Goal-shy Gunners' defensive improvement
There has been an understandable focus on the exit of Robin van Persie at Arsenal. Two games and no goals will do that. Forward signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud have missed the odd chance and the narrative will remain the same for as long as they do so. But amidst it all, there have been signs of improvement in the Gunners defence.
It's easy to conclude this is the influence of Steve Bould, a component in the famous Arsenal back-line of a generation ago and Pat Rice's successor as assistant manager at the Emirates Stadium. Bould would have got a mention whenever Arsenal went on a run of clean sheets. But to do it first up - and away to Stoke of all teams - makes it a factor that's hard to ignore.
After all, there was no change of approach from the Potters. The long throws from Geoff Cameron were invariably hurled in the general direction of Peter Crouch. But Arsenal had changed - and the stats support the notion that they have rarely dealt with Stoke's aerial threat so well. If the Gunners start to fire at the other end then the focus may soon switch to the defensive positives rather than the absence of RVP.
|Stoke shots vs Arsenal in the PL|
|Date||Venue||Shots, on Target||Shots, Total|
The Baines-Bent contrast
Everton produced a battling display to overpower Manchester United in their opening game of the season at Goodison Park. But away to Aston Villa on Saturday, the Toffees showed another side to their game. David Moyes' men kept the ball well and, crucially, succeeded where Villa failed in getting their key player into the match - Leighton Baines was the game's dominant figure while Darren Bent was on the periphery.
Arsene Wenger famously called full-backs the modern-day playmakers and Baines at Everton is a player who has quite literally run with the idea. The England international's raids down the left are key to the team's attacking approach and much of Everton's play goes through him. Not only did Baines create seven chances from open play alone, incredibly, he was involved in all six of the most common passing combinations of the match.
Contrast this with Villa's performance. There has been plenty of optimism around Villa Park that the Scot was riding into town to introduce a passing game but Lambert is far from wedded to that approach. He certainly wasn't afraid to knock the ball long at Norwich last season and it is telling that the player from whom Bent received the ball most frequently was goalkeeper Shay Given. Villa's all-time record signing was an isolated figure throughout and it's an issue Lambert must address.
|Most pass combinations - Aston Villa vs Everton|
|Leighton Baines||Steven Pienaar||18||Ciaran Clark||Barry Bannan||9|
|Leon Osman||Leighton Baines||17||Matthew Lowton||Chris Herd||8|
|Leighton Baines||Leon Osman||16||Barry Bannan||Nathan Baker||8|
|Steven Pienaar||Leighton Baines||15||Nathan Baker||Karim El Ahmadi||7|
|Marouane Fellaini||Leighton Baines||13||Karim El Ahmadi||Nathan Baker||7|
|Leighton Baines||Marouane Fellaini||12||Matthew Lowton||Karim El Ahmadi||7|
Rodgers influence is evident
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is fully committed to possession football. He's well aware it's one of the key reasons he got the job at Anfield so he's been making all the right noises this summer. Joe Cole may not be central to Rodgers' plans but against Toronto in pre-season he could already see the impact the new manager was making. "We passed the ball nicely, there were lots of short passes, and you could see the goalkeepers wanted to get on the ball," said Cole. "Of course it is going to take time but you can see the mind-set changing."
Rodgers realises it will take time but he is unlikely to be swayed from his course. Even after an emphatic 3-0 defeat to West Brom on the opening day, he was adamant he had seen signs of progress. In Liverpool's first home game of the Premier League season - live on Sky - the rest of us got to see it for ourselves. Liverpool passed the ball and kept it impressively. Martin Skrtel's high-profile error will make the highlights packages but the pattern of play told a different tale - with Joe Allen providing control in the centre this Reds team looked stronger for their change of style.
The statistics back it up. Liverpool may have just a point to show from their first two games but Rodgers' biggest challenge this season was to bring about the change in approach he desired. Having been reduced to 10 men in the opening game and facing the champions in the second, Liverpool could be forgiven for showing no signs of progress. But they are there. The team's passing accuracy is up on the previous nine seasons. Rodgers' influence on their style of play has been instant.
|Liverpool passing % by season in PL||Joe Allen with Liverpool in PL|
|Season||Passing Accuracy||Minutes played||180|
|2004/2005||75.8%||Chances created (inc. assists)||1|
|2006/2007||76.2%||Pass completion %||94.7%|
|2007/2008||77.1%||Passes attempted defensive third||20|
|2008/2009||80.9%||Passing accuracy defensive third||95.0%|
|2009/2010||78.8%||Passes attempted middle third||63|
|2010/2011||77.2%||Passing accuracy middle third||98.4%|
|2011/2012||81.0%||Passes attempted final third||31|
|2012/2013||85.0%||Passing accuracy final third||87.1%|