Arsenal: Headers and long balls

The Times, recently ensconced behind a paywall, has become pretty inaccessible to the vast army of online football fans used to getting their football news for free. Whatever the rights and wrongs of a paywall, it’s a great shame if you ask me, partly because in Oliver Holt and Patrick Barclay they have two correspondents I agree with more often than not, and partly because on a Monday their excellent football pullout – The Game – lasts me through my entire tube journey to work.

This morning, in lieu of Premier League match reports, the pullout was a little looser round the waist, but one thing it did have was a Statistics centre-spread looking at some of the trends of the early stage of this campaign. Being a fan of the stat, it was intriguing. It’s a bit late to pick up a hard copy by now but it might be online if you fancy negotiating Checkpoint Rupert and paying your £1 due.

I don’t imagine that either of their stats I will relay will surprise you. The first is that of the current top four (Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd and Arsenal), we are the weakest in the air. Man City have won 56% of their aerial duels, while we have won only 44%.

Given that we are one of the better short passing teams, and that when in our stride we retain the ball well, it’s easy to see why some teams prefer to take us on in the air than on the ground. It probably explains why Wenger was so keen to play Diaby at Stamford Bridge (where to be fair, he had one of his better games), but I’d be interested to know whether this lack of height is actually affecting our chances overall. Wenger’s argument, I suppose, could be that we create enough chances through playing our passing game than we concede by losing the odd header here and there. I also wonder whether this stat has been skewed by not having Bendtner available, who for all his failings is as tall as a house.

And at the back, it seems to me that we’re not being beaten for height so much as being caught out from time to time by lapses in concentration and positioning.

The other stat I’m plucking out relates to short ball v long ball. In this regard, we have apparently only hit a long ball 6.6% of the time – or about once every fifteen balls. This is the least amount in the league, and compares to 21.7% of the passes made by Blackburn.

Again, not too surprising. We are chokka with nimble technical attacking players – Arshavin, Rosicky, Walcott, Wilshere, Nasri, Vela etc – none of whom I can envisage having circulation problems when they get out of bed in the morning. We do have aerial outlets up front in the form of Chamakh (6′ 2″) and Bendtner (6′ 5″), but the latter has not yet played this season and the former is still bedding in.

Nevertheless, having both fit might enable us to change things around a bit when necessary – for example when chasing a game, if our usual intricate passing game is not making headway.

Right, is Saturday any nearer yet?