Category Archives: goals

What Arsenal can learn from the Super Bowl. Seriously.

Hear me out. As laughable as it may sound to suggest that a sport as refined and nuanced and balletic as football can learn something from a sport as barbaric and savage and brutish as football (American, that is), it’s really not that far off-base. Give it a minute…

Sunday saw the world’s America’s most overblown sporting event, the Super Bowl. Sure, a great number of the 111.5 million people who reportedly watched it were doing so idly, perhaps more interested in the ads or the halftime performance than they were by the action. Sure, the action itself was all but over before halftime. Sure, American football is itself defined by short bursts of action followed by stultifying lulls. However, the lesson that is on offer from the event—and the season that preceded it—is one that we in the Arsenal family can glean some encouragement from.

After all, the Super Bowl pitted the league’s best defense, the Seattle Seahawks, against the league’s best offense, the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning, the Bronco’s quarterback and already in possession a wide number of record-setting statistics, set all kinds of new records this season: one of only six players to throw for seven touchdowns in one game. Only the second quarterback ever to throw seven touchdowns without an interception. Most touchdowns in the first three weeks (12). Most touchdowns in a seaons (55). A league record 5,477 yards. The league leader in pass completions and pass attempts. A league-leading fifth Most Valuable Player, most in league history. I could go on, but the point is there. The Manning-led Broncos were a fearsome offensive juggernaut, but they were held to one touchdown—a total of eight points.Aside from the New York Giants in 2001 and the Washington Redskins in 1984, you have go back almost 40 years to find such a miserable output.

That brings me to the lesson, not that it’s earth-shattering or novel: defense wins championships. For as much as we rue our options at striker, and as fearsome as the offensive displays coming out of the Etihad and Anfield, our defensive solidity has been impressive. On the whole, Chelsea’s is actually better, so let’s give credit where credit is due. For one, they held City scoreless at the Etihad, just a bit better than we did. However, at the risk of tweaking the noses of any Blues who might stop by, we’re guilty of playing to win a little more often. There. I said it. Let’s move on.

The Seattle Seahawks shut down that vaunted Broncos offense. We’ve shown that we can shackle similarly prolific offenses—shutting out Liverpool, Dortmund at Westfalenstadion, and Napoli in both legs. Of course, there was the aforementioned shellacking at Man City. No one’s perfect. Man City has already laid claim to the goal-differential trophy, which may or may not come in handy should they end level on points with us or Chelsea. That, of course, brings us to the end of the lesson from the Super Bowl itself, because, absent some remarkably far-fetched scenario that sees us end level on points, goal differential, and goals scored, we’d then go to a playoff and the lesson from the Super Bowl becomes more pertinent. Unlikely.

It’s the lesson from the season itself that persists—like the Seahawks, our defense has emerged as a mainstay. Whether it’s the maturation of Szczesny, the partnership of Per and Kos, the sustained quality of Sagna, or the continuing emergence of Gibbs, these factors have all come together to all but erase the fragility that has exposed us too often in the past. Just last season, we were one of the worst in conceding goals through individual errors. This year, we’re among the best. We’ve kept 19 clean sheets in all competitions. In the Prem, we’ve kept 11. We had 14 clean sheets through the entire 2012-13 Prem season.

It’s not just stats, either. It’s attitude. Remember Per’s fury when we conceded to Aston Villa? That’s what I’m talking about. This is a squad that hates to concede goals, regardless of how they affect outcome. In seasons past, we were afraid of conceding, worrying that it was only a matter of time before something terrible or unlucky or all-too-predictable happened—a squibbed clearance, a red-card in the box, a cruel deflection. This time around, it’s as if we simply refuse to concede unless the opposition either earns it or there are some dubious circumstances (was Monreal fouled on Southampton’s first? Maybe. Is Monreal a bit weak in the air. Yeah.). Still, it’s become a point of pride, how miserly the defense has become.

Speaking after the win over Crystal Palace, Laurent Koscielny said as much:

If you want to win, it’s easier when you concede no goals. I think the defenders hate to concede a goal so we work hard to keep clean sheets and we did well today. We need to continue to work hard like this for the other games.

Hating to concede is a sea-change from last season when conceding felt inevitable. No longer. Even more encouraging is that idea that we “need to continue to work hard” instead of getting complacent. Along similar lines, Wojciech Szczesny highlighted the importance of understanding each other, something well-worth remembering after a disappointing transfer-window:

We’ve been together for much longer and we understand each other’s game now. Over the last couple of seasons we had less luck with injuries—I never played with the same back four for more than two or three games [in a row]. Now we play with the same back four, sometimes we rotate the full-backs but in general we stay with the same defence.

I won’t go so far as to say that this understanding is “like a new signing”, but it is worth mentioning that communication matters a great deal. Remember the goals we conceded at White Hart Lane last February? A newly signed Monreal didn’t yet understand his role in relation to his new teammates, nor could he communicate with them very well. Now, by contrast, everyone seems to know or sense what to do and who’s doing it. That unity, building from the back, has kept us atop the Prem despite injuries and the returns to Earth after the glittering early-season form of Ramsey, Giroud, and others.

We may not be the league’s best defense, not in the same way that the Seattle Seahawks were, but, if we’re struggling to score, we believe we won’t concede first. Over the next fourteen matches, that belief, built on a solid foundation of evidence and results, might just be enough to see us finish top of the table. 

Olivier Giroud, master of the assist

Olivier Giroud started the season so brightly that we started dreaming of a 20-goal season, perhaps even contention for the Golden Boot. After all, following a a preseason of eight goals with three goals in his first three appearances, and five in his first six, it looked like Giroud would again repeat his second-season tradition of scoring, scoring, scoring. Well, he’s come down to Earth, if only a bit, with “only” three goals in his last ten starts. His eight goals do put him second in the squad behind Ramsey’s ten, who is playing so well as to make the label “in-form” entirely inadequate. Still, Giroud’s slow-down might be more of a concern were it not for something else that doesn’t quite show up in the stats: his all-around play.

Last season, I wrote frequently of how hard Giroud pressed and was pressured to be a one-for-one replacement for van Persie, and that pressure, exacerbated by having scored so prolifically for Montpellier, was coercing him into taking ill-advised shots and making tricksy little passes rather than keeping it simple. He may never be a scorer like Aguero or van Persie or Suarez, but that may not be what the squad needs. Instead of one focal point, after all, the movement and passing that our attack is built upon might flow more freely in the absence of that one go-to scorer. Now that there is a bit more of a democratic feel, we’ve had goals from thirteen players, and Giroud is a huge part of that. With five assists, he shares the team-lead with Mesut Özil, known as one of the best playmakers in the world, and deliverer of 72 assists in the last five years, tops in Europe’s five big leagues (so says @orbinho).

A lot has been written recently of Giroud’s increased physicality; a search for “Giroud battering ram” will give you 23,000 results in the last week. As true as this may be, it tells only a part of the story. For as hard as he battles in and around the box, and as impressive as his work-rate is, he still displays a deft touch, exemplified by that exquisite interchange against Norwich. The contrast between those two skill-sets—tangling with the Skrtels and Shawcrosses of the world versus delivering a soft flick or headed ball to a teammate—is hard to fully describe. Try muscling your way through a crowd of people, some of whom elbow you and yank on you maliciously, while setting a glass of water on a table. Giroud’s headed assist to Ramsey against Dortmund this week was along those lines—fending off Großkreutz while nodding down into Ramsey’s path. Strangely, though, it was one of his few touches in Dortmund’s box, an oddity for such a poacher whose goals almost always come from in or near the 6.

And that leads into the next point. His willingness to drop down deeper to contribute to build-up, has been vital. Playing frequently with his back to the goal, he’s like the nucleus of an atom, with Ramsey and Wilshere and Rosický and Özil flitting about him, pinging balls around in a balletic performance. Consider his heatmap against Dortmund, which shows him working far from goal with only a handful of touches in or around Dortmund’s box, and compare that to his passes in the chart below, nearly off all of which are backpasses, indicating that he’s spending a good amount of time contributing to the buildup and involving others around him. Again, with our emphasis on possession, passing, and movement, this kind of contribution is key.

Speaking of key, those two yellow arrows indicate key passes. For as legendary as Özil  is at unlocking defenses with a key-pass, it’s worth noting that Giroud tallied two key passes against Dortmund, not to mention the assist that won the game. In fact, when we look at how many of his passes are key passes over the season, he emerges as superior to Özil! Of course, this is not a one-to-one comparison because they play in different positions and carry different responsibilities, so let’s not go nuts here. Simply put, Özil makes many more passes that are possession-based, which will affect his key pass/total pass ratio.. On the season, though, Özil is averaging three key passes and 71 passes per game; 4.34% of his passes are key passes. Giroud averages 1.7 key passes and 29.4 passes per game for a 5.8% rate. Again, this does not mean that Giroud is a more-incisive passer; I’m simply drawing attention to his contributions to the attack and setting it alongside those of one of the best in the squad.

Arsène spoke glowingly of Giroud, saying this of the man:

If you compare his technical level when he arrived to today, he is highly improved. He enjoys now to combine much more. I think from a player who was just thinking, ‘I have to score’, he has become a real team player. He fights for the team; he has great qualities and charisma. I am convinced there is a lot more to come from Olivier and that he can convince our fans he is the striker they look for.

I have to say that I agree, almost whole-heartedly, with that assessment with one hedge. I don’t know if he is or will be the “striker” fans look for, at least not in the sense of scoring goals à la van Persie or Henry or Wright. Maybe he will. If he doesn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes one of the club’s leading assist-men. With 14 assists in 63 appearances, he’s off to a fine start indeed. Of course, he’s the only striker we can really rely on, so he’ll have plenty of time on the pitch to add to that tally. Silver lining? Sure. But that’s fitting for the number of gilt-edged chances he creates.

Sorry for the play on words there. Couldn’t resist. I guess I should leave off before the mood strikes again. Before you go, though, I hope you’ll vote for Woolwich 1886 in the Football Blogging Awards. All you have to do is click here to vote via twitter and then send the tweet. If you’re not on twitter, you can vote through facebook here, where you also have a chance to vote in other categories for other Gooner sites. I’m the only niche-site in the New Blogs category, going up against some broader, general-interest site, so I hope the Gooner family can lend me a hand. Thanks!

Özil to Giroud: the makings of a world-class striker

The dust has barely settled from the slamming-shut of the transfer-window, and already the accolades are accumulating around Mesut Özil. Although he won’t take the field as a Gunner until 14 September at the earliest, he’s already drawing favorable comparisons to

club legend Dennis Bergkamp, if only in the sense of already having a reputation for excellent before coming to the club. One wag on twitter joked that he’s first signing under Arsène whom we didn’t have to look up on youtube. Adding a player of his class, achievements, and stature does more than just destroy Andrei Arshavin’s status as the club’s most expensive signing; it lays waste to the idea that Arsène won’t spend—to the tune of 42 million pounds sterling, almost three times the amount laid out on Arshavin. To have done so on a world-class player, and one who so seems to fit Arsenal’s style of way, earns Arsène that much more credit.

Of course, Özil does fit a certain Wenger-esque mold: small, crafty, creative on the ball…. While critics had been howling for a striker and defensive midfielder, it seems odd to sign yet another clever midfielder known for his passing. It’s true that the signing does little to address those positions, nor does it do much to address the thinness of the squad in general. However, it’s well worth considering how Özil could help Olivier Giroud score this season, repeating a pattern that the Frenchman had established at Montpellier and at Tours before that. For as much as fans may regret the failure to sign Higuain, Suarez, or another top-shelf striker, the signing of Özil might just be enough to vault Giroud towards that category (note that I say “towards” and not “into.” Read on).

Consider Giroud’s skill-set. According to, Giroud’s strength include his strength in the air, having won seven of nine aerial duels against Tottenham (both game highs, according to Orbinho). On the season, he’s won 19 of 29 aerial duels. When you combine that with Özil’s strengths—set-pieces, crosses, key-passes, according to—we could see a special partnership in the making.

After all, all but one of Giroud’s goals for Arsenal in 2012-13 came in the penalty area. What’s more, they all came just outside the six-yard box as Giroud latched onto a cross, lob, or through-ball from a team-mate and finished from close range. While many of these goals lack the drama of a thunderous volley, those headers, flicks, and toe-pokes still found the back of the net often enough to see Giroud score 17 goals in 47 appearances across all competitions. This is clearly not enough for a squad with designs on trophies. However, as Giroud looks to settle into and define his role more clearly, he already looks like he’ll score more often while also increasing his conversion-rate, a woeful 12% during the 2012-13 campaign. Then again, how many shots did he send soaring into the cheap seats because he was pressing too hard? It will be interesting to see how that conversion-rate might change under less pressure and with more frequent crosses, lobs, and through-balls from Özil, widely considered to be among the best in the world at his position.

Over the next 12 days or so, the time between now and Arsenal’s trip to the Stadium of Light, Özil and Giroud should find plenty of time to work together, learning to read each other, assess each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, and forge a mutual understanding that could bear fruit. At the risk of engaging in too much schadenfreude, it will be interesting to see how Gonzalo Higuaín or Karim Benzema, two other Arsenal targets, will fare without Özil’s service. At various points, the bid for Higuaín had been criticized because Higuaín’s skill-set was apparently too similar to Giroud’s. If that is true, we might see Higuaín’s stats slump while Giroud’s stats surge. Arsenal’s fans might have gnashed their teeth and rent garments when they saw that Napoli had signed Higuaín, but the signing of Özil, and his budding partnership with Giroud, could prove to just enough to help them forget all that they thought they had lost.

Özil seems to pick out the just-right pass, whether it’s a vertical lob or through-ball that allows the striker to run under and put a shot on frame or whether it’s a slanted pass that cuts across the box for a striker to intercept. He’s done this time and again, whether the finisher was Ronaldo or Higuaín or Benzema, and Giroud’s intelligent movement off the ball suggests that he’s already queuing up to receive any variety of passes from Özil. Since he arrived at Real Madrid in 2010, he  has had 47 assists, more than any player in Europe’s top-five leagues (thanks again to

Arsenal may still lack depth up-top, and Giroud may not be quite ready to lead the attack, but the partnership between him and Özil could become something remarkable. The German midfielder can pick the pass; the French striker can send it home. Against lesser opponents, securing an early lead could be enough to see the likes of Yaya Sanogo or Chuba Akpom come on to ply their wares. It’s a far-fetched notion, but Gooners could fare far worse.

Looking down the road, Arsenal goes into the January transfer-window with a fair amount of money in hand; by then, the squad will have passed through the gauntlet that is December, jam-packed with difficult Prem fixtures, not to mention league cup and Champions League ties to boot. By that point, we’ll have a clearer sense of the club’s ambitions and achievements, and we could well see another significant signing or two, sussed out on the club’s progress or struggles to that point. I daresay that messieur Giroud and Herr Özil, among others, shall have done enough to entice another player or two to come to the Emirates.

Arsenal 3-1 Fulham: Giroud’s three goals in three games

Olivier Giroud is going to score 20 Prem League goals. After scoring six goals during the Asia Tour, Giroud has been on a fine run of form, scoring in every match he’s played more than a half. After struggling mightily to score after his arrival, needing eight matches to score his

first goal (against Coventry in the league cup) and eleven to score in the Prem (against West Ham), he’s already scored twice in the Prem and once in the Champions League.

Sure, the Champions League goal was a PK, but last I checked, those are still goals. Just as impressive as the run of scoring (nine goals in ten matches) has been his overall play. His hold-up play, his touch, his passing, have all shown marked improvement as he seems much, much more comfortable and confident. It remains to be seen how long he can sustain this, but given that he’s the only striker in the squad with any significant Prem League experience, we are going to need him to deliver.
The sea-change in his performance from this point last season has been dramatic. Twelve months ago, he was pressing and struggling, trying too hard to be van Persie, something I touched on here. At that point, he was facing the strain of trying to convince us all that he was going to be a one-for-one replacement at striker, and having scored 25 goals for Montpellier the season before only exacerbated the tension. He was taking ill-advised shots, flubbing sitters, surprising team-mates with overly creative passes, and heaping too much pressure on himself to deliver. That 12% conversion rate loomed over him for most of the season. Across all competitions last season, he needed 142 shots to generate his 17 goals. Assuming that he takes 142 shots again, he would have to improve his conversion rate to 15%, a not-impossible improvement.
After two Prem League matches (a very small sample, of course), his conversion rate is 50% (two goals on four shots). At this point last season, it was 0% (no goals on five shots) and included several missed opportunities and bad decisions. His goals so far have demanded quick decision-making and reactions, not to mention control. Against Fulham, for example, Ramsey’s shot caromed off of Giroud, but he was sharp enough to recover and flick past Stockdale, an impressive feat on a slick, wet pitch. He’s now scored twice on the road (at Fener and at Fulham), further showing greater confidence and resourcefulness after scoring almost all of his goals last season at home. 
Confidence improves timing, sharpens skill, and delivers results. Each goal, as important as it is in its own right, also leads to a feeling that is variously referred to as a being in the zone or in a purple patch, a Zen-like mindstate in which the player no longer thinks but simply knows. For most of last season, Giroud was too busy over-thinking what to do. So far this season, he’s just going out and doing. It may not be enough in and of itself to drive us to the top of the table, but at this point, it’s far-more enjoyable to see in-squad performance rather than worry over who may or may not sign. Whereas I think that other top-scorers, including a few we’ve targeted, will regress (or simply leave the league), we have in Giroud a striker poised to take a dramatic leap forward.  He is not yet a talismanic player by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s taken a few confident steps towards becoming one. Let’s see how much further down that path he’ll go, shall we? I see 21 goals across all competitions.What’s your prediction? Ten goals? Fifteen? More?

Brendan Rodgers explains why we shouldn’t pursue Luis Suarez

We’ve all been drooling over who we might sign, and although the names have changed from Jovetic to Higuain to Rooney to Higuain to Suarez, there’s been one maddening constant: we haven’t signed anyone. With the club off on the Asia Tour, we’ll have to content ourselves with the lighter news of our boys wearing local garb and playing friendlies, which has been wonderful. Connecting with and expanding the Arsenal family is unquestionably a good thing.

However, I can’t help but feel a little anger at the fact that we apparently didn’t nail down a signature or two before leaving. It’s not impossible to conduct business from seven time zones away, but it’s a heck of a lot more difficult. In the absence of any concrete news, then, we twiddle our thumbs and scan too many sites for news. Luis Suarez, of course, has dominated the transfer-news lately, and the persistence and pervasiveness of the stories make them hard to ignore. I’ve pushed back against a Suarez signing here and here and here. My latest attempt comes armed with ammunition from Brendan Rodgers himself, who had this to say a few days ago:

Last year, you mustn’t forget that [we] gave Luis Suarez the opportunity to flourish and hopefully this year that will continue to be the case. I made the decision last year to move Andy Carroll out on loan because I wanted to work the team round Luis’s talents. All our movement patterns and our tactical ideas were based around him and he flourished from that.

In other words, Suarez scored as often as he did because the entire team was built around him as were all of Liverpool’s tactics. No surprise there. It does serve to remind us, though, that Suarez scored frequently because of his talent, yes, but because the entire offensive scheme went through him. According to, Suarez has a conversion-rate of only 12.3%, taking some 188 shots to get his 23 Prem League goals. Here, by comparison, are the conversion-rates of some of our players (from, courtesy of opta):

  • Walcott: 22.58%
  • Podolski: 33.33%
  • Cazorla: 16%
  • Giroud: 12%
Many of us have lambasted Giroud for his conversion-rate and the number of squandered opportunities he’s guilty of, and he cost a mere £12m. How are we going to feel if and when Suarez offers the same conversion rate at four times the fee? If we do sign him, are we going to have to funnel the offense through him as they have done at Liverpool? What would this mean for the development of Giroud or Walcott? Giroud did tolerably well in his first Prem season and might replicate his achievements in Ligue 1, where he went from 12 goals in his first year to 21 in the next. Walcott, scorer of a career-best 14 goals this year, is possibly on the verge of a breakout-season, something I’ve argued here. Bringing in Suarez, and all of his considerable baggage, would scupper any hopes of either man breaking out.

Speaking of fees, Gazidis has given Arsène something like £70m to spend this summer. If we were to commit £40-50m for Suarez, we’d leave ourselves with precious little for securing anyone else’s services. Say we do get him for £40m (unlikely, as Liverpool have apparently already rejected this). We’d then have £30m left. This might be enough for one more very good player or two could-be-good bargains. Maybe. However, we’d then go in to a season having committed more than half of our reported transfer-budget to one player with little guarantee that (a) he’ll deliver on his potential, (b) do so without squelching our other attacking options, and (c) stay on the pitch without getting suspended again.

I’ll keep on coming up with ways to prove why we shouldn’t sign him until I hit on a magic solution that someone brings to Arsène’s attention or until he’s signed for us or elsewhere.

Before you go, go over to the 2012-13 YAMA Awards to vote for best Arsenal bloggers, tweeters, and writers. Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a Best New Blog, and I hope to earn your consideration (and vote). Thanks!