By Bulldog Drummond
These are indeed the craziest of football times. With Infantino, head of Fifa, packing his bags and moving to Qatar with his family, seemingly to escape the investigation of his activities by the Swiss authorities who are looking into corrupt and illicit meetings with their most senior lawman, and with the British media (at least until last night) by and large ignoring this, just as had have ignored the claim by Liverpool that they managed to have five false positives in a run of tests for covid on players, these are surely the craziest of times.
Most certainly if one didn’t know it already, football is in a bit of a state, and we’ve got an article in preparation on exactly just how chaotic football has become of late – and why.
But for now we have to pause for yer actual football, as it is the return game against Liverpool tonight, and as usual the untold gang will be on its way to Arsenal Stadium this afternoon.
Of course, we did a lot of the reviewing of the history between the two clubs in the run-up to the last game – the goalless draw, but matters are different now because of the simple fact that we are at home. This table shows the comparative position of the clubs in home and away games in the league.
Thus we now have a slight edge – one point more than Liverpool from one game fewer. However, their goal difference is still a lot better than ours (+1.6 goals a game away from home in the league for Liverpool against 1.0 for Arsenal).
The injury situation is however horrific – we have more men out than any other club. Thomas Partey is back from Africa, but only just and might be fighting both a physical and mental battle to be fit. The defeat to Comoros (an island nation in the Indian ocean with a population of 869,000) and the journey back may have taken its toll.
Xhaka is suspended, and Takehiro Tomiyasu is facing a late fitness test with only a 50/50 chance of being available. The same is true of Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard. And indeed Cedric Soares is in the same situation but he is only rated 25%. Bukayo Saka picked up something at the end of the game a week ago and is still also only rated 50/50.
Calum Chambers got a knock in the last game and is only rated 25%, while Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pepe are both still in Africa. As for Aubameyang, scans have revealed heart lesions following a bout of covid, so he is completely out of the running.
That’s a pretty big danger list, and indeed according to the EPL Injury Table site from which the data is drawn, no other club has this level of injuries and absences.
The club with the lowest level of injuries at the moment is Tottenham Hots with three – which perhaps explains their sudden rise up the league table.
As we have noted before, Liverpool have really taken up the issue of committing fouls this season. While Arsenal have committed the second lowest level of fouls per game, in keeping with the new approach introduced with such an effect last season by Mikel Arteta (in one year transforming Arsenal from the team penalised the most for fouls, to being the least), Liverpool commit 10.24 fouls per game – the ninth highest in the league.
But the really bizarre figures come when we compare the fouls by each team with the fouls committed against them per game.
Arsenal, as noted commit nine fouls per game, and have 9.70 fouls per came committed against them. Liverpool commit 10.24 fouls per game but have only 8.05 fouls committed against them.
So why do teams foul Arsenal so much more than Liverpool? The normal answer for why a team does not get many fouls against it, is because their attack is no good. There is after all no need to tackle and risk fouling a team if you can track a player back and ultimately expect him to miss with a shot or let the ball slip away.
But Liverpool are the top scorers in the league so far this season, so surely clubs would have every reason to try and break up an attack with a foul.
It would of course take a set of analyses far greater that those at our disposal to check, but one possibility is that clubs are simply afraid to try and tackle Liverpool players for fear of getting free kicks and yellow cards. It would be interesting to have figures for how often each club is tackled (rather than how often each club is fouled) but for some reason these are not made available by the powers that be.