3rd Place, Here We Come (When Defenders Attack)

Friends, Gooners, Countrymen, lend me your ears. I come not to bury our season, but to praise it.

We have had a torrid time of it this season until very recently. “They” have lined up to malign our manager; our team; our philosophy; our ethos; our players; our spirit; and, did I mention, our manager.

I have but 2 responses for “Them”:
1. Try playing 3/4 of your games without your fullbacks and see if you can end up 1 point out of 3rd place
2. Eff ’em, all of ’em

…My Kingdom for a Full Back

I did a little bit of research into the 2011/12 PL season so far to determine the impact on our results when playing with 2 healthy Full Backs (FBs). Here is what I found:

Note: Red Dots mark games where we had 2 true FBs playing in position for 90 minutes who were not playing a debut game eg I didn’t count the Santos and Jenks debuts or Sagna playing at LB.

This graphic shows a total of 8 games where we had 2 fit LBs:
P8 W7 D1 L0.
87.5% win rate.
0% losses.

He might Be World Class, But is he Good Enough for Spurs?

We now, finally, have 4 fit full backs since the end of February. Our most experienced FB, Sagna, has been absolutely instrumental to Arsenal’s recent victories, at least as much in attack as defense. Indeed that intangible quality, “world class,” would rest comfortably on his shoulders at the moment, though I doubt he would ever be thought quite good enough to make a Spurs XI.
In the Spurs game he earned himself an honorary Knighthood for starting the cavalry charge comeback with his power-header which screamed “That’s enough of this shit!”
In the Liverpool game, his pin-point swinging cross to van Persie’s head carved open the ‘pool defense against the run of play.
The Newcastle game saw Theo, Sagna and Rosicky terrorize down the right channel like some old-style wrestling tag-team (see the stats for the game below with 48.69% of attacks coming through the Right Channel.)

Jenks, Gibbs and Santos

When fit and in the swing of things, Jenks and Gibbs have looked very dangerous in attack. Santos had been an absolute trip on the attacking front before his layoff. His MO was to turn defense into attack by preemptive tackling (even if it was mainly because he didn’t fancy all that chasing back). And he went on to score 2 goals in 13 starts in all competitions. (Insert the standard Torres comparison here, poor bastard.)

And this is just talking about the contribution of our FBs at the attacking end of the field. With 2 critical goals (goal and assist) in 2 of the 3 last victories, what would we be saying about those latest games if we hadn’t had Sagna (and Gibbs)?

16 Points Dropped Out of 18

In the games where we looked the most flat, predictable, without extra gears and without answers, what spark might a true Full Back have ignited in the 79th minute of the game to start a cavalry charge? Look at December and January where we had 1 goal losses to MCFC, MUFC, Fulham and Swansea (for God’s sake!) and a home draw against shit Wolves and an away draw against shit Bolton. And not a Full Back in sight.

via http://www.whoscored.com

Master of the Bleeding Obvious

Master of the bleeding obvious that I am, let me point out the contribution expected from real FBs now that we have them:
Defending their positions
Keeping the overall shape of the back 4
Freeing up key personnel to play in their correct positions eg Vermaelen & Co.
Connecting play with mid-field
Providing width on attack to stretch the opponents defense
Providing Goals, Assists and the mot du jour, Pre-Assists.

In short, these days a “good” Full Back is an attacker who can also defend. And if you are a “possession” team you hope to defend best by defending less.

The Siege of Newcastle

In fact, the following analysis of the siege of Newcastle illustrates what the Theo/Sagna combination did for our attacking options on the right wing with plenty of assistance from Rosicky, Song & Co. In fact, this was such an open channel for attack that the whole team gravitated to providing attacking support on this wing. Clearly Gibbs and the Ox have not developed any kind of understanding yet. When we get that firing, it will be hard for the opponents to find a bus long enough.

via https://twitter.com/#!/1DavidWall/status/179356945394843648/photo/1

The Orbinho Stat ~71% Win rate

@Orbinho had a stat he shared in early March that showed we win ~71% of all games this season when we have an actual LB. Well that’s a bigger sample size, and is consistent with my findings regarding having 2 fit FBs.

Excuses, Excuses

So then, is all this Full Back stuff just elaborate excuse-making in action? I don’t think so. Arsene spoke recently about just this fact. You can survive 1 or 2 games without a full back. But 75% of the season to date? I’d like to see our competitors try it. You can demand of the team to step, man-up, work harder, compensate…blah blah blah. Snore. But we have just played 20, yes 20, yes ~75% of our games without at least 1 established FB.

In the Final Stretch, Arsenal is the Form Horse
“It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong – but that’s the way to bet.” Damon Runyon.

If the best predictor of the future is the past, then we can look forward to a strong run  now that we have 4 fit FBs coming back into the side. If we can keep RvP and Szcz healthy as well as TV5/LK6, I think we become the odds-on favorite for 3rd place. As you can see from the following graphic, our form over the last 6 games is league-topping. Now that the squad has bedded in, perhaps we are finally ready to compete with the big boys. Which is good because we will soon be facing Man City and Chelsea.

Note: Form Graphic via http://www.whoscored.com

It fascinates me, after all we’ve been through this year, all the hours on psychiatrists’ couches we’ve endured, all the questions aimed at our collective manhood (and can you imagine what poor old Arsene has been through while living with this 24 x 7), that the real story of our crisis may be the rather dull fact that we have had 4 FBs injured for long periods of the season. Apparently, that doesn’t make for exciting headlines, hence the scapegoating of everything and everybody else.

The St. Totteringham Cup

I’m sure I speak for many when I say that if we catch Spurs and nab 3rd place it will certainly feel like a trophy. Roll on St. Totteringham’s Day, the earlier the better, not to mention St. Chavinghams’s Day.

– Theo van Ramshere