Self-immolation

Foreword and Foreshadowing

Arteta said after the game that we “paid the price for missed chances”.

For me, that just doesn’t sit right and it feels like a very cheap summation to a very disappointing evening, of which is steeped in damages that extend well beyond this match. One of two unlikely doors into next season’s Champion’s League has been slammed shut and the other hangs on a knife’s edge.

Most crushing of all was the realisation that this felt like the beginning of the end for Aubameyang’s Arsenal chapter. I’m barely going to bother addressing the miss in the dying stages of the game – we shouldn’t have been in a situation where we needed a goal in the 120th minute after taking an away goal advantage, while fielding a full strength team at home. Anyone doing so needs to give their head a serious wobble.

Instead, I feel like we should enjoy him while we can because as it stands, I wouldn’t begrudge him leaving to fulfill his lifelong dream of playing for Real Madrid and he’s certainly a player of their calibre. More to the point, he’s too good for us and we could do with the cash. I don’t mean to be callous because I think Aubameyang has been an absolutely fantastic signing; he immediately silenced those who questioned his “attitude problem”, he proved he can score in the Premier League just as he’s done everywhere else he’s played and he’s even carried us on his back for a good chunk of the season. That’s 20 goals in all competitions for him this season – despite the largely patchy service and insistence on not making him the focal point of our attack. The only saving grace from last night was that stupendously timely bicycle kick, which was another slice of perfection from our main man. He’s bailed us out before but it wasn’t enough on this occasion.

I’d really hate to be wrong but this man doesn’t deserve to be slumming it in the Europa League at the peak of his career, not even making it through the first knockout stage while being expected to track back and put balls into the box. It’s just painful when you see what he can do with the right service. It’s one thing when the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona give you an uninvited colonoscopy but it’s not what you expect from Olympiacos.


The Reluctant Match Report

Everything goes out the window when you look at the circumstances of our deserved exit last night. I don’t know why we decided to start the game in neutral, never mind 1st gear but it took an awfully long time to even start taking the game seriously. It might have adopted the same kind of openness we saw in Piraeus but our air of unwillingness or inability was apparent.

It took until the 76th minute to even register a shot on target and for much of the game, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy at how eerily similar it felt to watching us under Emery. Zero penetration through the middle, over-emphasis on developing our play on the wings and absolutely no coherence in the final third. Throw in some brainless defending and the recipe is near-enough the same. We might have had 19 shots and the lion’s share of the possession but it counts for nothing when you barely trouble the opposition keeper and besides Pépé’s shot, he barely had to make a save. While the end product was largely lacking, the Ivorian was one of the few at least trying to take the bull by the horns and make something happen amidst a sea of ineptitude.

I should have known something was afoot when, until his untimely (and probably costly) exit, Mustafi was comfortably our best player on the pitch (like Tyson Fury making his ring entrance on a throne comfy). He really was everywhere we needed him to be, he put his body on the line on more than one occasion and it was another entry in a series of quite solid performances ever since he got David Luiz sent off against Chelsea. Make of that what you will but I at least wanted to praise a man for turning a corner when I’ve slated him as much as I have done. For what it’s worth, he somehow manages to pull off the platinum blonde as well (it’s dark times when I have to resort to talking about a player’s hair – that’s how much I don’t want to relive the intricacies of last night).

The complacency that we saw at the start was just as evident after scoring; a time we were often so vulnerable to under Emery. Aubameyang’s goal led us to believe that penalties were out of the question; our death sentence came in assuming Olympiacos would simply roll over and die.

That decisive away goal came as a result of an unchecked cross, with David Luiz and Sokratis both fast asleep as El-Arabi slipped between them. It’s a difficult game to come into for Sokratis but therein lies the problem with this squad; we have the illusion of depth but when it comes down to it, many of these players are not up to the task. Maybe that’s why Mustafi was so desperate to stay on.. he’s finally become self-aware. Lest we forget, all of this was made possible by the generosity of Bernd Leno, who, rather than blasting the ball to kingdom come, decided to invite those plucky Athenians in for a taste. Obviously, he’s another player on a very short list of those who have gone above and beyond this season but it was such a kick in the teeth to see. It really summed up the kind of lackadaisical approach we’d seen for most of the game.


Rather than bore you with the finer details of what exactly went wrong, I’ve elected to highlight just some of the circumstances which unfolded.

  • Home advantage and away goal advantage, with a full-strength team
  • Luiz’ culpability in both Olympiacos goals (like letting the only 6’6″ man on the pitch ghost into our six-yard box)
  • Set piece frailty
  • Uninspired, lifeless offensive performance relying on Auba’s brilliance to break the deadlock
  • Mustafi’s untimely exit after a Man of the Match performance
  • Leno trying to be Neuer
  • Auba, of all people, failing to hit the target from 6 yards
  • Another away goal European exit

In some ways, the heartbreak from conceding so late may have been the difference between Aubameyang hitting the target and not. We’ll never know but I think it’s a safe assumption to make that seeing such a capitulation would be a distraction. His career aspirations have been well-documented and as the clock ticks on his career, nights like tonight really are make or break. No amount of sweet nothings in his ear from Lacazette at the 105 minute mark will make up for the crushing nature of last night’s defeat.

Speaking of which…

Mikel

I really thought Mikel got it badly wrong last night. Not in his starting lineup but in his in-game management, because it really is baffling to me that Lacazette was still on the pitch deep into extra time.

Yes, he’s found himself back amongst the goals. Yes, he’s still probably a long way off being confident again. But that’s what substitutes are for. When someone is playing badly, or is off the pace, or is ineffective – you make a change. We have one of the hottest teenage prospects in Europe frothing at the mouth at the prospect of playing, so why not use him in a game that was crying out for change? The other two substitutions also failed to make an impact and while that also points to said illusion of depth, leaving the ineffective Lacazette on for so long was criminal.,

Forwards

We face Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Monday. It’s one of the liveliest venues in the country and they will absolutely be up for it. Arteta will be well aware of this, but his team selection would do very well to also appreciate that it won’t be a walk in the park.

Beyond that, we face West Ham in the league, which we are now all-or-nothing on. There’s nowhere to hide, there’s a huge ask and I’m just not sure if we have the personnel for it. Olympiacos dealt a hammer-blow, but we were the ones who handed them the sodding hammer.


Arsenal and The Aubameyang Dependency

Overview

Arsenal’s record-breaking capture of Aubameyang for £56 million in the January transfer window of 2018 was a serious sign of ambition, barely 6 months after breaking the club record to secure Alexandre Lacazette for £46.5 million.

His goal against Wolves on Saturday marked his 50th for the club and it got me wondering about a certain facet of his repertoire in relation to the overall team: how many of his goals are down to him just being a brilliantly wiley and clinical centre-foward and how many can we attribute to the team behind him?

I’d been wanting to do something along these lines for a while and after taking a look at each of his goals, I decided to dig a little deeper and get into some basic quantitative analysis of the man and see how he stacked up against some of the other world class centre-forwards he’s currently competing with in the Premier League.

The dependency aspect relates simply to – where would we be without his goals? At the time of writing, news has just broken that Xhaka has been stripped of the captaincy (and position within the so-called ‘captain’s group), passing to the man in question. My position here is also borne out of frustration, as we have a player who is in the absolute peak of their career and part of me thinks his talents are being wasted as he’s left fighting for scraps, while now shouldering the responsibility of a captaincy to boot. The prevarication about his contract situation only serves to cast more doubt on whether we can hold onto him.

Anyway, without further ado, you can relive those 50 below:


The Theory

There have been several instances where I’ve felt like he really didn’t have the right to score – what I mean by this is, the times where he has so much work to do with barely a half-chance and yet still manages to find the back of the net. A descriptive metric I’ve coined for the purposes of this is Aubameyang’s “individual brilliance” – goals which have only been scored because he’s made it happen. It’s not a trait unique to Aubameyang; in fact, I think it’s a trait that separates the very good from the world class. My interest is very much in finding out just how dependent this Arsenal team is on his goals and what effect they have on our results.

To do this, I’ve developed a few points of comparison to shed some light on his efficacy from an individual perspective (and in relation to some other world class forwards in the league), to looking at who he links up most effectively with in the team. In recent weeks, Aubameyang’s goals have subsided, which has unsurprisingly coincided with our slump in form* – correlation and causality are now the obstacles to overcome. He’s cut a dejected figure at times and for all of his effort in dropping deeper and being forced out to the wing to accomodate Lacazette, a leopard can’t change their spots – he shouldn’t be having to do that in the first place. I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent Black Panther idiom, but there we go…

*Speaking of which, @Orbinho always has the relevant pearls of wisdom:


The Data

Table 1 – Subjective Goal Breakdown

In Table 1, I’ve coined a descriptor in “individual brilliance” (or IB) to separate those goals that have come from nothing, from the rest of the pack. I was interested to see just how starved of service Aubameyang was. Now let me preface this by saying my interpretation of when he’s scored using “individual brilliance” is entirely subjective – you can have a look at the goals for yourself and keep tally if you’d like – but for my purposes here, I essentially counted any goal where I felt it was less than a half-chance when he received the ball, or if he scored from thin air, such as his freekick against Aston Villa.

The first thing that sprang to mind was the incidences of IB increasing year on year since he joined (fair assumption given that he’s already on 3 for the current season and is likely to surpass ’18/19’s tally). It could be argued that our playstyle even in Wenger’s last season was better suited to Aubameyang’s, but that doesn’t serve to explain how he was able to score 31 goals in all competitions last season. This also coincides with the startling number of points he’s already secured us this season in comparison to the season and a half prior. At the very least after looking at that, I’m glad the guy has a near-immaculate injury record or we’d be at similar laughing stock levels as some other unmentionables.

Table 2 – Aubameyang’s Contributors
Table 2 – Contributors Visualised

Table 2 shows where the goals that were actually worthy of an assist have come from: unsurprisingly Mkhitaryan, for all his inconsistencies before his timely departure, still managed to rekindle some of their fruitful relationship from the Dortmund days, with Lacazette also featuring predominantly. Perhaps most surprising is Ramsey topping the list, as despite his absence, is the biggest contributor to Aubameyang. This also coincided with what was our best period under Emery, as far as I’m concerned. It also points to our ongoing problems in filling the void the Welshman left, from his workrate, adaptability in games and his quality in the final third. The problem is finding another readymade Aaron Ramsey to fill the void, as for the time being, it’s asking too much of the likes of Joe Willock.

It also comes as no surprise that our fullbacks feature heavily, even those that aren’t naturalised in the position like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, as it’s become one of the few staples of Emery’s flimsy creativity. That cat appears to be well and truly out of the bag, though, as our chances from such positions have dwindled as teams have adapted their defences. We may have scored against Wolves in this manner but my overriding feeling is the likes of Kolasinac haven’t had nearly the same levels of success in recent times when firing in balls from the wing. These days, it just feels like a hopeful war of attrition.

Table 3 – Head-To-Head Player Analysis

To try and illustrate what kind of player we have on our hands, it seemed like a good idea to take a look at the two players who closest to Aubameyang in the world-class ballpark of Premier League centre-forwards (no dribbling mouthbreathers to see here).

His calibre can be seen in the so-coined clinicity rating, which simply put, is the rati at which the player converts a “big chance”, relative to the total number of big chances. Although sometimes criticised for being wasteful, the data speaks for itself and it’s not like Agüero and Salah aren’t clinical themselves. It does make you wonder what kind of player we’d have on our hands on a level playing field.

N.B. Although Aubameyang has the smallest dataset, this can be offset by the fact that unlike the other two, he is not part of a title-challenging/winning side and yet is still the most clinical of the three (lower clinicity rating implies he converts a greater proportion of “total big chances”.


Conclusions

We’d be royally fucked without Aubameyang and I hope he outlives Emery’s tenure.