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By Bulldog Drummond
There are some statistics that tell us something (such as which club has the most yellow cards and which the least) and some that tell us very little (such as expected goals), but which journalists still go on quoting and quoting and quoting, not because they have a real effect on what is happening, but because they conveniently support their view.
One such view that is now widely propagated is that Arsenal are a team of cheats led by a man who rants, while newspapers are written by decent unbiased people who feel the need to use the word “rant” rather a lot because…. well, because they do.
But of course, some statistics are helpful and reasonable. Take possession for example. Manchester City has the highest rate of ball possession in the Premier League at 63.2% and they are top of the league which suggests that possession is good.
But then again Chelsea have the second-highest possession rate at 61.9% and they are 10th in the league. Burnley whom we play this weekend are halfway down the possession table with 50.8%, but they are 19th in the league. So maybe possession isn’t something that we should take too much notice of, after all. It’s good in the sense that without it one cannot score goals. But seemingly not so important that all the club’s efforts should be put into it.
Yet we must also admit that when we come to look at three fairly basic metrics that we would expect to be reflective of a good team, there can be a link. Manchester City are top in all three metrics – goals scored, possession and league position, suggesting that if a club gets possession and goal scoring right, the league position follows.
And that’s logical – and what Chelsea’s position of second in the league in terms of possession, but tenth in terms of goal scoring, shows is that hanging on to the ball a lot (61.9% in Chelsea’s case) isn’t anything like enough to compensate for an inability to score. Yet keeping possession is what they keep doing.
Yet Chelsea are not alone in this. Take Brighton for example. They are fourth for goals scored and second (equal with Chelsea) for possession but seventh in the league. But Brighton have the fifth-worst defence in the league, and that is what drags them down.
Now thinking of who Arsenal are playing this weekend we can see that Burnley are tenth in the league in terms of possession, but 20th in terms of goal-scoring. Obviously, teams are allowing Burnley to hold the ball, because that encourages them forward, leaving lots of space behind. Thus clubs give them possession, draw them forward, and then nip in behind and score. Burnley thus has the second worst defence in the league. Their possession is more than worthless.
Thus looking at the position a club is in, in terms of goals scored, and in terms of possession, gives us an idea if a team is under or over-achieving as we approach one-third of the way through the season.
This confirms that Manchester City are at the top on merit, while Chelsea’s possession is worse than useless as they have limited ideas on how to generate an end product. Indeed opposition tacticians are most likely saying, “let them have the ball, and counterattack at full speed when you intercept – you’ll catch them on the break.”
It’s not very sophisticated tactics, but a bit more sophisticated than most of the media manage with their ceaseless talk about Arteta’s latest “rant”.
So let’s take this further and see how Arsenal are placed this season as opposed to last season. After 11 games this season we have got 23 goals. Last season is was 25 – just two more goals, but enough to take us to the top of the league.
What’s more the goal difference is the same as the goals for and against are both simply two lower than last season. Arsenal’s problem is simple: we’ve picked up a couple of draws instead of wins.
So why have Arsenal got seven wins and three draws, instead of nine wins and one draw? Could it be a difference in the teams played?
And yes it is, although I’ve never heard the media mention this. This season in the first 11 games there have been five games against the conventionally considered bigger teams (the ones we have been calling the “big seven”). Arsenal have played Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Chelsea and Newcastle United in the first 11 games this season. In these games, we have won two, drawn two and lost one.
Last season in the first 11 games we had only three such games – away to Manchester United (which we lost) and at home to Tottenham and Liverpool, both of which were won.
That’s the difference. In fact when that fixture list is taken into account Arsenal are doing better than last season. But just don’t tell any journalists. You might upset them. Indeed I expect if any of them read this, they’d call it a rant.
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