By Tony Attwood
Of course in the end the main thing that counts is the result. But sometimes results alone don’t give a full indication of where things are going. They tell us the score, 0-0 yesterday, and no one can disagree with that, and one can look at the game and say “that was awful” or “spend some fucking money” or whatever, but with any stats that’s just an opinion. To go beyond the score and gain something from a game we need the stats.
Statistics of course are decried by some with the “you can prove anything with…” stuff – but we’ve debated that many times before and to do so again would be rather dull, and so I’d rather refer you back to previous discussions. My view is opinions are useful as a way to think up ideas, but to see whether the resultant ideas are useful, we need some statistics.
I was encouraged by last season, not just because we came second in the league, but because of what the statistics of the season beyond the final table showed us. (And one more time: I am not trying to say the stats below are more important than the statistics of the league table, but rather that they help us see a little further as to where things are going and how the team is being built).
These figures come from Whoscored.com – a site that one correspondent told us we should never rely on, but then wouldn’t tell us why – which made the original observation less than helpful – as always evidence is helpful.
Let’s take a look at the possession statistics for last season
|20||West Bromwich Albion||42.2||70.0|
Arsenal were top of the league for possession, and Leicester were in 18th place. I have also included pass success where again Arsenal were at the top. Leicester were rather unusual, in that in occupying 18th in the possession ranking, and actually coming 19th in pass success (only WBA were lower), they were in the company of teams that were mostly from the lower parts of the final league table.
(WBA we might note were an oddity, in this, which may well explain the odd story of Serge Gnabry – but more on that in a later article.)
Leicester’s success last season, and looking at yesterday’s game, this season, is based on interceptions.
|R||Team||Interceptions per game||Rating|
|5||West Bromwich Albion||19|
In other words they play a game in which they don’t have long periods of possession, but they rely on interceptions to get breakaways and goals.
Arsenal play a completely different game involving having possession and having accurate passing to continue and make use of that possession.
But there is another point that is not revealed by these statistics – and that is that Leicester scored far more goals from penalties than any other team
|18||West Bromwich Albion||19||1|
The point here is that if you play a fast counter attacking game, conceding possession much of the time, and then aiming to get up the field quickly, you can get the defenders to give away penalties, or you can convince the referee who is running hard to catch up with play that a penalty should be given, as the last man is left desperately trying to keep out a fast moving forward who suddenly goes down.
For final confirmation of this we can look at the types of balls passed against the number of long balls per game.
|R||Team||Crosses per game||Long Balls pg|
|7||West Bromwich Albion||22||71|
Leicester are fifth in the long ball league, doing 50% more long balls than Arsenal while providing the same number of crosses. Crosses it seems, are not the dividing factor. Long balls are what separates the whole style and approach of these two teams.
- So if we look at yesterday’s possession statistics we can see that Leicester had 39% possession and Arsenal 61% – which is no real surprise. But the number of shots each team got was something of a surprise
- Leicester 8 (2015/16 average 13.7)
- Arsenal 13 (2015/16 average 15.1)
- Shots on Target
- Leicester 1 (2015/16 average 4.7)
- Arsenal 4 (2015/16 average 5.6)
- Both teams were down in terms of shots and shots on target when compared with last year’s average game, but Leicester were way down compared with Arsenal. Their shot level this year compared with last year’s average was 58%, and the on target rate was 21% of last year’s average.
Arsenal were running at 86% of last year for shots, and 71% for on target. I suspect this is primarily because we had Alexis standing in at centre forward instead of Giroud. Giroud scores more than much publicity suggests, but he also drags defenders with him, allowing Alexis to shoot – hence the numbers were down.
So what Leicester didn’t get was the regular number of shots on target from their breakaway moves, but neither did they get the penalties that they clearly expected, based on last year’s figures. I wonder if referees this year have been made more aware of the propensity of Leicester to make their rapid break aways having had little possession, and then go for the penalty.
- Speaking of which – what was up for this game compared with last season’s average was Leicester’s fouling level. They committed 11 fouls yesterday against an average of 10.7 per game last year. Arsenal committed seven fouls against an average of 9.2 given last year. I shall await the referee report to see if this was due to increased referee accuracy in not giving phantom fouls or seemingly a change in style.
- You can of course prove anything with statistics, or you can try and use them properly to help understand exactly what was happening in a game. I’m trying the latter, but of course I don’t know if this little exercise was of interest to anyone – if not, I’ll keep it to myself in future, but if so, maybe I’ll explore it a bit further after the next game.
If you have been thanks for reading.
- “I am sorry he didn’t cost £55m so he cannot be good”
- Leicester – Arsenal 0-0
- Leicester v Arsenal: two possible Arsenal line ups