How negativists don’t just avoid stats, they misuse them too

By Tony Attwood

In an earlier article I was pointing out that the first eight games of the season don’t provide any sort of accurate prediction as to what will happen during the rest of the season.   Quite simply there are far too many variables in Premier League football, for eight games to be much of a guide as to what will happen in the remaining matches.

This is however the exact thing that many blogs and journalists seek to do: they try to suggest that by looking at what has happened so far, they can determine in detail, what will happen by the end of the season.

By way of example we can have a look at Lastwordonfootball – a blog that has proclaimed that, “Arsenal fans should be worried about the underlying statistics,” concerning the season so far.

Now my last piece suggested that there is no real link between Arsenal’s performance in the first eight games of the season and where they will actually end up – and at one level the “Arsenal fans should be worried” article agreed with this.  For this piece says…

“Arsenal sit third in the Premier League during this international break. They are also just one point removed from second place, occupied by Manchester City.”  But then comes the bad news for “the underlying statistics suggest that their league position is anything but safe.”

My position was that the statistics from the first eight games don’t tell us much at all, in that they are no guide to where the clubs will end up.  But this article says the opposite – that the stats do tell us something and it is bad news.  And the source of their information is not the actual real live league table but the notorious xG – which as the site says “measures how many goals a club should score from the chances they create.”   In short a hypothesis.

The position they set out is that, “Out of the big six clubs this season, Arsenal have created the second fewest xG, 11.75. While Tottenham Hotspur‘s 10.99 is worse, it is very far off xG leaders [Manchester] City, sitting on 25.55 xG.”

Now to make sense of this we need to know what xG actually means, and this explanation from an article in the Daily Telegraph is as good as any….

So let’s have a look

Club Expected goals Actual real life goals Ratio
Arsenal 11.75 13.00 1.11
Manchester City 25.55 27.00 1.05

So Arsenal are scoring more goals than expected, and they are doing it a little bit more than Manchester City.  But what is going wrong is that they are not creating enough chances.  If they did create more chances they would get even more goals.

And in fact we don’t need xG to see that.  What we need to do is look at the number of goals scored this season.  Here  is the league table based only on goals scored

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 8 5 1 2 27 9 18 16
2 Liverpool 8 8 0 0 20 6 14 24
3 Chelsea 8 4 2 2 18 14 4 14
4 Leicester City 8 4 2 2 14 7 7 14
5 Tottenham Hotspur 8 3 2 3 14 12 2 11
6 Arsenal 8 4 3 1 13 11 2 15

Arsenal’s goal scoring is considerably lower than the top two and five behind Chelsea so quite clearly we need to find a way of scoring more goals.  And that in a situation in which we are already scoring more than might be expected.

So should we have a better centre forward?   To answer this let us have a look at Auba’s results in relation to others in the Premier League this season…
  • 1: Tammy Abraham 8 goals
  • 2: Sergio Aguero 8 goals
  • 3: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang 7 goals

So Auba is the second highest scorer in the league, and given that, it seems a little harsh to start blaming the predicted forthcoming demise of Arsenal on him when he is the second best goalscorer in the league.

Now the article says, “Arsenal are overly-reliant on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. For a club to stay near the top of the table while creating so few chances, they need a world-class finisher who will score far more than he misses.”

That’s true, and oh, hang on, that’s what we have.  Actually what we also need is a second goal scorer – which we also have in Lacazette, who has been injured of late.

OK so it can be argued that we need further cover, and oh look, that is what we have in Martinelli.  Still young, but an absolute blast on the pitch.

Yes but really is that it?   Surely Arsenal needs someone else.   Well, ok we have Joe Willock who has scored three goals at a rate of 79 minutes per goal.  And we have Eddie away on loan who could well come back next season even sharper.  Or maybe sooner given that Leeds are not giving him many games.

Perhaps realising that the argument is not just thin but transparently wrong the writer shifts the emphasis to Expected Goals Against (xGA) and noted that we have a dodgy defence.

Except that until now we have not been playing our defence, but our backup defence.  Now we have that defence coming back, and after the break it should be there in all its shining glory.

But hang on, if until now we have had a dreadful defence, a mediocre attack, and we are not scoring the expected goals we should be, surely we should be sinking fast down the league.  And yet we are third.

And we have Lacazette to return, 75% of the defence to return, and some amazing youngsters coming through.

Third with four great players returning sounds rather good to me.  And the expected goals analysis actually does nothing to undermine this notion.

16 Replies to “How negativists don’t just avoid stats, they misuse them too”

  1. I agree with the points you’ve made along with the players who we think should return to the team
    For any EPL game UE is not going to make wholesale changes ( only right ) it will take many games , how many I couldn’t guess to bring back the injured players
    IMO Arsenal have been grinding out results against the odds for some time now , this goes back into the run of 22 games unbeaten last season . The style , pattern of play and what we are trying to achieve on the pitch hasn’t improved and as the integration of the injured players back into the 1st team can take weeks where will we be in the table , can only hope we can hang on and improve

  2. Even if we had Pele coming into our team.. Would not mean much. Players are not the problem. And being in doesn’t mean much… Even at the end of the season.. When we play such dire unwatchable football.
    Our players are good. The coach is & #%*:*

  3. It’s fans like you, that makes one despair. You better blame the people that appointed the Coach, as they are clearly clueless about football.

  4. I can see your optimism with the players we have to come back .
    The problem I see will the dynamics change in how we play , the cup games pressing and attacking to the very cautious approach to EPL games with our so called first team players playing .
    Until we see the pressing and attacking game with our league side we are always going to be questioned regarding our league position because we seem to be punching above our weight in results we are getting to how we are playing

  5. OT but on the subject of stats. I see we have Mike Dean for Monday’s game. So after nine games, that’s Taylor twice, Dean twice and Atkinson three times. So that’s 78% of our games refereed by just three people….and three people who historically have rarely proved to be supportive. Irrespective, and as Tony has said more than once, this is not the best way to demonstrate that the selection of referees is fair and above board. But then if you’re completely unaccountable what does it matter……..

    A quick resume after 8 games shows us receiving a card for every 3.6 fouls whilst our opponents received one for every 5.7. In Dean’s other game this season our opponents fouled us 11 times and Dean showed them one card……in 94th minute.

    Let’s see what happens on Monday.

  6. Mikey

    When these stats regarding our bookings was discussed a month or so ago I was told its “the way we tackle”.

    I presume it was beyond reason to consider it might be the ‘way we are refereed’ ?

    This lopsided way we are refereed has been going on since I first researched these stats over 15 years ago.

    I can only surmise every player we’ve had over that period simply loses the ability to tackle when he pulls on the Arsenal shirt.

  7. I am doing things the hard way, so there could be errors.

    Liverpool have had Marriner, Oliver, Taylor and Kavanagh twice.

    Man$ity have had Oliver twice.

    We have had Atkinson three times, Taylor twice and as pointed out we are getting Dean for the second time.

    Chel$ea have had Scott twice.

    The spuds have not had any repeats.

    ManU have had Taylor and Dean twice.

  8. @ Nitram

    I’m recording tackles too. Don’t have the data to hand at the moment but I can tell you that we make a below average number of tackles too.

  9. Congratulation to Eddie Nketiah and the England U21. Eddie got a brace in the first half and finished his hat trick in the second half. Poorly written story, I will guess the final score against Austria was 5-0.

  10. @Nitram I have been watching the EURO 2020 qualifiers and I know now that the number of tackles or fouls has NOTHING to do with the yellow cards dished out.

    Tonight SWE – ESP 17 – 10 fouls 3 – 3 yellow cards. Forgetting that Larsson of SWE was finally booked at 93 minutes after committing at least 3 bookable tackles. Clement “Dick” Turpin again!

    ESP – NOR fouls 7 – 6 Yellows 5 – 1. I know that is only 2 games but I am getting p***ed off where his happens again and again. Michael Oliver was to blame for this shambles – I had forgotten how bad a ref he is

    This is with the “best” refs in Europe. I would not like to see the worst. It is such that referees are refereeing teams and not games. As I have said before – How about fairness

    The other noticeable thing is that it is the same culprits who make the same “mistakes”; There is no reaction for their bad performances.

    I have only seen one game where the referee had any notion of fairness. The quality of UEFA referees have sunk to their lowest I can ever remember. The “interpretations” of the laws of the game would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic for the game. I am really beginning to think I will stop watching any UEFA matches as I have done with the premier league.

    The best quote over the past few weeks was from Antonio Conte after BAR – INT when the referee Skomina was alleged to have said to Conte ” I cant stand you” during the game.

    At the press conference Antonio Conte said that “There was a moment in the match when the linesman showed me the ‘respect’ badge on his shirt but everyone has to give respect.” I get the feeling he was hinting that respect is earned – it is NOT an automatic right.

    Sorry about the moan but I am getting less and less confidence anything will change for the better.

    It is like a 21st century game played to a medieval rule set.

  11. @Les Williams – do not give up on what you believe to be the truth and fairness in sport. It is like accepting drug cheats. Officiating may destroy some of the opportunities of success of teams but they will not supress the natural talent of those that love the game.

    Somewhere, sometime the talent will overcome the cheating and the beauty of what we love will shine.

    The PGMOL corrupt appointment system of match officials will be picked up on sometime in the future, maybe to late for Arsenal to get fairness but hopefully in time to get the culprits punished.

  12. One day the truth will come out , and the guilty will have to pay the price. Those who are supporting them at present will again try to shift the blame eksewhere, or give some truly awful explaination as to why it happened at all.
    But dressing up a turd or polishing it either cannot hide the stench eminating from it. That being said , don’t just hold your breath, but rather send it back , with interest!

    We all remember the case of Lance Armstrong , in whose wake so many were disgraced and damaged irreparably for telling the truth . Even now they are some bending over backwards in attempting to ‘save’ his legacy to that sport.

    So too will we have fools laughing at those who see the sport of football for what it truly is – crooked to the core . As long as the money is being circulated to and among the ‘right’ people , the farce will continue .

    But we still patiently wait for the shit to hit the fan , knowing fully well that it won’t be hitting us at all. Enjoy the stench , fools !

  13. One thing bothers me about the xG discussion. If I have understood it correctly, it is a stat that tells how often from a certain situation a goal is scored on average. For some reason people think that every player will come to the xG average in the long run and if someone is over xG, it is just luck and will even out. Not true, goal scoring is a skill. It is not crap shooting or roulette. Some players are below average ie. bad finishers and others are above average or good finishers. It doesn’t even hold true compared to the players own historic data if he develops as a goal scorer.

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