The fact that this article is coming out today, and that it’s comparing three Champions League matches that all ended 1-1, is entirely UEFA’s fault. The official UEFA site used to be the best source for all data related to Champions League matches but some time between Arsenal’s qualifying match and Tuesday they changed the format of their “Match Center” and got rid of most of their useful statistical data. Is there nothing UEFA can’t get wrong?
On a whim I checked out WhoScored.com and was pleasantly surprised to see that not only do they carry the Champions League data, it’s the exact same format as the data I use for analyzing Premier League matches. It was like waking up on Christmas morning thinking you’re going to get some boring old toys and discovering that your dad bought you a shotgun.
Or something like that.
I dumped the Arsenal player data and match data into a spreadsheet and started looking at what unique datapoints appeared in order to craft my usual “by the numbers” article for Arseblog News. But after I saw that Man City and Man U both ended up with 1-1 draws I changed tack and decided instead to compare the three matches.
A couple of quick notes on the data. Yes, I realize that the three matches were entirely different for several reasons. Arsenal played conservatively in a tight group so that they didn’t come away with an opening loss. Man United’s group is terribly easy and that showed in how they approached the game as well, on a stroll. And Manchester City came up against some fierce opposition but were the home team of the three and as such their numbers are different. I’m also fully aware that I am comparing one match and any one performance could be a fluke. Still, this first chart compares 26 different data points over three teams and some interesting numbers pop up.
*Shots as calculated by OPTA do not include blocked shots. Knowing this, I put them in the chart as blocks and added blocks to shots to create a category called “chances created.”
Manchester City dominated the chances created category as they should since they had 68% of the possession and were the home team. The surprising number there is Man U, who only created 4 chances, despite making 640 passes and owning 62% of the ball. Man U last created a mere four chances when they had their asses handed to them by Barcelona in the Champions League final. But in that game Barcelona owned 68% of the ball and so, having a small number of shots is to be expected.
Arsenal, meanwhile, played the most defensive of the three matches and that shows in the number of clearances Arsenal were forced into (44), interceptions they made (28), total number of tackles (18), and the low passing number (420). To give you a comparison, Arsenal’s Premier League averages for passing are:
518 – Total Passes
443 – Short passes
49 – Long Balls
20 – Crosses
6 – Through Balls
420 passes in a game where they hit 59 long balls (14%) is a very defensive game for Arsenal. The good news is that despite such a defensive stance, Arsenal still created 9 chances and managed to capitalize on one. That’s a goal conversion rate (goals per shots) of 11% (1/9) which is a decent rate when you consider that each of the Premier League winning teams for the last five years have averaged slightly more than 12%. On Wednesday, Man U’s conversion rate was 25% but City managed just 4% which is coincidentally what Arsenal’s conversion rate in the Premier League is right now — and they are struggling.
I also wanted to highlight two Arsenal player performances and compare them, like-for-like, with players from United and City. I chose Song and Koscielny and compared them to Barry and Carrick and Smalling and Kompany. Here’s that chart:
As you can see, Song and Koz had a huge night for Arsenal defensively. 41% of Arsenal’s 27 attempted tackles came from Alex Song. Neither of the other two defensive midfielders highlighted here came close to the number or percentage of Song. Carrick picked off more passes than Song, but four interceptions in a game is a decent number (Gibbs averages 4.5 per game to lead Arsenal at the moment). Song’s 11 tackles helped Koz and Per because they didn’t have to make as many desperation lunges and between the two only had 3 total tackles.
Where Koscielny really shined, though, was in blocks and clearances. Koz had 50% of Arsenal’s 8 blocks and 48% of Arsenal’s successful clearances. Throw in that he won 4/6 aerial duels and completed all of his long passes and you can see that he was crucial to Arsenal’s defense on the night.
The numbers prove to me that Arsenal’s game plan was to play conservatively and try to steal a point or three. Accomplishing that took two massive performances from Alex Song and Laurent Koscielny but they got the job done. The numbers also show me that Man U took the game lightly and never really bared their teeth and that Man City had trouble coping with Napoli’s 3-5-2 formation, letting the Italians create 16 chances at home while being profligate up front and wasting an amazing 25 shots.
In the end, it’s just one game (each) and we don’t want to draw too many conclusions but as we go forward, I should be able to compare League for League, game for game, and team for team against averages for each team. And if that doesn’t excite you, well, then I don’t know what will.