers performance, although the correlation between year 1 and year 2 has dropped sharply. SoT per 90 has a correlation of 0.242, and although that number is far from impressive, it’s out of this world compared to some of the correlations you will see shortly. I’ve long said that shots and shots on target are the two metrics I would prefer to use in order to predict a strikers future performance. I wouldn’t want to use goals scored or scoring% for we know these regress heavily. The correlations above, and below, bear this out.

Goals Per 90. R2=0.048

Outliers have been stripped out.

Rel_gls_2_medium

This chart is simply all over the place, the year-to-year correlation is virtual non-existent. There are obviously outliers here, players who can reproduce goals per 90 year-on-year but those players are mighty rare, even in the Premier League.  

Assists Per 90. R2=0.033

Again, I removed the outliers who didn’t record an assists in yr 1 or yr 2.

Rel_assists_2_medium

This is a pretty similar chart to the Goals per 90 one featured above. It’s a mess, there’s little repeatability in comparison to shots or shots on target.  

Shooting Accuracy%. R2=0.0165

  Rel_shot_acc_2_medium This is shooting accuracy%/SoT%. It’s another scattered set of data of points with virtually zero repeatability. This is the one metric that stunned me a little for I was always under the impression that a striker had some control, some form of skill in getting a certain percentage of his total shots on target. Obviously not.  

Scoring%. R2=0.0073

  Rel_scoring___2_medium Finally, we get to scoring% which is goals/shots on target. I removed the extreme scoring% outliers by controlling for a minimum number of shots. Scoring% is not to be confused with Shooting%/Conversion% which uses Total SHots and not Shots on Target. There is virtually zero relationship between a striker managing to convert his shots on target into goals in year 1 to year 2. We have sent out warnings before about backing strikers who rode high scoring%’s to their impressive goal tally. A quick recap: don’t bet on a striker who had a high scoring% in year 1 to repeat that  percentage in year 2. This likely means a drop in goals scored, unless the players shots on target per 90 can be boosted. Scoring% is random, it’s true in football and it’s true in hockey:  

Such a great graph showing how shooting percentage is a crapshoot: pic.twitter.com/RLqacdnfNm — mc79hockey (@mc79hockey) August 18, 2013

 

Conclusion

There isn’t one metric that we use to evaluate strikers that has a particularly high level of repeatability from one year to the next. But if we are to choose any of the metrics to try and predict future performance then shots per90 and shots on target per 90 are clearly the two we should use. The percentage metrics – shooting accuracy% and scoring% – are, to borrow a turn of phrase from MC79, a crapshoot.. We know these metrics are predominantly luck driven, we know they regress heavily and it would be folly to predict the future performance of a striker using either of those metrics. Would controlling for the location of shots, say in box shots only, strengthen the correlation between yr 1 and yr 2 scoring%? I would have thought so, but @footballfactman ran the numbers and central in-box shooting% (goals/total shots) had an r2 of just 0.02.  One last time, if we are looking for a repeatable aspect of striker performance, then all roads point us in the direction of a players shots and shots on target, not his goals per90 or shooting accuracy% or even a players scoring%.

Tale of the Talent – Arsenal vs. Spurs

I am not Tor-Kristian Karlsen when it comes to talent evaluation, but I know a lil’ bit. Part of my job involves objectively evaluating talent for football teams and then relating that to the betting lines we post week after week. Combine that with my research into player analytics and predictive modelling, and I’m a fairly qualified judge for figuring out overall squad strengths for the major leagues in Europe. Today, I want to move past the transfer market and early season hype for a second and objectively break down and compare each position for Arsenal and Spurs. The goal is to figure out which team actually has the better side, and where the strengths and weaknesses lie. For those of you who missed our season previews on these clubs, Arsenal can be found here (link) and Spurs can be found here (link). I’m grading the teams this way. A slight edge equals one point, a moderate edge equals three, and a large edge equals five. At the end of the article, we’ll add them all up and see who wins. Center Forward: Roberto Soldado vs. Olivier Giroud roberto_soldado_telegraph I am writing this under the assumption that Gareth Bale is going to be sold, making Soldado their primary forward. He has a few gifts, but his best one is being in the right place at the right time to finish chances. I’m not particularly impressed by him, but he fills a need. I also assume that AVB is completely fed up with Adebayor, and that good Ade is not likely to come back. Giroud is a complicated guy to analyse. His finishing simply isn’t good enough, which is one reason why Arsenal have humped the legs of a number of central strikers so far this summer, but have yet to be successful at actually buying one. On the other hand, Giroud feels quite talented when you watch him. He’s powerful, has good feet, and is able to see the passes he should make, even if he doesn’t always pull them off. If Giroud displays a little bit more composure in front of goal this season, then he’s better than Soldado (and younger). I’m unconvinced that will happen. Verdict: Push Left Forward: Lucas Podolski vs. Willian One player on the outskirts of the German National Team squaring off against one on the outskirts of the Brazilian one. Both play on the left at the moment, but Willian is the only one who thrives there. Poldi prefers to play centrally, usually as a second striker. Podolski quietly did well for Arsenal last season, but he’s not terribly creative, nor is he a great runner. His best asset is the ability to hit thunderbastards with a left boot kissed by the gods, and this is reflected by his high conversion rate. Willian is extremely clever. A quick, decisive dribbler, he is also an excellent passer who creates a host of chances by himself each game. He’s not the goalscorer that Poldi is, but he can get on the board, and he makes up for it by creating great shots for others. The kicker on this one is: Dude only has one name. (Confession: I have not seen enough Willian to judge him properly so this could be wrong.) Verdict: Moderate edge to Spurs Right Forward: Theo Walcott vs. Aaron Lennon theo_walcottAaron Lennon is a handy little player. On his day, he can make about half the defences in the league look silly, and he usually gives a decent contribution. I like Aaron Lennon and feel he’s pretty good, but his days don’t happen often enough to make me view him as better than that. At 26, I think we can now all admit he’s never going to be world class. Theo Walcott, on the other hand, has quietly matured into one of the most feared wide forwards in the league. Always gifted with pace, but lacking a “football brain,” Walcott has finally figured some things out. Perhaps the greatest thing he has done is learn to finish. Once he gets into the clear (which happens despite the fact that he’s fairly predictable), he’s now quite adept at finishing near post or far. Given his pace, goalies are forced into all sorts of low-probability guesses for what he might do, and if Walcott ever learns to chip well, the world will tremble. The other thing Theo does well now is hammer low crosses/cutbacks for his teammates to find. These crosses have a relatively low probability of completion, but when they do, they are lethal. It took him years to do it, but Walcott figured out how to turn his gifts into a package of problems for defenders. Verdict: Moderate edge to Arsenal Midfield Battle: Santi Cazorla vs. Moussa Dembele,  Jack Wilshere vs. Paulinho, Mikel Arteta vs. Sandro This one is a struggle to analyse because the managers want their midfields to do different things. Spurs have purchased powerful, destructive players across the board in midfield, all of whom can pass, but aren’t go to names when you think of “great offensive midfielders.” That said, every single one of them is an expert at mixing it up, and they cover space extremely well. Wenger’s team, on the other hand, populate their midfield with smaller players who are universally excellent passers. Cazorla was one of the players of the season last year. Arteta was neck and neck with Michael Carrick for the best regista (deep-lying playmaker) in the Premier League, despite the fact that he spent his first decade as a professional playing as an attacker. When fully healthy, Wilshere once looked like one of the brightest two-way midfielders in the world. Sadly, he hasn’t been fully healthy for two years now, in part because opposing players hack the shit out of him when he’s on the pitch. Can he still be great? Maybe. Can he stay healthy? Data is starting to indicate otherwise. On a talent level, Arsenal edge this. On a physical level, Spurs have a clear advantage. I’m going to rate it as a push. Verdict: Push Kieran Gibbs vs. Danny Rose This battle is closer than it would have been last year, when the revolving door of Kyle Naughton and Bennie Assou-Ekotta made left back one of Spurs weaknesses. Now that Rose is there, they have a dynamic young player good on both sides of the ball. He’s young and still learning the game though, so you can expect a few painful mistakes this season. Either of the Arsenal options at LB are better than Rose. Gibbs is probably the best of the lot, with a high work rate, excellent passing ability, and sound defensive stats as well. Unfortunately, he gets injured a lot, which is why Arsenal picked up the second choice LB of the Spanish National Team during the January break, Nacho Monreal. At this point I’m not sure even Arsene knows which one he would prefer. They are never healthy at the same time, so he’s never faced with that decision. Verdict: Slight edge to Arsenal Central Defenders: Mertesacker/Koscielny/Vermalaen vs. Vertonghen/Kaboul/Dawson vertonghenInteresting factoid – both of these teams were great at preventing opponent shots last season.  Spurs were first in the league, while Arsenal were a very narrow third. This was largely down to their tactical systems and not the fact that they had amazing players at center back. Arsenal’s trio are adequate.  Mertesacker is a bit slow and despite his size, can get manhandled at times by powerful forwards. He reads the game well and obviously his height is helpful in the air. Koscielny is quicker and generally considered to be quite good, but has a habit of making dumb plays and getting unfortunate red cards. He plays a blinder half a season, every season. The other half he can be a liability. Vermalaen once looked like he had all the tools to be great, but his positional awareness can be dire at times. He can be considered barely adequate backup at this point. Spurs central defense is upgraded on last season, mainly because Kaboul is back. The first-choice pairing is likely Vertonghen and Kaboul, which should make them one of the best in the league. Until Kaboul is back to full game shape, Michael Dawson is an able fill-in, though he’ll have problems when Spurs face teams with a host of fast, skillful attackers. Verdict: Moderate edge to Spurs Right Back: Bakary Sagna vs. Kyle Walker Up until two years ago, Sagna might have been the best right back in the league. Pacey, with decent crossing ability, and a great level of fitness, Sagna never stopped running for Arsenal, and his ability to be involved on offense, but still get back and cover on defense was amazing. Then the injuries started to hit, and Sagna lost something. The last two seasons he has been shockingly error-prone. In a sense, this seemed normal – it was just what Arsenal did – but it was rarely Sanga that did it. However, last year he really stood out as a painful, unreliable weak spot. The stats are still good, but Sagna’s level of play has dropped considerably over the last two years, and I don’t think he’ll recover. Walker, on the other hand, has turned into an excellent right back. He also has occasional problems with defensive lapses, but part of those are caused by the fact that AVB wants him to push forward into the offense so much (and his absence is supposed to be covered by one of the midfield 3 dropping in to defense). On the offensive end, Walker just keeps getting better. His release passes this past weekend against Palace were breathtaking, and his overlaps with Lennon and ability to cross give Spurs offense a dynamic they would lack with anyone else at his position. He could be better… but he’s already very good. Verdict: Slight edge to Spurs Goalkeeper: Chezzer/Flappyhandski vs. Hugo Lloris chezzer Um… let’s just say that the last convincing goalkeeper Arsenal owned was Jens Lehmann before he turned into Mad Jens. That was 2007ish. Arsenal were interested in Hugo for ages! They should have bought Lloris when they had the chance. Verdict: Large edge to Spurs Potential Variations If you put Cazorla on the left wing in place of Podolski, then Arsenal have a slight edge there, but they lose the midfield battle when you plug in Ramsey. If Spurs miraculously don’t sell him this year and Bale goes to CF in place of Soldado, then they get a moderate edge at CF (or whatever position Bale actually plays when he’s floating to and fro), on the assumption that Bale may regress a bit this season. If Spurs buy Lamela as well and start him in place of Lennon, then the RW becomes a push as the Walcott advantage goes away. As it is currently, it no longer looks like Spurs are in for Lamela. If Arsenal buy… Bahahahaha, who am I kidding? Manager: Arsene Wenger vs. Andre Villas-Boas Old school versus new. The French economist versus Andre “I don’t believe in analytics” Boas. Both of these guys have proven themselves to be excellent managers over the course of the season. Ignore Wenger in his Director of Football role at Arsenal, and you see a guy who has a proven track record of strong finishes with occasionally sketchy talent. His teams play beautiful football, and he has a record for polishing potential into world class gems. He has also done reasonably well at overcoming most opposing managers in his time, and his teams are capable of winning big matches. (Except against Jose Mourinho. Who is back in the league. Oh boy.) AVB is also impressive. The tactical system he has employed at Spurs posted the best shot dominance in the league last season. I grouse about him not believing in the value of analytics, but maybe he really doesn’t need it. An upgrade in talent across the squad means they should do even better at keeping opponents from scoring while bombarding the opposing goalies with shots at the other end. I could wish for a little more cleverness in the passing, but overall Spurs style is one to be admired. Verdict: Push Final Scorecard

Margin Team
CF

0

Push
LW

3

Spurs
RW

3

Arsenal
Midfield

0

Push
LB

1

Arsenal
CB

3

Spurs
RB

1

Spurs
GK

5

Spurs

Spurs win by a margin of +8. They are better than Arsenal at four of the eight areas evaluated, Arsenal are better at two, and two areas are judged a push. Even as an Arsenal fan, I am impressed with what Spurs have done so far this summer. They have taken a strong system put in place by AVB, restructured their entire team based around strength in the center and quickness at the sides, and built a great team. They lose a bit of magic with Gareth Bale, but this squad is a lot deeper than last season’s and designed to grind out the touch matches week after week. Arsenal meanwhile, have stood still on a squad that barely finished fourth last year. There is a lot of talent in that squad, but it’s a bit fragile and needed bolstering, something they simply haven’t done. Time is running out in the transfer window, Wenger is loathe to pay a penny over what he thinks is fair, and they need to get better in a number of areas. It doesn’t look good right now, Arsenal fans. But, well, you already knew that. –TK

2013/14 Shot Domination: Week 1

Welcome to StatsBomb’s Table section. This will be the home for some of the alternative league table data that usually hides away in a database. I am not entirely sure what data I will be including in these tables, so if you, our dear reader, have any suggestions as to what stats we could include, do tell us in the comments section. I have a lot of information that I collect, so it’s pretty easy for me to make a table and update it weekly. Now the table! 2013/14 Premier League Shot Domination, SoT Domination & SoT% For/Against   [table id=28 /]   An explanation of Shot Domination can be found here <link> SoT Domination uses the same principles but for shots on target. SoT% For – Is shots on target/total shots. It measures how efficient a team is at getting it shots onto the target. A high number is GOOD. SoT% Against – Shots on target against/total shots against. Basically, this is how efficient the opposition was in getting it’s shots onto the target. A LOW number is GOOD.   I’ll be updating these tables on a weekly basis and adding a few more alternative tables as I think of them. Any suggestions on what data to capture and display in a table, then let me know.

Introduction to Defensive Shells

So one of the things you’ll find during the football season is that we will often shorthand certain tactical concepts, and then quickly move along, expecting the readers to either pick up the gist of what we were saying, or to look up the concept itself for further clarification. The problem is… some of this stuff isn’t particularly well defined. Thus when one of our analytical authors makes a reference to a concept like “game states” or the like, it’s going to be useful to have a reference article to link to. Leaving intelligent readers behind is a bad thing, mmkay? Ben’s working on the Game States introductory piece, but today I get… Defensive Shells. Chelsea's Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry What is a Defensive Shell? A defensive shell is a tactical concept that refers when a team largely relinquishes their attacking intent and focuses on protecting the goal. (Also known as turtling.) Teams often do this after taking the lead in a match. But why? Why change your style of play after your team has already shown the ability to score a goal? Obviously there are a number of reasons for this behavior (or else I wouldn’t have asked the rhetorical question), the first of which comes from solidifying a lead. You just scored a goal and you want to make sure you don’t give the lead back right away, so you take some of the guys who were further up the pitch and locate them closer to the goal. You lose a bit of adventure in style of play, but you exchange it for an increased number of dedicated defenders. Shelling (or packing it in, or parking the bus) is generally considered the tactical choice that is least likely to yield goals to the opposition. (Note: we don’t have analytical proof of this, we just have common wisdom for now.) Another big reason teams will settle into a defensive shell is to draw the opposition further away from their own goal. Look, it is hard even for good teams to get through opposing teams that are parking the bus. It is even more difficult to make teams who have parked in front of goal leave that spot unless they have a very good reason. Chasing the game when down a goal is a good enough reason for most teams to at least think about attacking a little bit. By giving away some possession and retreating into their own half – especially when knowing the other team has to score in order to tie the game – clever teams create better situations in which to counterattack. But isn’t that dangerous? The answer: Not if you are good at it. In fact, in many cases it is hugely rewarding to do so. The reason for shelling comes because counterattacking is one of the best ways to create better chances(link). It provides a situation where your attackers are going up against a limited number of defenders, who are also on the move. And we know from a reasonably large sample of statistics that it’s far easier to score in these situations than going up against an entrenched defense. Thus creating these situations to exploit has a huge benefit. That’s not to say that it’s not at least a little bit dangerous. By going into a shell, it lets the opposing team have possession of the ball and take more shots than they would get naturally. This means that even if you are doing a good job defensively, the opposition has a chance to get lucky via deflections, etc, and your team has more of a chance to screw up closer to goal. On the other hand, they should have more teammates around to help out if they screw up too. Example Chelsea Historically, Jose Mourinho’s teams have been some of the best in the world at shelling and then using lightning counter-attacks the moment the opportunity arises. Two years ago, Chelsea (without Mourinho), were absolute masters at doing this and rode the tactic through superior opposition to win the Champions’ League.\ However, last season they were not very good at it. Ben looked at this in detail over at We Ain’t Got No History (link), and Chelsea were by far the worst of the top teams at getting a lead and then sitting on it. Mourinho obviously thinks shelling is important, so what happened in Chelsea’s first game of the season against Hull was fascinating. In the first half, CFC were utterly dominant, in a way that they rarely were last year. They passing and movement was incredibly quick and crisp. They outshot Hull 18-2 in the first 45. Let me say that again. Chelsea outshot a Premier League team 18-2 over 45 minutes. Mind. Blown. In addition to the two goals they scored, they also missed a penalty and should have had another one when Ivanovic was clearly shoved off the ball in the box. The Action Areas image from Squawka looked like this: chelsea_hull_1-45 Then in the second half, everything changed. Hull were suddenly ascendant. They tied Chelsea in shots for the half (5-5), and actually had 46 more passes than the home team. The Action Areas image completely flipped, and Hull basically had the same territorial profile as Chelsea in the first half. chelsea_hull_45-90 What happened? Did Hull start playing much better? Did Chelsea’s players get tired and allow Hull to take over? Obviously not. Chelsea used the second half as defensive practice. Already up 2-0 (practically an insurmountable lead even against good teams, which Hull are not), and knowing that his team wasn’t very good at protecting leads last year, Mourinho probably told his team they were only allowed to shell and then try to score on counters. Thus you see them sitting back deep in their own half, making sure Hull don’t get good shots, and then occasionally running really fast to the other end to attack. And they did pretty well. Compared to the crazy pace of the first half, Chelsea slowed the game to mud for both sides, only allowing five total shots, 3 of which came from long range. Hull did manage to get off two shots in the box, one of which was blocked (and Chelsea were masters of the block during their CL run), and one of which Cech had to save. In other words, Grand Moff Mourinho was testing the new Chelsea 2.0 class of Star Destroyer against Hull. For the first half of the test, he unloaded all the offensive weaponry at his disposal. For the second half, they shut down the big weapons and tested out the shields and countermeasures. Depending on your fan affiliation, you are either filled with gleeful delight or sheer terror at the prospect of what the Star Destroyer will do once it is fully operational. Conclusion So there you have it, the defensive shell. It’s used as a tactical tool to protect leads/defend the goal, but also to allow the team employing it to get more counter-attack chances. If a dominant team in a game scores a goal or two, and then suddenly seems to be under siege, this is probably why. This is also why some of us view game state data as fairly important in sussing out what was actually happening in a match. If there are other concepts we use in articles but you guys don’t really understand, please tell us that you would like explanatory articles in the comments. We’re often really excited by new research or insight and not always aware of what needs better explanation. –TK Betting Post Script Oh my God, does this behavior suck if you are a bettor. How long are Chelsea going to sit on narrow leads, despite being a hugely dominant team? Back when Mourinho was at Chelsea the first time, they did this the entire season! This matters a helluva lot if you are betting either totals or large handicaps. I wish you all the best of luck!      

10 Points: Debuts, Arsenal, Shelling & Premature Conclusions (Week1)

1) Arsenal

Arsenal fans, I know the anger vented on Saturday has been building for a loooooong time and I know it seems dark and depressing right now but don’t panic. Yes, you guys may have had a very quiet summer; yes, it’s disappointing no money has spent; everyone seems to be injured and now we have Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith expressing regret about selling her shares to Kroenke. Oh, and there is a tricky CL qualifier away at Fenerbache and everyone seems to be injured.

But don’t panic, seasons are long, one bad result in the first game of the season shouldn’t be the blow that brings down the Wenger empire. It’ll get better, players will be brought in, injuries will heal and Arsenal will likely be in the CL groups. Learn lessons from this summers inertia and don’t panic!

2) Aston Villa’s Attack

It’s only one game, it’s only one game, it’s only one game……….but, I quite liked the shape of Villa’s attacking setup on Saturday. Benteke offers the muscularity through the middle, Weimann is the intelligent schemer who buzzes in the inside right channel and Agbonlahor offers blistering pace. Those three players looked plenty capable of causing opposition defenses problems with their counter attacking play.

This is a young Villa team who will suffer through some defensive issues throughout the season. It’s also a Villa team who will be fun to watch if only due to that attacking trident.

3) Muscle Memory

It’s only one game, but Man United looked characteristically efficient during their 1-4 away win in Swansea. Infact, it looked like Ferguson was still in charge of Man United and that should be placed into the credit column for Moyes. We should also credit the players for that performance for it seemed like the United players were acting on some kind of muscle memory in terms of calmness, discipline and patience.

This is a very experienced group of United players who also have many seasons worth of experience playing together in a tactical scheme that was created by one of the best tacticians we have known. These United players will not have forgotten Ferguson’s teachings, they will not have forgotten the amazing tactical magic that he instilled in this group.

Moyes may not change a whole lot at United, and on Sunday it appeared that this United team was playing purely from memory, and those memories were created by that weird voodoo magician they called Fergie.

4) Sunderland

I love writing about Sunderland. It all stems for from focusing on Sunderland’s early struggles by the underlying numbers in 2012/13. A short recap: Sunderland were terrible all season, but they were unusually, frighteninglyterrible in the first dozen games or so. Now Sunderland have Di Canio at the helm they are likely to be just as interesting a team to write about in 2013/14 as they were in 2012/13, but likely for different reasons.

Sunderland should be slightly better this year with the investments they have made, but I was still mightily intrigued to see how Sunderland started the season. They lost, going down 0-1 at home to Fulham. The result was disappointing but that wasn’t what shocked me. The fact that Sunderland out-shot an opponent was shocking.Sunderland out-shot Fulham by a total of 21 to 5 and 3 to 1 in shots on target.

Were score effects an issue? Sunderland out-shot Fulham 12-4 at Tied game state. Has Paolo Di Canio turned this Sunderland team into one who is capable of out-shooting an opponent? It’s only one game

 

5) Mourinho V2.0

Chelseavhullfanaug2013_large_medium

A grown man. Half and half scarf.

I was as impressed as it’s possible to be with Chelsea’s home victory against a newly promoted side. Yes, Hull were there for the taking but Chelsea played some very nice stuff in the first 30 minutes. Quick, pressure passing and smart movement form Chelsea’s attacking wizards. And Mourinho looked relaxed!

Once into the second half Chelsea sat back as is their wont. Now, I saw quite a few tweets which stated that Chelsea were outplayed in the second half by Hull. I counter that opinion by merely saying that this was Chelsea ‘shelling’ and this means Chelsea purposefully sat back, tightened up their defensive shape and focused less on expending any tactical currency on searching for a third goal.

This ‘shelling’ is a tactic that every team employ. It was a tactic that Chelsea particularly struggled with last term. Yesterday against Hull, Chelsea went into the ‘shell’, maybe it was a deliberate practice as Ted suggested, maybe it was default Mourinho.

Either way, when ‘shelling’ it appears as if the team is being outplayed, you tend to get out-shot by the opposition, but those shots will be from poorer positions on the pitch, those shots will be blocked at a higher rate and this means those shots are unlikely to result in goals against.

It’s only one game, but I’d lean towards the 2nd half being a competitive practice session and the 1st half being more indicative of Mourinho v2.0 – quick passing, all movement and attacking intent.

6) New Strikers

Hey, it wasn’t a bad weekend for the new striker recruits was it? Bony scored, Wolfie scored, Soldado scored. If a team spends a lot of money at the sharp end of the field it’s always nice for the club to get an early return and for the player to get off the mark early. No striker wants to do a Forlan.

Anyone want to create an over/under line on when Neymar’s first league goal will arrive?

7) Best PL Debuts From A Striker

Now, I haven’t researched this too much but of the top of my head I remember hat-tricks from Ravanelli and Shearer(x2). Klinsmann had a pretty good debut in his first Spurs spell and that debut game is where the ‘dive’ celebration was born. A personal favourite was watching the debut of George Weah for Man City, it was farcical that a player of such stature and skill was debuting for a newly promoted side under the management of Joe Royle. $$$!

But one particluar debut game sticks in my head and that performance came from a complete unknown. He was leggy, highly skilled and Man United just couldn’t live with him that day.

Wanchope was a bolt from the blue, a shock of lightning. Any readers have any suggestions of great PL debuts?

8) Man City v Newcastle

Whilst we are on the topic of good debuts from strikers, I wonder what price one could get for Jovetic or Negredo scoring at home to Newcastle? That’s not the ony question that arises from the Monday night fixture: How will City’s new signings appear at first blush? Just how dominant will a Fernandinho/Yaya pairing be? Can Pellegrini get off to a winning start and ape the satisfying opening day wins of Moyes and Mourinho?

And what of Newcastle and Pardew? Will they be better and healthier this year? Will we find out exactly who the hell they are?

9) Goal Of The Week

The lack of usable highlight video is already bothering me and we are just 2 days into the new season. Why is there not a Premier league youtube channel with highlights/goals videos from each game every week?

Robin van Persie – the 2nd goal…….wooof!

 

10) Don’t Panic Or Get Too Excited

If your team had a good opening day result – United, Southampton & Chelsea – it may be best to not get to excited or draw any conclusions that are too concerete about the quality of your team. If you are an Arsenal fan, or a fan of one of the promoted clubs, then don’t be too downhearted. You know, shit happens in a one off game, shit happens at the start of the season.

We are many, many weeks and games away from being able to make any serious predictions about how the season may shape up.

 

StatsBomb EPL 2013/14 Season Preview Guide

Looking for all of our season previews, gathered in one place? Look no further. We’ve been running season previews across the site for the last two weeks, and we hope that we’ve brought something new to the world of preseason football analysis. If you enjoyed what you read, tell your friends. StatsBomb is still less than a month old, so we need help to get the word out and let people know we are here. Below is a link to each team preview that we did. Click on the team name to take you to each article. Chelsea by Ted Knutson Manchester City by Ben Pugsley Tottenham Hotspur by Ted Knutson Everton by Paul Riley Manchester United by Ted Knutson Liverpool by Dan Kennett Sunderland by Ben Pugsley Aston Villa by Ted Knutson Swansea City by Ryan Tolusso Newcastle United by Ben Pugsley Arsenal by Ted Knutson Special thanks to Colin Trainor, who didn’t write any of this, but who did produce the outstanding shot location images and data you see in almost any article.

EPL 2013/14 Season Preview – Arsenal

“The ambition that Stan Kroenke, Arsene Wenger, the players, our staff and I know all of the fans have is to be competing to win the Premier League and Champions League,” said Gazidis. “If we are at that level, the trophies will come.*

“Arsene is not scared to spend money, but he has to believe he is getting a top class player. We’re making a list of those now, and if the price is right, we will buy them.”

“And to help Arsene close these deals, we’ve brought in David Maguire. Arsene has been missing someone to help him in the transfer market since David Dein left, and we feel adding this position was important to help us improve the squad. David worked as a player agent in the United States for the past 20 years, but we feel incredibly confident in his ability to operate on the other side of the fence, and bring in the players Arsene thinks are top, top quality.”

Cut to an office inside the Arsenal complex at Ashburton Grove. You see an ageless man, with a wicked, world-eating grin. He is dialing the phone. His voice sounds remarkably like Tom Cruise.

“Yo, Gonzo! This is David Maguire from Arsenal.”

“Arsenal?”

HiguainPoint

 

“Yes, Arsenal. Look man… we building a juggernaut here at Arsenal this season. We have a huge stadium, a manager who plays great attacking football, and we now have the financial firepower to compete with anyone in Europe.”

“Arsenal?”

“Yes, Arsenal. Gonzo, baby, I think you are one of the most underrated forwards in Europe. Did you know over the last five years at Real Madrid, you have the best conversion percentage of any player in Europe except Lionel Messi? And that your per90 goalscoring rate in La Liga is .89?!? Robin van Persie’s is only .72, and he’s the best scorer in our league! Add in your assists and you contribute nearly 1.2 goals per 90 minutes on the pitch.

Anyway, I’m calling you because I think you can be our secret weapon. Real Madrid doesn’t understand you. The fans there don’t love you the way that you should be loved.

You.

Are.

Great.

So Gonzo… I want you to come to Arsenal. Come play for us in London. Come be our big man up front. Come help us win Premier League titles and the Champions’ League. Can you do that for me?”

“Arsenal!”

“Outstanding. Let me call Florentino and we’ll get this sorted out, pronto.”

Cut to a luxury hotel in Madrid. Gonzalo Higuain has agreed to come on board, his father has sorted out all the contract details, and now Jerry, er… David Maguire is in Madrid to sign the final transfer papers.

“Florentino! How are you? Looking good, I gotta say. I know you are a busy man, so let’s get these papers signed and I’ll let you get back to all the other business I know you need to do this summer.”

“Senor Maguire, welcome. I feel I must inform you that there has been a… change of plans, since last we spoke.”

“Oh? I hope Gonzalo hasn’t been injured or anything. Your people said everything is in order, which is why I’m here.”

“Yes well… we feel that £24 million isn’t the correct price for Mr. Higuain. We feel… £32.5 million is more representative of his value.”

“£32.5 million? You’re joking right? That’s a good one, Florentino.”

“It is no joke, Senor Maguire. That is the new figure.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? We had a deal. I’m here because we agreed to a fee before I ever got on a plane. And now you change it? What sort of operation is this?”

“I am sorry, senor Maguire. You must know, your club is not the only one that is interested in buying Higuain. Given his obvious talent and the fact that he is only 25,” Perez shrugged, “we feel £32.5 million is correct.”

Maguire turns away from Perez and starts to pace around the room. He stops for a moment, turns and says, “You know what? I have cash, Florentino. A giant stack of it. In fact, we have more cash than any other team in Europe. So I tell you what we’ll do. We will pay you £28 million in cash, right now. Right here, in fact, because I brought it with me in a big fucking suitcase.” Maguire slams his fist on the table. “ And I’ll give you an extra £4 million in add-on clauses if we win things. That will GET you your £32 million.

BUT… for that price, I want first option on Morata. If you want to sell him, you call me first, you got it? £28 million cash, £4 million add-ons, and first shot at Morata, or I walk and don’t come back.”

“That, senor Maguire… should be acceptable.”

“Good, sign the papers and I’ll get out of here. I’ve got a ton of business left to do.”

The details are filled in and the deal is signed by both parties. Arsenal now own Gonzalo Higuain.

“Oh, and Florentino…” Maguire bends over Mr. Perez and makes a loud sniffing sound. “You stink.”

End Scene.

Cut to Maguire striding through the airport. He is again on his phone.

 

adem-ljajic

 

“Adem! How are you? This is David Maguire from Arsenal.”

“Who? How did you get this number?”

“Adem, I just signed Gonzo Higuain. Higgy is coming to Arsenal to play for us, and I want you to play for us too. Look man, I know it’s the last year of your contract at Fiorentina, and we feel like you’d be much better off playing for us in London.”

“London? I like Italy. Italy is warm. There are beautiful women here. And the sun shines more than twice a week. Did I mention it is warm? I have my heart set on Milan.”

“Milan?!? You know Milan is owned by Berlusconi, right? The same guy who was recently convicted and sentenced to jail? The same guy who has stopped spending heaping amounts of money on his football team that you want to join? And honestly, have you seen the San Siro? It’s a cesspool! A relic of an ancient time, and honestly, so is Milan’s football team.

Anyway, London has gorgeous women too. We also have a world class manager, we’re building a Champions’ League winning team, and do you hear that beeping sound where you are at?”

“Beeping? What? No, I…”

“That beeping sound is a giant truck full of money, preparing to dump the contract I’m ready to offer you at your feet. The Premier League is the richest league in the world, and we’re going to win that league this year, but I need your help. We need what you bring to the football pitch. That balance. That amazing vision. You are destined for greatness, Adem, but you need to be somewhere that can help make that happen. That place is in London.

No one else can offer you what we will offer you. Come play for Arsenal.”

“Uh… okay?”

“Awesome. I’m getting on the plane now. I’ll meet you in Florence in about an hour.”

End scene.

And thus, after a short consultation with Fiorentina management, who agree to a £10M deal, Arsenal sign their second player of the summer, Fiorentina’s Adem Ljajic, aged 21. In one swoop, they have already filled their holes at center forward and left wide forward with world class players. But Maguire wasn’t done yet…

Cut to a golf course near Lyon. You see Maguire striding across the course toward a well-dressed foursome who are speaking in French. Maguire flashes that huge, toothy smile.

“Monsieur Aulas! Great to meet you, my name is David Maguire.”

“Pardon?”

“You are Jean-Michel Aulas, owner of Olympique Lyonnais football club, are you not? I work for Arsenal. You’re probably more familiar with our manager, Arsene Wenger.  Anyway, they hired me to work on their transfer dealings this summer.”

“Oui…?”

 

maxime-gonalons

 

“I apologize, I thought someone would have called you about this already. I’m here about Maxime Gonalons.” Aulas raises an eyebrow. “Pick a number.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“Arsenal would like to buy Gonalons for this season. I’m not going to beat around the bush… he’s one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. Still only 24, he completed 88% of his passes last year, averaged a combined 7 tackles and interceptions a game, never gets dispossessed, and pings accurate longballs around the park like they are going out of style. He is our captain of the future.”

“Ah, but he is our captain right now.”

“And Arsenal are willing to compensate you handsomely for that. So pick a fair number that you will sell him at and we’ll make this happen.”

“Hrm… £25M.”

“Call your assistant, have her put it in writing, and you have a deal. I’ll go wait in the club house for you to finish your round, and then we’ll go sign the thing. Oh, and you’re pulling your head a bit when you drive by ball watching. Keep it down just a little longer and you’ll cut that slice.”

End scene.

Cut to The Emirates stadium, filled with a shocking amount of screaming fans who are excited to be there at the unveiling of Arsenal’s trio of world class players. The fans were energized, and so were the players on the squad. Hope for something beyond the perennial “qualify for the Champions’ League” grind had finally arrived.

For £32M + £25M + £10M = £67M, Arsenal filled nearly every major hole in their roster with highly talented, highly technical, world class players. They would still need to upgrade at goalkeeper, and potentially sort out their right back issue, but with three quick signings, Arsenal had transformed themselves from perennial fourth place finishers into one of the best teams in the Premier League and Europe.

The End

[*Note: The actual quote from Ivan Gazidis ends with the first paragraph. The rest was a work of fiction.]

That, dear readers, is how Arsenal’s summer should have gone.

It seemed like such a simple task. Take the stack of cash collected from the hard-earned wages of fans, be decisive in pursuing the players you really want, and go buy them. For once in your lives! How hard could it possibly be to add a few world class bodies to great players like Walcott, Cazorla, Wilshere, Arteta, Gibbs, and Koscielny who are already on the team?

Instead, this is how Arsenal’s transfers have gone so far.

Originally, I considered leading off our previews with Arsenal, but I wanted to give the club a little more time to finalize some transfers. 12 days later and not a damned thing has happened. This isn’t a club in managerial transition like Manchester United – Arsenal have the longest serving manager in the Premier League. They also have a cash reserve that nearly matches the total cash of every other team in the league, COMBINED. [Swiss Ramble]

The money is there. Gazidis said in public that they would spend this year. Yet we’re one day before the start of the season, and in typical Arsene Wenger fashion, the only player purchased so far is an injury-prone 20-year-old from France. He might even be good! At this point, nobody cares.

Don’t believe for one second the Wenger rhetoric that there aren’t many players out there that could improve the squad. Arsenal aren’t that good any more. Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie walked out the door some time ago. So did Nasri, Clichy, Henry, Adebayor, Toure, and any number of others. The vast majority of them have already won titles with different teams.

The list of players Arsenal could buy that would make them better immediately is long, wide, and deep. And creating that list isn’t nearly as hard as Wenger always makes it out to be. I know because I’ve done it myself (link).

By not buying players before now, Arsenal have made a ton of mistakes you’d think they’d have learned in years past. Like oh, say… the desperate transfer buying fiasco of 2011! The final day of that transfer window saw Arsenal add the mighty Park Chu Young and Andre Santos to the squad. And never play them. You would think the club would go out of their way to avoid that sort of thing, and yet here we are…

1)      A number of the best targets will already be off the market, either because they signed new deals at their home clubs, or because someone beat Arsenal to the punch.

2)      Any players bought will miss the entirety of preseason and take a while to get used to the system and playing with their new teammates. This means potential points lost at the start of the season, and this year especially, every point counts.

3)      Selling clubs know Arsenal will be running out of time and getting desperate. Therefore they have a chance to raise their prices a little extra, even if they are interested in making a deal. *Cue Wenger gnashing his teeth*

4)      Most of the best teams (i.e. the ones that have players good enough for Wenger to want to buy) will be unwilling to sell players because they won’t have enough time to adequately replace them.

5)      The atmosphere at The Emirates will be fucking toxic. Combine 60 thousand parts fans who are already sick of paying the highest ticket prices on the planet, one part CEO who told fans at the beginning of the summer they would spend, one part 8-year trophy drought, add one part crochety old, yet-totally-empowered manager who legitimately seems to have lost the plot when it comes to understanding the transfer market and you have a recipe for negative home field advantage. Seriously, they would be better playing on the road. The players don’t deserve this, but they are going to have to put up with it. Again.

If I owned an Arsenal season ticket, I would be apoplectic (translation: losing my shit). How did this happen, again? How did I get sucked in and let them lie to me, again?!?

We’re 2000 words into this silly preview, so I guess it’s time I stopped ranting/telling tall tales and review the actual team.

2012-13 League Finish: 4th

Notable Cup Finishes: CL Round of 16, Losing to Bradford and Birmingham in domestic cups

Goal Difference Rank: 3rd

Shot Dominance Rank: 4th

PDO Rank: 3rd

Note: I explain what the metrics mean and why you might care in the metrics appendix at the bottom.

The good news for Arsenal last year was that they once again qualified for the Champions’ League, and once again a) said goal was seemingly impossible at one point in the season and b) it came at the expense of Tottenham. They also solidified the defense, dropping the goals against figure for the year from a whopping 49 in 11/12 to very respectable 37 last year. Theo Walcott also signed a new long-term contract (note to doubters: his stats say he’s (finally) really good and he’s only 24), as did Arsenal’s core of British players. Long-term contracts for unplayables like Sebastien Squillaci and disappointments like Andrei Arshavin came to an end, freeing up salary money to be used on useful new members of the squad.

On the bad side, Robin van Persie left the club for Manchester United, and immediately lead them to yet another league title. Additionally, defensive solidity seemed to come at the cost of offensive output, with goals scored falling from 79 to 72, and shots per game falling to only 15.7, Arsenal’s lowest figure in (at least) the last four seasons and nearly two shots a game less than four years ago. The talent drain had finally started to show.

Shooting Locations

 

arsenal-shooting_locations

 

Arsenal’s shooting locations are good, with 69% of their shots coming from prime and secondary positions. However, it could be considerably better. Arsenal took nearly ten percent more shots from marginal positions than Manchester United. If you look at the map above, there are simply too many pot shots from 25 yards plus, with Cazorla and Ramsey two of the prime offenders. A slight adjustment in acceptable shooting locations could yield significant dividends in the future.

It’s not in the image, but defensively, Arsenal also conceded 69% from prime and secondary positions, but that’s pretty good for a couple of reasons. First, they only gave up 10.6 shots against per game, and second, the difference between that percentage and the best in the league (Stoke), is only 6%. All Arsenal need to do defensively is cut down on errors leading to goal scoring chances, and they will be outstanding.

Transfers

I covered the lack of incoming activity above, but Arsenal deserve credit for shifting just about every piece of perceived dead weight bar Bendtner to other clubs. In addition to the expirings, Denilson, Chamakh, Gervinho, Mannone, and Santos are out the door. Djourou was shipped to Hamburg on another loan deal, and Coquelin to Freiburg.

In fact, Arsenal are running a net positive transfer balance for something like the 7th year in a row. Is it any wonder the talent cupboard is bare?

And still… there are no signings. The Premier League starts tomorrow. Champions League Qualifiers start midweek.

Every Arsenal blogger I follow is utterly baffled. So am I. What the hell is going on?

Shopping with Arsene Wenger must be a lot like taking your grandmother to the movies. You think you are doing a nice thing, and getting her out to some film she wants to see, like The King’s Speech. Then you get there, she sees the prices, and grandma goes crazy.

“I won’t pay that to see a movie,” she says. “That’s outrageous.”

“But grandma,” you explain. “That’s just what movies cost these days. Don’t worry about it… I’m happy to pay for you too.”

“No, I refuse to go into that theater on principle. I just won’t do it.” So despite the fact that you already traveled 25 minutes to get there and now have to travel 25 minutes back home, you don’t see the movie.

That’s Arsene Wenger when it comes to buying players. Regardless of how much of other people’s money is in the bank, he has permanent sticker shock. He only wants world class players, but is morally opposed to stumping for them.

Conclusion

Arsenal were pretty good last year. They have some youngsters who are entering their prime, the defense was actually stout, and there’s hope that Olivier Giroud will improve in his second year in the league.

The problem for Arsenal comes when you compare them to the other good teams in the league. Chelsea? Better. Manchester City? Better. Spurs? Better. Liverpool? Better. Manchester United? Worse? Maybe?

You cannot stand still this year and expect to qualify for the Champions’ League. And honestly, with an enormous reserve of cash, new commercial deals kicking into force this year and next, a squad that has been drained of talent time and again, and an 8-year trophy drought, why would you want to? Somehow, that is what Arsenal have done. The league is more wide open than it has been in decades, but Arsenal clearly are not going for it. No one, outside of Arsene Wenger, can tell you why not.

My occupation is assessing football teams for fun and profit. Objectively, I now have five teams in the league ahead of them in terms of playing style, quality, and depth of talent. Their expected season points total in the gambling markets has dropped six points since the numbers were posted at the start of July. Arsenal already had to make a ridiculously improbable run the last two seasons to stay in the Champions’ League, and that sort of thing simply can’t happen every year.

4th place once again? Not unless they sign some very good players before the window closes. Even if Spurs sell Gareth Bale, I just can’t see it.

Metrics Appendix

Shot Dominance is a measure of how many shots a team concedes versus how many they take themselves.  This measure is useful in predicting where teams will end up in the table at the end of the season. It’s not perfect, but it is useful. It falls down a bit when faced with unique offensive systems like at Barcelona and Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, where they take fewer shots overall than you expect from great teams, but the chances they create are significantly more likely to score.

PDO is a measure of how well a team converts shots on the offensive end and saves shots on the defensive end. Good teams tend to post high levels of PDO and bad teams low levels over time, but there is a huge regression to the mean with this measure as well. Thus analysts tend to look at extremes of PDO as “luck factors.”