I was listening to the Totally Football Show Pod this morning and was surprised by something I heard from one of their guests, Matt Scott the former Arsenal reporter to the Guardian. Talking about Theo Walcott and why he was sold to Everton, Scott said:
“The reason why he’s been bombed out of Arsenal is because of the comments that he made after the defeat to Crystal Palace, in which he was the captain, last season, when he said, ‘we weren’t prepared properly for the game.’ Wenger, after that, has not played him, he has not started.”
It was such an incredible revelation that I had to fact check. I found that Wenger did indeed drop Walcott after that match though I couldn’t find any quotes from Walcott saying that the players weren’t properly prepared.
The loss to Palace happened on April 10th, 2017. Up to (and including) that match, Walcott had made 35 appearances for Arsenal with 28 starts. He even scored 19 goals, including important goals against City and West Ham in the two matches leading up to the loss to Palace.
After the loss to Palace, Walcott started just one match and subbed on in three more. He was also relegated to the bench for 6 of the last 10 matches – which included wins over City (FA Cup), Man U, and Chelsea (FA Cup). And as you know, this season, Walcott has only started in the League Cup, Europa League, and the FA Cup.
As for the quote from Walcott, I couldn’t find it. He was captain that day and his post-match interview with Sky Sports is available on Arsenal.com. In that interview he does say that “Palace wanted it more. You could sense that from the kick-off,” and talks about how the team have let the fans down but nothing about not being properly prepared by Arsene Wenger.
In fact, when the reporter says that “the manager will take the brunt of the criticism”, Walcott defends Wenger saying immediately “he shouldn’t (take the blame). Us players we go out on the pitch, we try and do a job, and we’ve let the manager down like the fans. And that’s all I can say.”
I reached out to Matt Scott on twitter for clarification and he sent me to this link which quotes Walcott saying that Palace wanted it more. Wenger did sort of contradict Walcott. When asked if the players failed to give 100% (which is what Walcott was sort of saying) Wenger says “I wouldn’t say that, no.”
That match did mark a sort of watershed for Arsenal but I’m not entirely sure that Walcott was dropped because of his comments. Wenger switched to a back three after that match and there was no room for Walcott: Wenger played Giroud or Welbeck up top with Ozil and Alexis behind the striker. Unless Wenger was going to play Walcott as the lone striker or as a right wing back, there wasn’t a place for Walcott.
The player I thought was most guilty of a poor performance in that 3-0 loss to Palace last April was Mesut Ozil. He had 10% of the possession in this match (yes Ozil had 10% of the ball among 28 total players, Alexis had 7.6%, took 4 shots and had a key pass), 5 corners, and generated exactly 0 shots for himself or his teammates. Predictably, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott were blamed, with Welbeck soaking up some of the residuals.
Things haven’t changed much in the last 9 months. Arsenal still struggle… sigh.. why am I even writing this?
I’m going to go make burger buns. Then I’m going to eat burgers.
Here are the week 23 tables sorted by 7amxG
Crystal Palace is going to be a much tougher challenge than I think most Arsenal supporters are expecting. It is a home game, which should give Arsenal an advantage and under normal circumstances I would call this in favor of Arsenal but these are far from normal circumstances.
The upheaval over contracts and transfers is likely to weigh heavy on the team. But still I expect Arsenal to generate plenty of offense. The problem isn’t offense in the Arsenal system, it’s defense. The actual goals allowed by Arsenal is 30. The expected goals allowed by Arsenal is 30.
That puts Arsenal’s actual goals at 10th worst in the League, mid-table. However, a close inspection reveals that Arsenal’s 30 “expected goals allowed” is actually 5th best. What gives?
Well, the difference between top to bottom in expected goals allowed is 22 goals but the difference between top to bottom actual goals allowed is 35. That’s happening because the top five teams are all overperforming their xGa and United and Burnley alone are overperforming by 32.6 goals (combined).
Interestingly, I ran the R² for both offense and defense over the last 8 years and the fit between defense and table position is sometimes better than offense and table position (it’s about equal). In other words, better defense was a stronger correlation to table higher position than offense in just about half of the last 8 seasons.
Here are the last eight seasons:
|RSQ Between X and Table||2017/18||2016/17||2015/16||2014/15||2013/14||2012/13||2011/12||2010/11|
For those wondering why I sort my tables using goal difference you can see the reason above. The correlation between goal difference and League position is very strong. This is also why I bang on about Arsenal needing to “get the balance right”. By which I mean offense, defense, and ultimately goals difference. Which is the most obvious thing in the history of the game if you think about it for a minute – of course you win games by having a superior goal difference and you finish higher up the table by winning games.
Anyway, game tomorrow. Let’s hope the goal difference is in Arsenal’s favor!
Stats Source: my databases