Premier Analysis: Long-ball Arsenal, efficient Man United & the perfect Swansea player
Once again a meeting between some of the division's European representatives went goaltastic as Arsenal won 5-3 at Chelsea. However, this old-school scoreline doesn't mean shots were raining in from everywhere; indeed, the total number of attempts was 27, below the league average of 29.1 Ã¢ÂÂ only Norwich-Blackburn, Wigan-Fulham and Everton-Man United had fewer shots, while Tottenham-QPR racked up 39.
As the graphic shows, Chelsea shaded the number of attempts and matched the number on target, but Wojciech Szczesny fielded five of the hosts' seven accurate attempts while Petr Cech only saved four of Arsenal's seven. Gervinho's set-up for Robin van Persie's first makes it four times this season that the Ivorian has assisted the Dutchman Ã¢ÂÂ the Premier League's most prolific combination.
Chelsea have been playing a high defensive line this season and Arsenal weren't too purist to exploit it. They frequently attempted to play Theo Walcott in behind Ashley Cole Ã¢ÂÂ a tactic suggested in a Stats Zone blog by Michael Cox on Friday Ã¢ÂÂ and attempted 29 long balls to Chelsea's 25. Arsenal haven't attempted more long balls since the opening day of the season, at Newcastle; indeed in last month's home game against Bolton they only tried eight long balls.
The goalkeepers' passing chart is illuminating. Although not shy about bowling the ball out to full-backs, Szczesny also attempted to stretch Chelsea (and restrict Cole) by playing it long to Walcott Ã¢ÂÂ and although it didn't always work for the young Pole, not a single one of Cech's balls beyond halfway reached its target.
Speaking of goalkeepers, David De Gea kept his place in the Man United team despite last weekend's 6-1 pummelling by Man City Ã¢ÂÂ and rightly so. The young Spaniard is the only goalkeeper this season to have made eight or more saves in a match and retain a clean sheet Ã¢ÂÂ a feat he managed against Tottenham back in August and again this weekend at Everton.
Indeed, every side playing Man United this season in the Premier League has managed at least 13 shots on goal Ã¢ÂÂ a figure the Red Devils have themselves failed to reach on four occasions, including at Goodison this weekend, where they recorded just seven. Their shot-to-goal conversion rate of 23.48% makes them the division's most efficient chance-takers.
Once again at Everton De Gea's impermeability at the other end helped them gain all three points, but it might help if the goalkeeper was more accurate in his distribution - his pass completion of 45% was worse than all bar three Premier League goalkeepers this weekend.
The most pass-happy goalkeeper this weekend was Swansea's Michel Vorm, who against Bolton completed 32 of his 33 passes Ã¢ÂÂ only two of which were long. Vorm completed more passes than any Wanderer except Nigel Reo-Coker as the Jacks' intricate short game passed the visitors to death: Leon Britton completed all 67 of his passes, the highest number of passes with 100% accuracy in the last six seasons.
Not all the promoted teams are as tied to one playing style. Like Norwich, QPR have played a fair amount of possession football while also being happy to hit it long when occasion requires. The passes Heidar Helguson received at Tottenham show this: most are long, with the Icelander dropping onto the left wing at QPR goal-kicks (presumably fancying his chances more against Kyle Walker than centre-backs Younes Kaboul and Ledley King).
Helguson was much less involved after a half-time double substitution changed QPR's set-up. Shaking up his 4-4-1-1, Neil Warnock replaced linkman Adel Taraabt and central midfielder Shaun Derry with Jay Bothroyd and Jamie Mackie. By tapping on each half in the Player Influence screen, which shows each player's average position, we can see that the attacking switch made QPR significantly narrower, with even Shaun Wright-Phillips coming in off the wing into the congested central areas.
It worked: having limped to three shots in the first half, QPR managed 11 after the break Ã¢ÂÂ but only scored one. Meanwhile, Manchester United only managed half of QPR's total and won 1-0 at Everton Ã¢ÂÂ while at Wigan, Fulham didn't complete a cross all day and only had six attempts, but two of them went in and they went home happy. In the end, it all comes down to efficiency: ask Sir Alex.