Arsenal high five Terriers

Sorry, I don’t have as much time this morning as I should have. I am a bit distracted at the moment and I lost an hour just looking at posts on Facebook and Twitter. We should talk about that some day, how much time I personally waste on those sites. In the meantime think of this site as the home of what you get is what you get and this is what you get!

First off, it is always lovely to see Arsenal score five and keep a clean sheet! I’m not being at all salty when I say that the score line flattered Arsenal because while it did, it also didn’t. And also, it’s weird to me how scoring seems to solve everything but also that it really doesn’t. I guess I have to explain.

The scoreline didn’t flatter Arsenal! They had 21 shots, 6 of which were big chances and I have the total xG for this game at 3.85. That’s the second best of the season (behind the match against Everton) and a pretty accurate representation of the shots that Arsenal took. With an xG of 3.85 you can’t say that the scoreline flattered Arsenal. It’s not like United who scored four goals against Watford, all from outside the box, with a combined xG of all their shots totalling just 1.12. Or Everton’s 4 off 8 shots which included a ridiculous goal from 60 yards. Those are the definition of “the scoreline flattered”.

That said, there were large parts of this match which Arsenal just seemed to be off. And by off I mean like handbrake on, foot off the gas, lying outside the car, face down, on the gravel, probably drunk, certainly not moving, then you poke it with a stick to see if it’s alive and it lets out a groan. From the 4th minute until the 50th minute, Arsenal took just 6 shots and while two of them were good chances – Kolasinac wasted one right in front of goal and Lacazette’s cheeky curler was cleared off the line – Arsenal also were conceding possession carelessly and gifting Huddersfield chances. By the time Giroud hit the woodwork in the 60th minute, I was officially worried. Cech had already made two big saves, including the volleyball spike, and it looked like this was going to be “one of those games”.

Huddersfield didn’t play like a team that was confident but Arsenal let them back in it in really subtle ways. The Terriers weren’t pressing as much as I expected, they lead the League in away tackles but Arsenal matched them 11-10 in the first half. They also didn’t try to steal the ball back from Arsenal with Arsenal winning 8-7 interceptions over them. And Arsenal didn’t pass the ball too poorly – Xhaka made 93% of his attempted passes, Monreal 96%, and Mustafi and Koscielny 92%. It wasn’t the sheer number of bad passes, it was that there was just.. a weird lackadaisical way that Xhaka and Kolasinac turned the ball over. I don’t like saying things like “it gave them belief” but you could almost see Huddersfield gaining confidence as the game wore on! So, in that sense, the scoreline flattered the Gunners. Until the 70th minute.

That’s when Ozil picks the ball up about 40 yards from goal and back-heels it to no one. His marker, Hadergjonaj, doesn’t follow his turn, doesn’t stop Kolasinac picking the ball up, and then just lets Ozil run into the 18 yard box. Ozil exchanges passes with Alexis and Zanka just seems to give up on the possession. Ozil simply walks into Mordor and so too does Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil slots the ball over for the goal. That was the 68th minute and Wenger said “Maybe we benefited as well from the fact that they had to give a lot for 70 minutes and they collapsed a little bit in the last 20.” I’d say. Yeah.

More evidence of the Huddersfield collapse: in the second half Arsenal out-tackled the Terriers 15-10, dominated passing 386-142, outshot them 15-4, and despite having more than twice as much possession, Arsenal forced them into 15-8 turnovers. As Koscielny pointed out after the win over Burnley “When you are 11 players who fight together, it is easier for us at the back to defend.”

Which brings me to scoring solving everything… Everyone is hailing the Arsenal defense right now and there are certainly some great signs ahead of the match against Man U. The holy trinity of Mustafi, Monreal, and Koscielny kept yet another clean sheet. When Arsenal play those three at the back, they have yet to concede a goal.

Koscielny puts it down to the work rate of the players in front of him and while this could be true it also doesn’t give enough credit to some of the performances his partners have put in this season. Against Huddersfield, for example, the midfield was cut open multiple times thanks to giveaways by Kolasinac (who is showing himself to be a rather poor passer) and Xhaka. The Terriers put Cech under so much pressure on one possession that he had to volleyball spike the ball out of play. And Cech was forced to make another save off a Quaner shot in the 50th minute (Kolasinac horrible pass) which wasn’t counted as a big chance but was as close as it gets.

After the match last night Wenger praised Ozil.. for his defensive work, “The fact that he is fit, the fact I believe that you come often to games nobody has to convince you that Ozil is a great player, but he added something that people wanted to see from him as well, against Spurs and tonight, that he can fight and come back and win the ball back. Once people see that they are behind you, everybody knows in the stadium that he is a good football player and at the moment he shows that he can fight.” I don’t remember him winning the ball back even once in this match and the stats back that up. He didn’t make a single tackle and didn’t intercept a single pass. He did, however, block a cross and foul a player. These stats are consistent with his season: he’s at a career low in tackles per90 (since 2011) and a career high in fouls. Maybe Wenger and the team just want him to foul more. I don’t know.

This is what I mean when I say that “scoring solves everything.” I feel like there are a lot of people who forgive players for their defensive weaknesses whenever they have a great offensive performance. Ozil was awesome last night. He showed why he’s such a huge talent and why he will be missed if (when) Arsenal let him go. He has the rare ability to turn a game on its head and he’s back to creating 4.2 key passes per90, like he did in 2015/16 when Arsenal should have won the League.

“You just hate Ozil” is always the response I get when I say anything remotely critical. Please note, I do not hate him and I’m not criticizing Ozil. I hate false narratives and I can’t figure out why Arsenal want to push this weird story that Ozil is suddenly playing D. Maybe he is and I’m missing it. He did make 2 tackles against Spurs and really there wasn’t much tackling he needed to do in this game. Let’s be honest here, the club didn’t need to play better defense against Huddersfield, they needed to just keep the ball better, which was something he did with aplomb.

Maybe Wenger is trying to “gee” Ozil up ahead of the United match this weekend. I don’t have a problem with that but let’s not pretend he put in a great defensive performance. It was the Arsenal back line who put in the great defensive performance and who have been immense all season. Let’s give them credit!

Especially, in my case, Mustafi: I have been very harsh on Mustafi over the last year and he is slowly proving me wrong. He’s been brave in headers this season, he seems more switched on than last, and his partnership with Monreal and Koscielny is turning into one of my favorite Arsenal back lines. They can pass, intercept, cover for each other, and win aerial duels. It’s quite special.

Qq

Wenger and Koscielny quotes: www.arsenal.com

24 comments

  1. Tim, a fedora tip to you: I love that you are changing your opinion based on results. It’s one thing to rag on a player, another to be able to revise your opinion in light of new evidence.

    You mentioned something in the Burnley BTN (I know I keep bringing it up, but I really want to know more about the per100 idea you teased) that seems relevant here- “I believe my own eyes.” In this match, my eyes lied to me. I saw the Ozil foul, and saw Ozil angry reaction to the foul, and also saw Ozil’s position on the pitch when he fouled, and concluded that he must’ve been playing defense. I did this all unconsciously, and do believe the fact we didn’t concede (and also scored 5, due in large part to Ozil’s contributions) supported my believing this. It was like “Oh, we scored 5, didn’t concede, and I saw Ozil foul a player, he must be defending.” I’m kind of sad you disillusioned me, but I wonder if AW is under the same illusion, or just trying to get Ozil ready for Saturday.

  2. Overall, a terrific summary, I agree with most of the points you raise.

    With Ozil, I think Tim Stillman hit the nail on the head yesterday when he points out that, while the silky German almost always passes the stats test, and helps the team in almost every game, it’s when he also passes the eye test is when he becomes unplayable. And when he does pass the eye test, it’s so conspicuous because it’s so often that he doesn’t.

    Against Tottenham, Ozil passed the eye test and the team was magnificent. Against Huddersfield, I felt he was too passive without the ball and maybe the team relaxed along with him after the early goal. Maybe he’s more of a tone setter for the others than he realizes. Alexis always runs like a maniac and everyone is used to that happening no matter what, but when Ozil does it, you feel it lifts the whole team.

    The reason I think the eye test is important is because I don’t think single game stats still can’t speak very well to how well an individual player is functioning within a team defense in the same way that single game possession and shot stats are not nearly as informative as expected goals. Ok, so player X didn’t tackle anyone, but how often did he cause the opposition to mishit a pass? How often did he close a passing angle at just the right moment? How often did he harry a player into the path of a team mate who DID make a tackle? There are no stats for those things but to do them consistently well seem to me more crucial than the sheer number of tackles or interceptions accumulated. As a coach I don’t want a player who stuffs the stat sheet as much as a player who functions well within the system I have set up and forms an important part of a cohesive whole. I think your eyes tell you those things much better than single game stats. My eyes told me last night that Ozil did those things more often than not (which is better than average) but certainly not with the same zeal as against Tottenham.

  3. Overall, a terrific summary, I agree with most of the points you raise.

    With Ozil, I think Tim Stillman hit the nail on the head yesterday when he points out that, while the silky German almost always passes the stats test, and helps the team in almost every game, it’s when he also passes the eye test is when he becomes unplayable. And when he does pass the eye test, it’s so conspicuous because it’s so often that he doesn’t.

    Against Tottenham, Ozil passed the eye test and the team was magnificent. Against Huddersfield, I felt he was too passive without the ball and maybe the team relaxed along with him after the early goal. Maybe he’s more of a tone setter for the others than he realizes. Alexis always runs like a maniac and everyone is used to that happening no matter what, but when Ozil does it, you feel it lifts the whole team.

    The reason I think the eye test is important is because I don’t think single game stats still can’t speak very well to how well an individual player is functioning within a team defense in the same way that single game possession and shot stats are not nearly as informative as expected goals. Ok, so player X didn’t tackle anyone, but how often did he cause the opposition to mishit a pass? How often did he close a passing angle at just the right moment? How often did he harry a player into the path of a team mate who DID make a tackle? There are no stats for those things but to do them consistently well seem to me more crucial than the sheer number of tackles or interceptions accumulated. As a coach I don’t want a player who stuffs the stat sheet as much as a player who functions well within the system I have set up and forms an important part of a cohesive whole. I think your eyes tell you those things much better than single game stats. My eyes told me last night that Ozil did those things more often than not (which is better than average) but certainly not with the same zeal as against Tottenham.

  4. My first thought on the Ozil defensive conundrum is that a lot of defensive work – tracking back, being obstructive, a pest and a general nuisance – doesn’t show up in the stats, and can force turnovers. I don’t really remember him doing a lot of that, either but I’d have to watch the game again.

    My second thought is that that’s a fine post for someone in a hurry.

  5. Tackles do not equal defense

    Or rather, tackles are not the only measure of defense and certainly not *necessarily* the best one. They happen to be a handy counting stat. If you close someone down while blocking the passing lane to a forward player thus forcing them into a bad pass and a turnover that doesn’t show up.

    I’d like to see a defensive stat along the lines of opponent’s OPS against, i.e., your defensive contribution equal to how much you impair your opponent’s offensive contribution. For example: Player 1 usually usually creates 1.5 chances, 0.5 assists, 1.7 pre-assists and completes 40/45 passes. Convert this into an average offensive contribution stat. In this game he created 1 chance, no assists, 0 pre-assists and completed 20/30 passes. Convert this into actual game offensive contribution stat. Ozil spent 80% of the time covering him. Therefore Ozil gets the a defensive contribution stat equal to the difference between Player A’s average offensive contribution and Player A’s actual game offensive contribution.

    I think this would probably work best with the team as a whole rather than individuals. A couple years ago you linked to an interesting stats page that counted all the actions that led to a win. I wonder if that could be repurposed into measuring defense.

  6. That Wilson dude at the Guardian must be a Spud… he sure has his panties in a twist about Arsenal. I like how he bravely predicts that sometime whether it’s “Saturday, a week or a month”, sometime we will fail to perform and he can say, “Arsenal Arsenal it up.”

    So if we fail to catch City and don’t go invincible the rest of the way, he is proven right. Coming from the person who wrote “Inverting the Pyramid”, this seems like the opposite of insight. More like the sour grapes of someone who saw their team’s dreams crushed like a soggy chip on the floor of the pub on match day.

    I hope we beat Maureen and tweet him a cuppa.

  7. Also hat tip for re-evaluating your opinion of Mustafi in light of new evidence. I wonder if you can detect anything in his stats to back up your eyes’ opinion.

  8. I commented on Mustafi’s performances after Spurs and Burnley matches. I wasn’t able to see yesterday’s match due to work but it’s good to hear you praising him. That definitely tells me he is improving as you have been one of his biggest critics. Let’s not forget he is 25. Defenders usually take a little bit longer to mature and I think that’s goes double for Arsenal defenders given our balls-out attacking tendencies. My biggest issue with him was his ill advised tackles inside the penalty box – something that’s not too difficult to correct.

    Worrying that our level dropped for such a long period. Hopefully we will see more of the Arsenal that we saw against Spurs. We kept a very high level of concentration throughout that game, so it’s really just a matter of being up for it. We have a history of playing down to our opponents.

    Just imagine if we had bought a world class midfielder. We would be fighting for the title instead of fighting for fourth. It’s the same story every season. So frustrating.

  9. Tim – Your hurried morning posts are 10x better than any other Arsenal blog’s!
    Echo the sentiments about Mustafi. He has steadily improved and is starting to feel rock solid. Fewer bad judgments on headers, etc.

    The Ozil conundrum continues. I also didn’t see much difference in his defensive play yesterday vs. previous matches. He tracks back a lot more than he’s credited for, although it’s true he doesn’t often make effective tackles or interceptions. But as Dr Duh points out, it’s not like he’s out of position defensively. He does what he’s supposed to. Rarely more.

    So, when the Gunners win, especially when Ozil’s passes are finished by teammates, no one remembers the “poor body language” (which is really a way of saying he’s not intercepting and tackling enough). But when the Gunners lose, especially when his chances aren’t finished, his “poor body language” is a sign of indifference and lack of industry. As you said, “scoring solves everything.”

  10. I would add that “scoring solves everything” is just as relevant to Ramsey. I’ve been a harsh critic of his positional inconsistency, but yesterday his flicks and assists were delightful, and since the Terriers never scored when Ramsey was caught forward, he was spectacular. But, on the games where the opponent scores off the break, Ramsey is a disaster, especially if his flicks and passes aren’t converted.

    It’s never as simple as the typical knee jerk reactions we typically see. Fortunately, your site isn’t typical – it keeps an even keel about these things. Bravo.

    1. I think it’s a little more complicated:
      1. Sometimes his flicks and passes are annoying because wasteful and unnecessary (just as sometimes the stuff Ozil tries isn’t coming off either), in which case he’s deserving of criticism quite apart from his positional indiscipline. Thankfully, this has been considerably less this season than in the recent past.
      2. Other times, his flicks, etc, are working, and, whether or not they’re leading directly to goals, he deserves credit. But, crucially, *it can still be the case that, for a central midfielder, there’s something very, very wrong with his positioning.* I think this is often STILL the case, and goals, while very nice, at best paper over the cracks, because we all know that at some point, the gaping holes in our midfield are going to come back to bite us, and we’re going to lose to some team who should never be beating us, like Stoke or Watford. I’m done worrying about whether Ramsey is to blame or Wenger is to blame (I think it’s some of both, but increasingly thinking it’s more Wenger, who’s very much encouraging Rambo’s high positioning).
      3. The point, rather, is that it’s an issue, but Ramsey’s attacking play (and the shift he *does* tend to put in defensively, too) make him a value to the team–it’s just that all the attacking virtues in the world aren’t going to make us less vulnerable in the middle of the pitch in front of our back three. The obvious solutions are (a) buy someone who’s a BIG upgrade on Xhaka (easier said than done, and likely to cost a small fortune), or (b) play a third central midfielder. I’d drop Kolasinac (for the time being), play a flat back four, and put another midfielder in beside Xhaka and Ramsey who will sit deeper than Rambo.

      But hey, that’s obviously not going to happen any time soon, so in the meantime, I just hope we can score more than Man United can put past us (and that Nacho-Mustafi-Kos-Cech keep up the crazy amount of interceptions, blocked shots, etc).

      1. I think you’re spot on. I would add that our glittering recent results seem to paper over the cracks and this is more due to luck and a poor showing by our opponents (especially Spurs) than anything having changed that would correct for such a glaring weakness. Perhaps having another ball-playing, somewhat fast cb in the back 3 has protected us a bit. However, because the sample size is so small, and the only team we’ve played with MF who could really exploit that indiscipline were Spurs, I’m inclined to agree with Johnathan Wilson that we are due to be punished for it at some point in the near future, be it by Pogba’s, Herrerra and Fellaini on Saturday, or Simeone’s dogs of war in the knockouts of the Europa.

      2. I would add concerning the flicks and tricks, that they are high risk, high reward. Trying and failing those types of passes in the final third when you’re trying to unlock an organized defense is forgivable. The risk is giving up possession far from your own goal and the reward is creating a great chance. Trying and failing in the center of the park or even in your defensive third is dangerous, at best.

        1. Arsenal are not perfect, and no one’s saying that everything is down pat, but something has clicked, and machine has purred these past few games. It’s the enforced rest that Europa affords the first XI, while keeping the second XI match sharp. It’s world class players adding to their game (Ozil and Ramsey). It’s a superb back three. It’s an intelligent, mobile CF who knows where the back of the net is. If you can’t enjoy this purple patch of your team now, when can you? As we say in the Caribbean, sometimes you have to give Jack his jacket.

          I agree with the underlying point, though. The manager should be tactically flexible to try something different (e.g. a midfield three) against different, and higher quality opponents, because the Pogbas and Herreras of this world are going to exploit any weaknesses in your midfield. We play well against Matic, though, so we’ll see.

          All that said, I think that United will find a way to beat or draw with us on Saturday. We’ll have our work cut out handling an in-form Martial, Lukaku and Rashford. As always, I’d be happy if our players make me look a fool with that prediction. For the moment, the machine’s purring. We don’t think we’re Barcelona, but we the fans are loving it. As we should.

  11. Scoring Solves Everything is really the motto of the sport. That’s why we all show up to games, and that how the points are awarded. Nothing else matters in the end.

    I had a long post earlier that didn’t make it up. The gist of it is that single game stats in my view are still really bad at telling us which player defended well and which did not in the same way that simple possession and shots stats are bad at telling us which team was better. The eye test is imperfect but I think if you specifically look at a player and look for how he shuts down passing lanes, how aggressively and consistently he closes down and how often he helps his team mate make a tackle or interception, that, for me, is a better measure of his defensive performance than numbers of tackles or interceptions. That’s why I thought Tim Stillman was spot on when he said Ozil is good when he pads the stat sheet, but when he also passes the eye test, he is unplayable. It’s true. Each time Ozil lifts his game off the ball, the whole team seems to follow suit and it leads to our best wins. It wouldn’t be so conspicuous if it happened all the time, so clearly it doesn’t happen often enough.

  12. Man, if that was a fast-food post, I’d love to see your three-course ones. Good stuff.

    On Ozil, I’m with Wenger. Thing that has infuriated me most about him is losing the ball, and showing no interest in winning it back. Being switched on for the O but not the D. We are seeing much less of that, and, allied with his superlative offensive talents, he has been incredible. Some floated the idea that Jack or Iwobi will fit seamlessly into the breach when (not if) he goes. Delusional. He’s a level above both of them.

    It true to say (a) he has been an infuriatingly diffident player who has often NOT seem up for the fight (b) he’s a peerless creator, whose running is sometimes under-appreciated, and when you give him space and time he looks as good as any No.10 in world football. Both those things can be true, and are true.

    Ramsey has arguably been our player of the month for November, and HE had added something to his game — incisive, productive passing. It somewhat belies his reputation as purely a runner offensively. He’s been involved in the most goals (scoring or assisting) of any Arsenal player, His defence-splitting passes have become very good, and someone made a compilation, which I’m not going to post. He was incisive against Huddersfield, and Arseblog noted in its match report that he and Mesut were the best players on the pitch.

    Kolasinac is going to tighten up on his passing, and Im not worried (yet) about his low percentage. I like his attitude, and his fearlessness. I dislike his nicknames (tank, beast etc) because he’s a very intelligent footballer and not merely a bruiser. I love Arsenal players who had a bit of both, like my all-time favourite, Patrick Vieira.

    I’ve always rated Mustafi, and it’s good to see him showing superb form. He’s always had the threat on set pieces — good, because we need goalscoring ability from as many areas as we can get them.

    So can we beat United, even with our good form and given that we did last season? I say no. They raise their game 30% against us, and every one of their players will look like a world beater on the day. I’m glad that Rooney’s got old, and is weaving his magic at Everton (he’s ensured that the Goal of the Season competition is already over).

  13. Oh, and Laca. Said at the start of the season that I’d have preferred Morata, who’s a more classic, complete CF. I take that back. I wouldn’t trade Laca for any other striker in the premier league.

    Dig, if you will, the love and appreciation Alexis Sanchez showed him when he scored. Watch the tape again. Ozil and Sanchez clearly have huge professional respect for him. Would they both be staying if we’d boughta worldie (as Laca is) two years ago. We’ll never know.

    And speaking of Alexis, he looks happier. No more sulk. He looks happier and better integrated into the team, than he did towards the end of last season.

    1. I was actually thinking about Morata and Lacazette, and I agree. I had said that if it came down to between the two of them, I’d pick Lacazette because I thought he was more of a sure thing for our system, even though Morata’s ceiling is higher. I still feel that. Maybe in a season or two Morata will take a step up in level and be a worldie. But for right now, I am very happy we got Lacazette, and I’m glad even fans with generally such an opposing viewpoint as us can share that view.

      I also like Laca’s character (what we can see of it at least) He seems like a quiet, unassuming chap who is more about the team, but also intensely driven. He set himself a target of 20 goals this season (I presumed he meant in the league) It’s 7 right now?

      1. I would also say that Lacazette’s CF play has improved in the last few weeks. He is more involved in the build-up play now with Ozil and Alexis creating all kinds of space around him. There is still room for improvement though.

  14. I don’t think they would be ( staying if Wenger bought someone like Laca a year or two ago)
    Both, Sanchez and Ozil are all about maximizing their earnings and winning potentials , and Arsenal still can’t match the wages the likes of PSG , City , or United can pay.

    Arsenal and Wenger’s approach always should’ve been to build the winning team around them before they went into the last year of their contracts , and move them on for maximum dollar in order to rebuild. They have failed at both, even if Ozil does go to United in February to bolster their title bid.

    Sanchez is moody and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes him do certain things he does, but winning games is the best remedy for all and Arsenal have been winning lately.
    Also, perhaps he’s decided his future and now he’s more at peace knowing what the next move will be.

  15. Tim, Iam in agreement re Ozil and his defensive performance against Hudersfield.
    Further more, his offensive contributions stand out in these types of games because he’s afforded so much space and time , his immense talent is put on display.

    I’m a big Ozil fan , his obvious shortcomings notwithstanding , but it’s easy for him to perform when Hudersfield players failed to put him under any pressure whatsoever. I strugle to recollect a single contact on him of any kind over the 90 minutes.
    He probably gets a rougher threatment in training from Arsenal defenders.

    Watch Mourinho devise a special treatment for Ozil tomorrow and see what I mean by it.
    He won’t be allow to glide by anyone without a bump, an arm check , or worse.
    Refs will play a huge part in this of course, as some of these are clearly outside of the rules but don’t expect Jose lose any sleep over it.

  16. “Refs will play a huge part in this of course…” <<< Key statement. And in that, Im not hopeful. City got some big (wrong) calls against us.

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