The Ox and the Box
by Omar Hasan Khan, Contributor

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

A name, barring any injury, I searched for every time the starting line-up was announced on match day last season; in the seasons before I would hope he was in the match day squad at least.

He’s the type of player who gets you to sit up or stand up in anticipation whenever he has the ball at his feet.  Will he surge past another full back?  Will he use a bit of footwork to evade another challenge and drive forward?

Last season we saw plenty of what he’s capable of; I don’t think there was a single full back in the league – which he faced – he didn’t skin!  From the team’s perspective, he continuously provided width because he would just hug the touchline most of the time.

However, two points were continuously raised by fans as a form of constructive criticism:

  1. Lack of goals
  2. Lack of end product/assists

Both points are strongly associated with activity in and around the box hence the title of this post; just in case you were wondering!

Coming back, considering Alexis was banging in the goals whilst playing on the left wing, people expected something similar from the youngster operating on the opposite flank.  If not goals, then assists at least!

Fair expectation?  Considering Arsenal teams do tend to have scoring contributions from several players, especially attackers, it would seem so.

What bothered me, though, was the apparent lack of perspective on the Ox’s play.

Sure, on the face of it his stats suggest he needs to improve his finishing and deliver a better final ball; but, is it really that simple?

Before I delve into answering that question, let’s quickly recap what his stats look like.  I have added Alexis’ stats as a comparison because the Chilean operates on the opposite flank and places Ox’s numbers in perspective to an extent.

The Ox’s Stats

As we go through the numbers quickly, keep in mind that the Ox played less than half the minutes that Alexis played – if a linear projection is taken, some stats suggest potentially better performance than the Chilean and in other cases the complete opposite!

Image 1What’s a good number of passes?  I have no clue.  It all depends on the team’s style of play and player’s position/role.  Alexis seemed to be in the thick of things in almost every game so one can assume his number of passes is somewhat decent.  The Ox’s number is actually comparable if one takes a linear projection.  The same goes for the number of key passes.  In other words, both players could be viewed as being relatively influential from the flank.  Yes we already knew that, the stats are simply a validation of that observation.

Along with key passes, pass completion rates are also important and our wingers’ rates aren’t exactly abysmal.  Considering they are more forward/attack minded players, they are bound to take a bit more risk with their passes in attempt to unlock the opposition defense so a completion rate below 90% makes sense.

Considering one of Chambo’s points of criticism was about his final product, I’ll be digging deeper into key passes later on.

Image 2The only stat I’ll briefly touch upon, in relation to this post, will be the Ox’s take-ons.  It’s a very high number and, again, if a linear projection were taken then he’d surpass Alexis.

Anyway, consider the earlier point of Chamberlain hugging the touchline and combine it with the number of successful take-ons, surely he should have more assists?  We’ll see.

Image 3One assist in the league all season.  One goal in the league all season.  No wonder fans have been clamoring about this for a while!  However, his chances created are comparable to Alexis.  On the other hand, compare his shots taken to the number the Chilean took – major difference!  We’ll take a deeper look at this as well.Image 4

Beyond the Numbers and onto the Pitch

So why did the Ox take such a few shots?  Why did he only manage to set up one goal all season?  I believe the answers lie in the aforementioned – him hugging the touchline.

That influences both his number of goals and assists.

How?

If he stays out wide most of the time then most of his chance-creation will be from out wide i.e. crosses.  Most of the time, Giroud or Welbeck were the only men to aim at in the box; no other player usually ventures in when we’re crossing the ball.

So, the Ox is hoping to pick out one man crowded out by the opposition.

The other aspect to be considered is Arsenal’s build-up play; it allows the opposition to track back in most cases.  Combine Arsenal’s one man in the box with the opposition’s tendency to have men behind the ball and your one man is heavily outnumbered.  In fact, even a runner into the box is likely to be blocked off by an opposition player.

What about shots?  Staying out wide naturally limited the number of shots the Ox could take.  However, his accuracy also seems awfully poor.

I decided to take a look at what the Ox does on the pitch in terms of take-ons, chance creation, and shots.  Take a look at them below:

Image 5
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s successful take-ons
Image 6
Areas of the Pitch from where Oxlade-Chamberlain hit a key pass

 

What Do These Patterns Mean?

As you can see, most of his successful take-ons have been out wide on the right, whether from deep or in advanced positions.  The Ox does tend to drift towards the center a little when taking on opposing players; however, those forages don’t necessarily convert into key passes.

If you take a look at his key passes/chance creation pattern; again, most of them are from out wide right.  Some have been from central positions as well; positions Ozil would usually be expected to create from.  What was that stat about Ozil creating an extremely high number of chances last season and Arsenal converting a very small percentage of them?

Exactly.

It’s not entirely Ox’s fault that his number of assists is low.  People may say his final ball needs to be better and that may, to an extent, be true; but, a majority of his final balls have come from wide areas.  To whip in a cross and pick out a sole striker crowded out by the opposition is a tough ask.

Is it is the Ox’s fault that he’s not cutting in like Sanchez does?  Not necessarily.  Sometimes managers have specific instructions for players and I get the feeling that Wenger has instructed the Ox to stay wide as much as possible.

What about lack of goals then?  His accuracy is low; surely he needs to improve his finishing?  Take a look at heat map, of sorts, below:

Image 7
Areas of the pitch from where Oxlade-Chamberlain took shots from

 

A significant portion of the Ox’s shots have been from outside the area from a central position and a few from wide areas.  It’s no surprise that his number of shots, chances created, and successful take-ons in central areas are low in frequency.  It’s also no surprise that he has fewer shots from inside the area, especially centrally.

When the opposition crowds up the central zone in their defensive third, and we have Giroud, Ozil, Santi, Alexis all trying to forge through; adding another body in that tight space doesn’t necessarily help.

The Ox stretches the opposition instead – stretching the opposition will create more space for his teammates to either run into or pass a ball through.

So, if you take this all in context; long distance shots, generally, aren’t on target so it’s no surprise that Chambo’s accuracy numbers are down as well.  Additionally, one-third of the shots recorded on that heat map were blocked by an opposing player; again, crowded central zone of the opposition’s defensive third.

Is There A Way Forward?

There are several ways, in my opinion, the issue of goals and assists can be improved:

  1. Chamberlain starts cutting in more often like Alexis
  2. Arsenal’s midfielders become more aggressive when in the final third
  3. Chamberlain starts making off-the-ball runs into the box

Option 1 can work when the full back is up there supporting the Ox; in fact, either one of the two could cut inside in that scenario.  However, the flip side is that cutting in would also mean the Ox will have to use his left foot – for a pass that might still be feasible, but for a shot it may be less so.

Option 2 is something I’ve wanted to see for a few seasons.  Unless it’s a counter attack, our midfielders are usually reluctant to go near the penalty spot, never mind the six yard box!  They hover around the edge of the box.  Even if the Ox gets to the byline to hit the ball across the six yard box, there’s only one man trying to ward off at least two defenders to get to the ball!

If he cuts the ball further back to one of the midfielders waiting on the edge of the area; the opposition has enough bodies to snuff out the threat of a good shot.

My only guess as to why our players don’t enter the box that often is to be able to retreat quicker in case of a counter attack; further in the box means more yards to recover.

Option 3 is an aspect that the Ox will need to add to his game; at the moment he’s more of an on-the-ball player and considering what he does with the ball, it’s justified.  However, he can learn from Alexis on this front as the Chilean makes it difficult for defenders because he knows how to run into spaces and times his runs well.

If we can get that going from either flank, the Ox will not only improve his and the team’s chances of scoring from the right flank but getting in behind the defense also increases the chances of providing an assist if a team is defending deep – it creates a situation in which the opposition players are scrambling towards their goal i.e. facing their goal hence less reaction time to close down if one our players receives a cross to hit in.

Does the Ox need to improve his finishing?  There are very few instances to actually judge him on this.  Plus, if the goal versus Lyon in the Emirates Cup is anything to go by, he can finish pretty well!

Anyway, this was my take; I hope I added some perspective to the Ox’s play.

If you have any thoughts or comments then do share them, I always reply [hint:  check the ‘notify me of follow-up comments by email’ box to be notified when I reply]. 

Or you can tweet me and we can attempt a discussion limited by 140-character statements!

Note:  Heat maps were created at http://outsideoftheboot.com/tactics-creator/ while statistics were taken from http://www.squawka.com

Omar Hasan Khan is a Contributor for Full90Gooner. Contact him at @omardelkhan7

Advertisements