Arsenal 2 – 0 Liverpool – All the Stats

Prior to Sunday’s Liverpool-Arsenal match, the focus of most pundits was on Arsenal’s failure to score in their previous two matches. There was also some concern amongst Reds’ fans that no striker was brought in despite letting Andy Carroll go to West Ham United on loan. However, given that they had put 2 past Manchester City in a match they should have won, the thought was Suarez et al. would find the goals.

In their first two matches, Liverpool were blanked at West Bromwich Albion, and scored 2 at home against Manchester City. Hope is a powerful emotion. It’s far easier to hope that the second game was indicative of how Liverpool would play this season, even without Carroll, than to fear that the first result might be more relevant. Sunday, they were shut out again – at Anfield, And while it’s still far too early to know what the ‘typical’ expectation for Liverpool will be this year, some statistics from the game are telling.

The dangers of small sample sizes have been discussed in this space before, and they will be again. Fortunately, there are some sample sizes within a game that are large enough for conclusions to be drawn.

Liverpool appeared to have the lion’s share of possession. As any Arsenal fan will tell you, having possession is wonderful, but converting them into goals wins games. Despite their possession advantage, Liverpool were outplayed by Arsenal in a very unusual fashion for the Gunners:

There were 96 ground 50/50 balls in the match according to Opta Stats. 55% of them were won by Arsenal. Even more surprising, of the 24 aerial 50/50s, 58% were won by Arsenal. That’s right – a team generally thought of as lacking fight and height won not only the ground battle, but that in the air as well. Why would these stats be particularly relevant? Because in a very un-Arsenal-like way, Arsenal converted the ‘dirty work’ – 50/50 balls – into counter attacks and goals, and left Liverpool to win the possession battle. They used the very formula teams have used to frustrate Arsenal in the past to do the same to Liverpool. Let them have possession, but if that’s the tactic, it becomes absolutely essential to win each of the 50/50 battles and then to strike fast before there is a chance to lose possession.

The secondary stats continue to bear this out. Liverpool were successful on 68% of their tackles. For a team yielding possession, it is far more important to have a high success rate in challenges, and Arsenal were at 81%. Liverpool intercepted 14 passes. Arsenal intercepted 22.

If we accept that the man-of-the-match had to be from Arsenal, who should it have been? Here are some telling statistics:

Mikel Arteta completed 87 of his 92 passes (95%).
Abou Diaby completed 58 of his 66 passes (88%). He also won an astounding 77% of ground 50/50s.
Santi Cazorla completed 67 of his 76 passes (88%).
Lukas Podolski managed 1 shot the entire game. It was Arsenal’s first goal of the season.

Now by contrast, let’s look at some of the Reds’ fans’ complaints and see if the numbers back them up.

1. Luis Suarez leads the league in percentage of shots off target. On Sunday, he took 4 shots. Only 1 was on target.
2. Luis Suarez is soft and goes to ground too easily. Suarez won only 36% of ground 50/50s.
3. Steven Gerrard had an off game, and isn’t adapting to Brendan Rodgers’ system. Gerrard only completed 69% of his passes, and more tellingly, only attempted 65. And of his 13 crosses, only 3 were accurate (23%).
4. Pepe Reina is becoming a liability. In three games this season, Reina’s distribution has been alarmingly low, only completing 69% of his passes/kicks/throws. In other words, 3 out of every 10 times Reina attempts to distribute the ball to one of his teammates, it instead goes to an opponent’s boot.

In summary, Sunday’s Liverpool-Arsenal game was strange in that Liverpool tried to play like Arsenal typically do, and instead wound up winning the possession battle but none of the secondary battles that make possession count. And Arsenal won by doing the ‘grunt work’ better than Liverpool. Any Arsenal fan who tells you he or she was expecting that is selling something.

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One Response to “Arsenal 2 – 0 Liverpool – All the Stats”
  1. Matthew says:

    Not sure what you’re getting at, but possession was just about even. Most of the stats I’ve seen had Arsenal up a bit in terms of possession, in fact, until after the match’s second goal. Arsenal only seemed content to concede the ball and ground a bit after that point (or at the least, they did not seem to do so for more than a short stretch here or there before that).

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