Stats are like a bikini, people say, what they reveal is suggestive but what they conceal is vital. It’s an amusing metaphor unless you imagine those stats are a bikini worn by Sokratis. In which case I’d suggest that the stats are perfect in what they hide and what they reveal.
I prefer to think of stats like a sunset. Most of the time you can look at them and see something interesting, even if deep down you know that it’s just light reflected obliquely off particles floating in the air. And even after a 0-0 there are some nights when the data sparkles and I can see something special that maybe most people pass by on their way home from work.
Tonight isn’t one of those nights. The skies were overcast and all I can see is a sea of boiling grey clouds. Hey, is that a tortoise in those clouds? Neat.
“Sporting” set out to play in a rather more “spoiling” manner today. Which is not a surprise since they are already on their third manager this season. Caretaker manager Tiago Fernandes set them out in two banks of five with the rather diminutive Fredy Montero ostensibly leading the line while their erstwhile number 9 (he’s normally a left winger) played left back and given instructions to crash into full blooded challenges for about 85 of the 90 minutes.You probably want some stats on him, here they are: 5 of 6 tackles, only 2 fouls, a yellow card for dissent, and the bikini stat… he escaped a 2nd yellow for a professional foul on Smith Rowe.
I don’t know if a red card in the 67th minute would have helped Arsenal much as they struggled to create chances. Ramsey led all players with an impressive 98 of 115 pass completion rate and an even more impressive 40/49 passes completed in the final third. Which, when we strip away the upper bikini we can reveal... just one chance created.
Guendouzi didn’t help much here. 4th in the team in passes with 61/70 and 4th in final third passes with 20/26 but not a single chance created: his only real foray forward was in the 93rd minute when he chipped a cross out of play. And he also had the only error in the match, which ended up as a shot for the Portuguese side.
Mkhitaryan was deemed “man of the match” by Whoscored.com and I can see why. He created 2 chances for teammates and he got one of Arsenal’s two shots on target. He also completed 6/6 corners and led Arsenal with 2 of 3 tackles and with 3 interceptions. And on a night when we needed someone to create a moment of magic he may have been a bit unlucky in that both of his crossed passes for shots were misses. One of those crosses was the only Big Chance of the game, for Auba, and as we know, the shot went wide. Mkhitaryan gets a lot of stick (even I joined in today) but as a backup creator for Ozil he’s really not that bad and was probably a bit unlucky not to have created or scored a goal today.
Iwobi had another solid outing. He created three chances (led all players) and two of them were the now “trademark” Emery cross in the box. He was also 2nd on the team in final third passes with 27/33. But he struggled with dribbling going just 1 for 4 and questions will remain over his ability to break down opponents when needed.
The big news of the day was bad: Danny Welbeck suffered another major injury as an Arsenal player. Welbeck has missed 82 games through injury since signing for Arsenal (according to Transfermarkt, who aren’t the most reliable) and looks set for another long spell on the sideline. Welbeck scored the winner in Lisbon in the last match, which looks to be the goal that gets Arsenal through to the next round, and he was Arsenal’s most threatening player in this match. He only got 2 shots in his brief appearance tonight but got Arsenal’s only other shot on target and had a “Ramsey” backheel that he just missed.
It’s all a bit heart-wrenching for the player. Well loved by his teammates by all accounts and playing very well in this match. Moreover, he’s playing for a new contract and he’d just been called up to the national team for the next break, and now this injury.
On the positive side, Arsenal dominated this match defensively. Sporting created just 5 shots with 4 of them outside the 18 yard box and three of those blocked. There weren’t any “beneath the bikini” stats here other than the one where Nani is still a despicable prat. Is that a stat? No. But it is an objective analysis.
Sorry I can’t offer any more insight here:it was a dull match ruined by injury. Regardless of what we think about their tactics, Sporting did exactly what they needed to give themselves a chance to move on to the next round. Ironically, they also gifted Arsenal a round of 32 berth.