Tag Archives: arsenal

Dribbling v. Carrying the Ball

Andrea Pirlo

I want to give credit to our Head Trainer, Thomas Shenton, who gave me the name for dribbling when you are not necessarily beating an attacker.  Watching the Euros this summer, I couldn’t help but notice Pirlo’s role on the Italian team–he didn’t necessarily beat defenders with the dribble, but he dribbled a lot.  The phrase for how he plays is called “carrying the ball.”  In fact, the Italian team ran their offense through him.  So, if you watched the Italians play, you would see an older, long haired Italian circling around the ball, receiving it, then “carrying” the ball around the field, drawing pressure to him, then distributing.  In the picture to the left, you will notice he is scanning the field with the ball at his feet – a typical Pirlo siting.

For the current Arsenal team, Santi Cazorla is providing a similar service.  It seems, though, that Santi eliminates defenders on the go too (what Opta would consider a “dribble”).  The soccer stat site whoscored.com, as I documented here, is a wonderful site to review statistics for soccer.  I cannot find, however, a stat that measure “carrying” the ball.  So, on whoscored.com, Pirlo is averaging 1.8 dribbles per game.  Given how much he handles the ball in a game, that seems a bit hard to understand.  This season, Santi averages 2.5 dribbles per game.  Another new Arsenal player, Lukas Podolski plays a different style–he “runs at defenders” with the ball.  He is more direct and dribbles forward (primarily).  He is currently averaging 1.5 dribbles per game in the Premier League.

Santi Cazorla

The highest rated “dribbler” for Arsenal currently is Gervinho, at 5 per game.  Walcott is second.  Again, this is not tracking how often he is dribbling, but how often he is dribbling passed a defender.  It is obvious from watching Arsenal that Cazorla has the ball the most.   All stats are taken from the site http://www.whoscored.com/Statistics.

I like all the different styles and am glad to have Podolski on Arsenal because that is something we have lacked (it would be nice to see more long shots too).  If anyone knows a stat that tracks “carrying the ball” or how to use the Opta stats to figure it out, I am interested.  I think “key passes” would be a good indicator for these type players (or passes resulting in scoring chances or even passes resulting in good service).  But, I think it would be interesting if there was a stat that tracked how long a player had the ball during a game (that is what I am looking for and cannot find).  I am sure it is out there.

For example, looking at key passes per game, Santi Cazorla is averaging 4.5 and ranks eight of all players.  Pirlo ranks eleventh with 4 per game.  The top of the list includes these players (some of which I know are not ball “carriers”):


1.  Clement Grenier (CM) – 7/1

2.  Leigthon Baines (LB) – 6.5/1

3.  Adel Taarabt (AM) – 5/2

4.  Antonio Candreva (AM) – 5/1

5.  Hiroshi Kiyotake (M) – 5/2

6.  Wesley Sneijder (AM(C)) – 5/0

7.  Iago Aspas (M) – 4.5/.5

8.  Santi Cazorla (CM/AM) – 4.5/2.5

9.  Aaron Hunt (AM) – 4/3

10.  Andrea Cossu (CAM) – 4/1

11.  Andrea Pirlo (CDM) – 4/2

Stats taken from whoscored.com.  KP = Key passes/game; DRB = dribbles/game.

Interestingly, only one defender makes the list.  I am sure this list will change as the year progresses.

Playing your best passer and ball handler in a position where they will handle the ball more makes sense.  The more this type of player touches the ball, the better your chance that something good will happen.  These types of players tend to include other players and are good passers.  In youth soccer, if I have a player that handles the ball well, has good vision and some tactical awareness, I like to put them in the middle of field where they will involve the other players.  (At the same time, I make everyone play this spot, some just are better at it than others).

Lukas Podolski

While there is definitely value in running at defenders with the ball Podolski-style, carriers of the ball can have great effect in the game by dribbling sideways and backwards, creating space for other players.

Arsenal v. Olympique Marseille Game Review

The Day 3 Champions league match between Arsenal and Olympique Marseille was, for long stretches, sloppy.  Here are some of the links:

Most of the press write up is positive.  Trecker, on Fox, is negative and off-base.  His criticism and praise both seem misplaced.  To his credit, I do think the first half was sloppy for Arsenal as they were not in possession as much as they would have liked — and when they were, they were pushed back.  Arsenal has had a rough go at it since Summer after losing Fabregas and Nasri.  They struggled in early fixtures in the Premier League but are in the process of rebounding.

Wendy and I at Emirates on 9/23/11 (Arsenal v Olympiacos)
In the match yesterday, Jenkinson started at right back in place of injured Sagna.  Santos started at left back in place of injured Gibbs.  Sagna, more seriously hurt, is out for a few months so the right back position is one that needs sorting out.  Gibbs strained a stomach muscle in the last fixture against Sunderland.  

While the Santos transitions evenly for Gibbs, Jenkinson is a major downgrade at right back.  He must be a training monster because his play on the field has been unsteady.  Yesterday, he seemed to only have one thought — sprint with every ball played to him down the right line and cross, no matter the number of defenders in the box (or attackers).  His crosses were ineffectual.  He does add defensive energy, but lacks the tactical understanding of other options with the ball.  When Djourou subbed in, Arsenal upgraded their attack.  In fact, the lone goal was from a cross served with a good angle for which Gervinho played off (accidentally) and Ramsey finished.  Jenkinson would not have been able to play the ball as Djourou did because he would have robbed himself of the angle with the depth of his drive.  Djourou’s timing on the service provided a dangerous angle and options for the Arsenal attack.  

My critique of Jenkinson is that he is too one-dimensional in attack.  As a result, he pulls all of his teammates into his run and reduces the angles for scoring altogether.  It was clear the OM’s defenders knew what he was going to do with the ball too — as they happily accepted service time and again from him.  

I thought Song was great.  He did give up some balls with some poor decisions on angles and passing ideas, but his defensive presence was fantastic as usual.  Van Persie was not much of a factor and went long stretches without the ball.   He seemed frustrated at times (once even throwing up his hands when he was not served the ball while he was in the defensive line).  Truth is, he did not have a great match.  He was caught offsides in key moments and, when he did have the ball late near the top of the box, opted for a desperate shot rather than a more patient attempt.  

The center backs were stout and Koscielny impressive anticipating balls and disrupting passing angles.  Per Mertesacker gets lots of criticism for his lack of speed but I think, but years end, he will have a loyal following.  He has big game experience and has presence on the field.  

I am not sure what to think about Ramsey.  He seems to give the ball up a lot in the middle, but he has a knack for scoring.  He did it again here with a great strike in the 92nd minute.  

Great result away for the Gunners.  Anytime you can get 3 points in a Champions League match away from home is fantastic.