Athleticism -And The Need for Speed
I always say when you watch football we all watch from our own personal structures or values.
What do you mean Clive?….. I hear you cry…
In my opinion we are all formed in a football way by our own individual exposure to the game, our memories of our favourite teams and players. Those moments when we have seen something that makes us go WOW.
Those personal to you moments are the ones we hold onto – they intentionally and unintentionally form a base of our football interpretations.
I like teams that are fast. “There I said it”
Speed gives me comfort. Slow makes me nervous.
I remember the Arsenal teams with Vieira, Henry, Gilberto, Cole, Pires and Sol. We were never out run.
Well that’s what my memory tells me!!
I have removed the losses from my mind (apart from Chelsea in the CL quarter final) and only see marauding Arsenal players defending as a unit and attacking with speed.
Invincibles – Top Players and Top Athletes
However – In this modern social media world we are more informed. We can embellish on those structures and interpretations by looking at statistics.
However there are times when nothing beats the ‘eye test’
Anyone watching the Preston and Bournemouth games especially doesn’t need any confirmation from statistics about what is wrong.
When you see your team ignoring the basic fundamentals of football, HARD WORK and the ability to RUN the ability to APPLY YOURSELF, we as fans find this very frustrating.
Our Centre Midfield – Talented but Are they fast enough?
What I see right now, is an Arsenal team that looks slow.
An Arsenal team that is being out run and out worked by teams that should not be on our football and athletic level. In the games against Everton, Man City, Bournemouth and finally Preston, have highlighted this to me.
This concerns me, as talent alone in the modern game will not work. Today you have to be an elite athlete also.
The Premier League stylistically is being moved towards a pressing energetic style, where the ability off the ball to force errors is now the new playmaker in football.
All I want to see is Arsenal being able to combat teams that out press us.
There are ways to do that not all related to speed but the threat of speed, having the athletic intensity, as a response is vital. The threat of speed can dictate your tactics. A loss of speed can also drive the opposition game plan vs. us.
Is the Premier League getting faster?
Lets look at some of our opposition:
Liverpool – They are getting faster. Klopp calls it ‘Heavy Metal football’
They added Mane, Wynaldum, Origi and even Llalana have found a yard of pace playing fewer games than us they can focus on running.
Spurs – Hurts to say it but they have fast fullbacks. They added Wanyama over Dier in CM. Erikson, Son and Alli are all super repeat sprint athletes. Maybe the addition of Sissoko (on current form) ruins my theory but another strong runner in the squad.
Man Utd – They have removed Rooney (too slow) and added Pogba, Mikatarian Rashford, Marcial – speed alongside the power athlete that is Zlatan.
Chelsea – Hazard looks like he has stolen a motorbike, Costa and the busy Pedro and Willian support him. Oh and Kante has been added to hunt with speed in CM.
Man City – Pep already had Sterling, Navas, and KDB but by adding the presser in Nolito and the young wing talent of Sane, this is a sign where he is heading. He hasn’t all the components yet but I think the talented Aguero may find himself moved on because as a front man he is not intense enough.
Arsenal – I am not saying we are slow. Maybe recent games with no Sanchez, Ozil, Bellerin, Walcott and Coquelin has brought this to my thought process. But with our midfield of Xhaka, Elneny, Ramsey, Jack and Santi – Metronomic, technical but lack the intense speed. Monreal seems to have lost a step; Mustafi needs to rediscover his intensity on the front foot, as his back foot speed is questionable.
Let me expand – My fear is currently our lack of athleticism and application, is impacting how compact we are and this is leading to us conceding too many chances and shots.
Staying compact takes athletic effort and application.
It means repeat sprints, it means constant awareness of defensive distances, and it means sacrificing for your teammate. In the nightmare recent Arsenal first half’s – I am not seeing this.
I am seeing this from our competition and they are actually using the ability to outrun us to beat us or make it very difficult for us.
So back to statistics – Are we compact enough, are we conceding too many shots? My eye says YES.
Recently I had a Twitter discussion with Alan Alger and @SocanalysisHQ we spoke about Shots on Target supremacy.
Lets compare how many shots our rivals have had on target vs. how many they have conceded – the difference is the ‘Shot on Target Supremacy’
Higher the SOT Supremacy number the better (see below – numbers as of a week ago).
Arsenal – 101 shots on target this season but have allowed 74 shots at their goal. Supremacy of 27
Liverpool – 131 shots on target and has allowed 63 against their goal. Supremacy of 68
Man Utd – 120 shots on target with 60 against their goal – Supremacy of 58
Spurs – 124 shots on target and 57 against – Supremacy of 67
Chelsea -109 shots on target and 51 against – Supremacy of 58
Man City – 110 shots on target and 60 against – Supremacy of 50
You can see Arsenal have the lowest SOT Supremacy of our rivals.
This is an indicator to me we are too open, not compact enough.
IMO we get dribbled past too much. Our defensive decisions are at times questionable. Is that my fear as a fan talking – probably but then the numbers show me it’s not all fan nerves.
Some of this is structural and based on our system and identity but I firmly believe some of this is because we are not as athletic as some of the best Wenger teams and our current competition.
If we expand this further you can see the below chart, which shows a wider selection of teams and where Arsenal sit in terms of top performing clubs in Europe.
The very best teams are in the bottom right corner as they have a functioning attack and a less busy defence.
You can see that Arsenal is behind our major English and European rivals including Bayern. This also shows where we need to improve
There are many great discussions out there relating to formations and Arsenal changing how we play, as we are too open. The reason why structure conversation are many is we feel something is not right – we know we cannot change the players so we look at the structure/formation.
I want us also to be cognisant of the application, athleticism as well as our shape and compactness.
Arsenal’s major players have had time to rest recently.
Our key players will return and inject much needed speed, which should improve our intensity levels.
A rested Ozil, Bellerin, Sanchez, Kos, Walcott, Gibbs and the introduction of Perez and Welbeck will create more threats and allow us to cause more problems for others.
This will improve results and make performances enjoyable once more.
Now is the time to discover that structural and athletic balance and reboot this season.
In the summer and going forward when we look to add to the group – I hope we think about speed as a key component as the game is only getting quicker.
Interesting to see the signing of Cohen Bramall – Not an elite footballer yet but an elite Athlete now.
Is this where football is heading?
Our perception of elite athleticism in a footballer may need addressing as I feel there is more development to come in sports science and how it’s applied to the game we love.
Thanks to Jane Cavendish @jcav90), Alan Alger @alan_alger_), Ben Mayhew @experimental361 and @Socanalysis for data and helping me arrive on my thought process.