This season, more than any other, the game is well and truly afoot. We are the best team in the land for the first time in over a decade and in the driving seat for the title. However there are two main obstacles in our way staring us in the face. One is the age-old Arsenal self-implosion we seem to perennially suffer from which occurs at any time with no given reason or explanation. And the other is our slightly alarming away form. We’ve won one in our last six against Southampton, West Brom, Villa, Norwich, Liverpool and Stoke. Yes, Stoke was a more solid display due to a three man midfield but still no cigar.
Before this awful sequence of results it was Club Tropicana time, littered with clean sheet and three point cocktails for us all to sip away. We had won five out of six against Chelsea, Palace, Newcastle, Leicester, Watford and Swansea. And the only loss was the Mike Dean carry-on at Stamford Bridge so that game has no reflection on us as a football team. In the five fair games we only conceded three goals and kept three clean sheets. And we all know this change in form was a result of the injuries to our central midfield combo of Santi and Coquelin. The only game they didn’t both start, in that period of away form, was the Leicester game when Coquelin didn’t feature in the 5:2 thriller at the king power. A day in which the team took on a frenetic style which is all now to familiar to us. What I wanted to find out though was why? What are we missing? What are we doing differently?
So I’ve locked myself away in January in sobriety and dietary abstinence and binged on stats like a drunken man going through a Saturday night kebab and I’ve had it with extra Squawka, WhoScored and Statzone. At the start I thought it would have been an easy fix and our passing numbers would have dropped in turn with us relinquishing control of matches, but there was nothing that stood out or supported that theory. So then into more depth – passing areas, combinations and type. Still no massive gaping answer jumping out at me. So then I looked our defensive statistics – how our tackles, interceptions and duels changed over the poor sequence of form. And still nothing too alarming bar Liverpool which was an awful performance and a point is remarkable.
I then went more personal and looked directly at the personal – Ramsey, Santi, Coquelin and Flamini in more depth. This is what gave me more ammunition, although a little harsh on the Welsh Jesus because the majority of personal stats are also gathered from his time on the right on Squawka, but Whoscored lets you separate home and away and what position the player started – bingo! I could start drawing my conclusions. Obviously we all see we’re not as solid as an outfit with Ramini as opposed to Coqzorla.
Let’s start with the conductors and what Mr Ramsey has been doing to our detriment and Mr Cazorla wasn’t. I thought initially it would be the simple explanation that Cazorla’s passing proficiency was far greater and without it we’d be relinquishing our control of matches. Because he has been our top passer in almost every game he’s played, but the stats aren’t that conclusive; Santi posts on average 79.9 passes per game compared to Aaron’s 66.1 with 90% success rate to 86% respectively nothing to dramatic. In terms of tackles and interceptions there’s not a lot to separate the two either, Ramsey winning 1.7 tackle per game to Cazoria’s 1.4 and 1.8 to 1.7 on interceptions. But don’t worry, our eyes don’t fail us and there is evidence to show how the ambidextrous Andalusian keeps the ball a lot better than the rampaging Welshman. First off he has double the amount of take-ons per game with 2.5 compared to 1.2 which is when we see him nimbly getting out of sticky situations in the middle of the park with those silky silent feet. Then there’s inaccurate short passes from central midfield in the downturn of away form. Where the little Spaniard trumps him again Santi lets 6.6 passes go astray on average compared to Rambo’s 9.3. Ramsey also gets dispossessed 2.7 times to Cazorla’s 1.4 and loses the ball via miss controlling it twice on average per game compared to the Welshman’s woeful 9.
Hence how we’ve gone from controlled methodical victories to watching ‘do or die’ games, were effectively a lot looser on the ball in the middle and exposing our back four a lot more often. I’m not slamming the young Welshman but if we’re going to have him centrally in the future the system needs tweaking perhaps with outside wingers and fullbacks that stay back at away games or going to a more traditional 4-3-3 like we did against Stoke but it’s not really sustainable when you have the world’s best number 10 the team ought to be built around him.
So once Santi’s back in the side I believe we’ll see Ramsey shifted wide again. Which I have no problem with because the team with him in is better than without and he solidifies the team defensively on the right by helping Hector and retaining the ball better than our traditional wingers. Also they’re the goals and sprinkle of magic we all want to see.
Obviously comparing Coquelin to Flamini is a bit of a no contest. Coquelin’s better and you don’t need me to tell you that but the stats were surprising both ways. On one hand it’s actually how good Le Coq is and the other hand is how the Flame isn’t all that terrible and still is a very tidy footballer. First off Coquelin’s started six of our away games; in two he came off injured, Chelsea and West Brom, both of which we lost and the other four we all won, only conceding one goal which was a long distance effort from Ward at Selhurst Park. Coquelin’s injury was meant to be doomsday, the apocalypse, the end of the world as we know it. It certainly has gone hand in hand with our downturn in away form but thankfully our home forms kept us at the top of the tree.
Statistically this really is a clean sweep for the younger Frenchman; interceptions 2.6 to 1.7 on average per game, tackles won 2.5 to 1.18, Successful take-ons 1.83 to .09, total duels 60.9% to 39.1%. Inaccurate short passes away from home showed something quite remarkable with Coquelin averaging 1.8 which is less than Flamini’s 5.4 but also less than pass masters Santi Cazorlas at 6.6. I must say in terms of passing statistics so here’s to you Matheiu Flamini because even with years not on your side you’re still are a very tidy passer of a football, averaging 40.7 passes per game with a completion percentage of 88% only just being pipped by Coq 46.25 and 91% respectively. Going through all the stats I was really impressed by Coquelin. He was the most proficient tackler against Palace and Newcastle but then switches to a more of a reader and interceptor against a possession side like Swansea which is the hallmark of a real great player doing what the game requires of him. That’s away from home as well.
To be lifting the League title in May we really need this lad back and soon with our away fixtures on the horizon. Because as tidy as the Flame is he really doesn’t have the industry any more or the ‘on the field’ nouse. Until Coquelin returns I think Ozil has to go out wide and we have to go with three central midfielders away from home to make us harder to beat.
Anyway we’ll get back to hailing King Francis Coquelin the 34th in a bit because we have a shiny new Egyptian toy to talk about. I am of course talking about our new signing Mohamed Elneny from Swiss champions FC Basel. Now I really do have no real knowledge of the player because, like most, I’ve never seen him play. Like who can say they watch a lot of the Swiss super league. I did however look at his stats from him playing in the Champions League last season and the Europa league this season on ye old Squawka comparisn matrix. As you’d expect he’s a very tidy player posting 87% pass completion in the Champions League last season and 92% in the Europa this season. And the amount of passes grew quite dramatically this season going from averaging 44.5 successful passes to 83 but of course that could be down to competition faced in dropping from the Champions League, playing the likes of Real Madrid to Thursday nights at ‘shite’ hart lane. Whatever the reason it is still improvement and he showed that across the board. At only 23 there’s surely scope for improvement and he’s got to be a step up from the aging pair of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini. So hopefully in the coming weeks we’ll see him feature more until the Coq returns.
Right, back to King Francis. The young man who’s hijacked my article. What started out as a deeper look into our change in fortunes away from home as a team has become a full homage to Le Coq. It turned into that because his personal quality and what a clear impact he has on our side. We see it with our eyes and the stats back our corneas to the hilt. He really is our biggest miss especially away from home.
Looking at his stats I couldn’t resist a little compare with arguably the world’s number one holding midfielder Sergio Busquets. Taking the stats from Barcelona’s treble season I was truly proud of the Charlton loanee’s rise to prominence. He beats Sergio on interceptions 2.6 to 1.5 tackles won 2.5 to 2 successful take ons 1.8 to .4 total duels 60.9% to 54.1%. Unbelievable how a man nearly out the door has come back and made a real career for himself at the highest level. Obviously he’s not at Busquet’s level when it comes to controlling a game as the Spaniard completes on average 59.2 passes per 90 to Le Coq’s 42.5. All still very impressive from the Frenchman and certainly showing why when fit he’s the first on the team sheet. He actually reminds me a lot of Genarro Gattuso from the European conquering Milan sides without the unnecessary ‘shithousery’ the hairy Italian used to bring to proceedings.
He has now become the only certainty in the Arsenal’s central midfield for the future – the question is finding his Pirlo. Santi is first choice at the minute but what I really want to see is a Coq/Wilshere axis behind Sanchez, Ozil and Ramsey. Both have bite, energy and Jack can run a game of football when fit. So please can the injury gods shine down on us for once. I want to see it! Had the Coq been fit we’d be ahead in this title race but as he’s not were suffering away from home and it is affecting our attempts at capturing the title. The points already dropped on the road could well bite us on the backside. So if we can get him back sooner rather than later to help our pursuit of glory and if the young man keeps his form into next season I’ll say Arsenal will be toasting our fourth world class player.