My comment is not relevent to this post. Its about the blog.
I like you tim. I always thought that you are rational, but you changed my mind. In the past, you used the numbers to prove that we are on the way up. You though and hoped that we will be the best.
Now, ypu use the numbers to remind us that we are shit, and it is only going to get worse.
I think your feelings drive you to look between the lines so you can back up your feeling, unfortunately, not the other way around.
Thanks for the comment and I want to tell you that I’m not picking on you with this response because I get this criticism a lot. I get this usually from people who want me to be more positive, or who haven’t been around much, and I want to respond.
This criticism is interesting because I get it no matter which way I write. When I veer into positive territory, I get the counterpart criticism to this one, which says that I only look for the stats to prove my positive outlook. Either that or, that “stats don’t tell the whole story.” Few people actually criticize the numbers. They, instead, go after me or say that all stats are bunk. As you know, these ad hominem attacks are off limits, however, I’m allowing it this one time because it’s so overwhelmingly common that I feel the need to end it once and for all.
I’m not sure which numbers you’re specifically referring to here because I haven’t written any articles about Wenger’s numbers for a while. I can tell you that I have been looking at Wenger’s trends over the last 20 seasons and I compiled this data as a precursor to a possible article.
This is just how I live. I don’t apologize for it. I also don’t apologize for the data being ugly: however, I do apologize to any readers out there who rely on screen readers – this picture is not compliant.
A few things stand out to me in this graphic.
First, Arsene Wenger has only had 6 seasons where Arsenal finished within 5 points of the eventual League winner. Wenger has had 3 seasons where Arsenal finish between -6 and -10, four seasons between -11 and -15, and seven seasons with -16 or more points away from the eventual winners. Just to put that in wins numbers; 6 seasons within 2 wins of the title, 3 of which he won, none of which have happened in the last nine seasons.
Now.. Two years ago, I believe I was one of just a few bloggers who were saying that the Arsenal were going to win the League. The data showed me that – we were creating great shots and conceding few great shots, and the goals we were conceding were from distance. Meanwhile, Leicester looked like pretenders – their shots ratio was wild and their shots allowed was even crazier. They needed to keep finishing at a super high level (and blocking shots at a crazy rate) to win the League and all Arsenal needed to do was start finishing at a normal level to win. In fact, I thought that the title race was between two clubs: Tottenham and Arsenal. This was all contrary to my own feeling that Arsenal were somehow not right, were missing pieces, and NO ONE was saying that Spurs were in the title race.
Here is the chart that led me to that conclusion:
If Arsenal had finished their Big Chances (97) at the normal 50% rate (48- 49), they would have won the League. And Arsenal’s Big Chances conceded (13!) was the lowest I have ever seen from them. This was a Wenger team, and let’s not forget that Wenger is always criticized for not playing defense, that was the best defensive team in the League (in terms of the shots they were conceding) and probably even his best ever defensive side, apart from the one assembled by George Graham which conceded just 17 goals in 1998/99.
And if you look at Leicester, they were just awful at allowing shots in prime and big chances. However, Leicester did something that few people had looked at before, they blocked an amazing number of shots. Especially in the second half of the season. When I say that Arsenal should have won the League in 2015/16 this is what I mean. It’s not an emotional reason, Arsenal’s numbers were just SOOOO MUCH BETTER than everyone else’s.
I will admit this, however: the numbers did make me excited. I saw a title race where I think few other folks saw one and as a fan of Arsenal that season is always going to be special to me for that reason. If anything, the numbers made me emotional, it wasn’t the other way around. I had nothing to be excited about until somewhere after the 15th game of the season when it looked like Arsenal were about to take the League by storm.
And so, now we come to last season. And Arsenal falling to pieces.
Last year’s numbers showed a MASSIVE deficiency. Once you take Coquelin out of Arsenal’s midfield, the defensive numbers rise like a fever. Arsenal allowed 59 Big Chances, 24 more than the season before and the most of any team in the top 6. Arsenal allowed 124 Shots in Prime, 27 more than the season before. Arsenal conceded 32 goals off Big Chances, 19 more than the season before. Arsenal conceded 27 goals off Shots in Prime, 13 more than the season before.
And on offense, Arsenal dropped through the floor. This doesn’t seem like a lot of events but Arsenal dropped 19 Big Chances from 2015/16 to 2016/17. That’s the equivalent of 9 goals, however. And in terms of shots in prime, Arsenal took a massive dump: -50 shots over the season before. Whether you agree with the methodology or not, you have to admit that both in terms of offense and defense, these numbers look like Arsenal shit the bed last season.
Even the comically lauded “holy trinity” of the back three only made Arsenal better in the context of how god awful we were for most of the year. Am I reading my own emotion into the numbers or are the numbers pushing my emotions? Again, I’d say it’s the latter. And I’d probably be the subject matter expert, considering the fact that they are my emotions.
Now you’re probably going to say “AH HA, the xG numbers aren’t that different!” I changed my xG formula last season. Under my new formula Arsenal’s xG for 2015/16 was 85 and their xGA was 34. That’s a -20 xG swing from 2015/16 to 2016/17 ([85 xG to 74 xG = -11] + [34 xGA to 43 xGA = -9] = Total swing of -20). Again, I didn’t change my formula to make Arsenal look worse – even the straight numbers from Arsenal look bad – I changed the formula because Big Chances weren’t being counted properly in my xG numbers and after a month of crunching the data, I came up with a more accurate model. If I use the 2015/16 xG model on the 2016/17 Arsenal, the drop from season to season is very similar(-17 on the old model, -20 on the new model).
So no matter how I look at Arsenal’s 2016/17 season it was a structural failure. Wenger has admitted that his contract talks caused problems in the team. I think there were a lot more problems than that, I think that there were and are problems with Arsenal’s midfield – Wenger can’t play with Coquelin unless he has Cazorla and can’t play without Coquelin unless he wants to concede dumptrucks full of shots – and there are problems with getting consistent production from his forward line (Ozil in particular). As far as my analysis shows, the back three doesn’t solve these problems – but we will get a full season (unless Wenger scraps it half-way through the season) to see for sure.
But to the original question at hand: my emotions didn’t make Arsenal drop in productivity both offensively and defensively – Ozil’s disappearing act for the year of 2016 and Wenger dropping Coquelin did that. However it is true that I am an emotional person, I am a human, but I don’t use my emotions to generate stats that prove my emotional state. Considering the amount of work it takes to compile this data, that would be truly insane (rather than just the borderline insane of doing this stupidity for free). What I will admit is that the data can make me excited or sad. Excited two years ago, sad last year.
What will the data hold for me this year? I don’t know.
A major trophy I guess.
One thing I would say about the back three is that the statistical size may be too small to draw conclusions about it, especially as it could be argued that goals conceded may have been higher because the system was being learned on the hoof. A reason for optimism.
I am in favor of suspending judgement until we’ve seen it played with a bit more. The optimist in me believes the back three really does help us defensively, especially given we have a few CBs who can play competently. Tim’s point about midfield issues, however, reminds me how cynical I should be as an Arsenal supporter. We don’t have a solution for the Cazorla-Coquelin problem. It seems signing a player in Cazorla’s mold, or better, a player who can carry the ball and defend, would go a long way toward solving this, but I won’t hold out hope.
Let me say a word in defence of emotion. It is a big part of what binds us to our clubs. But as you show here, it is best expressed when there’s a rational basis.
Arsenal disintegrated before our eyes last season — in tactics, productivity, heart and spirit. Your stats explain why, but even without them, it was plain to see.
So the fans had good reason to react as they did.
And the season before that 🙁
The 2014-15 season should have been a revelation to Wenger; Coquelin rarely ventured forward and Cazorla picking the ball up off the defense allowed Ozil and Sanchez to stay higher up the pitch. Ramsey was allowed a unique role in the right half-channel because Bellerin was so effective up and down the right flank. But then Wenger messed around with Coquelin’s instructions and Cazorla got hurt and there was no plan B.
Now, we seem to be restructuring around Xhaka, who is Pirlo-esque and needs a different system, one where he’s the ‘1’ in a 3-1-4-2 and needs box-to-box players in front of him to allow him to sit deep. If we compare to 2015 Juventus, Bellerin= Lichtsteiner, Ramsey = Marchisio, Kolasinac = Asamoah, Ozil = Pogba. This might work given time to gel and a managerial emphasis on defensive solidity… Juventus did get to the CL final that year.
Your stats analysis is great, I never get the impression you’re cherry picking stats to make a case, they’re presented completely.
Football is an emotional sport. When things go bad as they did last season, there is hardly anything you can write that will appease the fans. Even if your goal isn’t to appease or anger anybody, I think the way people read an article on Arsenal has a direct relationship with the results on the pitch. I suspect if results had gone our way, you could write nothing wrong. Human perception is a funny thing. I am guilty of this too. Sometimes I don’t care about anything else but my own emotional need, footballistically speaking (to borrow from Wenger), that can only by satisfied by results. When that need is not met, everything associated with Arsenal is annoying. The way I see it, even if you did find numbers to support your emotion – what does it matter? At the end of the day, you do what you need to do to deal with Arsenal’s failure or success. The vast majority of your readers, both here and on Arseblog, appreciate your writing for the work you put in to tell a story with stats.
It’s like the chicken or the egg question. What came first? Such a useless question. You need both. Sometimes you notice something and later verify that with data. Sometimes you notice something in the data first and draw conclusions from it. Seems strange to me to think there is only one absolutely right way of reading the game. There is bound to be some kind of bias is either method.
Stats don’t tell the whole story. Numbers don’t lie. Two seemingly contradictory phrases but both are true.
this article helped me remove a filter that has been a crutch on my perception for a while. Thanks again for the free content.
I think wengers crowning achievement of his contract situation is his ability post season, to blame the entire past seasons results on something inevitable in the first place. In his favour however are the fact that he comes out with new buzzwords and phrases to explain away a season before everyone else can. Transition season, youth project, new stadium debt. Managerial Contract issues is a new one we will see other top managers using soon enough.
I guess our defensive ability was statistically dependant on the availability of santi cazorla. Was that predictable?
After all the (relative) optimism in the last article’s comments section, I wonder how many folks saw this from the Evening Standard:
A couple of comments on the story:
1. James Olley is a proper journalist who covers Arsenal. He may be a jerk or a fool (I can’t remember; I don’t keep all the British tabloid journos straight), but he’s not just an online lackey paid to create clickbait.
2. The story bears several other marks of being (at least somewhat) legitimate: the amount of detail and the clear suggestion that Olley got all this info from sources within the club.
3. The fact (if I’m right it is a fact) that this is coming from club insiders is also notable for another reason, viz. that it clearly presents Arsene Wenger in a negative light, or at least suggests that there is quite a bit of internal friction at the club, in terms of transfer business and direction of the team. Clearly some people within the club agree with the fans here that strengthening CM should be a priority for us, and Arsene doesn’t appear to be one of them.
4. Lemina is strong and tall and physical but athletic enough to not be lumbering; he can tackle, pass, and dribble. He’s young but not too young, and already has the experience of playing for an elite club (and at Marseille before Juve). I’ve seen him compared to Pogba, and while not as tall or lanky (he’s still 6 feet), and obviously not as outrageously talented, my bet is he’s got the style to play a Pogba-esque two-way midfield game, and perhaps is a bit more adept at playing as a sitting midfielder too. I also suspect, from what I can tell, he’s got the talent to be a very, very good player, certainly an improvement on some of our current players.
5. Although most thoughtful Arsenal fans are in agreement that we need a new CM this summer, we’re divided on what sort of player we need: some say a Cazorla type, others an “elegant beast”. The problem is that we really need someone with a bit of both: dribbling, ball control, strength, tackling, and mobility. It’s not easy to find someone who checks all those boxes. Lemina may not be the best midfielder we’ve been linked with, but he’s one of the few that strikes that balance and has the potential to do pretty much everything well (the only other two that spring to mind are Keita and Goretzka, and good luck us getting either).
6. Now we’re hearing that several Arsenal scouts recommended him, and that Arsenal’s sophisticated in-house performance comparison matrix do-hickey specifically marked him out as someone who could meet our needs. To top it all off, he could have been an absolute bargain, as he’s just gone to Southampton(!) for only 18m pounds!
7. OF COURSE, Arsene Wenger MAY be right on this call. Lemina may turn out to not be good enough for us, or he may have just been a bad fit or have a suspect attitude. He barely played for Juve. The fact that he played for them means he must have ability, though his inability to get into their team is a mark against him (of course, he wouldn’t be the first player to struggle at an elite club at a young age, only to make it elsewhere, e.g. Thierry Henry). I admit to only having seen him in a few not-very-informative youtube videos. If he goes to Southampton and tears it up, they’ll sell him to a big six club for 40m next summer and we’ll be kicking ourselves (hint: it probably won’t be to us). But if he turns out to be mediocre for the Saints, we’ll think we’ve dodged a bullet.
But here’s the point, and here’s why this story got me depressed:
We’ve seen this before. A few years ago I would have trusted that “Arsene knows” when he makes a call on a player. But today, the realist/cynic in me tells me Arsene passed up on signing him–against the advice of folks inside the club–not so much because his superior football acumen told him this player wasn’t right for us, but because Arsene thinks he has enough with what we’ve got (or at best prefers another Cazorla type in Seri, who arguably won’t be defensive enough to partner Xhaka effectively and address our soft center). He’d rather save his money and trust in the likes of Mo Elneny. The article certainly suggests what we’ve all feared: that his main transfer focus is further forward in chasing Lemar, either as a replacement for Sanchez/Ozil, or because he just can’t resist the sort of young, French, creative player Lemar is (for the record, I like Lemar and think we should sign him if we can).
We’ve had issues in central midfield for years now, which the somewhat fortuitous (I say ‘somewhat’ because I don’t think Arsene should get none of the credit) Coq-zorla partnership only temporarily addressed. But will AW go out aggressively in the market to do what’s needed to fix the issue, to give us a real chance of winning the title?? No, no he won’t. Or only at his own damn pace, thank you very much, which probably means not for another four years (just like with CF, where we’ve only now gone out and bought Lacazette, despite losing RVP in 2012!).
Maybe Jack Wilshere will return triumphantly to save our season. But that probably won’t happen, and he may not even stay at the club. More realistically, a side that finished 5th last year–in no small part due to a dysfunctional central midfield–is going to go into the season with Xhaka, Ramsey, Coq, Elneny, and a crocked Cazorla as our midfield options.
For all Arsene’s other quirks and blind spots, transfer mistakes are still overwhelmingly his greatest weakness, and the single biggest thing holding Arsenal back from greater success. That’s why I can’t share the optimism of some of the other posters about the upcoming season.
Depressing. Very depressing. Definitely sounds like the mid-field has been deprioritized.
One of the most thoughtful and analytical posts I’ve ever read here. Very well argued, sir.
This is is a an eloquent summary of why I soured on Wenger, after years of getting into fights with anyone who criticised him. A light switch went on and I thought, “darn, he’s not going to change.”
Another theory on Lemina (and I say this without being privy to any insider info)… if control over transfers was a big issue, then it seems, based on your assessment of his skills, that the resistance to that transfer was almost irrespective of who was mooted. £18m is robbery in this market.
Another issue that nags at me. We can afford to hold one marquee player to his contract, but we have 3 in our first XI heading towards Bosmans. That is, by my calculation, a £125m asset write-off (discounting increased wages) and bad business, however we may be in favour of keeping all 3 players. Those reports of tension with the board look credible.
Sorry I had to laugh. When there was no reported friction then the story went that Wenger had no accountability. Now that there is some reported tension, it’s a bad thing again.
Not saying anything either way on what’s happening at Arsenal, but I just do not see that our transfer dealings are a ‘shambles’ as is often made out. I want to see what you mean, and I know all the frustrations, but I just don’t see it.
Also, just because Southampton got him for 18m does not mean we would have too. Wenger said recently about the Neymar transfer that the price depends on the identity of the buyer. Yes it means what someone can afford to pay for a player. But it also means what the selling club knows you can pay. He hinted at that with what clubs will demand from Barcelona now. Apparently both Coutinho and Dembele are being valued at 90m by their clubs.
“Sorry I had to laugh. When there was no reported friction then the story went that Wenger had no accountability. Now that there is some reported tension, it’s a bad thing again”
Since when is friction a sign of accountability?
Wenger had the worst season in the league, which is his main priority, held the club hostage over his contract negotiations. Gazidis wanted to implement major changes at the club and went on record saying so even against Wenger’s wishes. That all sounds like friction to me.
Then Kroenke promptly ignored all this because Wenger delivers the only success he really cares about ( his shares of Arsenal steadily climbing over £20,000 per) and rewarded him with a £2m raise per year.
Question: If Arsenal fail again to reach Wenger’s goals this season – meaning win the league( cough, cough), or make top four …, will there be price to pay for Arsene?
Answer : no.
As a matter of fact, even if Tim’s worst predictions come to past and Arsenal do finish closer to mid- table ( not gonna happen) than top of the league, Wenger will still be the manager next season and that is trully laughable.
I saw the Lemina story a few days ago and just accepted it as the new Wenger.
I agree our recruitment is poor. Personally I would suggest shopping in the top clubs benches as a viable strategy. Just because a player doesnt make the 1st team there doesnt mean we shouldnt consider them. Worked with Alexis and Ozil. I hope Lucas Moura falls on our lap as well if he is displaced by Neymar.
If Wenger has final say over recruitment, why do we have top in-house analytical people, whose job is to identify players if Wenger is going to shoot down their recommendations when a solution to a shortcoming is presented to him. What is that scout we nabbed from Leicester doing at the club then? I wonder which players Wenger has rejected and will be some anecdote about how he nearly signed them when they blossom elsewhere in two years.
I really miss David Dein
actually, arsene getting players that were on the bench at other clubs is old wenger. players like vieira, anelka, henry, fabregas, lauren, etc. are just the types of players wenger used to go after. btw, i’m a lucas fan too.
and you’re right about david dein. unlike the rest on the board, he was a real football man who got wenger the arsenal gig in the first place. he seems to be the only person at the club that wenger has ever had respect for. it’s never been a mystery that those two were a dynamite duo.
it’s been my biggest criticism of wenger over the past 3-4 seasons. i used to believe he did things out of loyalty to his players. no, he does it out of loyalty to himself and his own ideals. he does it in an attempt to prove he knows everything better than everyone else. i believe he doesn’t listen to anyone about anything. this false enlightenment seems to have lead him to believe that he can defy conventional wisdom. this is bordering on delusional. not only people at the club but everyone here seems to see quite clearly that arsenal need another midfielder. if wenger had an opportunity to sign an ideal player and failed, merely to prove a point, he’s disrespecting the game. i can’t talk about it anymore.
Yeah, but the assumption here is that Lemina is the ideal player here. (If we’d bought Lemina, I bet many of the same people worrying about not signing him would be saying he isn’t what we need) Also, I’ve heard that Lemar has played at CM too, so it doesn’t have to be that he’s eyeing him only for the attack. We’ll see I suppose. I still think we’re signing a midfielder. In the past Wenger would have been touting Wilshere as a great option. This time he’s basically said he doesn’t think he’s anything other than a bonus if he can gain fitness.
Meanwhile, as claude points out, we have 3 big players running down their contracts. Lemar could be a via media to legislate against the loss of any of those 3 for next year.
“Lemar could be a via media to legislate against the loss of any of those 3 for next year.”
Maybe Lemar works a treat alongside Coquelin. This would be very sensible as it would also mitigate the risks associated with losing anyone of the Ozil, Alexis and OX.
We desperately need Coquelin in that midfield. I’d give anything for a player that will make it worthwhile for us to play Coq in there.
Love your comments Josh but with respect, this is your interpretation of his motivation and I don’t see any evidence for it that couldn’t be interpreted a different way. And the idea that he is “disrespecting the game” by not buying a player YOU think he should buy is way over the line. I’m sure he could give you a long list of solid reasons why he didn’t want to buy Lemina – you could disagree with those reasons, but it says a lot that you think he is capable of deliberately weakening the team out of pride or spite.
So let’s see. All we ‘know’ is that Arsenal, specifically Wenger, passes up on Lemina despite some scouts recommending him (who apparently were also divided due to his lack of game time), and from this you and then others have drawn the conclusion that Wenger doesn’t want to strengthen the midfield, or that he’s on an ego trip to prove everyone else wrong (ie everyone who disagrees with him, including people he can basically fire if he were so against them)
Buying Lacazette and Kolasinac is given as evidence that Wenger prioritised other areas of the pitch? I think we all agreed that these 3 were areas we needed to strengthen. If he’s got those two sorted, and doesn’t buy Lemina, it doesn’t show he doesn’t care about the midfield. Just not Lemina (or maybe not at price quoted to Arsenal)
Also, the article also says that Wenger stood firm against the board wanting to sell Alexis. Now I know all the sense there is in selling him, but I don’t think the majority of Arsenal fans will think this makes Wenger look bad. So I disagree that this article shows up Wenger.
If people have a problem with him making the transfer calls, that’s their thing. But SOMEONE has to take a call, and at Arsenal that’s Wenger. Having a director of football is only one way to do things. Not the only way and not definitely better. It can also cause unnecessary conflict and confusion. Look at Chelsea and Conte. (and for that matter Dortmund last year. Bayern are apparently losing their chief scout because he wanted greater control)
If Arsenal don’t sign a midfielder this year, it would be a mistake. But I never understood how people can tear apart every single decision with such authority, being both micro and super managers at the same time.
I said where I stand on what ARSENAL is doing in the market.
1) We wanted Lacazette last year but didn’t have the money to get it done after Xhaka and Mustafi, and couldn’t find better/attainable options so went and got it done this year.
2) We needed a LB and Kolasinac caught the eye (his numbers even caught my eye), and we must have been in discussions for around 6 months prior to get this one done on a free.
3) All our midfield options were either unavailable or too expensive and also maybe, we really like Lemar and think we can get him, especially as insurance against losing Alexis/Ox/Ozil. To get these player(s)we need to know how much we have to spend. If we can get rid of our unwanted players, we free up some wages and maybe gain some transfer fees. How much, will determine who we (can) buy. (and maybe also how much we can offer to Ox and Ozil) If in the meantime that means a POSSIBLE option, who likely isn’t the prime option, is moving elsewhere, we aren’t prepared to jump the gun.
All of the above process makes sense to me, and I said it after we bought Lacazette and went on tour, that we’re going to now look to sell our players before we buy a midfielder, because honestly, that’s how I would do it unless I had no real budgetary constraints.
Not just “some scouts”, Shard. Scouts plus our in house analytics team. I’d reply more, but it’s hard to type with a sleeping newborn on your chest.
Oh wow. Congratulations!
Well done to you and the missus, chief. Kid, welcome to goonerdom and a life of frustration broken by cup glory.
Nice work, PFo
I love all of statistical analysis and speculation about correlation vs. causation. I deal with that quite frequently at my job, that part of which I enjoy. What really baffles me, though, is how the statistically poor 16-17 Arsenal ended up with four more points than the statistically amazing 15-16 Arsenal. Given all the relevant data points, it defies belief, though I watched both unfold before my eyes.
Points are not at all static. It’s not the case that “if you get x points, you get 2nd place”. That said, the problem with 15/16 is that Arsenal SHOULD have taken more points. A lot more. I’d say at least 10 more than we did.
Having been shown Kroenke’s support, I wonder if Wenger is flexing his muscles against the board in a show of defiance. This could very well mean that Wenger plans on staying beyond his 2 year contract as it seems he thinks he has time to add the players he wants and when he wants it.
Oops.. this was meant as a reply to PFo’s comment.
I think the opposite – Wenger is not planning long range, otherwise there might have been a more serious restructuring of the roster and perhaps (given the outrageous fees this summer) looked at moving some of the more senior players along in favor of a youth movement. It’s just the opposite; he’s gone for retention over restructuring and his two signings have been players in their primes. He’s clearly (in my mind) desperate to return to the top 4, even if that means keeping Sanchez, Ozil, Ox and maybe even Wilshere, just to lose them next year for nothing.
That, and I think he’s playing a big game of chicken with his surplus players and clubs that might want them. I wouldn’t be shocked if on deadline day we’re LOANING Perez, Wilshere, Gibbs etc out because we waited too long (once again) to sell them on.
agreed! it’s strange because we’ve never seen wenger take those types of decisions.
i just read an article that says psg will offer £80 million for alexis. i hope that’s true. it’s foolish to let a player run down their contract, hoping to change their mind. no one does that anymore. why would they?
I think the Alexis contract situation is one of the times when refusing to sell a player approaching his final year makes sense. He’s such an important player to us. Going by the last figures being suggested, would I prefer Arsenal to have an extra €50 million and no Alexis, or just Alexis? I think I’d prefer Alexis.
Saying that, if Psg really were to offer €80 I’d sell. It’s a lot of money and would keep him away from Man City,Chelsea or United (shudder).
There is one main argument in favor of keeping Sanchez – he’s too important a player for us. We would lose all of his goals and assists.
I see this point of view, but I also take umbrage with it; a football team is not the sum of its parts. If that were the case then we should just award the trophies to the teams with the all-star rosters before we even play a game. There are 11 players on the field at a time. Sure Alexis is a good player, but a) could we not adapt tactics, style and formation to partially compensate for his loss and b) could not another group of players step into the breach and do a job, if not the same job at least one respectfully sufficient to help the team succeed?
It’s almost a glass half-full, half-empty paradigm. Losing Alexis doesn’t have to mean our overall team level has to drop.
If PSG came in with an 80million bid I would take that in a heart beat.
Wenger said ‘I don’t know’ whether Perez would leave permanently or on loan.
First, this is by far my favorite site to visit on the internet. The analysis is always high quality and thought provoking.
Second, I think you are a very talented writer with a clear voice that speaks to the reader. Moreover, you are capable of transcendence, particularly with your more personal pieces.
That said, stats clearly don’t tell the whole story. Particularly because the only stat we really care about is binary, e.g., win-loss, or even more baldly, champion or loser.
How much can we rely on stats? Clearly, there are limits. xG/xGA failed in predicting who would win in 15/16. Football is not baseball. Conditions are much more fluid, there are so many more variables both measured and unmeasured. It’s nearly impossible to compare like to like. Certainly, we have nothing comparable to the type of controls that would pass muster in a scientific publication. The outcomes of interest, goals, in particular are relatively rare so luck plays a greater role and sample sizes are so small that many ‘differences’ fail to reach statistical significance.
The question then becomes what do we want out of stats? To explain why something happened? To predict what will happen next? To guide where to apply other analytic tools? To argue about the wisdom of past and future strategic/tactical/personnel decisions?
Maybe all those things, but when we can’t reach attain the commonly agreed upon standards for making valid statistical inference, then what are our statistics? Authoritative sounding anecdotes that, like your beautiful stories about your daughter, serve to further the narrative and enhance the readers experience.
Both. To better reflect on the now AND to predict. How can you get better if you’re not clear on where you fail?
Stats bomb have a piece on trend lines (xG Vs xG conceded) that illustrates Tim’s story line very well (Arsenal decline is really laid bare)
This makes for a depressing read but the work you’ve done here for passion not money is as appreciated as it is impressive.
I was also fooled by our run a couple of seasons ago.
We have this terrible habit of putting in incredible runs of form that upon first glance make us look like world beaters. Long sequences of games unbeaten streaks, scoring binges, calendar year point hauls etc then everything falls apart at the seams.
I guess your digging into the stats just confirms how we put that form together.
stats often show things that one may not have realized during games throughout the season. when we watch games, especially big games that are live, we’re all emotional and the last thing on our mind are statistics. sure, stats don’t tell the whole story and i don’t think tim is implying they do. however, they do suggest trends that help rationalize the results, good or bad. likewise, they help managers make more logical decisions. while i’ve always argued with tim that stats don’t tell the entire story, i certainly appreciate the perspective stats provide. it seems tim is just saying that the stats help him assess the season as well. when the stats obviously say something and an analytical guy like wenger seems to ignore them, it proves infuriating; certainly defies conventional wisdom.
the argument that i’ll provide that supports the data is a simple question; what’s the obvious difference between 15/16 and 16/17 seasons? this season, defensively, i’ve always intimated that arsenal struggled without not only cazorla but cazorla/mertesacker. these are the two senior leaders that provide direction to the team. without them, there is no direction; only a bunch of talented players trying their best to find a way to win. often enough, their talent suffices but in tough games, the lack of organization is much clearer to see.
as for the attack being diminished between the two season, i blame that on wenger’s “good idea” to continue to play alexis as a center forward for as long as he did. while so many fans think arsenal was so amazing with alexis leading the line, they weren’t. tim’s stats prove that. sanchez did an admirable job considering that he’s not a center forward and his endeavor was exciting to see but the longer arsenal persisted with alexis leading the line, the less likely they were to find success. while alexis’ personal numbers improved, arsenal’s numbers clearly declined.
disclaimer; these are my opinions but you’ve all heard me make the cazorla/mertesacker argument all season as well as the center forward argument. the stats seem to support these arguments.
Agree here, stats are important for deepening the understanding. They explain some things, others like leadership on the field rely on more qualitative data.
It’ weird, in a normal evaluation situation you use the quant to tell the main story of success or failure, and qual stuff gets you to the why and how questions. For football, beyond the points on the board it’s almost as if those roles are reversed.
I don’t agree with that comment in the article Tim. I think you do a good to great job breaking down the numbers. I also like that you make mistakes, and that you then own up to them.
I will say though. Your numbers may be driving your emotions, but every so often you lose sight of the numbers and just go overboard with your feelings, not willing to listen that the numbers might have a hint of another story to them, or even that they do not go as far. (Did I mention I like that you make mistakes?)
Nothing wrong with that of course. Emotions are what make the game (and blogging) worthwhile. Sometimes you conflate the two, and maybe because you do put in so much time, effort, and heart into it, you tend to occasionally take criticism very personally. Just my $0.02.
I had to look up what ad hominem attacks means and noticed this:
‘When a statement is challenged by making an ad hominem attack on its author, it is important to draw a distinction between whether the statement in question was an argument or a statement of fact (testimony). In the latter case the issues of the credibility of the person making the statement may be crucial.’
I thought that was interesting because it seems like a lot of the time when discussion and debate become insults and anger (including here) it’s often because people are stating their opinions as facts.
It also seems as if ad hominem attacks can be a legitimate approach on occasion and isn’t just someone being an a$$hole. (I didn’t know this).
I get it about the stats (it’s a very, very American thing), but prefer not to bother with them most of the time, even when they’re positive, (that’s a UK thing). Why spoil a thing of beauty with math? At the moment (according to the stats) we’re number one.😎
What is they say about lies, damn lies etc.?
“I think that there were and are problems with Arsenal’s midfield – Wenger can’t play with Coquelin unless he has Cazorla and can’t play without Coquelin unless he wants to concede dumptrucks full of shots”
Many people don’t recognize this but it is true. That’s why I will be happy with a Seri if we indeed to get him.
That’d leave us with 5 CMs we can rely on (excluding Jack and Santi) to compete and cover for 2 spots all season anyway.
So we bench Xhaka in favor of a Seri/Coquelin partnership? That would make zero sense. Xhaka is the deep lying midfielder and he’s excellent there.
We buy Seri to displace Ramsey? Injuries aside, that’s not an upgrade.
We buy Seri to displace Ozil? C’mon…
Seri makes NO sense at all given the direction we’re going tactically.
1. Although this is not what Synthiago is suggesting, why can’t Seri partner Xhaka? I don’t think this is at all ideal defensively, but it’s also not obviously disastrous.
2. Why are you sure Seri is not an upgrade on Ramsey? There probably are areas in which Ramsey is clearly stronger–e.g. off the ball runs into the box, engine–just as there are pretty clearly (to my mind) areas in which Seri is better, e.g. ball control in tight situations, passing. If the areas where Seri has the advantage outweigh the areas where Ramsey does, then he’s an upgrade (even if he doesn’t have a bigger reputation or it’s a close call between them). If they’re about equally good but Seri’s advantages come in areas that we need more than Ramsey’s, then it’s an upgrade.
I think Seri would be an upgrade. I just don’t think he’d be enough, and, as the above poster suggests, I think he’d probably be strongest alongside Coquelin, which (as you point out) doesn’t make a ton of sense if we want Xhaka to be a cornerstone of the side.
I’m not a Ramsey guy. I don’t care much for his lack of positional discipline, he’s too gung-ho for my tastes. That said, he is retiring with this club. He’s a legend who has scored the winning goal in two FA Cup finals. He’s a Wenger favorite. Any discussion of formations and line-ups have to include Ramsey. Wenger is not buying a player to supplant Ramsey from the line-up. When Ramsey is healthy, he’s starting.
Is this an argument for why Ramsey should be a starter, or why he will be a starter?
Your initial statement was “injuries aside, he’s not an upgrade,” which suggests you think Seri is not better than Ramsey (i.e. Ramsey should be a starter). Now your point seems to be that Arsene won’t abide Seri (or anyone else) replacing Ramsey in the team (i.e. Ramsey will be a starter).
You may be right about the latter claim. But of course, if this is really true, and there’s NO chance of anyone replacing Ramsey, or even being genuine competition for Ramsey (as opposed to just cover when Ramsey gets injured), then the whole notion of ANYONE being bought at CM is deeply problematic, given:
a) we stick with a 2-man central midfield, and specifically the 3-4-3
b) Ramsey doesn’t take one of the more advanced spots (a good assumption unless Alexis or Ozil leave)
c) We keep Xhaka in the team (I think we’re both in agreement that this is a good thing and something that Wenger will do)
So your point doesn’t really seem exclusive to Seri at all, but more like “we shouldn’t be looking to upgrade at CM at all (maybe more cover at best), given that Xhaka and Ramsey are nailed on as starters under Wenger.”
Perhaps I was confusing. My argument is from multiple angles; 1) In a system that employs a single deep lying playmaker Seri would be a back-up to Xhaka, 2) Seri is NOT a better player for the box-to-box role than Ramsey and 3) we aren’t returning to a double pivot system, Wenger is not a manager who changes formations game to game (otherwise yes, Seri/Coquelin would be a nice Plan B).
All equates to Seri is an ill-advised use of our money.
We need a back-up to Xhaka; a physical player who can effectively quarterback the team like a William Carvalho.
This is the frustration with Wenger’s recruitment strategy over the years; he has six very distinct playing styles in his midfield players, but doesn’t customize the tactics and formations based on availability. If he were the type of manager who switched things around week to week, sure, buy Seri. Otherwise look for like-for-like replacements and upgrades.
Great post and I am totally not depressed. Statistics can be an important element of an overall understanding of your club. But no statistic can capture the sublime joy of Giroud’s “scorpion” kick (a goal is a goal on a spreadsheet) or Fabiaski’s heroics – and luck – in the F.A. Cup semi-final in 2014 (a save is a save on a spreadsheet).
What I like here is that Tim is able to bring both elements – qualitative and quantitative – together in writing that has steadily improved year after year after year.
Looking forward to both the By the Numbers column and the expression of enjoyment after we do Leicester day after tomorrow.
Shard, I didn’t assume Lemina is the ideal player. I gave my reasons for thinking he would be a good fit, but also pretty clearly admitted that Wenger COULD be right that he’s not for us.
But my point (and the one that I think others on here more or less agree with), is that bitter experience has taught me that with Arsene, it’s often less about whether he’s the right player IN COMPARISON TO OTHER PLAYERS WE ARE LOOKING TO BUY INSTEAD (the assumption being that we WILL address a weakness in the squad when we need to, it’s just a matter of with whom) and more about whether Wenger can be convinced to buy AT ALL. Either he convinces himself, contrary to all the evidence that amateurs like us can plainly see, that an area of the squad doesn’t need strengthening at all, or he chooses to wait, often several windows or even years, until JUST the right player at JUST the right price shows up to address that weakness. This results in good squads, which otherwise have the potential to at least challenge for the title, being seriously held back by one or two key weaknesses. We then suffer an inevitable collapse at some point in the season, but recover enough for Wenger to keep his job and for everyone to have some hope that it could be different in the future, and the cycle repeats itself.
I accept that player recruitment isn’t easy, and I agree with you that there is almost always AN interpretation of the available evidence concerning what’s going on behind the scenes that makes Arsene’s actions perfectly reasonable and absolves him of all/most of the blame for transfer window failures (e.g. selling clubs holding us to ransom, Arsene knows a player isn’t good enough, we need to sell before we can buy, etc). If one is smart (as you clearly are), and one is motivated to defend AW (as you clearly are; not claiming excessive bias, just motivation), one can almost always make a decent case in his defense.
The problem is I’m just not buying that case any more, at least not as the interpretation of events that’s the MOST LIKELY to be true. If this were the first or second window we’ve failed to address a key weakness in the squad, I’d cut him some slack. But this has been going on for YEARS. The old excuse of the club not having the money has now not really been sufficient for YEARS (of course we don’t have endless cash, but we have plenty to spend this window on a top CM, irrespective of whether we can sell any players first).
I would LOVE for you to be right and me to be wrong on this one, I really would. I still want Arsene to succeed. I am not at all attached to Lemina per se. It may be that AW has something far grander up his sleeve before Sept 1. I very much hope we buy someone to play CM before the end of the window (e.g. Seri, or Lemar converted to a CM), and of course I can’t say I know that we won’t. Even then, it won’t show that I don’t have a point, because if Wenger buys someone like Seri and they can’t partner Xhaka (or anyone else) effectively without the same obvious weaknesses still being present in midfield (e.g. Seri can’t cover defensively for Xhaka’s lack of mobility), then AW will have been wrong to not look at someone else (e.g. Lemina). But I’ll be pleased if we get a CM this window, and I’ll withhold my judgment until we’ve seen how they perform: the proof will be in the pudding. I could also be wrong that what we currently have (e.g. Elneny, Ramsey) isn’t sufficient to help the team function much better than last year and sustain a title challenge. Someone could step up sufficiently from within the squad.
But recent history suggests I’m not wrong on this. And if our title challenge again folds due to midfield dysfunction, no amount of excuses will convince me that it’s not 100% Arsene’s fault. We have the resources and the opportunity, and there are good players–Lemina or otherwise–out there. Other, knowledgable folks within the club are (apparently) advising Arsene to buy a CM and giving him suggestions on who to buy. So it’s all down to Arsene being too stubborn and/or too picky.
That was meant to be a response to Shard’s comments above, obviously.
Sorry Tim, but the big reason why some posters posted that remark quoted at the top of your blog is because you started sounding like that guy from Le Grove.
Which is basically sweeping negative comments.
But the truth lies in-between. There is indeed some optimism since your own analysis says that the back 3 have a 1.69 goals for vs goals conceded ratio. And that was with a small sample size with a defeat to Spurs due to a Mustafi brain fart.
One more season to hope it’s our time. May the stats fall where they might.
COYGs prove your worth.
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