That was fun! And hey, who knew that iIt turns out that scoring goals is fun, winning games is fun, and fun is why I follow the team. As Wenger once said: “I like to think that the paying fan wakes up the morning of the game and thinks ‘ah yes, my team is playing today’ and he will be transported to a more beautiful world than his daily routine. I like to set myself the ambition to give him this hope, this excitement about coming to see the team play – even if I know I will let him down sometimes.”
The best bits from yesterday were:
Scoring four goals on 4 shots on target with an xG of 2. Much has been said lately about the expected goals to goals difference and I’ve tried to politely (ok, I’m not good at politeness, I’m sorry) say that looking at xG in small batches like 2-4 games is problematic because of simple variance. In other words “stats happen”. Expected goals is good for large samples and not so good for small samples. It can tell you part of the story of a game but not all of the story. And of course since there is a lot of variance, you can get a big swing from one week to the next. For example, the day before yesterday people were yelling at me that we were “-6 goals” or something based on some calculations they had done on the last few games. But after yesterday’s 4-goal splurge, Arsenal’s goals scored (49) and expected goals (50.2) for the season have swung back to just -1.
Another big topic these last three weeks has been how players miss chances and how young players in particular don’t quite know how to turn 0.6 xG shots into 0.15 xG shots. There’s some merit to that idea but there are serious limitations to what a player can do on their own or even collectively against a defense which is set up to defend deep. Two moments from yesterday’s win over Chelsea are great examples.
The first was Timo Werner’s goal. He hit a shot from outside the box which was blocked and also took a deflection before going in. In my xG model, I don’t even count blocked shots from outside the box because they are typically converted at such a low rate that I found that counting them like normal shots artificially raised my xG numbers.
One thing I find very useful about the Statsbomb xG model is that it does something similar (and better, I would admit) in that it discounts shots when defenders are in the way. In other words, the more crowded the box, the lower the xG. This is, incidentally, why I think score effects were so damaging to Arsenal’s xG to actual goals ratio. In other words, Arsenal were getting a lot of shots against opponents the last few weeks but they were shots where the opponent had 10 players in the box and even a decent shot in that situation has a lower xG than a similar shot on a counter attack, for example.
Like Nketiah’s shot for his opening goal! His shot there was awarded 0.35 xG while Smith Rowe’s shot in the 44th minute (which he fashioned himself from whole cloth) was given 0.1 xG. Nketiah’s shot was a function of team pressure, forcing a mistake and capitalizing on that mistake to create a wide open chance, while Smith Rowe’s shot from literally almost the exact same spot was a shot he created for himself from what looked like a closed down situation. When I talk (endlessly) about how the team needs to create those “big chances” and how important they are for scoring goals this is what I mean. It was fantastic that Smith Rowe fashioned that shot but Arsenal’s press (which is a coordinated, team effort, that the coaches organize) is far more important and in fact, more reliable in terms of creating chances. There’s a reason why Pep and Klopp have their teams press high up the pitch. Arsenal’s press yesterday was just as important to the goals scored.
Xhaka nutmegs Alonso. I’m just going to put this out there: if Granit Xhaka nutmegs you, your career is officially over. It was a funny one too because Arsenal were being hemmed in their own box by Chelsea pressure and it looked like no one wanted the ball. But Xhaka did something that my guess is that Arteta wouldn’t be too happy about and went ahead and dribbled out of the 18 yard box, nutmegging Alonso along the way. It was then his pass to Smith Rowe (who passed to Saka who passed to Ode who passed to Smith Rowe) which started the goal.
Smith Rowe’s got flavor. After Smith Rowe scored his goal with a perfectly passed ball into the corner, James Benge on twitter mentioned that he’s seen Smith Rowe score a similar kind of goal in many games this season. Benge is right. I went back through the highlight reels and Smith Rowe seems to have a shot that he prefers where he just calmly places the ball past the keeper. Usually right footed across the keeper. What’s interesting here is that Bernardo Silva (aka the Nard Dog) also scored a goal like that yesterday against BHA. Nard Dog gets a lot of plaudits for his very calm approach to those scoring chances and is often compared to Messi who was similarly (ok, much better) prolific with those shots. I’d like to give the same credit to Smith Rowe (aka the Croydon Messi). It takes ice water in the veins to stay calm in those moments and a lot of practice to have the technique to one touch pass the ball into the net for a goal. I’m a life-long member of the “smash it into Row Z” club but there was a month in my 40’s where I suddenly had some clarity and scored 10 goals with this calm approach. So, I am an expert.
Saka winning a pen. LOL at the pundits and Azpilicueta complaining that the penalty was soft. The only funny part of this for me is that I thought Jon Moss was poor all night. I don’t know if it was intentional or he just missed a lot of things but Mason Mount put in two terrible, studs up, challenges on Arsenal players and got away with both of them. Moss also found a way to block an Arsenal pass in the Chelsea final third and then a few seconds later get in the way as Saka was dribbling. I would have given that a pen and like I’ve said often about refereeing, it’s a judgement call.
Saka scoring a pen. I’ve been waiting for this since the Euros. I’ve made no secret that I thought Southgate and the leadership on that squad bottled that final by putting all the pressure for the late penalties on players like Saka, Sancho, and Rashford. But it was what it was, it was in the past and there’s nothing we can do about it now, except to get back up there and score a penalty when you are given the chance. Arsenal don’t win many pens and Lacazette is the first choice penalty taker so it was always going to be a long wait before Bukayo could take one again and put Euros behind him. But I’m very happy for him for getting and taking his chance yesterday.
Tuchel moaning about the pitch and about how his team scored all the goals yesterday. This joker went out there and tried to say that his team scored all the goals and that the pitch was to blame anyway. I really hope Chelsea make a complaint and that the FA start an investigation into the way that Arsenal prepared the pitch for this game which was held at Stamford Bridge, in South West London.