Monday, July 21, 2014

Sam Allardyce Completely Misunderstands West Ham's Problem, and Other Stories

Right now is the most fascinating part of the transfer window. Yes, I know it is nowhere close to the over the top mayhem that accompanies Deadline Day, but right now is where you hear managers start trumpeting/defending their transfer activity so far, depending on what the fans think of it. And surprisingly, their comments can actually reveal a lot about how they view their own team, and particularly what they think can be improved.

Sam Allardyce recently voiced his opinion that West Ham need to score more goals next year, stating the blindingly fucking obvious. The Hammers finished joint 14th in the goal scoring charts, and three of the teams below them were relegated. I have to give credit where it's due, that is the area I'd focus on were I the manager, and it's not one Big Sam has always focused on, being a 1-0 sort of guy. Perhaps Sam can enlighten us further about why his team failed to score goals? "It wasn't about the fact that we didn’t create chances last year, it was the fact that we didn’t convert enough." I guess not then.

I suppose it is good Sam is admitting his team had a problem. That's the first step on the road to recovery. Of course, admitting you have a chocolate problem when you're an alcoholic probably isn't going to get you to quit drinking. West Ham finished dead last in the Premier League in Shots on Goal last year, which is my preferred measure of chance creation. By contrast, they finished 8th in Finish Rate (Goals/Shots on Goal), my preferred measure of converting chances. This also passes the eye test. West Ham were regularly one of the poorest teams to watch last year, and that's in a league with Cardiff City. West Ham tend to attack with a lot of long balls up to Andy Carroll, crosses in from the wingers like Downing and Jarvis, and set pieces. These types of attacks tend to be less effective in creating large numbers of chances, as the defense is usually more set and able to deal with them. However, if they do result in a shot on goal, there is a good chance it will go in. Based on the available evidence, I don't think there could be a worse assessment of West Ham's performance in the past year. All of which is to say Sam's remarks probably won't get the Irons fans to quit drinking either.

Another manager reviewing his team is Arsene Wenger, who recently stated that his team do not need to buy another striker. This was met with derision from large sections of the Gunners faithful, who seem to always be waiting for a new Henry. I'd agree with Wenger that Arsenal don't need another striker. Wenger always plays his base 4-3-3 with just one central striker. Therefore, you really don't need more than 2 strikers, particularly when Podolski can play central and someone like Sanchez can play as a false 9 effectively. Since Arsenal have two strikers already in Sanogo and Giroud, and might have a third in Joel Campbell, they definitely don't need another one. It's just that they probably need a better one.

But where to find one? Last year, Giroud had an acceptable 16 goals, and his Finish Rate was 42%.  The common complaint about Giroud is that he wastes chances, and I thought it would be interesting to see how he looked compared to some other similar players who play for upper tier teams in the Premier League, as well as a few strikers once mooted to be joining Arsenal. Obviously huge caveats apply when translating numbers from league to league and these numbers don't differentiate non-penalty goals, but I think in this case it can still be instructive:

Player Minutes Goals Goals Per 90 SOG Shots FR (Goals/SOG) Goals/Shots
Mandzukic 2015 18 0.80 45 76 40.00% 23.68%
RVP 1580 12 0.68 21 62 57.14% 19.35%
Dzeko 1987 16 0.72 38 103 42.11% 15.53%
Lukaku 2509 15 0.54 45 101 33.33% 14.85%
Giroud 3067 16 0.47 38 112 42.11% 14.29%
Balotelli 2294 14 0.55 51 152 27.45% 9.21%

As you can see, Giroud had by far the largest minutes total of all of the players. This means despite his decent goal scoring record, he is last of the bunch in terms of goals per 90 minutes. And despite a decent Finish Rate, his goals/shots ratio is second-worst. Of course, one of his potential replacements is last by a wide margin on that list, proving that Mario Balotelli was probably never the answer for Arsenal. However, another rumored target is at the top, and here's where Arsenal really missed an opportunity. Mandzukic has since moved to Atletico Madrid, but it's hard to imagine shelling out the money to bring him on board would not have been well spent.

Wenger is betting on Sanogo improving and being able to take off some of Giroud's burden, and thinks that there are more pressing areas in the team he needs to fix (like Arsenal's incredibly overrated defense, which is probably a topic for another post). That's not necessarily wrong, but Arsenal fans want more than 4th place and it's hard to see the team bettering that without a better strikeforce.

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