Novembermore

At 1 -0 down all I heard was “November has started!” At 2-0 down the cry was “November! The curse of November!” At 2-1 there was hope mixed with despair as people complained “Why do we show up and think we can just win?” At 2-2 I heard the rallying cry “mental strength! Mental strength!” And at 2-3 all I heard was “Özil for President 2016.”

It was a great win over Ludogorets, punctuated by a goal of the season candidate from Özil. In case you missed it, the whole sequence goes like this: Gibbs heads the ball clear, Coquelin heads the ball on but it’s collected by Dyakov, then Giroud comes storming back into defense and tackles the ball away from Dyakov and right to Elneny, Elneny plays a warbling long ball through to Özil who lifts the ball over the onrushing keeper, cuts back onto his left to destroy not one but two Ludogorets defenders, and with the entire goal to himself, passes the ball into the back of the net. It was a goal of the highest quality but that’s what it took to break this deadlock.

I would say “credit to Ludogorets” but I’m sure they would much rather have the 3 points that they just dropped than my credit. I mean, I can’t imagine their manager calling a team meeting and saying “guys, I know we are feeling bad about the fact that we went 2-0 up and just lost 3-2 but this guy from 7amkickoff just gave us a lot of CREDIT.” They played well for most of the match but Arsenal were simply better and in the end, Arsenal had Özil to break the tie.

What’s worrying about the match is the fact that a pattern is emerging this season where Arsenal are now conceding an unusually high number of good chances to the opposition. As I highlight in my By the Numbers piece on Arseblog News this morning, Arsenal are creating almost the exact same number of Big Chances and shots in prime as they did last season but they are allowing almost double the number of those same shots as they did last season.

Big chances and shots in prime are high value shots, teams generally don’t survive long allowing a lot of them. Think back to the match against PSG: they created 5 big chances in that game and only scored 1. That’s a highly unusual conversion rate and it wasn’t largely down to Ospina, who only made two saves, it was equally down to the fact that Cavani is a donkey on rollerblades. But conceding that many high value shots isn’t sustainable; Ludogorets punished Arsenal twice for this slack defending.

I suspect that there are two reasons why Arsenal are allowing the opposition to get such good looks. First, Mustafi. He’s new, he’s not good in the air, and he switches off. For the Ludogorets second goal, you can see Mustafi yelling at Koscielny to watch out for Keseru but neither center back picks him up and he scores easily – this is a case of him being new. For the Cavani goal against PSG, Mustafi simply switched off. And in the match against Swansea (where Arsenal allowed 4 big chances and 5 shots on target in prime) he was guilty of not even challenging for aerial balls. As good as he is in other areas he needs to improve in these three: communication with Koscielny, staying alert for the full 90, and being more aggressive in the air.

The other reason Arsenal’s defense is slack is that Arsene switched Arsenal up structurally and is playing Coquelin as a holding midfielder between the opposition lines. This high up the pitch defense as attack is a high stakes gambit: if he wins the ball high up the pitch it’s brilliant, but since he’s high up the pitch he’s not available to shield the back two and any mistakes by them are magnified. There are a number of good reasons to play this way, mostly because it frees up space around the deep lying playmaker, but like I said, it’s an aggressive tactic which will lead to conceding counter attacks and big chances.

This all may sound like sour milk coming from me: Arsenal have gone the last 15 matches undefeated. That is a great streak of games stretching back to the open day loss to Liverpool. But I can’t help but feel like we are riding our luck a bit here, depending too much on great saves from Ospina (like the one off Wanderson’s shot) and on even better goals from the likes of Özil.

At some point, the luck runs out. Or… Arsenal figure out how to be a little more solid in their new system and stop conceding so many good quality chances. Personally, I’d like the latter. Preferably this weekend against Spurs.

Qq

28 Comments on Novembermore

  1. I read this and your Arseblog piece as well. Last year we led the league in expected goals but couldn’t score any actual goals. From a plain old common sense (POCS) point of view it’s because our approach play lacked incision. We got tons of low percentage or contested/blocked shots because we constantly played in front of the opposition. By contrast, Leicester only needed 1-2 good looks per game because they tended to be extremely high percentage shots. Wenger realized this, as you point out, and sought more players who could help us to create and exploit this type of shot. So far, it’s working a treat. We are now merely average in terms of chance creation, but lead the league in conversion. We also are tied for the lead in both the CL group and the PL and are tops in goals scored in the former and just one off the lead in the latter. So the attack is working and the returns of Giroud and Ramsey mean more options and more sources of goals.

    For the defense, I would not blame Mustafi at all. I highlighted how bad he was vs. PSG but I’m prepared to cut him slack for that given he had barely just stepped off the plane from Spain. Since then, he has not been error free but I think he’s played well. Arsene’s Arsenal has always played an offensive style that commits a lot of resources to forward areas. This means defenders are often left in high leverage situations vs attackers that require them to make perfect decisions and execute perfect interventions. They don’t always get it right and in those situations, the opposition gets a good, perhaps even “big” chance. I view that as a by-product of playing the style we play. I’d like to see a comparison to other offensively potent sides like Liverpool and Man City before I can be convinced we have a problem. From a POCS point of view, this appears to be the most steady back 5 we’ve had in years.

    • I’m just double checking the data on the other teams right now. I’m not able to collect data for every team this year because I don’t have time.

      • Tim, I just read your by the numbers piece.
        What is the difference between big chances and shots in prime? Is it a subset?

        Similarly, a fast attack shot (counter attacks) – is this also covered within the big chances?

        • They overlap. Most often a shot in the 6 yard box will be considered a big chance, as will most counter attacking goals. But they get counted twice in my system.

    • Perhaps it might be worthwhile for Arsene to try a 4-4-2 to fit Alexis and Giroud in the same team rather than playing our regular 4-2-3-1 with both of them.

      It worked for France(Euros) and it might just work for Arsenal. You wouldn’t need two wingers in this system either as the whole system would involve positional play rather than quick transitions. I didn’t like the onus on the mid fielders to push up (as much as they did last night) to make up for Giroud’s slow movement. This from a POCS perspective of course 🙂

      • If it ain’t broke and all that. I think that’s an interesting formation but on the basis of the Ludogorets game I wouldn’t say it’s likely to lead to better results than the current setup. We gotta ride that Theo-Mesut-Alexis-Alex front four as long as they are fit and performing. Giroud is the perfect plan B.

      • Oh man, if I had a penny for every time since the summer an Arsenal supporter has suggested we play Giroud and Alexis as a 2 up top, citing the French Euro team as evidence …I’d have a lot of useless change jangling around in my pockets.
        I want to be careful, because I know we’re all entitled to our opinions and there’s no guaranteeing mine are more right than anyone else’s–especially considering that the comments on here come from thoughtful, civilized people (a rarity on the internet!). However, this argument annoys the hell out of me:

        1. It “worked” for France to some degree, but it’s not like their campaign was the second coming of Brazil 1970 or Spain 2008. Why do we need to emulate an above average (at best) international team who had a run of a couple of good games on the way to the final (where they disappointed and lost) at a tournament being played on their home soil?

        2. Two up top is becoming slightly trendier again, but most teams still don’t play it, presumably for good reasons.

        3. As for Arsenal, this set up means either we have to play Ozil on the wing or at the top of a midfield diamond (what you were suggesting, I think?), neither of which is likely to get the best out of him; the latter could work for him but at the expense of a serious lack of width and/or not enough defensive cover. So we’d be asking one of our two best players to play in an uncomfortable way, simply in order to accommodate a very limited centre forward, which brings us to…

        4. Why all this obsession from fans about shoehorning Giroud into the starting lineup? Our performances going forward have been mostly excellent in his absence, as we look more fluid than we have in years. He’s had his chance as Arsenal’s main man up top for the last several years, and he’s proved what he can do, but also that he’s probably just short of the class that’s optimal when you’re trying to win the big trophies (not saying we can’t win with Giroud up top, just that at best he’s a role player who’s not going to take us to the next level). Yes, we missed him in the Burnley and Boro matches, and he showed his worth coming off the bench against Sunderland, but (a) not every team plays like Boro against us, and (b) that’s why he makes a good supersub.

        5. Plus, Giroud and Alexis have played together in the same team many, many, many times and rarely if ever looked like developing a really good understanding. Alexis and Ozil on the other hand…

        6. Finally, you suggest we’d be happy to adopt a system that “involves positional play” at the expense of “quick transitions,” but for half a decade much of our attacking play has cried out for quicker transitions (arguably), and quick transitions have been one of the things that has worked best in our season up to this point (still allied to our short passing game, of course).

        • 2. In “inverting the pyramid” we learn that the single striker system is an outgrowth of the fact that so few teams play with 3 CBs. Basically, it’s about maximizing utility. If you’re playing against a back three (352) having two strikers and two wingers is the perfect formation, it gives you a numerical advantage against the three CBs and the wingers pin the wingbacks back in defense. However, if the other team is playing a 442, the 451 (or really a 433) is preferred because you control the midfield with a numerical advantage.

        • I should also add that if you play a 352 and the opposition plays a 451, the team with the 3 CBs is just wasting an extra guy because there are three CBs for 1 striker. This makes control of the game higher up the pitch difficult because the opposing team has 9 players against your 7 and should be able to craft numerical advantages all over the pitch.

          In order to deploy a 442 properly you also need two powerful center mids and two crazy good wingers. Arsenal did that with Pires and Ljungberg wide and Vieira and Petit in the middle. That freed Bergkamp and Henry up to be the creative outlet for the team.

          • I love your work Tim … but you can be a bit loose with facts occasionally.
            Pires and Petit never played together for Arsenal. Swap Pires for Overmars and your statement above is fine 🙂

      • 4-4-2 doesn’t work with Ozil unless you play a diamond in midfield, because he cannot replicate the Pogba role, he just doesn’t have the physical presence.

        I do think that the 4-4-2 diamond is perhaps the best way to use Ramsey; Ozil at the top, Ramsey & Elneny on the sides in the box-to-box roles where their engines can be most effective and Coquelin at the base (or Xhaka). Unfortunately this leaves Walcott and Cazorla sidelined. Right now, those two are performing, so it’s not the best option. Hence the Ramsey dilemma – he needs to be left out.

        • I agree about Ramsey (about the diamond and about needing to be left out). I also think Santi could play on the left(ish) of a narrow midfield diamond, with Xhaka, presumably, at the base (Coquelin’s inability to get the ball of the centrebacks and dictate from deep hurts him in that role). but I don’t know why we’d change to that formation, honestly, when many more of our players are better suited in a 4-2-3-1 or variations thereof.

        • 4 more Big Chances than City and Liverpool, 15 more shots in prime than City, 9 more SiP than Liverpool.

          Up front, Arsenal are relying on an astonishing 44% SiP conversion and the best SiP save rate of the top teams. By my metrics, Arsenal are overperforming in attack by about 8 goals (nearly a goal a game) and are overperforming in defense by just 2 goals.

          Arsenal will need a Leicester-esque shift in their defensive stats to be a title contender for me.

      • Tim, in your graphics, how can a team concede more big chances that the big chances it allows. Chelsea and City specifically. I’m just confused. Could you please clarify?

  2. My thoughts precisely. There must be a balance between attacking fiercely and defending properly. Chasing a game, our entire team pushes up and presents counter opportunities for the opposition.

    Its good to start like a house on fire but, that should happen given the team’s freshness, the opposition and our form. Showing up and expecting to win (like we did yesterday) puts us in a spot of bother.

    There is a clear vulnerability and Arsene should address this ASAP. One point which you did not cover is our weakness on the left wing. Iwobi does not contribute to the defense regularly and Monreal is left wanting a lot of times. Yesterday Gibbs wrong footed himself to allow the cross which resulted in the 2nd goal.

    If we are creating the same number of big chances like last term then, we surely must be converting at a better rate as I’m sure we seem to be scoring more goals than last season.

  3. I just want to say that I watched this game in the flesh and I got to see live one of the best Arsenal goals I have seen.
    I froze my butt off but THAT GOAL OMG.

      • Most of the game it felt like there were more Arsenal fans than the home team’s. Apart from a couple of songs during the match, I could say that more people celebrated Arsenal’s goals. And when Özil’s goal came in, it felt as if the stadium exploded.

  4. I agree we are giving up way too many chances to the opposition and if we keep doing that our luck will run out sooner or later. I disagree with the first reason that Mustafi is one of the causes. Is Mustafi the one whose error is creating the chances for the opposition? I don’t think so. However, I am willing to concede that he has made a couple of errors this season that has led to goals – but he is definitely not alone in this. For e.g. for the second Ludogorets goal yesterday, I would point the initial blame at our half-hearted attempt to win the ball in the final third and then Gibbs’ shambolic defending in a 1v1 situation. True Mustafi should have marked the runner tighter, but it looks like he also had one eye on the situation ahead of him and not behind him. It was a collection of errors and I don’t think it’s fair to blame that one solely on Mustafi.

    I agree with your second reasoning that playing Coquelin high up the pitch is causing problems for our defense. I think this is the systematic issue that we need to address. I wish I could see the Chelsea game again (I deleted it by mistake from my dvr) but I think our system works better when other teams are playing a higher line which has the effect of making us more compact as we like press high as well. When teams drop back and we use Coq to press higher up the field, we are stretched vertically and that leaves more space for the other team to exploit. When we play Tottenham on the weekend, I expect we will see ourselves more compact again as they are also a high pressing team. However, I think when Coquelin does press higher the margin of error will be very small. Maybe Iwobi can drop back further into midfield and occupy the space Coquelin leaves behind? Definitely don’t want Ozil doing that as we want him on the ball if Coquelin does manage to win it back.

    I believe this is what we need to figure out. Who drops back a bit when Coquelin presses higher. It will probably just depend on which side of the pitch the action is happening. It’s really upto the manager to drill this into the team – and I think this will be crucial to our title chances.

  5. I was going to comment that based on this article, it seems we look like Leicester last season. With the defense becoming tighter on the second part of the season (January to May). Though you already put that on your replies to Dr. Gooner.

    I do wonder though, if our Big chance conceded is because of our system of play, will we need to change the system to solidify our defense? Or it just a case of familiarity and when the second part of the season came, we will just do it better? Did Leicester City last season change the system to better their defense or they’re just got better and more disciplined toward the second part of last season…

    • Subjectively, they became less gung-ho, less open in their approach as the season wore on. This process was accelerated by their 5-2 mauling by Arsenal on their home patch in the first half of the season. I’m sure Tim has stats somewhere to back up the assertion that the Foxes became more compact in their positioning and game management in the last stretch. I remember them winning a number of those final games 1-0.

  6. I think we are conceding more chances because of playing a higher line. Recovering the ball higher up acts as a creative outlet. But against tough opposition , eg: Chelsea, we have looked to press very hard so that the high line is not tested . So Coq being higher up helps. Against weaker opposition the team does not press as hard as they can , maybe conserving energy for the season.One thing that Wenger does better than anyone else is get the max out of his team in 38 games.He is really amazing if you consider the fact that his teams never have complete breakdowns . I really think Spurs cannot survive with the pace they play at. City saw a dip in form . Liverpool have fewer games so maybe they can but they are not that good anyways. All said, Arsenal are playing with an identity this season . If they keep playing like this we might or might not win the title but the season review reel would be entertaining.

  7. I’m not annoyed by it, but it’s kind of amusing that after years of no proper dm, Arsene finally commits to having players for that position, only to invent a new position higher up the pitch for them to occupy.

  8. Whilst I get the stats and the angst, my impression from watching the games is that we’ve accepted giving away more chances against weaker teams (esp those defending deep) in order to overload our attack to break them down. Also, the conversion rate of those teams from the type of chances they were likely to have was probably pretty low. That nearly backfired against Swansea (down to an explosive contribution from a player nobody had ever heard of) and Boro (who played much better than anybody would have predicted).
    Against Chelski for example, I don’t recall us being open and my recollection is that we gave away 1 big chance at the end when we were 3-0 up, maybe 1 in the first half (shot which went just wide).
    We’ll find out more on Sunday I guess 🙂

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