Set play

Oddfellows local 151 behind the firehouse
Where Peewee sits to prove a sage to teach
Peewee gathered up his proof
Reached up and scratched his head
Fell down and hit the ground again

(Oddfellows Local 151, R.E.M. Document)

Do I walk or do I wander? If I take the same path every day, or nearly the same path every day, it is a walk. If I change directions midway it’s a wander. This morning, I think I’ll go for a wander.

Whether I walk or wander I see the world in a weird way, I think. As long as I’m not staring at the phone I’m picking things up, little details here and there, and then putting them to music. I keep a record of all the songs I’ve thought of while my mind walks and wanders. Something I see gets me thinking of a snippet of lyrics, a firehouse might bring Oddfellows Local 151 to mind though it could just as easily bring up something odd like the 2 second song ALL.

You can listen to the list if you want. A warning, though, it’s not good. It’s a cultural trash heap. It’s just 50 years of hearing songs on the radio, on the internet, and having them worm their way into my memory. I’ve didn’t buy hardly any of the albums that these songs come from and wouldn’t buy them today. There’s no need to buy these albums, songs like “What is Love?” (which I think of every time I see a coworker who’s last name is Haddaway, an unfortunate association) are as ubiquitous as junkmail. If you’ve been alive since the 80’s you’ve heard that song probably 1000 times.

That said, I will admit that sometimes I just put the playlist on while I’m making bread or something. Then I listen to the songs of my life and dance and sing and make funny faces for Avie. And he rolls his eyes at me or laughs and tells me how one of the songs has been appropriated for Tik Tok or something else.

Oddfellows Local 151 popped into my head today when I was looking at Arsenal’s stats for the season, “that’s odd”, I thought and then started singing “FIREHOUSE”. This is how my brain works and it’s impossible to shut off. In fact, I don’t want to shut it off, I want to open it more.

Sometimes I see people who lack basic introspection and think it would be nice to have half the brains and twice the pride like so many others, like Trump and Trump supporters. But instead, I’m stuck here with just enough brains to feel shame and humiliation all the time.

Arsenal’s stats were odd because we are taking over 4 shots per game from set plays. 4.2 per game from set plays. That’s up from 2.9 per game in each of the last two seasons. That 1.3 extra shots per game is also increasing our overall shots per game from 12.1 last season to 14 this season. Arsenal are now 7th in shots created, improved from last season where we were 11th. It’s an improvement though for some reason it reminds me of that quote by Wenger about caviar and sausages. I’ve never had caviar but I have watched an Arsenal team rip opponents to shreds week after week and I’d like that again, please.

The part I find encouraging is that Arsenal have clearly spent time working on set plays. This is a good sign, because it means we are trying to gain advantages where we can. When Liverpool hired a throw-in coach they were mocked and ridiculed for it, but as that coach explains in his sales pitch, if you can throw the ball 5 yards further and more accurately, you’ve gained a small advantage over your opponents. Those advantages add up.

If that coach cost Liverpool $100,000 to hire for a year and he got them just one Premier League goal it would have been well worth it: the value of a single Premier League goal is in the millions of dollars. As it turns out, Liverpool had the best GCA (goal creating actions) record from dead ball situations in the year that they won the League. People think Liverpool’s attack is often generated by their defense, but their defense only generated 2 GCAs that season, throw-ins and other dead ball situations generated 14.

Last season Arsenal were 17th in set-piece goals and 18th in set-piece shots. They had 110 shots from set pieces and scored just 6 goals. Previous season, 111 shots 12 goals from set pieces – 8th in the League. This season, Arsenal have already scored 6 goals from set pieces on just 46 shots. You won’t be able to guess who’s tied with us.. ok, it’s Liverpool. Chelsea are 2nd (3rd?) with 5. Wham and Brentford are also up there with 5 each. All of these clubs are known for their heavy analytics bent and that makes me wonder if there isn’t something in this that goes beyond just “putting it in the mixer” like we did in the olden days.

I was listening to football weekly and they spoke about Wet Hams and how they had a specific type of dead ball attack against Liverpool. They were putting in “inswingers” against Alisson. I hadn’t noticed it at the time when I watched the match but in the highlights reel you can see them doing it time and again. Two of the Hammers’ goals were from inswinging corners one for Kurt Zouma (which always makes me think of the song Rump Shaker by Wreckx-N-Effect – I told you, my mind is a cultural trashfire). Three of the five goals in that match were from set pieces, by the way.

Shots from set plays are up all over the League, which could just be a blip or it could be that a lot of clubs have caught on to something in the data and are intentionally going after set play goals. I suspect it’s intentional. Analysis over the last few years has shown teams that taking shots from outside the box ain’t real smart so those shots have largely gone away*. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if teams are uncovering certain weaknesses in opposition defenses against certain types of set piece deliveries (inswinger/outswingers or even those ones that play the ball short or look for a late runner) and trying to exploit that for an advantage. It’s all about the advantages.

Anyway, that’s it for today. I have to go for a wander and see if I can catch sight of that Merlin I saw last week.


*Except for Arsenal this season. We are 3rd in shots outside the box with 61/154 shots in that zone and just 2 goals from them (which is exactly expected) we are also 9th in shots inside the 18 and 5th in shots inside the 6, which isn’t a great distribution. We take 40% of our shots from outside the box, that’s 7th worst in the League and actually quite contrary to other analytics-based teams. For example, Brentford have the lowest % of shots from outside the box, 26%. Man City are 2nd lowest, and Liverpool are 5th lowest. Crystal Palace, btw, are 3rd lowest in that category, a slight drop from last season where they were mid-table and took just 36% of their shots from outside the 18. Funny story, but Arsenal have increased our shots per game over last season by 2 per game and 1.2 of those are from shots outside the 18 yard box (bad) and 0.5 of those are shots inside the 6 yard box (really really good).


  1. I’m assuming (possibly wrongly) that a majority of the shots outside the box are trigger happy Thomas Partey and Lokonga flexing their shooting muscles? Lokonga seems to hit the target often enough, but the shots are still weak and easy to anticipate. At least we’re creeping up on set pieces and box shots!

  2. “But instead, I’m stuck here with just enough brains to feel shame and humiliation all the time.”

    Ah shit big man, I hope not. Humility and humiliation are not the same thing. Shame can feck off.

    “I have watched an Arsenal team rip opponents to shreds week after week and I’d like that again, please.”

    Amen. Set pieces are all very well, but it would be lovely for us to get better at all the other stuff.

    Thanks as always for the time and for your thoughts.

    1. “Ah shit big man, I hope not. Humility and humiliation are not the same thing. Shame can feck off”.

      Co-sign, Greg and Tim.

  3. Great analysis.
    Corners are exciting again, now we’re scoring from them, just like in the days of Bould and Adams. The work has obviously paid off.
    But my overall take on our recent improvements is that a Xhaka-less Arsenal is quicker, more front footed and a lot more entertaining to watch!

    1. Yes the classic Arsenal goal was Steve Bould with a near post flick followed by Tony Adams steaming in at the far post to put the ball in the net. I lost count of the number of goals we got that way. Very impressed with Gabriel when he comes up into the box. Also Callum Chambers on the odd occasion he gets to play. We really ought to do better from set pieces though. Some of the delivery from corners is pretty poor. Professional footballers really should be able to put the ball where they want to consistently.

      1. Rob Holding has missed a hatful. Has become a running joke. Hope he’s been working on his heading in training, and takes his chances when he’s played.

        I really, really enjoy goals from centre backs. Tony Adams was a real aerial threat in the box, but do you remember his goal against Everton in 1988 — running onto a lofted pass like prime Bergkamp and thumping it in? And the swagger celebration afterwards? That was the early Arsene effect, which had revitalised Adams’ game.

        Laurent Koscielny was a player I really liked. Strong enough to get us a good number of headed goals; aware enough to score quite a few with his feet. Underrated CB.

        1. Vermaelen was better, he had 8 goals in his first season with us, then the injury ridden season and then another 6 goals.

          Such a shame that he wasn’t better at defending. Well, that plus Wenger’s kinda crazy high line system.

          1. I loved Vermaelen when he first came. Never seen a defender score goals like a striker. If I recall, most of those 8 goals he scored were with his left foot, some placed clinically at the bottom corners of the goal.

  4. Rumor has it the most practised offensive play at Colney is code named ‘the Tin Pot Dictator’ (lol).

  5. Scoring defenders! Love it.

    Weirdly, Adams and Koscielny both had 255 appearances for Arsenal. Adams scored 12 and Koscielny had nearly double with 22.

    Vermaelen had 13 goals form 110 games and almost certainly would have scored more than Kos if he’d hung around for long enough – but he scored from all over, with his feet and not just on set-pieces.

    Gallas was just behind Vermaelen on 12 from 101.

    For defenders, Kos and Gallas were our biggest threat on set-pieces.

    1. Short corners really get on my tits. It’s why I came to dislike Ceballos. He’d rush to take them, then he’d play them short. Lump it to the big lump, I say. Utilise that 6’4″

    2. Really, I thought TA played 16 seasons for us and Kos 9. They played the same amounts of games?

          1. As Tim says they blank football history prior to 1992.

            Google has him 672 appearances (all comps) and 49 goals. A true legend.

  6. “They were putting in “inswingers” against Alisson.” That sounds vaguely naughty and slightly exciting. I’d like to be an inswinger…

  7. back when i was a club head, i loved that haddaway song. not sure why it gets such a bad rap…perhaps that “night at the roxbury” movie. i’m sure if they played it today in the discotheques, it’d still fill a dance floor. rump shaker was a banger as well; not a very good song but a great beat and better video.

    set plays are a beautiful thing. i really loved how gallas was able to get on the end of those set pieces despite his height…mind you, he wasn’t at arsenal very long and he put up some numbers. i think arsene could have gotten more out of sol campbell but he did okay; scored in the champions league final against barcelona,

    vermaelen scored a lot of goals but many were from open play when he made buccaneering forward runs. he and gallas together were formidable goal threats for arsenal in attack but both were vertically challenged, thus defensive set piece liabilities. i was always skeptical of vermaelen but appreciated that we didn’t miss kolo toure when he came in. my skepticism was revealed when gallas, who got injured every season, got injured. we saw how poor tactically vermaelen really was. he really needed fundamental work on the training ground. i surmise he had been able to get away with so much by virtue of his talent, technical skill, and work rate. but he made so many bad decisions. a champions league game against barcelona, where gallas went off injured and he was partnered with alex song exposed him. zlatan, messi, and xavi picked on him like a fat kid on the playground. when van persie left and they made vermaelen captain, that made things worse. a player who’s struggling tactically doesn’t need to be handed leadership duties as well.

    1. Handing him the captain’s armband was so bad and was amplified when Wenger eventually had to drop him after a string of poor performances culminating in a disastrous match in the North London Derby.

      I’m surprised you mention his tactical weakness. I guess I never saw it (or put it down to something else) but it surprises me more because he came from Ajax and somehow we were able to sell him to Barcelona for £15m. I guess that football directors/managers are susceptible to making bad decisions but it feels like something that glaring would have been spotted, especially since – as you point out – Barcelona exploited that weakness.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong, rather that I’m surprised.

      1. I think if Vermaelen had played extended minutes with Mertesacker, it would’ve been an even better partnership than Mert+Kos, which was a really good partnership.

        We just seemed to be obsessed with these ‘attacking’/’proper Arsenal’ defenders for a while in between, rather than building complementary partnerships. Gabriel and White seems to be a bit more of the latter.

  8. The idea of taking shots from range isn’t a bad one — solely on the low-percentage converted.
    When you have a duo like Partey and Lokonga– it’s still a threat that causes reaction. Moves defenders to attempt blocks. Parried balls into follow shots. More space on the flanks. How many times has Partey struck woodwork since this time last season– like six or 7?

    The occasional missile from distance offers potential benefits other than converting out-of-box shots into goals. If Arsenal’s shots per/90 are up by more than shots from distance per/90– it might be considered cause and effect.

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