Well hello and welcome to what is, in fact, my Monday, because we all had a day off yesterday.
A lot of the chatter I was reading yesterday focused on Granit Xhaka, who is officially the new poster child of the collapsed Wenger apologist regime. Never has a group of people been so misguided in who they attach their loyalties to, but one thing is for sure, you have to hand it to them, their arguments always incredibly sound on paper.
The big fear a lot of people have at the moment centres around an isolated statistic call xG build-up. The definition of xG Buildup is comes from the very interesting Statsbomb site.
You’ll note, however, that for a lot of players, the values are still dominated by xG from shots and xA from assists. You get a little extra credit for your buildup play, and some unexpected players are still able to shine through. But the fun starts when exclude shots and assists from the possession chains, so we can concentrate just on buildup play. It’s okay if you ultimately make the assist or shot yourself, but you also have to be involved in the earlier parts of the move to get credit. I originally called this pre-xGC (pre as in pre-assist, you see), but the world knows it now as xGBuildup.
Now, the reason people have their panties in a twist is because Granit ranks pretty well for this statistic (play here).
The masters of this statistic and people that outrank Granit are midfielders like Busquets, Weigl, Alcantara, and Kroos. Iwobi, Ramsey and Mesut also score very well here, but it goes without saying, Granit, being a mainstay at the base of our possession-based approach is going to score well for this particular statistic.
The issue I have with internet stats folk (the amateurs) is the absolute lack of context they give when chucking out isolated numbers they’ve seen in a radar graph. Granit Xhaka is never critiqued for being bad at passing. He’s being taken to task by fans who actually watch the game with their eyes and spot the glaring weaknesses in what he offers the team holistically. Namely, he’s easily rattled under pressure, he makes at least one goal gifting mistake each game, and he lacks mobility in a system that requires an intense pressing philosophy.
We’ve been defending his errors for 2 and a bit seasons. During that time, he’s sat at the base of our midfield as we’ve been humiliated 10-2 in the Champions League. He’s been part of relegating ourselves to Europa League. He’s reinforced the idea that we’re soft through the middle and easy to bully in midfield. Is it all his fault? No. But you can’t doubt he’s a chunk of the reason we are where we are.
Unai Emery has an extremely unbalanced squad at Arsenal. He doesn’t have the basic component pieces you need to win a Premier League title, and the most frustrating challenge is the problematic parts are his most expensive. The manager is trying to ring in the new era playing his best players, not the right ones.
Granit Xhaka might be a formidable distributor of the ball from deep, but he’s a doughnut when it comes to defending, he makes unforced errors on the regular and his lack of pace and power make him a weak point to exploit.
Aaron Ramsey is a force to be reckoned with on the pitch and ideally, you’d have him leading the press, but in a more advanced position, he lacks creativity and discipline.
Mesut Ozil is the most precious of flowers, he needs to be correctly watered, manicured and fed to be able to exist in the modern system. Even then, he doesn’t like tough games away from him and he hides in games against the top 6. He doesn’t like playing out on the right and when he does it stifles our fullback, but when he’s playing in his favoured #10 role he can’t cope with defensive duties.
The manager also needs to make a decision on a keeper who rattles the defence. Seeing the Telegraph write things like ‘Ignore your manager’ is why the British sports press is dying. What needs to happen is the manager needs to make the tough decision, and it’s clear that Cech is not going to adapt to the passing game at 36 years old.
Emery needs to make decisive decisions that are going to look odd from the outside, one of them is going to have to be putting Xhaka on the bench and opting for a more mobile centre midfield. His challenge is that MG and LT would give us better cover, but they both lack experience and possibly the passing range Xhaka offers us. But ultimately, they’ll give us power, pace and the aggression we’ve lacked with Xhaka there. We could also operate with Aaron Ramsey playing a more central role next to LT, but Ramsey would need to do things like not bomb forward and play up front in the last ten minutes of a game you’re hanging onto by a thread.
My fear is the manager is caught between a rock and a hard place. He’s hanging on the past with his starting line-ups, then ruffling feathers with early changes. He needs to go hard at what is right. As G Nev said the other week, don’t go half arsed and back your vision.
Let’s see where that goes.
See you in the comments where I’ll be giving you all xG ratings for agreeing with me.