Deep line, 2 man midfield leave Spurs too open in defeat to Arsenal

During his spells at both Chelsea and Tottenham, Andre Villas Boas was rather unyielding in his use of a high defensive line despite not having the ideal personnel to suit such a system. In late October 2011, Villas Boas's Chelsea were ripped apart 5-3 by Arsenal as the Gunners were continually able to run onto the ball in space behind Chelsea's high line. Chelsea's center backs that afternoon were Branislav Ivanovic and John Terry, two defenders more comfortable defending deep and dealing with crosses into the box than playing high and making recovery runs when balls are played in behind them.

Early in this season Arsenal again made Villas Boas pay for his stubborn insistence on a high line, this time as Spurs boss, in a 1-0 league win at the Emirates. In that contest Theo Walcott tucked in to a narrow position from the right and continually ran in behind the high line of Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson. The high line was once again at least partly at fault for the heavy winter defeats to Manchester City (6-0) and Liverpool (5-0) that would ultimately cost Villas Boas his job.

It comes as little surprise then that Villas Boas's replacement Tim Sherwood has adopted a deeper defensive line to keep the opposition from getting in behind his back four, a strategy he stuck with in Saturday's FA Cup tie with Arsenal. Spurs captain and center back Michael Dawson is particularly ill-suited to play a high line and with Theo Walcott employed as the striker for the Gunners, a deeper line meant fewer opportunities for Arsenal's pacey England international to get on the end of through balls and run at Hugo Lloris 1 v 1.

While the deeper positioning may have mitigated the danger behind Spurs back four, it left far too much space between the midfield and defensive lines for Arsenal to exploit. These large gaps between defense and midfield could have been at least partly remedied while still sticking with a deep defensive line in one of two ways: Sherwood could have opted away from the 4-4-2 he's gone with since taking over and pulled a striker in place of a third center midfielder or, having decided to use a 4-4-2, he could have gone with a positionally disciplined, physical holding midfielder. With Sandro unavailable the obvious choice was Etienne Capoue.

As it turned out Sherwood went with Nabil Bentaleb and Moussa Dembele. Both players shuttled high up the pitch when Spurs were in possession, leaving large gaps between themselves and their center backs. Without a third center midfielder to plug the space by sitting deeper in front of the back four, Arsenal were able to quickly transition on the break into the huge amounts of space behind Bentaleb and Dembele and run at center backs Dawson and Chiriches.

Whether you play a high line or a deep one it's crucial that your defensive shape is compact and you leave minimal space between the lines. If Spurs were going to play a deeper line, their central midfielders needed to play deeper as well. This is particularly important against a team like Arsenal who boast a wealth of players skilled at playing in pockets of space between the lines. In this contest Tomas Rosicky, playing the #10 role, and Santi Cazorla and Serge Gnabry, tucking inside from the channels, were all able to collect the ball in space behind the Tottenham midfielders.

The two screen shots below show the buildup to Cazorla's opener. The first image shows the gap between Bentaleb, Spurs deeper center midfielder, and the center backs just prior to Bacary Sagna's simple penetrating ball into Gnabry in space between the lines (the ball is at Sagna's feet in the image who is hidden behind the Macclesfield v. Sheffield Wednesday score). Keep in mind Arsenal are not quickly countering here with Spurs racing to get back- they've had the ball for 8 seconds at this point, giving Bentaleb and Dembele time to get closer to their center backs.

This next image shows Gnabry receiving Sagna's pass. Gnabry is able to comfortably receive the ball in the vast space between Tottenham's defense and midfield while Bentaleb is completely taken out of the play with the Sagna's pass. Gnabry sprints inside forcing both Chiriches and Dawson to step and lays a pass wide to the left for Cazorla to finish. Had Spurs been more compact with a holding midfielder in front of the center backs, that holding midfielder could have stepped to Gnabry, allowing Dawson to check Cazorla's run inside.

The opening goal wasn't an isolated incident of Spurs leaving too much space in front of the back four. Prior to that Rosicky twice found himself in space behind the Spurs midfield and played penetrating passes into Walcott to set up dangerous opportunities. Chiriches made a last ditch block on the first one and Lloris stood his ground well at the front post on the second but Tottenham's weakness was obvious (you can see both chances in the highlights below).

The screen shot below shows another example. The gap here between Chiriches-Dawson and Dembele-Bentaleb is startling. Both Wilshere and Rosicky are in dangerous positions to receive the ball between the lines and cause the center backs problems. On this occasion Wilshere took a poor first touch and conceded possession but the goal would come shortly after.

Playing 4-4-2 against Arsenal is always going to be a substantial risk. Arsene Wenger's side are quite good at tucking their wide attacking midfielders inside and overwhelming the opposition in central areas. With Arsenal playing a 4-2-3-1 in this game and Cazorla often coming inside from the left, Arsenal at times had a 4 v. 2 advantage in the middle of midfield. If 4-4-2 was likely to work for Spurs, Sherwood needed his side to defend in tight, compact banks of four with one of either Soldado or Adebayor dropping in to put pressure on Arsenal's double pivot midfielders Wilshere and Mikel Arteta. As it played out, it was often Dembele and Bentaleb pressing Arsenal's two deep midfielders high in midfield, leaving space behind for the likes of Rosicky, Cazorla and Gnabry.

Many had questioned Sherwood's tactical acumen when he was appointed Spurs manager for the season. The sound defeat Saturday and his denial afterwards that his side were overwhelmed in midfield, or that they were even using a 4-4-2, will do little to quell those opinions.

Spurs win but 4-3-3 shape leaves Soldado isolated

For the second consecutive weekend Tottenham have emerged 1-0 winners thanks to a Roberto Soldado penalty. The penalty decision looked fortuitous- Andros Townsend appeared to dive rather than being clipped by Swansea's Jonjo Shelvey. However, Shelvey was fortunate not to have conceded a penalty earlier when he clipped Townsend near the edge of the penalty area. Replays showed Townsend was in the box when he'd been fouled but referee Neil Swarbrick gave a free kick just outside the area. Overall Spurs were much the better side and just about deserved the three points.

One concern for Andre Villas Boas however will be his side's inability to get the ball to their record signing Soldado. The Spanish striker received only 13 passes in the entire match, none of which were inside the box. His only shot attempt on the afternoon was the penalty he tucked home.

Soldado is excellent at holding onto the ball and bringing his midfielders into the game, however he is not the type of striker that is going to receive the ball 25 yards from goal, turn and run at center backs to create goals. Rather he's a lethal finisher in the box. Of his 24 goals last season for Valencia all were scored inside the penalty box. Seventeen were one touch goals and and five were penalties. In other words, 89% of his goals that were scored in the run of play were one touch goals in the box (you can see all his goals from last season in the video below). A potent penalty box striker obviously needs to be receiving the ball around the goal which is why the 0 passes received in the penalty area will be a concern for Villas Boas.

A big reason Soldado didn't get touches in the penalty area today is that Villas Boas played a 4-3-3 as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 he used in the opener at Crystal Palace when Soldado received 32 passes, 6 of which were in the box and had 4 shots. You can see a comparison of the passes Soldado received today's Swansea game versus last weekend's Crystal Palace game below.

The 4-2-3-1 meant Soldado had Gylfi Sigurdsson playing just off of him in the attacking midfield role. The presence of the central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 does two things for the striker- he provides a link between the deeper lying midfielders and the striker so that the striker isn't isolated alone up top and he also gives the central defenders an extra man to worry about so they can't simply double team the striker.

Spurs 4-2-3-1 shape versus Crystal Palace

A 4-3-3 formation lacks that center attacking midfielder and instead uses one holding midfielder that sits deep just in front of the back four and two box-to-box shuttlers in front of him on either side. Today, Capoue played the holding midfield role with Paulinho and Dembele as the shuttlers. There was no attacking midfielder in the hole playing just off Soldado so Swansea's center backs were able concentrate solely on Soldado without worrying about being dragged out of position by the runs of an attacking midfielder. Spurs midfield three was physically much stronger and more powerful than Swansea's so they bossed the game in the center of midfield. However the absence of a #10 meant they struggled to find someone to link play with Soldado further up the pitch and he cut an isolated figure up top. Instead they looked to get the ball wide to the right and advance forward with Townsed and the overlapping Kyle Walker. Townsend was by far Spurs most dangerous player but Villas Boas would almost certainly prefer more chances falling to his £26 million pound #9 than from Townsend cutting in from the right. 

Are Wenger's tactics to blame for poor Arsenal showing against top 5 opposition?

The two tables below show how last season’s top five Premier League teams fared against one another and how they fared against the other 15 teams.

Despite amassing fewer points against top five opposition than Manchester City or Chelsea, Manchester United cruised to the title 11 points clear of their nearest competitor thanks to consistent form against the bottom 15 teams. Likewise, Arsenal managed just one win over top five opposition, amassing 6 points fewer than Spurs, yet were able edge their North London rivals to the final Champions League spot because of their ability to beat teams they were expected to beat. In fact, only United had a better record against teams outside the top 5.

Arsenal’s failure to collect points against top sides is interesting. A critique of Arsene Wenger is that he plays the same style against every opponent and doesn’t alter tactics based on the opposition (this isn’t entirely fair but Wenger pays far less attention to tactics than Rafa Benitez at Chelsea, AVB at Spurs, Sir Alex at Man United and Roberto Mancini at City did). Arsenal’s strong record against weaker opponents and poor record against top five opponents suggests they’re able to win games when they have superior talent but struggle when the opposition is equally gifted or better. Tactics employed are often the difference when top sides with similar levels of talent match up with one another so Wenger’s less than fastidious approach to preparing for the unique strengths of each individual opponent could be costing Arsenal valuable points. Wenger is undoubtedly a great man manager and one of the best developers of players the game has known but it would be interesting to see how Arsenal would fare for a season with a more astute tactician in charge (Wenger’s transfer dealings are a subject for another blog post).  

Premier League predictions: Chelsea champions; Spurs to pip Arsenal for 4th

Predicting the top five finishers in the 2013-2014 edition of the Barclay's Premier League...

1.     Chelsea
Like both Manchester clubs, Chelsea will enter the 2013-2014 Premier League season with a new manager. Unlike at United and City, the new manager is also the old manager and is immensely popular at the club. Mourinho’s incredible achievements in his first spell as Chelsea boss mean he’ll be looked at with less skepticism from the supporters and media than either David Moyes or Manuel Pelligrini and should therefore allow the squad to go about their business with minimal distraction. For the first time since the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti, there’s been a sense of calm confidence surrounding the club in the buildup to the campaign. While I believe Manchester City’s summer transfers have given them the most talented squad, I expect it to take them some time to get used to playing with one another and to adjust to Pellegrini. Likewise there will be a learning curve for Pellegrini in his first season in England. Chelsea’s first 11 will look similar to last season so they should already have a decent chemistry that should translate to a fast start. New signings Marco van Ginkel and Andre Schurrle, along with Kevin De Bruyne, Michael Essien and Romelu Lukaku returning from loan will make Chelsea a deeper side and provide Mourinho the squad rotation options to navigate a busy fixture list. If Chelsea fail to pry Wayne Rooney away from Moyes at United, the striker position could still be a question mark. Lukaku was fantastic in his loan spell at West Brom last season but I’m still not certain he’s ready to be the main option up front for an entire season while Demba Ba and Fernando Torres failed to impress in 2012-2013.

2.     Manchester City
New signings Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic will give City a new look this season as all four are expected to receive significant minutes. Jovetic and Negredo have been brought in to provide goals for a City team that managed just 66 last season, tied with Tottenham for fewest among top 6 teams and 20 less than their Manchester rivals. Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko will provide competition for what will likely be two forward starting spots. Finding the best partnership will be an important early task for Pellegrini. For me Fernandinho and Navas are the more important of the two signings. Navas represents a significant improvement over James Milner and the inconsistent Samir Nasri down the right hand side. Fernandinho impressed with Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League season and is an improvement on Gareth Barry. Like Toure he is mobile and enjoys breaking through the midfield with the dribble. One concern though is that a Toure-Fernandinho pairing could become too fluid if both advance forward and fail to protect the back four from counters. City’s league position will likely depend on how quick of a start they get off to. If they stumble early as they adjust to new players and a new manager the gap may well become too big for them to bridge in the second half of the season. If they get off to a flying start they certainly have the talent and depth to win the title.

3.     Manchester United
Managing the weight of expectations that comes from replacing arguably football’s greatest ever manager after 26 successful years is not an enviable task, even if it means the opportunity to coach a club with the history, support and resources of Manchester United. How quickly Moyes manages that pressure and convinces supporters he’s up to the task will go a long way in determining the near future for United. So far he’s had a difficult time navigating the transfer market as United have failed to land targets Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines from Moyes old side Everton. It is the failure to land Alcantara and Fabregas that will hurt United the most. Although I rate Shinji Kagawa highly and Michael Carrick is consistently solid, I don’t think Anderson or Tom Cleverley are good enough and feel United have a weaker midfield than Chelsea and City. Moyes inexperience chasing trophies and lack of squad depth relative to their closest competitors mean United finish outside the top two for the first time since 2004-2005.

4.     Tottenham
For a couple of years now folks have been predicting Spurs will pip Arsenal yet it hasn’t happened. But with Spurs making some excellent summer signings in midfielders Paulinho and Ettiene Capoue, winger Nacer Chadli and forward Roberto Soldado, and Arsenal failing to secure a major signing, Spurs are in a better position to make that happen than last year even if Gareth Bale makes a big money move to Real Madrid. Between Paulinho, Chapoue, Moussa Dembmele, Sandro, Lewis Holtby, Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker, Tottenham have tremendous depth in the middle of the park and Soldado will provide more ruthless finishing in the box than Jermaine Defoe or Emanuel Adebayor managed last season. They could lack depth at the back however. With the excellent Jan Vertonghen set to miss Spurs opening fixture at Crystal Palace, Younes Kaboul will likely get his first start in almost a year. A lengthy injury to Michael Dawson or Vertonghen could see Spurs Champions League aspirations thrown off course.

5.     Arsenal
Having gotten some 60-70 players off their books this closed season and signed just one, Arsenal’s squad is looking a little thin to start the season. Injuries to Abou Diaby, Tomas Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal have compounded that problem while it also looks like Mikel Arteta is set to miss the opener Saturday to Villa with an injury. Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud struggled to have a big impact in their first season at the Emirates.* While only Manchester United and Chelsea scored more goals than Arsenal last season, the Gunners scored fewer goals against top five opposition than City, United, Chelsea and Spurs. More importantly, their results were poor against top five opposition where they managed just 5 points in eight matches. By contrast, Spurs finished with 11, United with 12, and Chelsea and City both with 14. Having only added 20 year-old Yaya Sanogo this closed season- a player unlikely to feature much anytime soon- it’s difficult to see how Arsenal will avoid a further dip this time around.


Dempsey not suited for center attacking midfield role in Spurs' 4-2-3-1

In the lead up to tomorrow's crucial North London derby, Andre Villas-Boas will certainly be concerned about his side's recent inability to effectively transition the ball forward through the middle of the pitch since the injury to Moussa Dembele.

In their last two league games Spurs were blanked at home to Wigan, a team with the fourth worst defensive record in the league, and only managed to score on a set piece header in the 2-1 loss to Manchester City, a game in which they had only two shots on target. Dembele operates as one of the two holding midfielder's in Spurs' 4-2-3-1 and has the ability to advance the ball from defense to attack with his powerful vertical dribbling.

Dembele's bursts are so important for Tottenham because, unlike their rivals for Champions League spots, they don't have an attacking midfielder/withdrawn forward gifted at playing just off the striker and linking play between deep lying midfielders and forwards down the middle. In Spurs' current 4-2-3-1, both Tom Huddlestone and Sandro stay relatively deep in their holding roles. Therefore it's crucial the central player in the attacking midfield three finds space to get on the ball in attacking positions and has the technical ability and creativity to find forward passes that dissect the defense.

Spurs have played Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey in this central playmaker role but neither have performed it particularly well. Sigurdsson has struggled to have the impact he did at Swansea last season while Dempsey isn't suited for this role. He's a fine athlete and a good finisher with a knack for popping up in the right position to score goals. He is not however an especially technical player nor does he have the passing ability and vision to pick apart a defense with one clever ball.

The lack of an effective center attacking midfielder means Spurs best method of advancing the ball forward has been down the wings with Aaron Lennon and Garreth Bale. They'd of course frequently utilize the incredible pace of Lennon and Bale even if they had a strong central attacking midfielder but the problem is that these two are most effective on the counter when they have space to run at defenders. When the opposition gets their midfield behind the ball it's more difficult for them to use their pace to run by defenders. This is when it becomes important to have an attacking midfielder that can find seams between opposition center backs and holding midfielders in middle of the pitch to get on the ball and create.

Villas-Boas has used Dempsey as the center attacking midfielder in the defeats to Wigan and Manchester City. Last weekend at the Etihad he completed only 8 passes in the attacking third. He completed just 4 passes in the final third the weekend before against Wigan- an astonishingly low number for an attacking midfielder.

Without a player adequately linking midfield to attack Spurs have been forced to skip over the midfield and play hopeful longballs out of the back to advance the ball into the attacking third. They completed just 47 of 99 attempted passes into the final third against Manchester City, a truly abysmal conversion rate. A large portion of those failed passes were hopeful longballs launched towards the box. The attempted longballs can be explained in part by the fact the taller Adebayor had been given the start at striker over Jermaine Defoe but Dempsey's failure to find space to get in possession was also largely to blame.

Spurs' inability to get the ball to their striker in dangerous goalscoring positions is evidenced by the locations on the field Adebayor received the ball last weekend. Of the 31 times he received the ball, only one of those was inside the box and several were near midfield or in Tottenham's defensive half. Defoe was given the start the previous weekend against Wigan. He only received the ball 7 times in the 58 minutes he was on before being subbed, none of which were in the box. In order to score goals your striker needs to receive the ball near the penalty area. Much of that responsibility falls on the central attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 and at the moment Sigurdsson and particularly Dempsey are not getting the job done.

Obviously there will be other key factors in tomorrow's North London derby, particularly the poor recent defensive record of both teams. After keeping clean sheets in each of their first 3 games, Arsenal have managed just one in their last 14. They've conceded more goals in the last 4 games than they had the first 13. Spurs meanwhile have just one clean sheet in the league this season. However, all of the leagues top sides have had their defensive struggles this season including both Manchester clubs and Chelsea. One of the major factors that currently separates these sides from Tottenham is that they all have very gifted players to play off of the forward and create goalscoring chances-Cazorla at Arsenal; Fellaini at Everton; Kagawa and Rooney at Manchester United; Harzard, Mata and Oscar at Chelsea, Silva and Aguero at Manchester City. Over the course of the season Spurs lack of a central attacking midfielder may well prevent them from securing Champions League qualification.

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur, second half

Tottenham dominated most of the first half, and they continued to control the game in the opening period of the second half. Unfortunately for Spurs, Ashley Young scored goals in the 60th and 69th minutes against the run of play to give Manchester United a 3-0 lead. Young's first goal was a difficult volley into the far, lower corner. For his second goal, he received the ball from Evra with plenty of time to turn, took two touches, and then beautifully curled the ball into the far, upper corner of the goal. As nice a finish as the second goal was, Younès Kaboul stepped back rather than closing down Young, leaving Young a massive amount of space. Both goals were well taken, but very much against the run of play. The passing visualization below shows each team's passing in their attacking third from half time through the 69th minute (when Young scored United's third goal). Tottenham clearly continued to dominate in that opening period of the second half even as Manchester United scored their second and third goals.


After the third goal, United were content to pass the ball around their defensive third and the middle third of the field, and Tottenham--deflated from conceding 3 goals during a long spell in which they dominated--were content to let United pass the ball around. Jermaine Defoe scored a consolation goal in the 87th minute after a United defensive lapse, but it was of little consolation to Tottenham supporters. As the passing visualization below shows, United completed 148 total passes to Tottenham's 80 passes from the 70th minute (just after United's third goal) through the final whistle.


In the end, much like Arsenal vs. Liverpool, the team that took their chances secured 3 points, while the team that dominated the run of play left the match with nothing. The visualization below shows that United scored 3 goals from their 6 attempts, while Spurs managed only 1 goal from their 18 attempts.


Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur, first half

Manchester United lead 1-0 on a Wayne Rooney goal headed from a corner just before the end of the half. Tottenham fans undoubtedly think that United are undeserving of a lead, especially after Adebayor's goal was called back for a hand ball. It was a very difficult decision for Martin Atkinson, as the ball clearly hit off Adebayor's arm (after deflecting off his stomach), but there didn't appear to be intent nor an advantage gained (the ball would have fell to Adebayor even if it hadn't hit his arm). Even so, Tottenham were the better side in the first half, as the figures below of passing in the attacking third indicate. The first 15 minutes of the half were relatively even, but Spurs dominated the remaining two-thirds of the first half.



More on net passing

Last week I discussed how we should interpret the net passing statistic and whether it's related to a team's performance. In that post, I analyzed the points per game earned by each of the big six clubs within various levels of net passing. Points per game is an important performance metric, as points ultimately determine each team's place in the table. In addition to points per game, another useful performance metric is goal difference. One advantage of goal difference is that it is more fine-grained than points per game. Whether a team wins 1-0 or 7-0 they still earn three points. Goal difference, however, allows for variation within wins and losses. The continuous nature of goal difference also lends itself to statistical analysis.

The figures below plot net passing against goal difference for each of the members of the big six (the bivariate regression is estimated using OLS). For clubs that rely on passing and possession to build goals, we would expect a positive relationship between net passing and goal difference. In other words, we would expect that as a team completes more and more passes than an opponent, the team's goal difference increases. For teams that rely more on a counter-attacking style of play, we would not expect a discernible relationship between net passing and goal difference.

(Click to enlarge)

For Manchester City and Liverpool, net passing explains less than 1 percent of the variation in goal difference (R2=0.005 and R2=0.002, respectively). Net passing explains about 5 percent of the variation in goal difference for Manchester United and Chelsea (R2=0.048 and R2=0.054, respectively). For the North London clubs, however, net passing explains considerably more of the variation in goal difference. Remarkably, about 35 percent of the variation in Tottenham's goal difference is explained by net passing  (R2=0.345), and nearly 40 percent of the variation in Arsenal's goal difference is explained by net passing  (R2=0.396). Not surprisingly, the coefficient on net passing is statistically significant only in the Arsenal and Tottenham models (p<0.01). For Arsenal, each additional 100 passes completed more than the opposing team is associated with nearly a 1 goal increase in goal difference. An increase of the same size in net passing for Tottenham is associated with a 0.6 goal increase in goal difference.

In sum, there is a strong relationship between net passing and goal difference for Arsenal and Tottenham, a weak relationship for Manchester United and Chelsea, and no apparent relationship for Manchester City and Liverpool.

Interpreting the net passing statistic

I use a statistic that I refer to as "net passing" quite often in my analysis on this blog. Net passing is simply the number of passes completed by a team net of the number of passes completed by their opponent. The purpose of such a statistic is to provide a simple description of one aspect of the game: passing. Depending on a team's style of play and tactical approach, net passing may or may not be predictive of actual match outcomes. For example, some teams depend on possession and passing to break down an opposing team's defense. On the other hand, some teams play deeper and generate scoring opportunities on the counter attack. Playing on the counter attack requires much fewer passes, and consequently, net passing is probably not very predictive of performance for these teams. The figures below show the average points per game for each of the big six clubs by the level of net passing (as of game week 23).

(Click on figures to enlarge)

The light blue bars in the figures above indicate that the points per game statistic is based on only one or two games. As a result of such a small sample, these statistics are not very reliable. Manchester City have a high points per game irrespective of their net passing. Somewhat surprisingly, they have not dropped any points in games in which their opponents have out-passed them, and they have collected the fewest points per game from games in which they completed at least 301 more passes than opposing teams. Manchester United have collected on average only 1.33 points per game from those in which they were out-passed, while they have been markedly more effective in games in which they have a positive value for net passing. Remarkably, they have out-passed opponents by a margin greater than 200 passes on only two occasions. Tottenham also have a much higher points per game when they out-pass opponents, and the pattern appears more pronounced than that of Manchester United. Chelsea have averaged a respectable 1.6 points per game in games in which they were out-passed or completed 100 or fewer passes more than opposing teams. The incredibly low 0.25 points per game for the net passing category of 101-200 serves as an important reminder that statistics can yield strange results, especially when estimated from small sample sizes. Net passing seems to be quite predictive of Arsenal's performance, which is perhaps not surprising given Arsenal's style of play. Finally, there is little variation in points per game across net passing levels for Liverpool (ignoring the >300 category, which is based on only two games).