Match Analysis: it is not just the result

Match Analysis

This is part two of a series in which we investigate the way we see football.

Part one: “Its the defence stupid”, is here

By Pete

One thing that has always puzzled me is that pundits, bloggers and fans’ assessment of games is hugely coloured by the result.

My previous article looked at expected results based on the incidence of goals scored and conceded.  I noted that, even in our recent (prior to the WBA game yesterday) run of 16 league games with 13 victories, 2 draws and 1 defeat; our expected return should have been: won 10.8, drew 4 and lost 1.2.  I think what this shows is that a great deal of luck applies in football (as well as Arsenal being more efficient) – for example the Blackburn shot that bobbled in, in the FA cup.  Although we didn’t play well we had 26 shots in that game (12 on target) while Blackburn had 6 (3 on target).

Another good example is the Bayern games.

At home (lost 1-3) we had 8 shots, with 6 on target.  Bayern had 17 shots (9 on target).  Away (won 0-2) we had 5 shots (3 on target) while they had 21 shots (9 on target).  My view now, as it was then, was that we were unlucky to lose 3-1 at home, but very lucky to win the away game.  I acknowledge that shots/on-target are not always a good proxy – for the most part we restricted Bayern to shots from around the edge of the box in Munich – but even so…

Another example of where the final scoreline (1-1) did not tell the whole story was Southampton away where we managed just 6 shots (4 on target) while Southampton had 9 (6 on target).

So, what am I driving at?

One of the key reasons for football’s pre-eminent global popularity is the comparative rarity of goals.  This means that, firstly, when a team does score it is usually a very intense moment for the players and fans, and, secondly,  “surprise” results are more common than in other, higher-scoring sports.  And everyone* loves an upset…

Therefore, results don’t always go as they should.  But it doesn’t necessarily mean that a team that won has played well – and vice-versa.

The key point therefore is that assessments and analysis of games should reflect that sometimes a result is unrepresentative of the game.  Therefore, too many often identify huge problems with a team that has lost unluckily – complete with knee-jerk solutions – when, in reality, the existence of problems has been mis-diagnosed and the correct response for the team’s management is to… do nothing.

On the other hand, some undeserved victories sometimes mask underlying issues that are overlooked…

So, when Arsenal next lose (I write this before the WBA league game) I would like people to reflect on (i) whether or not it is deserved and (ii) if it is deserved, whether the result is a one-off blip or a symptom of a deeper malaise.  Clearly (ii) will not be clear until several more games have passed.  My next article looks at short term versus long-term thinking.

*other than supporters and staff of the losing team, obviously!  Tottenham do not seem very happy about losing 0-3 at home to West Ham yesterday.

The final part of the series (“The Long View”) will appear on Tuesday.


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7 Replies to “Match Analysis: it is not just the result”

  1. I had written an article once about how much luck was involved in the result of a single match. Even Wilshere his goal yesterday was a bit lucky as it took a slight deflection off the defender. Lampard was the master of the deflected goal for many seasons. So luck plays a very big part in games.

    Problem is that pundits try to convince people that the winning team was always right. Even if the winning team had no shot on goal and their only and winning goal came from the keeper of the losing team trying to kick the ball up field, hitting his defender with his kick and the ball rebounding of his back in their own goal. The losing team having 50 shots in the game, hitting the woodwork 17 times and have been denied 5 penalties and the assistant missing a ball that crossed the goal line.

    Then you still will have some pundits on TV saying how deserved the win was for the winning team. Certainly if the losing team was Arsenal.

    For some reason the winner is always right in football punditry. As if the victory shines on them pundits in person? That is why I since a couple of seasons I record MOTD and only start watching some 15-20 minutes after the show really started. I then only watch the matches themselves on shows like MOTD and then fast forward to the next match images.

    Only when I really want to have a big laugh at the nonsense they are spouting about the rules I listen to them.

  2. Sorry, but the match stats don’t reflect the game any better either. If a team scores, then the opponents have to attack more, and thus the figures would show that the team that wins 1-0 from an early goal were lucky.

  3. Walter is right, avoid listening to the pundits, ignore the commentators’ asides and don’t buy newspapers. Time for us all to think for ourselves and not listen to ‘experts’. After all who is the expert on Arsenal? the pundit that watches us on a tv 10 times a season or the fan that goes week in week out?

    Join CfRP (the campaign for real pundits)

  4. @chris

    You have a point but should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In the old days we only had the goals. Now we have so much more. Most clubs now employ one or more data scientists – for a good reason.

  5. I think that there is truth to match stats not explaining much in one game. But they do start explaining things over a season or more. For example time of possession: a team have have lots of the ball but not score in a game but over a season the teams that have more of the ball will win more often. Because if a team has the ball the other team can’t score and the team with the ball can. Thus possession is verified as important when one takes the long term perspective. And if one takes the big view of various teams both club and national team one sees that a possession passing game is what wins most often. Long ball smash and grab does win some games just as gambling against the odds sometimes works.

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