As the English Premier League of 12/13 passes, we look forward to a summer of transfer rumors and activity. Before doing so, it would be good to take stock of how Arsenal has performed. Benchmarks must be made in two ways – against other teams and also in comparison with the season of 11/12. I hope that this statistically driven write up will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the squad. The first part of the review is driven by hard data and is followed by a more qualitative (and subjective) review of individual players.
The Overall Picture
Statistics must be taken in context, without which comparisons are futile. Let us begin by comparing the points tally of 11/12 and 12/13. The latest season is marked in black and the former in grey.
A few things stand out in this graph. 12/13 showed a smoother curve that depicted a closer and more competitive league. 11/12 had a much more segmented profile with the top 2 teams taking the lion’s share of points (City and United at 89 points). This time, United was the runaway leaders at the same level of 89 points and only 6 points separated 2nd and 5th place. Teams in the 3rd, 4th and 5th places managed to garner a higher number of points than before as can be seen by the sizeable gap between 11/12 and 12/13. This is testament to the increase in competitiveness of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham respectively. Of course, the gains in this area were likely to be offset by a rather dramatic fall in points of the team in second position (City).
This graph allows us the segment the league into four parts. It is from here that I will take a first look at how Arsenal performed. The table below shows how Arsenal have performed against four segments of the league. Teams placed first to fifth are United, City, Chelsea and Tottenham (Arsenal excluded of course). 6th to 7th include Everton and Liverpool. 17th to 20th are Sunderland, Wigan, Reading and QPR, all of whom fell below the 40 point mark. And the rest are found from 8th to 16th.
The key takeaway from this table is the ‘% Max’ column. This column shows the percentage of points (out of the maximum) that Arsenal took from each segment. While the distribution of ‘% Max’ is rather logical, it also shows two things.
Arsenal have been efficient at securing points that they were expected to bring home. The collection of 74.07% of points (8th and 16th) and a near perfect 91.67% from the relegation battlers is a good show of efficiency. These were points we were expected to pick up and we did.
However, what is worrying comes from the top end of the table. Arsenal has had a terrible showing against the top 5 teams, picking up only 20.83% of the maximum points available and winning only 1 game (home against Tottenham). The same poor percentage can be seen against Everton and Liverpool where we failed to take maximum points in 3 out of 4 games.
In short, Arsenal performed as expected for a team that finished 4th. They did increasingly well against poorer teams but suffered tremendously against the three teams above them. A huge improvement against the top league segment must be seen if the Gunners are bidding to be title challengers next season.
Form and Momentum
Looking at facts as seen above ignores the crucial element of momentum and form. It is at this point that I will make a comparison of the three teams that battled for third and fourth – Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
On first glance, one will not see much of a difference since all 3 teams finished within three points of each other. It is clear that Chelsea started the season the brightest taking close to maximum points from their opening 8 games. However, the bright start was hampered by a poor streak from game 9 to 15. The poorest run of all three teams. Chelsea recovered with a short winning streak before seeing their season see-saw between wins and draws/losses. The early season performance was critical in notching Chelsea its 3rd place.
Arsenal’s and Tottenham’s season started differently but ended up playing out rather similarly. Tottenham had the worst start of the three but showed their best winning steak from games 4 to 7. This was only replicated in games 25 to 28. Arsenal on the other hand endured a an unconvincing start to the season with the team swinging between wins and losses. The turning point came at game 15 which saw Arsenal start a run of 4 wins in a row. This was repeated from game 29 to 32 which came after a confidence boosting victory at Munich. Both Arsenal and Tottenham closed out their seasons very similarly. It was due to this that both sets of fans had a nervy finish to the final whistle.
The charts here show how important it is to get the momentum flowing for the team. Chelsea’s superb start was nearly matched by Arsenal’s superb run at the end. Tottenham did not manage to build sufficient momentum throughout and missed 4th place by only a point.
Goals For, Goals Against
The other way to read Arsenal’s performance is by looking at its goal difference in each game. This can show how well the team performed in each game (or how poor the opposition might have been). The first graph shows clearly how shaky the season started. Besides a morale boosting 5 goal margin win against Southampton (6-1), the Gunners blew hot and cold throughout ending with a 0-2 loss against Swansea. This was the worst defeat of the season (next to the 0-2 loss against City). After Swansea, the team turned around with a consistent push against WBA up till Newcastle. We recorded good winning margins in a strong finish to year 2012. 2013 started off without the same fluency but it was here that Arsenal grinded out important single goal difference wins with three of them coming against Stoke, Sunderland and Villa. The second dip of the season came with a loss away to Spurs but that triggered a positive return in goal margins till the end of the season. Again, many single goal margin victories were key to the Gunners picking up points.
If we extrapolate and sum the margins, we get a rather well and normally distributed curve. Our most common margin of victory was a single goal (9 times). Around 37% of our points were picked up in these critical wins. This emphasizes how important hanging on to a lead was to the Gunners. Steve Bould and Wenger gave the team a renewed focus on defence and that paid off in points. As Walcott mentioned at the end of the season, a strong defence was the critical difference this season.
This bridges our analysis from momentum to goal scoring and conceding. Again, I would like to benchmark Arsenal’s goal for and against in two ways. Let us look at how Arsenal fared against the best teams this season. Then, we take a look at how each of the teams did against themselves in 11/12.
United lead the goal scoring chart this season but did not do as well as they did the season before. They managed to score 3 more goals in 11/12 as compared to 12/13. However, this small difference can be reduced to an insignificant statistical difference. Liverpool and Chelsea were the most improved teams. The former netted an additional 24 goals, no doubt boosted by a rich vein of form by Suarez. Chelsea’s purchase of attacking options resulted in the second best improvement of 10 goals pushing them to the second highest goal scoring team in 12/13.
Arsenal sold their top scorer but managed to return almost the same number of goals as the season before. It was 2 short of 11/12 but again that margin is again too small to be deemed significant. Tottenham scored exactly the same number of goals with a large percentage of it falling to Bale’s excellent form this season.
It is here that we can endeavour to attribute how City fell from being a powerhouse in 11/12 to a considerably weaker force in 12/13. City’s goal scoring tally fell by a massive 27 goals. It is a very significant drop considering that they retained their potent attacking force that notched 93 goals last season. Balotelli was sold only in January.
In defence, Arsenal posted a massive improvement conceding 12 goals lesser than the season past. Again, this ties into our earlier conclusion that single goal victories underlined the importance of an improved defence. Chelsea posted an improvement as well conceding 7 less. However, most teams fell behind defensively with City, United and Liverpool conceding more than they have before.
There are two key takeaways from this. Chelsea was the most improved team in this area. They improved in both scoring and conceding less. This increased their goal difference by a massive 17. Arsenal was the second most improved team with an improved goal difference of 10. Both teams traded second and third places in both tables posting good scoring and defensive records. Unsurprisingly, only two points separated the two.
This brings us to the last part of the data driven review. Arsenal’s goal scoring burden was well distributed as seen below.
While Robin van Persie took a major share of the scoring burden in 11/12, Arsenal more than adequately replaced his goals in 12/13. Walcott improved on his tally by 6 goals, close to doubling what he achieved in 11/12. Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski came almost equal, netting 12, 11 and 11 goals respectively.
The trio are the second, third and fourth Arsenal players who have scored more than 10 in their first season in the EPL. The first is obviously Thierry Henry in his debut season. Also, this is only the fourth time in Premier League history where a club posted 4 goal scorers who broke past the 10 goal mark.
We lost a recognized goal getter for a more distributed share of the load. There are pros and cons to this and I will leave it to you to decide. Arsenal would have liked to have a recognized goal scoring leader but we were definitely not dependent on any individual this season.
Defensively, I have rehashed the data from WhoScored and have highlighted the leading players in each defensive department.
It is not surprising that Arteta leads in two categories – tackling and interceptions. Koscielny was one of our finest defenders as the season closed out, putting in a large share of clearances and blocks in each match. Interestingly, Per Mertesacker did not feature too highly on this table. He managed a high number of clearances, barely losing out to Kosc at 4.8 but his tackling (1) and interceptions (1.5) fell rather short of the leaders here.
However, it is important to note that defensive performances cannot be read from individual figures. Mertesacker’s positioning has been a more important attribute to the team as he read play well throughout the season. This cannot be captured by raw data.
I will end the review by highlighting some players that stood out for me.
Most improved: Gibbs & Ramsey
Gibbs was a very important part of the team early in the season. His partnership with Podolski was outstanding and was the focus of most of our attacking play. He was sorely missed when he got injured and Santos was unable to replace him, leading to the hastened purchase of Nacho Monreal.
Ramsey is an obvious pick because he suffered in 11/12 and also in the early parts of 12/13. With his favoured CAM position filled by both Cazorla and Wilshere, he was forced to play on the wings before being given a permanent role as a CM. In short, he took over Diaby’s position. Ramsey is still not a polished CM. He has much to learn and improve on but he has been one of the best improvements Arsenal has seen individually this season.
Most reliable: Mertesacker & Arteta
Arteta and Mertesacker’s consistent presence in the team has been a key element of our defensive solidity. Koscielny has his ups and downs taking time to return to form after suffering two injury setbacks. Thomas Vermaelen faded after a strong start to the season while Sagna also suffered some degree of inconsistency. In face of these, the BFG and our vice captain stood as key defensive players that were ever present in the team. Both possess a good ability to read the game and were pillars of our improved defence.
Most creative: Cazorla
Many have called for Cazorla to be given the title of Player of the Season. While I won’t be dishing that out in this article, Cazorla has easily been our most creative player going forward. His ability to keep the ball under pressure and deliver very accurate passes both short and long is outstanding. He has created many goals and is our second top scorer in the league. The little Spaniard has had his best season ever (statistically). It is no wonder why Arsenal plays well when Cazorla plays well.
Most lethal: Walcott
Walcott edges this out by virtue of being our top goalscorer. The young Englishman suffered a season of up and downs. He started out as a bench warmer before being driven to perform under contract uncertainties. He then suffered a dip in form before roaring back to score important goals including 3 that were scored in the opening two minutes of the match (Everton, United, QPR).
With Giroud being sometimes wasteful in front of goal, Walcott and Podolski were our sharpest finishers. Podolski packed a more powerful shot but Walcott’s accuracy in front of goal was a trademark of his play this season. If he continues to work hard, he may come closer to realizing his dream of being the next Henry.
Finishing 4th this season is an achievement only because of the circumstances that led to it. We sold our top scorer and our top provider. In their place, we had untested new players who had no EPL experience. Adding to that, Chelsea and Tottenham made tremendous improvements of their own, leading to a very close finish between 2nd to 5th place.
4th place is a stepping stone. It is an important bar to cross and one that Wenger has to build on. The commercial team seems to have done their work landing good financial deals throughout the season. Wenger is said to have a real war chest for once and he must use it wisely to bring the team up to another level.
4th place is a stepping stone. It is an important bar to cross and one that Wenger has to build on.
It is imperative that we keep the team together and value experienced players. Players like Rosicky, Arteta and Sagna deserve long contracts. Yes, they may no longer play every game each season but their experience counts. The young players need guidance and our 30+ year olds will do well to lead them both on and off the pitch.
What is critical is for Wenger to find ways to inject belief and mental strength when it comes to playing against the top teams. It is clear that this is our area of weakness and challengers for the title must possess both efficiency in killing off small teams while being able to notch points against the top few. We only managed one out of the two this season and the team needs to step it up.
It is all about having a winning mentality and a belief that the team can take on anyone. The win at Munich was critical and we need more of that from the get go next season.
It has been a roller coaster ride. I have covered almost every weekend game of the season on this blog. I have enjoyed your comments via Twitter and this will be my last football related article this season. I hope you had an enjoyable, informative and objective read this season.
Expectations will be raised for 13/14.
From pain, doubts, uncertainty and being written off to qualifying with the best run of form for a long time without help from other teams or relying on a single player, Arsenal have performed ahead of expectations and now these expectations will be raised for 13/14.
How the summer plays out will be the first step forward and I hope to see the team push forward hard for the title next season.
Victoria Concordia Crescit. COYG!
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