Three teams have won both their Christmas fixtures so far: Stoke, Liverpool and Arsenal, so why would I use now as an opportunity to cast aspersions over their prowess? Mainly becuase there is a newly franked problem at Arsenal & it needs highlighting. All year long, Arsenal have been posting excellent underlying shot totals. Their results have lagged behind but it has clearly looked like Arsenal are a strong team who will eventually reap the benefit of posting these strong numbers.
Until recently that is:
The lovely huge initial gaps between the blue & yellow line & the red & green line are 'massive shot domination' AKA 'where analytics types like Arsenal'. The recent convergence of lines is the opposite. 'But they've had a hard schedule!' shouts someone at the back. 'No they haven't, it's been kind of middling' is the correct reply. They've won 5/7 but have played at WBA, Stoke, Liverpool & West Ham & had home fixtures against QPR, Newcastle & Southampton & have posted 4 narrow wins.
Are the injuries finally catching up? A busy schedule for a stretched squad may well have impacted here. Flamini is functional but not the answer in central midfield, even Rosicky & Coquelin got starts which is a real sign of bare bones & the defensive absences have been relentless. Finally, a recognised back 4 started against West Ham but for now, it seems the early season ability to stop shots has gone. And whilst shots aren't everything, it's fair to say there are concerns.
Trips to Southampton & Man City aren't too far away either, so it's not getting easy any time soon.
Liverpool appear to be on the opposite trajectory, having spend a good 6-8 weeks living in the doldrums, the Christmas form & just before has shown great promise. Rodgers, by now many chapters into his 'Championship Manager '01/02 Formations' book, has settled on this 3-4-3 which has alternatively given no role to either strikers or wing backs, of which they have plenty that now sit on the bench, with or without Steven Gerrard. Has he lucked in? Possibly, but certainly as I showed HERE a few weeks back, Rodgers has a very good record of getting his teams to improve as seasons progress & the performance against Swansea, whilst showing characteristic vulnerability at the back was blessed with bravura & attacking charm too. Here's their same shot chart:
Mario fuelled some early shot dominance & the bad period was very bad, but lo! Do we see the green shoots of recovery? 77 shots & 33 on target in the last 4 games against 45 & 13, including a non-event against Burnley but matches against Arsenal & Man Utd is exactly what Rodgers wants his team to look like. And some of the results are following as indeed they really should in the near future as Leicester, Sunderland & Villa lie ahead.
Fulfilling my promise to write about teams i've neglected this season, we find an apt time to talk about Everton. Rooting around last night, I spotted that Roberto Martinez teams have a habit of posting extremely low PDO scores:
Often this is fuelled by a terrible save percentage & with a league low c.54% rate, Everton are at the back of the pack here. So much so that they actually rank 120th/120 of all half seasons posted since 2009-10. Jamie Carragher spoke on MNF about how all year, Everton's centre backs have tended to drop back into their box as pressure mounted & almost invited better than average chances. They are also very old: Sylvain Distin is 42 years old, Jagielka is more known for thunderbolt finishes these days & Alcaraz lived through every one of the terrible Wigan years & wears the scars well: his and Distin's contribution to Newcastle's 3rd goal was a vision of utter confusion:
So, we're in a situation where Martinez needs more & might not be able to find it. His expensive striker appears to have wilted, he has excellent full backs & otherwise very young or very old players. A weird mish-mash that is currently finding it hard to create any solidity. Weirdly, the save percentage is so low that only Chelsea have saved fewer shots & they have now exceeded Arsenal & Liverpool by having the league worst conversion against from all shots. It all looks a lot like Wigan & whilst that wasn't what Martinez was brought in to reproduce, it might be what Everton have ended up getting.
Obligatory Tottenham bit
Fan voted man of the match for the last 2 games has been Hugo Lloris, and whilst it's great to celebrate the man between the sticks now & then, it's not often the benchmark of great team performances. And that's certainly the case but, points are still racking up at a reasonable rate & the scrum of teams below the top 2 still includes Tottenham. The impending misery of a visit from Chelsea awaits but beyond that there isn't a scary fixture until February. The hope endures! Although it must be mentioned that every single underlying figure still paints this team as meh average. Let us hope a bit of steel can be found & used to keep up with the others.
I remarked before that after a slowish 5-2-5 start, Villas Boas only tasted defeat 3 more times that first season & after posting an identical 5-2-5 start, Pochettino has gone 4-2-1, with the only defeat at Chelsea. Maybe, just as it took Villas Boas time to get his ideas fully entrenched, it has taken Pochettino a similar amount of time? Whilst they've ridden their luck at times (So did AVB), the team is certainly more settled now & Adebayor, Kaboul & Capoue have been largely unsighted since the rumours of bust ups. Kane & Eriksen have become the focal point of the attack with others rotating around them & this week the media seems to have noticed that Fazio & Vertonghen are doing a decent job behind a sometimes porous central midfield. As ever the transfer window will provide intrigue in the coming weeks.
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Other things to read:
1. Poor old Neil Warnock
In which I decide Neil Warnock was unlucky
2. 'Under Pardew'
In which I hammer a nail into Alan Pardew's Newcastle coffin, I mean, Ashley must've read this, right? ;)