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What would be the best option: Samba, Cahill or…

By Walter Broeckx

One of our readers thought it would be interesting to see how some of our major targets did last season with their team. And we are talking about our targeted defenders. So I dipped in my numbers and tried to see if there is anything special to mention about the defending of teams like Blackburn and Bolton.

What could be the result of signing Cahill or Samba just to mention the most named centre backs that are rumoured to have our interest. Will it have any affect on how we would concede goals?

The problem is that defending is not just about one player. Each defence is working as a unit. And we must not forget that Bolton and Blackburn play a completely different game compared to Arsenal. Arsenal play a high line. Bolton and Blackburn are more the teams that are defending more deep and in numbers.

So a player that looks great in one defensive system can look bad in another system. But this is something we cannot be certain of until the player actually plays in that system. But let us start with Cahill and see how Bolton conceded their goals compared to Arsenal.

Shots 2010-2011 Open against Dead ball against Penalty against Goals
Arsenal 55,81% (24) 30,23% (13) 13,95% (6) 43
Bolton 62,50% (35) 32,14% (18) 5,36%  (3) 56

It is obvious that Bolton are not as good defensively as Arsenal. Now one can say all what you want about Arsenal but in fact Arsenal has only conceded 43 goals and Bolton 56. This is a first fact and it shows that despite all and everyone tumbling over each other declaring how rubbish our defenders are, we still have better defenders than Bolton.

And our defenders are certainly better when it comes to defending in open play. And this is a bit interesting but I think this comes because our defenders are always training against players with high technical ability and quick passing and are very accustomed  to defend against such things. I also mentioned it in my earlier articles about defending.

Oh move on Walter I hear some shout just look at our Achilles heel: defending set pieces. Well you probably did look at the table by now and…. if the rescue has to come from Bolton…. They have not only had a higher number in total goals against them from dead balls compared to Arsenal but also in percentages they have a worse defending record than Arsenal.

Is the Bolton defence better in any part of the game? Well there is; and this is that they concede only half of the penalties that we do. We have an outrageously high number of penalties given and scored against us so if and when we buy Cahill it could mean that we would have less penalties given against us.

Could this have something to do with any sort of bias in favour of Cahill and his partners? Would it save us a few dodgy penalties from the refs if we put in an English centre back? What do you think Phil? And I don’t men Gregory. (Even though you might answer Phil – Gregory this time).

So the bottom line is: Bolton concede more goals than us and they even concede more goals from dead balls than Arsenal.  Let us move on to Blackburn.

Shots 2010-2011 Open against Dead ball against Penalty against Goals
Arsenal 55,81% (24) 30,23% (13) 13,95% (6) 43
Blackburn 66,10% (39) 23,73% (14) 10,17% (6) 59

Blackburn conceded even more goals in total than Bolton and so also have a lot more goals against than Arsenal.

Their defence in open play is even worse than Bolton. Both in numbers and in percentages. So a first conclusion we could make is that with buying Cahill or Samba the risk of us getting more goals against us in open play becomes bigger. And then we have to remember that Arsenal had to play almost the whole season without their Samba or Cahill. We didn’t have Vermaelen at all available apart from the first and the last games.

Let us move on to the dead balls. And then we see that Blackburn has one more goal against  from dead balls than Arsenal. But in percentages it sure makes a difference as compared to the total they only had some 24% of the goals against them from dead balls. Arsenal had 30%. So it looks like that on dead balls the Blackburn defence did a better job and is certainly better than the Bolton defence. But are they really better than the Arsenal defence?

If we look at the penalties it seems that there is no difference between Arsenal and Blackburn. Both teams had 6 penalties against them. And in fact it was this what made me think about Cahill being English and thus the refs being less strict in the penalty box. Because Samba is from Congo and is foreign.

So what can be the final conclusion of these numbers? What did we learn today?

  1. The Arsenal defence is not as bad as it is painted (but can improve of course!)
  2. If we want to have a better record against dead balls we need to buy Samba.
  3. If we want to have less penalties against us we need Cahill.
  4. Who ever comes to Arsenal will have to adapt to our style of play
  5. Could Bartley be the answer?

Or is there another possible answer?

Because, I also took the liberty of looking at the numbers of Everton and Jagielka.

Shots 2010-2011 Open against Dead ball against Penalty against Goals
Arsenal 55,81% (24) 30,23% (13) 13,95% (6) 43
Everton 80,00% (36) 15,56% (7) 4,44% (2) 45

When it comes to defending goals in open play it looks a complete disaster. Not better or worse than Bolton or Blackburn but certainly very bad compared to Arsenal.

But then I looked at the dead ball goals and then we find out that Everton are the team with the lowest numbers of goals scored against them from dead balls. So this looks rather promising. And still I can’t remember Jagielka being that tall!  Certainly compared to Samba. And yet they have only conceded half the goals compared to Blackburn from such situations. So do you really need a big lump to defend dead balls?

And if we look at the penalties we can also see that with an English centre back they don’t have many penalties against them. Oh well, this will be a coincidence I guess.

I think it will be interesting to see who we will buy and how we will play next season. My guess would be that unless injuries get in the way we will have two pairings of centre backs and then depending on the opponents who will play. It does make a difference if you play Stoke or Manchester United.

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32 comments to What would be the best option: Samba, Cahill or…

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    Thanks for confirming what I’ve been thinking all along. People really should watch other teams before praising our supposed transfer targets. Bartley certainly looks a better bet than either Samba or Cahill.

  • gooner_114

    although Jagielka isn’t that tall, tehy’ve got Distin who’s a monster…so that also has to be considered and don’t forget Fellaini, another tall one and of course Cahill (Tim) who’s quite handy with his headers

  • i think samba is a better player when it comes to defending, and am very sure is going to adapt to our system of playing quickly.
    samba, vermalen both on center defend sagna and baines will make a good team for us in defending role.

  • Richard B

    Great analysis Walter.
    I am firmly of the view that, because they know they stand less chance of scoring against us in open play than against any other team, opponents are told to engineer as many set pices against us as they can. Fat Sam, when he was at Blackburn, virtually admitted as much.
    A taller, more confident, goalkeeper (coupled with greater protection for him from the referee) I’m sure would go a long way to curing this and we seem now to have found him.
    The key to defending set pieces lies as much with having attackers who are as good at defending as our oppenents defenders are at attacking. Plus the same diligence from refs over things like ‘blocking off’. The fact is that our attackers are, in general, smaller than the defenders that they come back to help mark. And their efficiencies in this regard may not be helped by Wenger not encouraging the coaching of their defensive duties.
    I’m almost coming to the view that, despite all the rumours, maybe we won’t sign any of them – unless, of course, Squillaci throws in the towel and needs to be replaced in the squad – and Bartley isn’t seen to be ready yet. But look out for taller forwards!

  • Praaam

    good article walter..certainly something the under 10’s must read.

  • Bill Gregory

    Good post Walter, unfortunately, I do not see Arsene buying any players except maybe CF. My reasons for saying this is that I believe he is waiting to see how the “potential transfers” of Cesc, Samir and Clichy pan out first. This then will determine his future transfer dealings My further belief is that he has still great belief in his youth system and will promote from within this group to fill in the spaces so to speak after transferring out a couple of players who do not want to stay.

    When I read the other blogs around talking about winning trophies is all that matters, it is not just this reason. Winning trophies means happy fans making more noise at the stadium, top quality players wanting to join our club, and from a marketing point of view multi-national companies will be falling over themselves to get on our bandwagon, just take a look at ManU and the $400 million sponsorship from Nike (if this is true).

    I have been a supporter for 64 years since 1947 playing in the local Hampstead and District League attending every home game and some away, however migrated to Austraia in 1965 but through all that time have stuck by the club through thick and thin, and even now cannot go to bed until I have either seen the game on TV or through steaming regardless of time.

    My final comment is that while I believe in Arsene’s youth policy I also believe that he should be more flexible and marry the youth players with quality signings for the above reasons. He can always bring on the youngsters on the 60 or 65 minute mark not only to give them the experience needed but also to give the more important “star” players a rest.

  • Bill Gregory

    My apologies for spelling, should read Australia and streaming

  • Dark Prince

    I think the stats for Jagielka were surprising. I never expected him to be good, but the stats prove otherwise.

    Also, the defense situation is a much more complicated. There is a big talk about the defensive system we play. I think the main talk should be about our defensive system rather than the players. I guess Koscielny and Vermaelen are good defenders. So is Djourou. But is our style good. Is having a high defensive line good??

    Even our set pieces defensive system is rather weak. We usually tend to block the opposition players rather than directly attacking the ball. Even during corners, we run around after players than attacking the ball.

    In short, during set pieces, it feels as if we’re too concerned about the opposition rather than concentrating on the ball. Is this system right?? Shouldn’t we attack the ball rather than attacking the player??

    As for Cahil and Samba, lets be clear, Samba is not a fast runner and will not work in our high line defensive play. Cahil is fast and so might work, but i really cant vouch for him bcoz i never really concentrated on his games.

    Even Jagielka is not as fast. Cant say much about the other defensive targets we came across.

    But in short, we have think about our defensive play. In case we dont change our style, then we have find defenders like Vermaelen and Koscielny who are fast and good at playing in high defensive lines. Djourou for me doesnt come in that category bcoz he isn’t that fast.

  • WhyMe

    You are mis-using your statistics by not looking at the total picture. Offensively Arsenal make a big issue of keeping the ball and retain a very high percentage of possession whereas both Bolton and Blackburn do not. The upshot of this means that we will commit less total fouls (at least in theory) than do Blackburn and Bolton and therefore will have less set piece attempts against us. This is true for both corners and free kicks. Therefore if you do not include the number of attempts to score from a set piece against each team and the percentage that is conceded then the comparison is incomplete.

    Secondly, as you yourself pointed out defending is not just about one player the whole team is involved even if it is just in keeping the ball. Therefore again your comparison is incomplete unless you take into account individual statistics such as interceptions, tackles, header % won and total etc. Obviously since Blackburn and Bolton are considered weaker teams the opportunities for for defenders to get high numbers in these are also greater. Therefore it is important to also consider mistakes leading to goals and/or goal scoring opportunities and similar statistics to get a fairer comparison. Even then a statistical comparison is difficult and again you point out Bolton and Blackburn play an entirely different defensive strategy than do Arsenal. If you are going to use statistics to make a point then at least use them properly. Btw this is a quick (ish) summary of the problems with your statistical comparison not a complete list or a full critique of your methodology so there will I am sure be bits missing but you get the point.

  • Shard

    When we were linked with Jagielka last season, I was sceptical mainly because of the amount that was being reported. But Jagielka’s stats are actually good (individual stats). He also had a monster of a game against ManU last year and that’s when I really started thinking of him as a realistic option.

    Cahill and Samba have interesting statistics as well. Samba is a bit better in the air, but Cahill is far better aerially than anything we have. Neither are as good at passing the ball but that could just be because they are in teams like Blackburn and Bolton.

    Of the three, my preference would probably be Jagielka, Samba and Cahill. Cahill’s stats are better than Samba’s and maybe than Jagielka’s. But haveing watched some games, I think this is the order of preference. That does not include consideration of the 25 man rules and Cahill being English.

    One rumour that worries me is us being linked to Scott Dann. I don’t really believe rumours at all, but I pray we are not actually interested in him.

    Dark Prince above has a good point about looking at the system. The system is also possibly why Clichy is so maligned. He tackles more than any other LB, has a higher succesful tackle percentage than most, has high interceptions and clearances. Clichy is most likely overworked by our system. The CB’s are probably stretched due to it to. Should we look to change the system? or can we find players who fit in sufficiently well to make the system work in a way that the benefits it offers in attack outweigh the pressure it puts on our defense?

    I think it is here to stay, so I can only hope that we find a way to make it work. I have started thinking Clichy will be a big loss to us though. We will struggle to replace his numbers if we are going to continue this style of defending.

  • sahil

    I believe there was a problem in our system this season.Many times opposition players virtually had a free run through our defense during set pieces.One example that immediately springs to mind is the 3-1 loss away to stoke.If you remember the first goal Kenwyn Jones had a free run,he did not even had to head the ball he ‘chested’ it in the goal.There has been a lack of marking many times.
    Also our defenders tend to back off many times.One example that springs to mind is our last match of the first round of champs league.It was against belgrade if i am not mistaken,they equalized around the 70 minute mark and i was furious after watching the replay djourou and koscielny backed of too easily and allowed a clear shot to the opposition player.These things need to be worked in order to improve the defense.

  • jayj

    more bollox clichy,nasri and fab all gone!

    Expect em in training tomorrow.

  • Mandy Dodd

    If you believe the press Jayj, add Walcott and RVP to that lot!
    Without knowing what goes on behind the scenes, I am surprised we are not putting up a bit more of a fight over Clichy, we certainly should not let him go to a rival.
    As for the system, we really missed TV last year, he is experiences, is a leader and organises a defence. Squill, Kos and JD were maybe ready to cope for whatever reason. I think Kos took the CC very badly, I also get the feeling he was terrified of giving away pens towards the end of the season.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    The other answer is to stop conceding corners and dangerous free kicks. Our front three should be engaged in rotational fouling of whichever member of the opposition defence looks like the weakest link. Not enough to get carded but enough to force the referee to blow his whistle and stop the game inside the opposition half. With the general skill level in the league it ought to be a trivial task to collect the free kick and regain possession.

  • jayj

    @ Mandy Dodd
    Why would man shitty sign clichy with all that money? Just doesn’t make any sense. Clichy is good but with major monies I’ll be looking @ a Evra, Enrique or may be the brazilian in baracelona.

  • Arsenal1

    So apparently Jagielka would be help us the most out of the three defenders. Really does make one think before pouring praise onto an unsigned transfer target. Before you look at the numbers however, you have to remember that you can only measure if a goal was truly a defenders fault, and you can only do that through video. However your numbers are still intriguing.

  • Dark Prince

    @Woolwich Peripatetic- i remember our players desperately trying to avoid corners by clearing the ball for a throw. But it became more of a problem bcoz sometimes those clearances only ended up with the opposition players. I remember many times when Clichy was tryin to clear out to avoid a corner but eventually the cleared ball wil land up in the feet of some opposition winger or midfielder which created more panic. I dont think we should do that.

    Also its impossible to avoid free kicks and corners throughout a game…an opposition player jus has to deliberately hit the ball at the defender near the corner line to get a corner…its becomin a bad habit of opposition players of doin that to us, bcoz they know they have a better chance of scoring from the resultant corner.

    The best way to solve this is by a modification in defensive play during set pieces. We used to do it very well half a decade back, so Wenger does know how to do it. But will he do it?? Well thats another story…

  • Clerkenwell Gooner

    I have not been keeping up with the transfer market palaver, so forgive me if these are obvious points that have been dealt with elsewhere:

    1) If Clichy is indeed off up north, surely that means Gibbs is ready to step up, and Wenger has let Clichy’s contract run down accordingly?

    2) I saw something about Miquel being part of any deal for Cahill – is this possible? I wouldn’t mind seeing him loaned out (eg it did Jack good), but sold? Please, no!

    3) Could Nasri be waiting to see if Cesc goes or stays before making his decision? His putative salary demands may be based on him having to carry a far less experienced midfield (LJW, Ramsey, okay, I know, not Arshavin) next season if our beloved no.4 is indeed homeward-bound.

    4) Why does Wenger never seem to look much at the German market (pace Lehmann)? Is it some historically-driven Alsatian tick?

    Because what about Mats Hummels? With our pockets bulging with Barça IOUs for Cesc, could we not prise him away from Dortmund?

    According to Wikipedia, in May 2011, Hummels was “the highest ranking defender on the Castrol Performance Index, ranking 7th overall”. He’s 6’3″ and pretty with it, so would recoup a part of his fee by selling a shedload of shirts.

    And he is a baby, only 22, so he’d fit right it with our lot.

    5) Or maybe Arsène could go completely crazy and buy both Hummels AND Subotic, £50m the pair?. (Squid and Kos could then do bench time. I quite like Kos, but the Squid IMHO isn’t up to the EPL.)

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I have to agree with DP in his observation that the defence is made to run in circles chasing opposing players and are badly pulled out of position.They should face the ball and attack it and try their darnest to be first to it or at the very least try to put off the opposing players from reaching it( but not fouling them).That goal by Kenwyn Jones was probably the worst goal conceded by us and should be in “How not to defend ” manual.
    My choice would be Samba for his aerial ability in both boxes.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    @DP
    What I’m talking about is the kind of compression of play Barca are so good at. A park-the-bus side is forced to hit long punts hurriedly or their goalkeeper has to take lots of free kicks, either way the defence mops up quite easily.
    I know it seems like we concede from every corner but the reality is we give away so many corners now from crowding attackers onto our line that we are bound to concede from a few. Our defence also hates to rush their clearances when sometimes a hoof that buys you a few seconds is enough.

  • Dark Prince

    @woolwich- Barca’s case is different from us. First of all, they dont play in a physical league. Secondly, the opposition teams in their league hardly ever try to target them consistently in corners. Most spanish teams will play a passing game.

    Plus, lets look how barca’s defence plays, only one of their full backs, i.e Alves, comes forwards in attack. Ebidal rarely comes into the attacking foray unless its a corner or set piece. But in our case, both clichy and sagna move forward, sometimes together, which creates more of a problem when opposition breaks quickly. Also there is one big difference in Barca and Arsenal and that is the pressing system of their attacking players, especially midfielders. Arsenal players hardly press, mostly they’ll jog back to defend. But there was hardly any time when they consistently pressed as team for the whole game. Whereas Barca are relentless in the pressing game, especially till they are not leading by 2 goals in a game. Thats why Barca players usually get tired by the end 20min of the game, but till that time they ensure that they hav scored 2 goals atleast, so as to concentrate on jus passing the ball around the back with ease. But that pressing game by their midfielders helps a lot to their back 4 for majority of the game.

    In contrast, that protection by the midfielders is not provided to our back 4. And with our full backs going forwad to help in the attack, our final defence line becomes too thin. And in such cases, the long ball tactic works bcoz there’s only 1 or 2 defenders to beat for the opposition.

    Whereas, in barca’s case, spanish teams dont play the long ball as often and even when they do, they have 2 central defenders and one full back (normally Ebidal), to clear it. And not only that, their midfield presses so fast that usually most of the long balls attempts will be done in a hasty manner which leads to inaccuracy for opposition players.

    Thats the difference between Arsenal and Barca’s defensive play.

    Now Barca, like Arsenal, aren’t as good in scoring goals from corners or set pieces. They usually rely on a direct free kick by Messi or Villa or etc to score, but they, like us, dont score a lot via headers. Their defending in set pieces though, is slightly better than Arsenal, if not good. They too are susceptible to concede via corners, maybe bcoz they dont hav too many tall defenders or maybe Spanish oppositions dont target them much via corners, but they do it better than us atleast.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    @DP
    Essentially what you’ve said is that we don’t defend nearly as aggressively as Barca, in a league where your defence has to be even more aggressive. If you go back to the George Graham days, Alan Smith was our hardest working defender (he jokingly claims that’s what did his knees in). The whole team has got to harass the opposition from the number nine backwards. One of the problems we have with recruiting footballers from different cultures is how much of an adjustment in attitude this requires. Players like Vermaelen, Sagna and Nasri are willing to really get stuck in, players like Denilson, not so much.

  • Dark Prince

    @Woolwich- completly agree with you. The aggressiveness is not at the level we require. But i dont blame the players for this. Bcoz its the style they’re playin in, and that style is taught to them by our manager.

    So it will kinda depend on whether Wenger wants to change his ways or not. Though i doubt he will…

  • walter

    Usually at the start of the season I have seen Arsenal defending from the attack with the forwards putting real pressure on the opponents. And the we get a few high score games at times.

    But mostly we stop doing this for some reason. Maybe because our players get too tired after a few weeks/months? And to do such a thing you must have all players doing this. One tourist on board and the plan goes down. This was the reason that Ibrahimovic was sent back to Italy. He didn’t do his defending duty enough.

  • Dark Prince

    Eventually its a weakness we have to rectify this season or else we’ll be in the same mess once again….

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    @Walter and Dark Prince
    I think Van Persie actually said he had to stop doing the aggressive pressing in 2009 because he was getting measurably tired and a tired RvP is even more injury prone than a well rested one…
    I agree on the passenger front but that goes both ways. Denilson might look like he’s jogging around the pitch in a stereotypical Samba style but he also doesn’t give the ball away that often. That undermines the efforts of the other players just as much as Ibra’s “won’t defend” attitude did.
    This is yet another reason that recruitment has to be very careful because if we were to spend £30 million on a player, they have to have the workrate matched to the technical skills or they will flop.

  • bob

    Walter, to your comment just above:
    Yes, I do agree that we start seasons with collective defense and then there it goes… You say it goes “for some reason.” But I think there are several intertwined reasons that could be looked at:

    First, I think that under our Actual Conditions, competing in a 4-Front War, without enough quality-depth to avoid re-plays and successfully self-refresh was/is romantic and unrealistic and, alas, self-destructive.

    Second, we’ve lacked two key components: two-way players and quality-depth. For this we need clarity: 1) spend to THIS end and develop/buy THIS kind of TWO-WAY player; 2) exercise better judgment on whether a non-TWO-WAY player merits the long-term extension, or whether that contract would clog the budget arteries (e.g., Rosicky) that could get us a demonstrated TWO-WAY player.

    Third, to my lights, collective defense must be as validated as beautiful offense – as necessary complements to each other – rather than thinking that beautiful offense alone will suffice to overcome defensive deficiencies. So, whether by splash or by youth, we need the TWO-WAY player. To wit, while we mostly have loved Arshavin, we also know that he didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t play the TWO-WAY game until the last 2-3 matches. When he’s in shape, he can play it, if/when he wants to. But to have a genuinely collective defense, this type of inconsistency needs real correction, not making-nice.

    Fourth, there’s the ref-shite/injury factor: that tsunami of non-calls that invites the unpunished kicking that grinds our/any players down; so that, with too little quality depth, too many players must always carry too many knocks (Cesc?). Again, too little quality-depth to overcome the time needed to properly heal.

    Fifth, collective offense-defense takes Coaching that teaches and demands it; and a team-wide spirit enough with real mutual accountability. (RvP told us as much, that it really wasn’t there from everybody over the last spate of loss/draws.) This is very hard to sustain as injury takes its toll in losses/draws that, in turn, lead to further losses/draws. Why? because the gulf between starters and bench players is too great to break the chronic losing/drawing streak.

    So, the “for some reason” that we don’t sustain collective defense comes down to our not having/seeking/demanding TWO-WAY PLAYERS only, both in the starting ten and on the bench.

  • Dark Prince

    Woolwich- agree with you. Basically, we have fitness problem in our squad as well. So players like Cesc, Van Persie, even Nasri, Arshavin, may not always be fit enough to run back and forth…. Plus players like Wilshere, Denilson, etc normally jog back. Either ways, in such circumstances, we’re going to get problems while defending.

  • Knysna Gunner

    I hope we don’t sign either. Would you guys like to give your comments on how Vermaelen has shaped as a left-back for Ajax and Belgium, in case we get Vertonghen and AW wants TV to replace Clichy?

  • WalterBroeckx

    Knysna Gunner,
    an interesting question which I will try to answer in the next days

  • Sophie

    I also agree that these two options aren’t necessarily the best, but I have to wonder if this is the most valid way of proving it. Arsenal are quite simply a better team than Blackburn or Bolton, and we need to be doing better than them in the defense. In addition, there is more to the defense than one player in all teams concerned. For example, with Arsenal, the centre backs were the biggest problem this past season. I think that additional cover for Djourou and Vermaelen is likely the best option, though I wouldn’t mind a new left back. In terms of players, Vertonghen is certainly my first choice, but just today he’s pledged his future to Ajax. It’s a shame, really; Wikipedia says he and Vermaelen are “best friends.”

  • i personally think we need Samba(d big man) to reduce the rate of goals conceded in set pieces. Cahill would also be a good buy but Samba is preferable. If we get Baines and Samba then we can go places.
    WENGER please go 4 Baines and Samba so as to strengthen our back line.