Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Cech Mate: By the Numbers

Arsenal have the best defense in the League right now and Chelsea have the second worst defense in the League. I’m measuring that strictly by goals allowed: Arsenal have allowed 7 goals, Chelsea 17.  But if we look a bit deeper into the numbers we see that Arsenal’s superior defensive record can be attributed largely to one man, Petr Cech.

If you watched the match against Manchester United on Sunday you saw Arsenal jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes. United has been insanely efficient this season and up to that match they had scored 70% of their Big Chances.  Because I’m going to get asked in the comments I’ll just explain that Big Chances are easily illustrated by the two shots that Petr Cech saved in that match, one from Schweinstiger and one from Martial, both shots were right on the penalty spot. Another example is the backheel that Alexis scored, and the two open shots on the right, one by Ramsey (missed) and the other by Ox (hit the crossbar).

You can argue that “Big Chances’ is subjective (or even “too subjective”) but I think it’s got value as a stat since most of us see those chances occur and we sort of instinctively know that it was a dangerous shot. I also want to give credit to Opta, this is an official Opta stat, because I think they do a pretty good job of collecting this data for us. It’s rare that I disagree with them over whether a shot was a big chance or not.

Another metric that I use to judge whether a team is creating dangerous shots is the notion that there is a “Prime Area” from which team’s score most of their goals. This is a metric which preceded the expected goals craze and which actually helped to inform that work. Basically, if you look at the very big data (not individual games) you see a clear pattern develop where teams tend to score most of their goals, and have a very high conversion rate, from an area right in front of goal. This is the “Prime Area”:


Again, this isn’t unique or even very insightful. If you’ve ever played football you know that shots in and around the penalty spot and 6 yard box are the most dangerous shots to create and concede.

Prime Area shots and Big Chances often overlap and back to my earlier example of the match between Arsenal and Man U, the match which Arsenal won 3-0, if we look at Manchester United’s shot chart we can see that they basically created just two shots which were really dangerous. Both were Prime Area shots and both were Big Chances.


In fact, apart from those two shots, United were forced to take all of their remaining shots from distance, where teams score a tiny percentage of their shots (2-3%).

All of this is a long and boring way of explaining some of my definitions.

Ok, with that under our belts we can ask some questions! For example, I know that the top four teams (in terms of spend, not in terms of League position, because Chelsea are in…. uhh… scrolling… scrolling… 16th place) convert on average 36% of their Big Chances this season. This is the first season that I’ve collected this stat in detail so I don’t know whether that is high or low. Shots in Prime (or SiP!) are scored at a slightly lower rate of 22% among those same teams.  Remember, I’m not counting Own Goals here, just intentional shots and goals scored off of those shots.

As we saw against Man U, Petr Cech smothered both of United’s Big Chances./SiP but that wasn’t a one-off performance for the Czech Republic keeper. He’s been stellar in front of goal all season and except that error for the first goal against West Ham, has been the best ‘keeper in the League in terms of saves from those dangerous areas like Big Chances and Shots in Prime.

In fact, Cech has saved 75% of the Big Chances he’s faced and 78% of the Shots in Prime he’s faced. Those other top teams aren’t even close to Cech’s numbers:

Club BC saves % SiP Save
Arsenal 75.00% 77.78%
Chelsea 57.14% 50.00%
Man City 33.33% 60.00%
Man United 50.00% 61.54%

Now, I will caution that some of these numbers are small. All four of those teams have only conceded a total of 46 Big Chances and 100 SiP. So, Cech’s numbers here are 6/8 Big Chances saved and his SiP save is 7/9.

If Chelsea had a keeper saving at the same rate that Cech is saving, they would have conceded 6 fewer goals this season. That must hurt Jose to know that he sold the best keeper to the best team in London and that that keeper is performing at a high level while the keeper he bought to replace him is performing at the level we expect to see from a 16th place team. That must sting like the tears of a clown, when there’s no one around.

This doesn’t mean that Cech will continue saving at that rate, I really don’t know what he’ll finish the season with, but it does mean that since the opening day howler against West Ham Cech has pulled off some great saves and given Arsenal’s lack of finishing up front it’s fair to say that Cech’s saves have probably kept Arsenal in the title race.




P.S. I have a lot more data from these Big Chances and SiP to share which prove that Arsenal are legit title contenders. I will dole that out over the international break.

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American Gooner

Wish the media would acknowledge more of these things and less of the shit the so called “pundits” spew every weekend. Analysis driven by data, albeit, not a huge amount (not a criticism of 7 am, just that we only have an 8 game sample) and actual numbers! Who would’ve thought!


The media still think that possession is a meaningful stat. It isn’t.

Ditch the Blue

Arsenal ‘only’ had 38% poss on Sunday.


Exactly – this 38% possession stat is a case in point in misleading statistics. From my memory, the possession graphic that flashed up on screen in the first 30 mins had us around the 62% mark.


Teams often beat us with low possession numbers, but they are also misleading because people think they mean “time with the ball” but they are really just a count of the number of passes.


Thanks, Tim. Didn’t know that. 10 years of watching Arsenal and football, and I didn’t know that. That’s a shame. 🙁


Tim, does anyone track time in possession acros all games? Seems like it would be more useful than the passes ratio…

Jimmy C

Yup, I win on Fifa with really low possession


Problem is we’re all stupid and prone to clicking on the headline or tuning in to the waster that either infuriates us or strokes our ego.

Ergo, pundits.


I am a golfer and stats are a great indicator of a golfers ability. I agree with American Gooner that pundits should be using stats instead of listening to one journo and all going along with it.

Yesterday I tweeted Neil Ashton and he had the good grace to favourite the tweet that his “nicking a living” comment was on a par with hanson’s “win nothing with kids” statement.

Özil is a fabulous player and yet every pundit goes along with the “lazy” description as if it’s accurate – what’s lazy is the shitty journalism!

David C

if you guys like stats, you should watch baseball.

“Here’s Jose Bautista up to bat. Jose is hitting .265 with runners on base on humid and overcast Sunday afternoons. That average goes up to a whopping .290 whenever their’s been a particularly good grape crop in Southwestern Ontario.”




And people moan about Arsenal’s trophy drought! There’s not a team in any major professional sport in North America that’s gone longer than the Jays since their last divisional title.

Mesut Ohno

they won it in 93, there are at least 50 teams that have gone longer in basketball, hockey, NFL, Baseball than that.


Who cares about rounders?

Scott from London, Ontario, Canada

Heh, and then there’s the Toronto Maple Leafs who are in for yet another “rebuilding season”.


Mesut Ohno, please name those fifty teams in the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB that haven’t won a divisional title since 1993.



Red Sox went a long time too. But Cubs are still waiting.


Ah, smeg, that’s what I get when I quote something I read on fucking Facebook. I looked it up. There are three NBA teams (Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards, Memphis Grizzlies) that have not won a divisional title since 1993. I didn’t bother looking up the other three major sports because my point was already blown.

So, Mr. Ohno, I apologize.

If it makes you feel any better, I went and found the Facebook post that gave me my wrong information and told them they were idiots.


@Lizzie – the Cubs won the NL Central in 2008. The Red Sox won the AL East in 2013.

Mesut Ohno

Jo Gays!!

Gutbukket Deffrolla


The Mert

Love this!!! The numbers articles are some of my favorites on this site and Cech is giving The Arsenal everything we had hoped he could be! Let’s win the league!!! COYG!!!!!

Reality Check

Also describing MOURNiho’s troubles “That must sting like the tears of a clown, when there’s no one around”. Epic


Loved that entire paragraph. Oh if Chelsea had a keep as good as Cech…oops! 🙂

Jordan Tan

Not sure if they are related – Cech joining Arsenal over summer, and Chelsea flopping big time, but it sure feels awesome to have things turn out that way! Suck that, Jose!


Happy sweet 16 Mourinho


Awesome insight however, City, Palace, Spurs and Watford have also conceded “only” 7… Yeah it’s early days still and in these league those numbers will rise and we will see Palace, Spurs and Watford drop off. Still, you can’t leave out City when you mention the best defence in the league at the moment and use goals conceded as a reference. I mean, technically you can, it’s just slightly biased. City, even with a few blips, are a great team and Kompany out injured is a huge handicap for them. How much of an effect do you think Chelsea’s backline… Read more »


Especially when all the blame should be heaped on the walking narcissistic personality disorder, Mourinho.

Crash Fistfight

Someone’s been listening to The Tuesday Club.


These articles make you realise how shallow most of the punditry you get really is. Yes, observational punditry will always have its place and has its many uses but you never get this quality of analysis on tv. Keep it up 7am!


To be fair, it’s not the sort of thing you can really do on live TV. It needs a written medium and a lot of prep work.

I actually think that some of the TV presenters are doing better work than they have in a long time in terms of game analysis. Some of the stuff Sky Sports does with its replay camera is actually interesting and effective.

The “famous bloke who sits in a chair looking fat and says stuff” type of punditry is definitely pretty much useless though unless the bloke in question is entertaining to listen to.


But in order to be interesting you have to say something meaningful and have insight. I can’t remember the last time any of these co commentators met these criteria. Owen is just a confused mass of his own prejudices. Savage sounds as though he’s loaded up on Purple Hearts before kick off and thinks shouting in a slightly effeminate high pitched tone all the time counts as insight.


Gary Neville sometimes has interesting stuff to say, as much as it pains me to admit it. He does some good stuff with the halftime analysis using the replay cam they have going.

But I agree in general what you can get away with is pretty amazing.


I think with all the computer graphics they have these days, this could be presented on TV in a way most would understand. I agree it would be more difficult if someone were just explaining it verbally, many viewers’ eyeballs would glaze over. I admit I’d probably have to DVR it and watch it couple times before I really got it. But with visual aids, it wouldn’t seem as…lecture-y.

Man Manny

Cech has reminded me of the impact of a world class keeper on a team. I just knew United would struggle to put 1 past him let alone 3.
As the third goal flew in, I just knew it was good night; lights out, all over.
I am glad we have him.


Seeing as our club decided to troll us with just the one major signing in each of the last two transfer windows, it’s been gratifying to witness the impact Gabriel and Cech have had. It’s amazing that we found a defender who is so effective at replacing either part of Mertescielny axis. Cech’s impact is similar to how Ospina’s introduction in January stabilised us. One major difference (and I say this as a big Ospina fan) – Mertesacker is visibly more confident with Cech behind him. Mert was the deepest lying “playmaker” yesterday, constantly inviting pressure from United’s forwards, and… Read more »


I think it’s because Mert can look eye-to-eye with Cech instead of having to stoop down to make eye contact.

Andre Santos



I’m gilding the lily here a bit: Arsenal’s midfield defense is as good as it gets and are limiting the number of big chances that Cech has to face by a huge margin. We are probably the best defensive team in England right now. By my count.

Scott from London, Ontario, Canada

“Gilding the lily” I love it!

Great stats. Excellent article as always.


most clean sheets from 13/14 season and two goals more conceded than the best defence in the league from 14/15 season. It seems to have gone unnoticed as all I hear is how we are bad defensively. Taking into account that we have those stats while playing attacking football, shows how good our defenders are.


Prolly because some of the goals Arsenal concede are ridiculous. The team does switch off defensively at times.

Also, it seriously cannot be understated how important Cech and Mertesacker are to Arsenal now.


Is it possible that Cech is better at Big Chance smothering than lets say distance shots? is there a stat to see % of goals let in (last season) for each? And for each goalkeeper?
perhaps that may explain why Wenger picked Ospina over Cech, because he expected Olympiacos to shoot from outside the BigChances area.
Just a thought.


I have those numbers…

Last season Arsenal conceded 3 goals from distance out of 152 shots. 2 were by Ospina.

This season Arsenal have conceded 2 goals from distance out of 52 shots.

About double the number. But still, 4% is an acceptable number.


I appreciate the fact that you have the numbers, though it blows my entire Wenger justification out of the water. I have to accept we just had a bad night overall.
Incidentally, Tim, I presume you also have stats on # of chances per team vs. goals scored (against us) compared to others over this/last season (or going further back).
When the interlull is in full swing, please do consider sharing.

Clock-End Mike

I’m sure you’ll agree though, Tim, even after your excellent analysis, that there’s more to goalkeeping than shot-stopping. That’s a fairly easy stat to collect and wave around — and in terms of Sunday’s game, undoubtedly a most important one. All the goal chances (four?) that United had in that match — shots on target, or Big Chances — were either saved or smothered by Cech. Arsenal’s goals, on the other hand, were shots that gave even a ‘keeper of de Gea’s shot-stopping reputation little chance of saving them. De Gea’s problem was not that he failed to save those… Read more »

Dark Hei

Hmm, interesting idea.

How about sweeping. Ospina is great when he is required to rush out and intercept a player that broke through. He is very fast in that regard.


Can’t wait for your explanation of that phrase and graphic “Alexis Area.” Its so much bigger, and if its the space in which he delivers Prime Area accuracy or Big Shots, or…whatever. The Charlie Adam Area is, I think, a little easier to guess at.

Somewhere I read that achieving 16th place after 8 games leaves a team, historically, with zero chance to make the CL in the following season. Moronho has either set the stage to prove he’s a genius, or shown why he doesn’t comprehend how managers like Wenger and Ferguson get treated differently, i.e. with respect.


The alexis area just highlights that the man is so good he doesn’t need to get into prime areas to score!!




The fucking guy is amazing. I have no problem with him shooting from distance.

Now Cazorla, on the other hand… needn’t bother. I don’t think he even hits the target when he shoots from outside the box. It’s a total waste of a shot.

Same with Ramsey.

Both of them need to get into better positions before they shoot.


Um. Galatasaray? I guess there’s always an anomaly somewhere.


West Ham away 2012-13 season (my only live Gunners game – so far). A screamer from Cazorla. One of my favorite Arsenal goals of the latter years:


Fantastic stats. Great article. Thanks.


I do appreciate that the charlie adam area is in the dumb area. Another truth borne out by stats.

Kentucky Goon

@7am – does opta keep any stats to take into account players shooting directly at the keeper? Like a ‘had to dive’ stat? With an N this low the percentages could be juiced by a few easy catches or miss-hits that dribble to feet.

Aboriginal Arsenal

Cech is a phenomenal presence. Having him between the sticks must make those in front feel superior when they go into battle. I am still pinching myself to think Chelski sold him to us. Without an almighty resurgence, Maureen’s men are out of the title race. Liverpool have a new manager. We just pumped Manure. That leaves us and Citeh. We are in with a shout this year. We need the rub of the green, as always, and Cocq, Alexis, Santi, Walcott and Ozil to stay fit. But we have to be up there. It’s up for grabs now…

Red Ed

The Times gave Cech 6/10 for yesterday, which is preposterous. Mind you in the same pull out section they did cunt off Mourinho good and proper so it wasn’t all bad.


7am, a request: could you do a comparison between cech and szcz? Roma fans seem to love him.


Szczesny was a disaster last season. He saved 38% of the big chances he faced, Ospina saved 58%. For SiP, Ospina saved just 57% of those shots but Szczesny was a dreadful 43%.

That’s why he was dropped. That’s why he was loaned. That’s why we bought Cech.

Dr. Gooner

More than the numbers though I think it was what was behind them, a seemingly devil may care attitude and a lack of professionalism or professional progress to build on what was a very solid 12/13 season in which he tied Petr Cech on 16 clean sheets.

Petit's Handbag

I’ll admit I was nervous after Big Cechs first game against West Ham.
My nerves have now turned to excitement in thinking maybe, just maybe he could be the difference. Look back at the game against Liverpool, and now United Sunday.
Our best keeper since Lehmann I’ve heard people say…..would you see this guy losing his place to Almunia??
He’s our best since prime Seaman, maybe better.

Man Manny

No chance mate! An off-form Petr Cech is better than an inspired Almunia.
I must confess that when analysts and journos used to say that we need a better keeper than the ones we had to win the league, I felt they were just being unreasonable. I sincerely thought we could win with Al, Szcz, Fab, Manonne or Ospina. Now I know better – they were right. Cech alone in goal makes us real contenders. I am just loving it.

Dick Swiveller

The Szczesny of two seasons ago was good enough imo, but that form, unfortunately, for whatever reason, didn’t really stick.


Like most of the comments above: fantastic writing, keep up the good word.
Particularly liked the laughs at Chelsea’s expense.
Sorry, what position were they?

Cliff Bastin

I’d just like to point out that 7amkickoff closed his blog post before the game with :

‘Drink extra coffee to stay up for this match. I don’t expect an end-to-end affair like Arsenal’s win over Leicester but rather a cagey affair with both teams looking to kill off possession and hit each other on the counter. Rather than a goal glut, this is a match that will likely turn on a single conversion.’


Man Manny

Don’t blame him; nobody saw this coming. Read Gary Neville’analysis before the game on Sky website; he virtually gave the match to United. He pointed out all that were wrong with Arsenal and all were right about United.
Was quite satisfying to hear him on live commentary eating his words big time.

Dick Swiveller

Those tactics have worked rather well against us in the past, back when everything went through Arteta, if you closed him down you shut down a lot of our midfield, even last season with Santi it was a valid tactic, give Coq the ball and he couldn’t dictate like Santi/Arteta.

Then again, we evolved to get Coq better on the ball, and Ramsey can get back and help link things too, so maybe sitting back and hoping for a mistake is the only way these days.

Dr. Gooner

Not an unreasonable stance at all given what we knew about both teams (Man United mostly).


And the Times is reporting today that van Gaal’s players begged him to play counter-attacking football and are publicly grumbling about team selection and tactics.

Everyone expected a dour game.

Dr. Gooner

I’m glad relatively few pundits have tried to discredit the Arsenal performance by having a go at United for tactics. Though I was slightly miffed that Liverpool decided to fire Rodgers right after the game, which took some of the media attention from what had been our best performance against a top team since Arsenal 4 Liverpool 1.

Man Manny

It’s good that the attention has been taken away from that game – will help to keep the players grounded.

Cliff Bastin

Yeah I mean it was an excellent surprise 🙂

Dr. Gooner

Very cool stats, Tim. This may be the most compelling way I’ve seen to quantify great goalkeeping yet. Looks like an improvement over the seemingly less specific shot on target faced vs. save % metric. I wonder though if the SiP stat also includes the shots that were tabulated in the BC saves column? Or did you exclude them and use shots that were outside the BC zone but inside the SiP zone? I’m also interested in the discrepancy between BC conversion percent of 36% and the BC save % which for most clubs is significantly worse than the 74%… Read more »


yep, there is overlap between SiP and BC.

Yes, Big chances are missed a lot. Ramsey and Ox both missed the target (ergo no save) with their BCs.

Dr. Gooner

Thanks, that helps with context.

Dr. Gooner

For those interested in further reading, this is an incredibly good numbers based appraisal of Cech when he signed for us: In it, the author points out that although quantifying the value of goalkeepers is very much a work in progress, there are some known statistics that seem to jive with what Tim is presenting: Petr Cech saved 16/18 shots on target faced in the PL last year, for a comfortably league best save % of 89%. Also, his career save % is 77%, which is right in line with the numbers Tim posted. By contrast, Courtois’ career save… Read more »

Dr. Gooner

In the second paragraph, I mean to say the only goalkeeper with a higher career save % and 600 shots faced than Petr Cech is Manuel Neuer.

King Henry XIV

And Roman Abramovic is picking his nose in contemplation…


Anyone else notice that cech is a two footed goalie (santi better watch his back….).

Coq au Vin

He’s nowhere near as good on his right as his left. Watch replay of when Mert sells him short to Cech’s right foot. The clearance is sliced. The ones hit with his left are clean and accurate (and one thumped all the way to De Gea).


because Chelsea are in…. uhh… scrolling… scrolling… 16th place)

So much win, so big smile right there


Yes indeed, that did make me laugh this morning

Aboriginal Arsenal

Henry had a big chance to make it 2-0 in the Champion’s League final. Of all the big chances the great man scored, if only he’d have buried that one. Alexis may have to be the first man to lead Arsenal to European Cup glory. And shut my best mate gobby Celtic fan up for eternity.


“That must sting like the tears of a clown, when there’s no one around.”

Tim, the stats were great. But my favourite part of this article has to be that line. Kudos.

Pires' Left Boot

Prime Area.
Alexis Area.
Alexis Prime Area.
Alexis is the distant cousin of Optimus. That explains his beast like attitude and limitless energy supply. Wonder where he stocks his energon supply.


Are you really referring to the Schweinsteiger shot as a big save?? even my grandDad would have saved that…


You call Schweinsteiger’s shot a big chance?? come on now…

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