Saturday, October 8, 2022

xB – Expected Blog

Despite the Interlull being over, statistics show that the Thursday after an international break and before the weekend’s football is always the quietest day in terms of news. The players are returning from their respective travels, the club haven’t yet had any time to make a medical assessment of them, and there’s been little or no previewing of the upcoming games.

And yet people want a blog. They don’t just want it, they expect it. Yet if we display the findings, known as Expected Blog, or xB, you can see where the difficulties lie:

xB - Expected Blog
The xB index clearly shows the lack of blog chances

It gets even worse when you apply those same statistics and display them in radar form:

Blog radar
The blog radar shows the development of the blog and the lack of xB

Still, it is great to have statistics in football. I’m not one of those people who dismisses them as a fad, or some kind of hipster conceit. My favourite thing is when those who are sceptical of stats insist on saying, “Well, stats don’t tell you the whole story!” as if anyone ever says that anyway. Maybe some people do, stats extremists or something, but I’ve never met one of them. They are informative, not definitive.

Doing player ratings for this site and for ESPN at times, it’s interesting to be able to look at the stats post-game to see if it backs up what you’ve seen (or think you’ve seen), or not. A couple of weeks ago my impression of a Hector Bellerin performance was that he’d been generally very good but a little careless in possession. I remembered him giving the ball away quiet a bit, and that was obviously affecting my rating of him.

Checking the stats (and if you don’t have the Stats Zone app you should check it out), I was correct in that he had been a little sloppy during the first half, making 3 passes that failed to reach their target. However, those 3 passes were just 4% of the passes he made that day, 96% of his passes found an Arsenal man, and it does make you think a bit differently.

We know that Arsenal have bought StatsDNA, a company which allows them get in-depth statistical information about a player. So, if we’re seeking a centre-half who wins lots of headers, makes lots of interceptions and tackles, and wins the ball a lot in a certain area of the pitch, this can help with that. However, to make any assessment or judgement based solely on stats would be only doing half the job.

It would be fine if we were dealing with robots – and surely the era of robot football, hosted by Dara O’Briain, is only around the corner – but we’re not. There’s also the human element to take into consideration. Character, desire, commitment, aggression, ability to deal with pressure, wanting it, showing up, PASSION and HEART, and all the other intangibles that stats can’t show us have to come from human scouting.

That we’ve had such an increase in statistical information available to us means we – and I mean football in general, not just Arsenal – haven’t quite found the perfect blend yet. Players in training are GPSd and we know how far they run in games, how many sprints they do, pretty much everything they do on the pitch (training or match), is collated and available to the manager to inform his decision making.

For a manager often deemed a traditionalist, or stuck in the past a bit, Arsene Wenger seems to have really embraced this new world of information. It must be an amazing resource to have all that data at your fingertips, when it comes to your existing players and potential new recruits. I wonder though does it always make it easier. Your brain is telling you one thing but the charts another, but your brain has been in the game for 30 years and it just KNOWS things about players and people and humans but the numbers are different than you expected. Does it give pause for thought at times?

Anyway, I think the whole thing is quite fascinating really. Not so fascinating that I’m going to start making my own spreadsheets and graphics or anything, but seeing the old and new football worlds come together in this way should give us greater insight and knowledge, and that’s a good thing. Those who choose to eschew stats as useless frippery are welcome to do so, they can go in the box with those who think eyes are now redundant. The rest of us can just enjoy what all this new data brings us.

A few of things to finish off today. There’s some extra reading with our excellent columnists. First up Tim Stillman on Arsene Wenger, a very lovely piece, while Anam takes a look at Shkodran Mustafi and the start to his Arsenal career in the Tactics Column.

Over on Arseblog News we’ve updated our player profiles for the new season, and if you’d like to win a copy of the beautiful new book by Amy Lawrence and Stuart MacFarlane we have three to give away in this competition with thanks to publishers Bloomsbury. Enter now, winners announced on Monday.

Right, that’s your lot for today. I’m back tomorrow, we’ll have all the pre-Swansea news that drops between now and then, as well as a landmark Arsecast. Until then.

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