Monday, October 20, 2014

Adopt a Team: Arsenal vs Hull review

Despite the suggestions in some section of old media, the so-called "stats" versus "scouting" debate is essentially over. I would imagine most, if not all, teams pay at least some attention to advanced stats with player performance tracked and assessed on an increasingly granular level. The same should be true in fantasy football. The suggestion that you can't scout players purely based on a spreadsheet is completely fair, but is likely something of a straw man argument as I don't know if anyone really believes that to be true. Equally, you are probably missing out if you think you can glean all the information you need by watching games (or more precisely highlights as the majority of games aren't televised in many regions). This game served a nice reminder that both those one sided views are foolish.

The highlights package would give you much of what you need to know in that Arsenal largely dominated the game but were picked off by a couple of Hull attacks and lacked the clinical edge to convert their own chances into goals. The data does a better job at highlighting that dominance:
  • Arsenal: 25 shots, 16 SiB, 9 SoT, 65% possession
  • Hull: 4 shots, 3 SiB, 4 SoT, 35% possession
However, it would also be dangerous to simply open up the box score, see that Hull scored twice on just four shots on target and conclude that this was simply an anomalous result and if you played it 100 times over, Arsenal would win (with a clean sheet), 99 times. Again, the spirit of that argument is true but seeing the game, you really see that the quality of Arsenal's chances was not good and a large portion of that possession was in areas that Hull effectively conceded.

The familiar cliché of Arsenal trying to "walk the ball into the goal" might seem applicable based on the data but from my viewing I might suggest they would have been better advised taking less shots, with several efforts - particularly in the first half after the equaliser - falling into the "hopeful" rather than "expectant" buckets. We'll get to player specifics in a minute but Cazorla and Chamberlain seemed to be the main offenders here.

It's generally dangerous to place too much stock in tired narratives about goals breeding confidence but in this case, the timing of Hull's equaliser did really seem key as the 10 minutes before and the immediate period after the Arsenal opener saw the home team camped in the final third with a second (and third) goal seeming a mere formality. Once they settled down, Hull did an okay job holding possession when they needed to, with Huddlestone and Diame controlling things quite well in the middle.

I won't go through every player in these wrap ups, but a couple of points stood out as being worthy of comment:

Danny Welbeck
The consensus among fans still seems to be that Welbeck simply isn't good enough but he equipped himself well here and impressed both in terms of effort and ability. Welback made dangerous runs all day and of all the Arsenal players it was he - the newest arrival - who seemed most in tune with his teammates, linking up nicely on several occasions. That ability to bring others into play suggests he should be able to contribute both goals and assists this year, something that cannot be said for some of his comparatively priced peers. He finished the day with five shots (all SiB) and a couple of created chances and was overall good value for his goal and single bonus point. Other good options exist in his price range of course but I'd still be more than happy sticking with the England man during Arsenal's upcoming run of games.

Alexis Sanchez 
This might have been the best Sanchez has played for his new team and he was the best player on the pitch for large portions of the game. Five shots (four in the box) and three created chances underline his attacking threat while his nine penalty box touches and eight dribbles highlight his overall involvement. His goal was great but his assist may have been even better and there's really not too much to say about his production or potential, both of which are predictably excellent. The question is whether his price tag is worth (a) the 0.4-0.7 premium over the two Chelsea options and (b) the 1.5m premium over Ramsey - who returned as a late sub here. With Fabregas' ownership up over 50% and a trickier fixture list on deck, the argument is certainly there to be made, but as always it depends on too many factors to try and sum up in a quick blurb, so we'll leave that for another day.

Santi Cazorla
I don't really know what Cazorla is anymore. Ostensibly a creator, he seems to spend long stretches of games with players running past him and thus not contributing a great deal at either end of the pitch. He ended the game with a lot of touches of the ball (138) and perhaps that's his designed role but then I don't know what that mean for Jack Whilshere who seemed to spend a good amount of this game stepping on Cazorla's toes and gesturing where he thought the Spaniard should be. For the first goal, Wilshere was caught upfield and seemed to expect Cazorla to cover but by the time he did he was stuck behind the powerful Diame and never recovered enough to influence the play. On the second goal Wilshere just simply didn't track Huddlestone - Cazorla was along way away so this must have been miscommunication with someone else - who ran free to chip the ball to Hernandez.

It's perhaps unfair to hold anyone to this standard, but, if you if look at Fabregas and Yaya Toure, it feels like they basically do the job that both WIlshere and Cazorla did here, which frees their teams up to have Oscar/Silva etc play with essentially no responsibility. I don't know if this has any huge impact on fantasy results but it does feel like this Arsenal side are sometimes lacking an extra body going forward and then at the back, often due to the middle men not seeming to commit to either role.

Mohamed Diame
Four goals in five games could well open the floodgates on Diame who has so far apparently gone unnoticed by the masses (2% ownership and a 0.1m decrease in value since his arrival at Hull). As an actual performance I thought he looked great, offering Hull a strong outlet to try and connect the midfield to Hernandez on the rare occasions they were able to hold onto the ball and, of course, he took his goal very nicely indeed. In fantasy terms though he's the classic regression candidate with nine total shots, four SiB and four SoT barely being enough production to support scoring once every eight games nevermind four times. Considering he seems to be fairly secure in the first team and at least offers something going forward he doesn't look like a terrible investment and wouldn't be a player to target selling but there's not enough here to warrant a transfer either unless you're solely look to capitalise on the likely price rise.

Tom Huddlestone
I've been an admirer of Huddlestone for some time but without wanting to sound like a broken record, while the assist was nice it came on literally his only successful pass in the final third and his average position on the pitch was deeper than Per Mertesacker's. His 13 shots for the season suggest he might get the odd goal but with just one from within the box, they're going to be few and far between (SoB are converted at a rate of about 4% across the league). Again, at 5.4m it's hard to be too critical but I'd suggest either going significantly cheaper or trying to sneak into the next price bracket as there just isn't much potential here other than consistent two-pointers.

Summary
This was a fairly entertaining game from a neutral perspective but with a fantasy football hat on, I'm not sure we learned a great deal more than we already knew. Arsenal are a good but not great side and without Ozil and Giroud the team really looks like it will pick itself for the next couple of months. That is perhaps unfair on Cazorla who isn't without quality but you have to think that Walcott, Ramsey and Sanchez will provide the ammunition for Welbeck more often that not with Wilshere pushed deeper and Chamberlain and Cazorla sliding to the bench (we might even see Chamberlain getting more time in the deeper middle role, where he has impressed in short spells). All four of those attacking options - along with the budget Chambers - look ownable and picking between the midfield trio needs a deeper dive than we're performing here.

As for Hull, this probably isn't the best game to judge them on as they were pinned deep for long stretches of the contest, but in their defense, they showed the moments of quality needed to score against a reasonably good backline and should enjoy success against weaker opponents in the future. Individually, while we see snippets of that quality, no one has the underlying data to really support anything more than a speculative pick, especially without too many promising fixtures in the next couple of weeks. Diame, Ben Arfa and Hernandez showed they have enough talent to offer hope though and so this remains a team worth keeping in mind when filling out the bottom end of your fantasy squad.

This week we're going to look at another of my favourite teams to watch (Everton) face off against newly promoted Burnley.

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