Let’s do a more traditional “by the numbers” where I give the stats from a single game but with a twist. Instead of just a dump of stats where you have to figure out what’s meaningful or not, I’m going to explain some things to look for in the stats which help to give them context.
Let’s start with tackles.
The 36 Chambers of getting skinned
Chambers was Arsenal’s most challenged player and ended the game attempting 7 tackles.
In the first half, he only attempted two tackles, one was in his own defensive third (failed) and the other was in the Swansea final third (successful). That’s one tackle defensive and one pressing.
In the second half, all of his attempted tackles were defensive. He was 2 for 5 and the worst part was that he was just 1/3 tackling on the edge of the box.
Interestingly, after Arsenal’s goal he only attempted 1 tackle. You might imagine that he attempted a tackle when Montero got in the assist but he actually didn’t because he was so worn down by that point that he didn’t even put in a challenge.
Arsenal’s two erstwhile defensive midfielders (Ramsey and Flamini) were 4/4 tackling. Which looks good until you see that all four of those tackles were in the first half. In the second half, they didn’t even attempt a tackle. If they had been in position to make a tackle, perhaps Gibbs wouldn’t have needed to foul, see image below.
Oxlade-Chamberlain was the only other player to attempt a tackle down the Arsenal right flank. He was 1/2, both of them were on the edge of the box, and critically, both were in the first half.
In fact, Arsenal’s first half tackling was 7/9 (mostly in the middle of the pitch) and the second half tackling was 8/16 (almost exclusively down the wings). The graphics for that looks like this (courtesy Opta via the StatsZone by FourFourTwo)
First half tackles
Second half tackles
Chambers has come in for a lot of criticism in this match and the truth is that the 19 year old struggled, especially in the second half when he went from looking jaded to looking like a piece of jade. But equally true is that Chambers had no one helping him out on that side of the pitch. Ox did it in the first half for a while but after Arsenal started streaming forward Chambers was routinely beaten by his marker and Arsenal were exposed.
Key passes, huh? What is it good for?
But for all the forward play, Arsenal struggled to create much that really threatened Swansea. Worse, after Arsenal scored they didn’t create a single shot between the 62 minute and the 92nd minute.
It happens, sometimes, that top level teams can concede goals in rapid succession. These teams usually come back into the game and start creating shot after shot, usually from progressively closer positions until they score the breakthrough and then the winner.
Against Swansea, however, Arsenal froze. No one was able to create a shot until virtually the last kick of the game and that shot, which was in a fantastic position, was blocked. So, while Arsenal took 13 shots (11 of them created by teammates) it was that missing 30 minutes which really killed the game.
As for key passes, whenever you read that X player “created three shots” you should immediately ask “what kind of shots?” Cazorla, for example, created three chances, two outside the box where players score around 3% of the time and one inside the box off a corner (header, wide). These are all low percentage chances created, and both of the Cazorla chances from open play were blocked as well, they were rushed shots.
Ox, on the other hand, created 4 chances and while two of them were outside the D and thus chucks from long range, the other two were quite special. The little pass in to Welbeck which created Arsenal’s second best chance of the game was quite good as was the cross that set up Wilshere’s last gasp effort.
Alexis and Welbeck were criticized during and after the game which is strange to me since they were the two who put Arsenal in the winning position. Welbeck was quiet on offense: he only had one shot, one key pass, and was 2 for 3 in dribbles. But, one of his dribbles produced the key pass that scored the goal which should have won Arsenal the match.
Meanwhile, Wenger continued his sometimes baffling post-match commentary with his remark that
AW: “Alexis scored but he didn’t have the best of his games today.”
— gunnerblog (@gunnerblog) November 9, 2014
I’ve looked at the stats and it’s true that Sanchez had a mediocre match by his own ridiculously high standard. He scored the first goal, created three chances (all in the second half, only one was a shot outside the box, and one was the best chance of the second half), and only had one dribble. He was also 14/24 passes in the final third, meaning he “misplaced” 10 passes.
But there’s more to that story than just the 10 misplaced passes. For example, one of those “bad” passes was to Theo Walcott, a caviar pass from 20 yards in the middle of a deluge which the Arsenal forward failed to control.
That’s the weird thing about passing stats. Like crosses, what counts as a “good” pass is simply whether player A kicks the ball and player B (from his own team) collects the ball. It doesn’t matter if the passes were all behind the runner, sideways, if they had to sprint 20 yards to keep it from going out of play, or if they were tackled right away after. If they collect the ball the passer gets credit.
If Alexis is guilty of anything it’s the bigotry of raised expectations. He’s a stats stuffer, like Suarez, Costa, and Aguero and when he has a game where all he does is score a goal and set up two great chances I guess he deserves some criticism.
No, wait, the word I was looking for there was credit. He deserves credit.
Overall, Arsenal did enough to win the game but they failed to defend their lead again.