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SPORT 14

 

Welcome to SPORT [Stats Perform’s Overall Review of Things] where we look underneath football’s gleaming exterior to unearth the lesser spotted side of the game and wallow in joyful minutiae.

By: Duncan Alexander

Guns of Never On
Arsenal may have lost to Everton on Saturday, but they did at least score, their second goal in two games. Overall this season they have 12 in 14 matches, which doesn’t sound like a lot and isn’t a lot. Just how dry these times are at the club is illustrated by the fact that they scored 12 Premier League goals in the space of only three games in April 1998, April 1999, May 1999, May 2003, August 2003, August 2004, May 2005 and September 2010, as well 13 across three games in December 2012 and 14 in August 2009 and February 2012. Some of these Arsenal teams were defensively suspect, some of them were among the finest sides the club has fielded. All of them could create chances and score goals, which is an ability that has seemingly deserted Mikel Arteta’s side. They are on course to score 33 goals this season. Only once has an Arsenal team scored fewer in a league campaign and that was the 26 that came in 1912-13. The brutal significance of that season is that it’s the only time Arsenal have ever been relegated.


Quantity vs Quality
You can still find goals in the Premier League. Take Sunday’s game between Manchester United and Leeds United. Arch-rivals who had not played in the league for 16 years and who served up an absolute opportunity-fest of a match. Scott McTominay managed something none of the great forwards in the league’s history have ever done by scoring twice in the first three minutes, and then the match just went on from there. By the end there had been 43 shots with a cumulative xG of 5.43, so an average of 0.13 per shot. Decent enough, but probably not enough to stick in the memory like the Arsenal/Manchester United game in December 2017 which had two shots fewer than Sunday’s but an (as it stands) Premier League record xG of 6.55. It was the game when David De Gea made 14 saves and essentially fast-tracked the understanding of Expected Goals as a concept, such was the injustice of the 3-1 win for the visitors.

Back to this season and one certainty is that Marcelo Bielsa’s approach to football will be maintained, no matter what the Plan B fundamentalists in the media demand. The team’s low point this season before Old Trafford was the 4-1 home loss to Leicester in November, and that game has a strong argument to be the most clear cut-chancey (it’s a phrase now) in recorded history, with a total of 21 shots but a total xG of 4.99, an incredible average of 0.24 per shot. Leeds are a club who, under George Graham in 1996-97, scored 28 goals in 38 league games and came 11th. Under Bielsa they are only four behind that total with 24 games remaining yet could still end the campaign lower in the table. Football, we love you.


Fast Moving Situation
No-one likes to admit it but some Premier League weekends are just pure vanilla. A nil-nil, a couple of 2-1s, a slightly irate manager, a penalty decision that you do or do not agree with. And so it goes. But then there are the weekends where stuff just happens. It started in the first game of the matchweek with Liverpool’s 7-0 win at Crystal Palace. Liverpool’s biggest ever top-flight away win yes, but also the first Premier League game to ever see seven different players assist for one team. On Sunday we saw Sheffield United’s John Lundstram sent off against Brighton and then West Brom’s Jake Livermore was sent off in Sam Allardyce’s first match in charge of the club. That naturally led to the question: how many times have Premier League players with the same initials been sent off on the same day, and the answer is below. Then on Monday night Ben Chilwell suffered a disappointing birthday when he was forced off injured in the opening moments of Chelsea’s game with West Ham. That led to a huge surge of thinkers wondering whether he was the first player to be replaced on his special day with less than 10 minutes on the clock. To which experts replied: no, that was Paul Gerrard for Everton against Southampton in January 2000. A weekend of niche joy, a box of delights. Merry Christmas.