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@theweekend: Oxlade-Chamberlain, a look at Norwich, Sigurðsson & Man City-Fulham

February 7, 2012

Our weekly dose of chalkboard analysis from the Premier League at the weekend…

Arsenal 7-1 Blackburn : Oxlade-Chamberlain Shines; Walcott Improves…

Alas we begin our analysis at the Emirates where Dutch talisman Robin van Versie grabbed the headlines with a hat-trick (again) and a pair of assists in Arsenal’s seven-goal demolition of Blackburn. It was a day to forget for visiting goalkeeper Paul Robinson, who made just one save from Arsenal’s eight on-target attempts, although this was perhaps unsurprising given that Robinson has conceded more Premier League goals against the Gunners than any other ‘keeper in PL history. In fairness to Robinson, he could have done with better protection by his players, not least for Arsenal’s second goal – a delightful back-to-front ten-pass move that involved ten different Arsenal players and a number of all-too-easily bypassed Blackburn shirts…

He [Oxlade-Chamberlain] is a fantastic player already; he’s only 18 and is so young. He’s good on the ball – he has everything. He’s quick, he has movement, technique, can score a goal or give an assist. He has a great future. But don’t put too much pressure on him.

– Arsenal’s Robin van Persie puts pressure on AOC (via arsenal.com)

Gunners youngster Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain once again sparkled down the left flank with his direct running and general trickery, accumulating five succesful take-ons from seven attempts as he regularly threatened the Blackburn defence en route to being voted man of the match by his own fans. Chamberlain also contributed a goal in each half to offer further hope to Arsenal and England fans that he has the end product to complement his attacking instincts – something Theo Walcott has failed to deliver on a consistent basis. Walcott, perhaps rightly feeling under threat by Arsenal’s new starlet, appeared to up his game somewhat on Saturday, delivering three assists after a six-game barren spell, although it is also worth noting that there were a further nine passes/crosses into or across the Blackburn area from Walcott that failed to find an Arsenal shirt – still room for Theo to improve it seems. Regardless of Walcott’s career development, the star is currently burning bright for Oxlade-Chamberlain, even if manager Arsène Wenger is right to caution against over-playing the youngster in his breakthrough season…

Although Arsenal’s overall dominance and eventual victory was not ultimately surprising (especially so after Gaël Givet’s 43rd-minute dismissal), it was not expected that they should dominate the aerial arena against Blackburn at the weekend. The Gunners won thirteen of the eighteen aerial challenges (72%, Blackburn 28%), with Laurent Koscielny the most prolific header-winning player on the pitch (four). Constrastingly, Blackburn striker Anthony Modeste – a January loan-signing – seemed unsuited to his team’s understandably more direct approach, losing eight of his nine contested aerial challenges over the ninety minutes. Yakubu’s physicality (and goals!) will be welcomed when he returns from his three-game suspension for Blackburn’s next match – the vital-looking clash with fellow strugglers QPR…

Norwich 2-0 Bolton : Naughton, Hoolahan & Surman Blossom as Coyle’s Knight-mare Continues…

I thought that was an unbelievable display and we were terrific right from the start. […] It was scintillating the way we played at certain times.

– Norwich manager, Paul Lambert (via canaries.co.uk)

Central to Norwich’s two-goal victory over Bolton at the weekend was the defensive performance of Tottenham loanee Kyle Naughton. The young right-back – who shifted to centre-half on 40′ – made an impressive thirteen clearances (nine from Norwich’s area) over the ninety minutes as he repeatedly dealt with Bolton’s offensive endeavours. It was an impressive overall team performance in defence by the hosts however, restricting the visitors to just two non-blocked shots (one on target) from inside their area in the entire game. Indeed, the Trotters did not test John Ruddy until the 56th-minute when the Canaries ‘keeper smartly denied David N’Gog (#24), and the closest Owen Coyle’s team were to come to scoring was Martin Petrov’s 92nd-minute post-hit when the game was all-but lost…

Further forward, Norwich midfielders Andrew Surman and Wes Hoolahan were in fine form with energetic displays that combined efficient passing with well-timed runs. Hoolahan finished with an overall passing accuracy of 90% (52/58), figures which included an impressive eight successful passes into the Bolton area from ten attempted. An ability to pick apart defences is invaluable in the Premier League, and it would not be a surprise if Hoolahan were to create further goalscoring opportunities for teammates as the season continues. Surman, meanwhile, continues to get himself into goalscoring positions from midfield and enjoyed five attempts at Adam Bogdan’s goal on Saturday. Although his finishing could improve (three were off-target), he was rewarded for his energetic display with the opening goal, and it would not be a surprise to see more goals next to his name in coming weeks if such performances are replicated…

The level of today’s performance didn’t match the standard and quality that we know we are capable of.

– Bolton manager, Owen Coyle (via bwfc.co.uk)

For the visitors however, Martin Petrov appeared to be the only Bolton player capable of engineering himself either enough time or space to get a shot away, with the Bulgarian string-puller responsible for five of the Trotters’ thirteen attempts at Carrow Road. The problems for Owen Coyle’s struggling side run right through the team – not just seemingly bereft of confidence, but regularly hampered by inconvenient issues such as (amongst others) Zat Knight’s inaccurate passing. The twice-internationally-capped central defender misplaced almost as many passes as he completed, finishing with a lowly 55% completion rate (16/29) and a chalkboard riddled with long red arrows – indicating either an inability or unwillingness to pass the ball short (or both!), or, perhaps more worryingly for Bolton, a lack of effective movement ahead of Knight to give him viable closer – and therefore theoretically safer – passing options. Better ball-retention at the back would certainly give Bolton a better chance of securing a few vital extra points that could be the difference between survival and relegation this season…

WBA 1-2 Swansea : Gifted Gylfi Sees Swans Past Woy’s Wasteful Baggies…

The ball bounced around and there were chances but we didn’t take them.

– West Brom manager, Roy Hodgson (via wba.co.uk)

Ignoring the potential for a draw, something had to give – either West Brom’s poor home form or Swansea’s mediocre record on the road. So, kudos to the Swans for pinching this one, although Roy Hodgson’s side will be kicking themselves [or maybe Woy’ll be kicking them, given their home form] for not taking their many chances when they had them. Only one goal arrived from West Brom’s twenty-one shots, fourteen of which came inside Swansea’s area, with Marc-Antoine Fortuné (#32) undoubtedly the biggest culprit for the Baggies’ prolifigacy – being unsuccessful with six of seven shots at Michel Vorm’s goal. The Swans, by contrast, mustered just two efforts on target all game (there were seven further blocked shots, and seven off-target) and duly scored two goals as they won on the road for just the second time this season…

Gylfi [Sigurðsson] is a wonderful talent. I’ve kept in contact with him ever since he played under me at Reading and I knew this would be a terrific club for him and he has fitted in perfectly.

– Swansea manager, Brendan Rodgers (via swanseacity.net)

That Swansea were able to win had a lot to do with an eye-catching display from January loan signing Gylfi Sigurðsson. The Icelandic international flits around in an advanced midfield position, allowing the deeper-lying midfield duo of Leon Britton and Joe Allen to take care of Swansea’s tiki-taka approach (combined v WBA, the duo* completed 143/160 passes at an accuracy of 89%). Britton and Allen’s ball retention naturally eventually draws markers and challenges, with Sigurðsson consequently benefitting from an extra yard of space when receiving the ball in midfield. As his passing chalkboard [below left] clearly shows, Sigurðsson almost exclusively seeks to spread the ball wide in order to further stretch opposition defences, which can be especially beneficial away from home when the host’s defence is usually higher up the pitch. Then, when in the vicinity of the opposition’s area, Sigurðsson possesses the sureness of touch and clarity of thought to seek the final pass (or cross) or get an attempt in on goal. The Baggies bore the brunt of his game in the second half on Saturday, with Sigurðsson sending a number of balls into West Brom’s area including the assist for Danny Graham’s winning goal, as well as popping off five attempts [below top-right] on Ben Foster’s goal, notably including Swansea’s equalising goal. Sigurðsson looks one to watch over the coming months…

*Joe Allen also won an impressive eight of ten attempted ground tackles [see below, bottom-right] against the Baggies on Saturday.

Man City 3-0 Fulham : Whites Edge Statistics But City Get The Goals…

That Manchester City won 3-0 at home is no surprise. That Fulham lost on the road will come, again, as no surprise. That Fulham attempted more passes, completed more passes, had as many shots, made more tackles, completed tackles at a higher % success rate, and generally bested City in the statistics department (despite their atrocious away record and City’s daunting home record) will almost undoubtedly have come as a surprise to all. However, the one stat which matters most – goals scored – resulted in the following: Man City 3, Fulham 0. And that’s all that counts really…

The Cottagers will count themselves unfortunate though – Adam Johnson’s theatrics resulted in a generous penalty for City’s opener, and ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer could do little about Chris Baird’s own goal which gave the league-leaders breathing space on the half hour, before some wonderful footwork from Sergio Agüero set up Edin Džeko for the 78th-minute game-sealing goal. There were minor sources of consolation for the visitors however: Danny Murphy was the game’s most prolific passer with 75/85 passes (88%), Dickson Etuhu emerged with a 96% pass completion rate (43/45) for his hour’s work, and the returned-from-injury Moussa Dembélé showed the sparky man-beating ability (won four of six take-ons) that has excited Fulham fans over the last eighteen months…

If the Whites can add more end product to such a performance then there is no reason why they cannot push on into the top half of the table, but for now the same issues remain. Inverted wingers (this time Simon Davies and Damien Duff) leave Martin Jol’s team struggling for width, especially with the right-footed Chris Baird at left-back as he was on Saturday – Fulham consequently attempted just twelve crosses at the Etihad, all of which were unsuccessful [below left]. The (current) lack of an effective front-man to suit Jol’s system leaves them short of goal threat – despite Clint Dempsey’s best efforts as a make-shift striker on Saturday (and his recent impressive goal-getting form), he is more effective at ghosting into the box from advanced midfield than at leading the line, as his shooting chalkboard [below left] would suggest…

For City meanwhile, Samir Nasri was the epitome of efficiency prior to his 55th-minute injury-induced substitution – the Frenchman completed 46 of 47 passes (98% accuracy!) during his time on the pitch. Furthermore, young centre-half Stefan Savić appears to have worked on the aerial part of the game following the goal-conceding blunder against Spurs the other week – the 21-year-old Montenegrin won all five of his contested aerial challenges against Fulham at the weekend…

Edin Džeko benefited from Mario Balotelli’s suspension-induced absence at the weekend, with the Bosnian striker enjoying the excellent service afforded to him by David Silva, Agüero, Nasri & co. and scoring with the last of his four attempts on Fulham’s goal. Micah Richards, however, was unusually subdued as far as offensive matters go – the oft-marauding right-back made just two successful passes (and three further unsuccessful ones) in Fulham’s final third on Saturday. Perhaps Richards is missing the energy Yaya Touré brings to the right-central side of City’s midfield…

MORE CHALKBOARD ANALYSIS TO FOLLOW…

Visit guardian.co.uk/football/chalkboards to make your own chalkboards

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