Friday, October 17, 2014

Adopt a Team: Arsenal stats

Even though we're still just seven weeks into the new season, we've already observed a number of interesting and somewhat strange happenings at the Emirates:
  • in terms of underlying data, the defense has been more impressive than the usually explosive attack
  • in terms of actual results though, the defense has struggled with just a single clean sheet to date
  • Wenger did bring in a relatively big name forward - who's looked great so far - yet there still seems to be a feeling that they need more - probably in part due to the success of Diego Costa on the other side of London
  • the team has quietly assembled the best depth they've enjoyed in recent memory yet they've suffered through so many injuries that the average bench has tended to be more Campbell and Coquelin than Giroud and Cazorla
  • Arsenal out shot Chelsea 10 to five and enjoyed more possesion at Stamford Bridge last time out, yet lost the game (their first of the season) and now find themselves nine points behind the league leaders after just seven games

The below chart attempts to quickly summarise the individual games played to date, using SiB +/- as a proxy for success (or failure).1

The good news is that, at least in terms of giving up shots inside the box, Arsenal's defense have performed very well this year with above average performances in every game except one (at Villa in GW5). Indeed, through seven gameweeks, their dSiB% rate of -33% leads the league, as does their suppression of chances created (-36% dCC%). As we saw in the lineup review, this success has come despite not being able to field their first choice back five once this season. With all but Debuchy now healthy (and Chambers filling in admirably for the Frenchman), it's not impossible that much of this defensive success continues and that would surely give rise to increased fantasy returns in the future. Perhaps their goals per shot on target rate will regress a touch - although at 38% it isn't vastly higher than the surprisingly high league rate of 36%. They will almost certainly benefit from a softer fixture list which sees them face Sunderland, Hull and Burnley in the next three gameweeks and no real marguee opponents until a GW17 trip to Liverpool.2

Player targets: Defense
As suggested in the lineup post, defensively it seems Chambers is the obvious play here, based on nothing more than his bargain price tag (he is unfortunately suspended for this week after picking up an incredible five yellow cards in six starts). Before we commit to that though, let's take a quick look at the attacking potential of the Arsenal players to date:

The chart shows absolute threat rather than that on a per game basis, so playing time needs to be kept in mind, but in short, no one here is really standing out and in fact, it's the bargain Chambers who's offered the best threat to date, thanks to his solid number of created chances.

Player targets: midfield and forwards
Despite professing an admiration for Arsenal and especially the work of Wenger, I haven't had the chance to see too many of their games this season so as I began this deeper dive into their season to date, I had some expectations that Ramsey would be a player I might need to highlight as not having the supporting stats to support his production. It's not that he isn't a good player, of course, but that centrally deployed role for a midfielder who doesn't take set pieces or penalties can sometimes lead to a lot of touches of the ball but ultimately not a great deal of production. That's not the case for Ramsey though, who has offered the best goal scoring threat in this team - by a distance - while giving as good as anyone in terms of generating assists. Sanchez and Ozil obviously get into those dangerous wide positions more often, racking up 28 and 27 crosses to date to Ramsey's nine, but considering the Welshman has matched them in terms of created chances suggests his potential may even be higher with his passes being more likely to be converted. With Ozil out for several months and Sanchez coming in at a 1.5m premium, Ramsey looks like a perfect candidate to buy back into when he's healthy, especially now that his injury has deflated his once sky high ownership.

Though he's further down the threat ratings to date, the reviews of Welbeck have been complimentary so far and at least per the highlights he seems to have hit the ground running. 13 shots, 10 SiB and five SoT is a reasonable return for four starts and a couple of brief cameos, making Welbeck and intriguing option at just 7.3m. He isn't likely to compete with the Aguero or Diego Costa class of forward, but in his price range he just needs beat out the likes of Pelle, Ulloa, Cisse and Sakho in order to be a relevant fantasy starter. Let's take a look at where he ranks compared to some of his peers to date:

This time we've gone with per game data to allow for better comparability and we see that Welbeck is fairly well placed among both his comparably priced peers and is at least competitive among the more expensive options (scroll the price slider to the right to see Diego Costa, Sergio Aguero et al). Starting this week with Hull, Arsenal have a nice run of games, making Welbeck an intriguing option, although a slight ankle injury makes him something of a risk for this week. With Giroud sidelined, he seems to offer an appealing combination of job security, excellent supporting cast and high upside, which for 7.3m is a package hard to ignore.

Summary
In summary, this Arsenal side hasn't been vintage to date and their shot production is only upper-mid table rather than elite. However, they are creating chances and have looked relatively sharp with Welbeck in the side and there's still reason to think there's more to come. Based on the stats to date, Chambers, Ramsey and Welbeck jump out as the best options at each position but there are plenty of other options to consider, none more so than Sanchez who has looked very good in spells so far this season. I look forward to matching some of the stats with the actual on field performance tomorrow.


1. As a quick reminder, SiB +/- quantifies the percentage of shots inside the box generated or surrendered by a team above or below the opponents' average. So if Chelsea normally concede six SiB and Arsenal manage eight against them, their aSiB +/- would be 33%, representing a 33% premium over the average. Defensively, the idea is the same but a minus number is the sign of a good team as they suppress shot totals compared to the average result.
2. I am half kidding about the exclusion of Man Utd in GW12 there. There's a perception that the team is terrible defensively but can score at will if they want but with an aSiB +/- of -23% on the road, I'll need to see more before I buy into that particular narrative

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