43 – Percent of Cech’s kicks which were accurate against Bro
49 – Percent of Cech’s goal kicks which are accurate this season
57 – Percent of Cech’s goal kicks which were accurate last season
58 – Percent of Szczesny’s goal kicks which were accurate in 2013/14
Cech is putting up some astonishingly bad numbers this season, making it look likely that Wenger will have to make yet another keeper change this summer.
First, his saves. As you know I keep keeper save percentages from positions like Big Chances and Shots in Prime. Last season, Cech was the best keeper among the elite Premier League teams in terms of stopping shots in and around his 6 yard box saving 64% of those Shots in Prime. This season, that number has dropped down to a much more human 52% which is low-normal for a top keeper.
What’s killing Cech this season, however, is his saves from Big Chances. Negredo’s goal against Arsenal was the very definition of a Big Chance (it was also a “Shot in Prime” in case you need further illustration of the definitions) and this season, Cech is only saving 30% of the Big Chances he has faced.
Now, in his defense, like last year where he allowed the 2nd most goals from outside the 18 yard box, part of the problem here is that Arsenal are allowing too many Big Chances. Arsenal have already allowed the opposition to take 48 Big Chances this season, 13 more than all of last season, and Arsenal have conceded 28 goals off those Big Chances which is 15 more than all of last season. In fact, 72% of the goals Arsenal have allowed this season have come from Big Chances (28/39) and Cech has only saved 12/40 (30%) of the Big Chances he’s faced.
Penalties are also counted in Big Chances and Cech also hasn’t saved a single penalty in his entire Arsenal career going 0/9 since making his transfer from Chelsea. Penalties aren’t saved at a high rate but as a point of comparison, Wojciech Szczesny has saved 4 of the 12 penalties he’s faced for Roma. That’s a bit above the normal save rate of 25%.
Cech’s distribution is also problematic and during the match against Middlesbrough he was kicking the ball around like a dipsomaniac sprinkler so readers asked me on Twitter to look at his numbers.
This season Cech’s goal kicks are down 8 percentage points from last season, which is also reflected in his long kicking which is down from 44% accurate last season to 36% accurate this season. I think this is partially because of the benching of Giroud.
That said, Cech was woeful against Middlesbrough despite having Giroud to kick to, completing just 8/21 long kicks and only 9/22 forward passes. Perhaps that calf injury was worse than advertised. Or perhaps his distribution is just awful: Cech has never been a highly accurate kicker but his 36% long ball completion rate this season is the lowest he’s notched since his 2009/10 Champions League rate of 34% and 5% lower than his career average of 41%. Hugo Lloris is completing 62% of his goal kicks and 75% overall while Cech looks bog average with his 49% goal kicks and 63% overall. And Ospina (using Champions League data) is 60% from goal kicks this season but his average distance kicked is just 32 yards, 12 yards shorter than Cech.
Among the many things that Arsenal have to solve this summer is the long-term inconsistency at keeper.
9 – Number of times Alexis Sanchez lost possession of the ball against Bro
3 – Number of those times that were in or near Arsenal’s own half
3 – Number of failed dribbles by Alexis (of 3 attempted)
15 – Number of failed passes by Alexis
3 – Number of those failed passes which were in Arsenal’s own half
1 – Number of those failed passes which eventually led to the Middlesbrough goal
1 – Number of fans century made by Alexis handing them a shirt
0 – Percent of blame I assign to Alexis for that goal
Alexis turned the ball over a lot against Middlesbrough. Too much, in fact. Arsenal had 65% of possession and yet only managed 12 shots to Boro’s 13. Another way to look at that dominance by Arsenal is to say that Arsenal had 785 touches, 584 passes, 192 passes in the final third, and just 12 shots. Alexis himself had 77 touches on the day and 24 of them were turnovers (either a bad pass, lost touch, or was dispossessed). That means over 30% of his possessions were given back to the opposition. He also had 31% of Arsenal’s total turnovers and 17% of Arsenal’s failed passes.
Still, that particular pass, no matter how bad, was not the reason Negredo scored. Alexis tried to thread a pass into Ox and…
..I remember a match at the Emirates where Song and Denilson passed the ball around the 18 yard box and I was screaming for them to attempt a pass, any pass, into the box for some offense and that match ended 0-0, so while Alexis had an easy pass to Ozil on his right I am still in favor of him trying that pass to Ox rather than keeping possession because after all what’s the point of possession if you’re not trying to score? The fact that Arsenal fans are obsessed with Alexis losing possession is actually a symptom of Arsenal’s defensive weakness: we want him to be audacious and use possession to create but we also don’t want him to lose the ball because we are terrified of how our defense will cope with the ensuing counter attack. The real problem here isn’t that he loses the ball, it’s that Arsenal can’t cope with it when he does. As I will illustrate here..
he missed. But Arsenal’s 352 meant that Negredo was covered by three CBs as he made his run. Downing had the ball and Monreal recovered to mark him but Downing beat Monreal by slowing down and going back on his left. From there he put in a pin-point accurate cross, which Koscielny couldn’t cut out and which Negredo poked home. The problem here was that Monreal didn’t kill that play, either by fouling Downing (the best choice) or by forcing him to continue his run down the line. Monreal has to recognize that Downing is entirely left footed and prevent him from getting that cross off or at the very least prevent him from having so much space and time to put in a good cross. So, again, for me the problem here isn’t that Alexis lost possession but that 4 Arsenal defenders couldn’t stop Stewart Downing and Alvaro Negredo from getting a shot mere inches away from the goal mouth.
As for Alexis: Alexis also scored a goal and helped set up the second goal with his pass to Ramsey. I will take 30 turnovers for two goals. I will also point out that, like all forwards, turnovers are part of his game. When Alexis is made the focal point of his team, like he has been at Arsenal and for Chile, he will be a turnover machine. The Arsenal defense needs to be aware of that and win the ball back or at the very least make it difficult for a player like Downing to put in a cross.
Ox on the back of a winged horse, through the sky pearly grey
2 – Tackles won by Ox (of 4 attempted)
5 – Tackles won by Monreal (of 5, led Arsenal)
4 – Tackles won by Özil (of 5)
21 – Total tackles Özil has won all season
1 – Foul by Ox
1 – Yellow card for Ox
3 – Minute of the match in which Ox received his yellow card
90 – Minutes Ox went after his yellow card without committing another foul
1 – Blocked cross by Ox
0 – Blocked crosses by Monreal
4 – Successful dribbles by Ox (of 8 attempted, led Arsenal)
9 – Ball recoveries by Ox (2nd on Arsenal behind Aaron Ramsey who led all players with 11)
2 – Successful crosses by Ox (of 9 attempted)
0 – Key passes by Ox
2 – Shots by Ox
1 – Big Chance by Ox (that shot in the 6 yard box which was saved was recorded as a Big Chance)
Against Middlesbrough, Wenger fielded a 343 (which was a 352 in defense) for the first time since the 1996/97 season when Steve Bould, Tony Adams, and Martin Keown played in the center of defense with Winterburn and Dixon as the wingbacks. In the system against Middlesbrough, Arsenal got a look at a back three of Gabriel, Koscielny, and Holding with Monreal and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the wide areas.
The idea behind the back three is to provide stability to the Arsenal defense. Wenger has played with a high line of two center backs since the break up of the invincibles. With both of his fullbacks pushed forward (sometimes even crossing the ball to one another) to say that that formation has been vulnerable to counter attacks is about as understated as an Adam Sandler character. So, with an extra center back, Arsenal should in theory, be able to continue use his wingbacks, but also have an extra man for cover on counters.
That is on paper, they should be more stable. In reality… Arsenal conceded a goal on a counter attack, despite having three center backs, largely because Monreal didn’t close down Downing.
I applaud Wenger’s change in formation. A back three compliments his attacking style and covers for some fundamental weaknesses in midfield – basically covering for the loss of Coquelin while providing some passing ability by pairing Ramsey and Özil with Xhaka.
The midfield passing was exemplary: Xhaka passed 90% (84/93), Ramsey 91% (61/67), and Özil 93% (43/46). However, those three players only created 3 chances for their teammates with Özil creating zero shots on the day, which is unusal for him.
Another problem is that Arsenal’s center back three was fairly poor in possession. Koscielny connected on just 48/56 passses (86%), Holding was 42/49 (86%) and Gabriel 61/73 (84%). All of their misssed passes were forward but 25 blown passes between your three center backs is not a good stat. It’s one thing if Alexis is turning the ball over but yet another much worse thing when your center backs are doing the same. Gabriel and Holding also turned the ball over in their own half. Which is unacceptable from your center backs.
Wenger changing systems with 8 games left in the season is not recommended and smacks of desperiation. You can see why Arsenal are so eager to change though, because the Gunners have conceded 40 goals this season, 48 big chances, and 101 shots in prime — that 101 shots in prime allowed is more than any of the other big 6 teams by 25 total shots or almost a shot per game.
And the fucked up thing is that his change didn’t work: Arsenal conceded more shots than they took (13 to 12), allowed Boro to have 2 Big Chances (they scored 1), and allowed 5 shots in prime… Middlesbrough, the lowest scoring team in the premier League, took 5/13 shots in and around Arsenal’s 6 yard box.
I don’t know what Wenger is going to do. The 352 looked just as vulnerable to counters as his favored 433 but it was also the very first time we have seen a 352 (or 343 whatever you want to call it) in 20 years so there is bound to be a steep learning curve. That said, Leicester is up next and if you give Vardy 5 shots in prime and two big chances I can guarantee that he will score more than one goal. But to switch back to a 433 at this point would seem equally silly. It’s a conundrum.
Sources: 442 Stats Zone app, Whoscored.com, my database