Interesting turn of events down at St. Mary’s as what remains of Arsenal’s squad finally walked into one in the form of Shane Long having a game for the ages. I noted way back in the North London Derby how weak Arsenal’s bench looked and seven weeks on their options are still Oxlade-Chamberlain, some defenders and some kids. It’s to their credit that they have managed to retain a reasonably decent run of results in the interim, but performance levels have certainly dipped since the giddy heights of early autumn as we can see here:
Small samples of course, but hard to get away from the difference in what a reasonably fit Arsenal can put up and one shorn of half of its creative talents. Herein lies their eternal problem and partially why they are on a run of ten consecutive third or fourth place finishes. Good Arsenal has regularly put up superior numbers and regularly reached the halfway point in seasons looking like genuine contenders, injured Arsenal limps through sections of every season at a reduced rate putting up roughly par numbers and hampering the more lofty ambitions of good Arsenal.
Of course the reduced firepower at Arsenal’s disposal these past weeks offers an interesting slant towards their performances. In beating Villa, once a sufficient scoreline had been attained, they shut the game down and offered very little going forward. Consciously preserving their legs in front of a busy period? Similarly against Man City, they hung onto the game until two quick goals secured a solid lead then created very little there on in. It seems to go against Arsene Wenger’s typical philosophy of playing the same way regardless of game state or opposition but the Southampton loss was the first wide margin league defeat since the chastening hammerings that characterised the 2013-14 season. There have been signs since those games that he has adapted his tactics in bigger games. Maybe Southampton’s victory was magnified with the knowledge that they had a two day turn around with a small fit squad?
This year the title race is shaped differently and it seems plausible that only Man City stand in their way. City themselves are only now emerging from an injury induced lull and it’s plausible that the long term difference between these two sides might come down to fitness and squad management. Entering January with title chances is familiar to Arsenal, but so is exiting January without new players. This one year it might be worth making an exception, if only to allow for more rotation and a well populated bench.
Over to you Arsène.
Home or Away?
To the irritation of this writer, after 18 games we have unequal splits between home and away games and having checked the Christmas schedule, this isn’t going to be righted any time soon. Last time I complained about this @_Peteowen told me it was unavoidable at times but still…
City have played ten at home and eight away whereas Leicester have the opposite. Yet City play at Leicester next so probably wise not to read too much into it. Nevertheless, the split does offer some interesting comparisons. Man City, typically dominant at home have an 8-0-2 record with a ton of goals yet are 3-2-3 on the road having scored and conceded eight a-piece. So on the surface we have a simple narrative: take Yaya and co out of the comfort of their own surroundings and they just aren’t up to it.
Now hold your horses just a minute. If we actually look at some shot numbers we have a different story:
A few numbers for reference there but we can see where the problem has arisen in those highlighted: nothing is going in away from home. Beyond that City have been slightly less effective outside the Etihad, but probably not to the tune of 1.9 goals per game, or any reasonable expectation in between.
Stoke have picked up thirteen points both at home and away, and superficially look to be running at par; indeed they are at home as a 49%/46% shots/on target team. Take them away from the Britannia and it’s a different story; pushing a miserable average of 18 shots against and only the heroics of Butland and an 86% save percentage rebuffing all advances. Which makes me think…
Tony Pulis doesn’t care what I think about him and he doesn’t care what you think about him either. One imagines he doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, his methods or his interchangable army of giant centre backs. And he certainly doesn’t care that any attempt to quantify his outputs makes his team look terrible. It was the same at Stoke; bad numbers, sufficient points, and at Palace too. Either you begrudgingly respect him, I guess, or you join an ever-growing chorus of usually dispassionate viewers in hoping that one year his methods don’t work.
I’m ambivalent towards West Brom, so it’s unfortunate that they have become embroiled in this but he has created yet another sub-40% shots team, one that relies on strength and set pieces, gives up all the territory yet somehow comes out slightly ahead of what is required. Once more there is a big focus on the dead ball; last season his short tenure had West Brom leading the league in set piece conversion and this year they are third.
Conversions are generally in the realm of non-repeatable metrics, but it’s at least worth considering, given how specifically focused Tony Pulis teams are, that it is at least intended that they should profit from such events. Similarly there’s information in and around scorelines that seems relevant. This season West Brom have been a 33-34% shots team when drawing or ahead yet this has leaped to around 50% when behind, a not unexpected trend but with an extremely strong bias. Split the home and away games and you spot an inkling of attacking intent at home but none away and only er.. Stoke’s away games have featured fewer goals than West Brom’s, yet we see the same trend as with Stoke, a super high save percentage (81%), and a high volume of shots conceded (16+).
Each of these teams appears to have the clear intent to secure away points via either maintaining a level position or once attaining a lead, protecting it at all costs.
In averaging over a point per game away from home, West Brom have so far just kept themselves at arm’s length from the relegation spots but with the gap at three points there is no room for error in the land of Pulis.
Thanks for reading!
Don’t forget the site is full this week with the “StatsBomb recommends…” series:
Plus there was a podcast:
…which is also now available on iTunes.
Follow all those guys on twitter, get reading anything you missed out on and enjoy!
You’ll not be bored this Christmas.
Happy New Year and all that.