Arsenal fans know the drill on substitutions:the first one between 67 and 70 minutes and not a minute earlier. That’s the Wenger way. Usually just one at this early stage but sometimes two, with the others following on anything up to the 90th minute. It doesn’t seem to make much difference to Arsene whether the team is winning losing or drawing at the time of the subs. He does them the same way anyway. Not for him the variation of a half time substitution when someone happens to be playing particularly badly – I’m looking at you Santos – no, let’s stick to the pattern: 67 at the earliest.
Except I do recall that a match or two ago he amazed me by making a substitution on 55 minutes. Perhaps he has read this research featured in The Times on November 12, from former American professional footballer (as in soccer) and now Professor in the Department of Management and Operations in the Villanova School of Business, Pennsylvania.In summary Myers’ research indicates that if you’re losing you have the best chance of turning the game around if you make your first substitution no later than 58 minutes in, the second by 73 minutes and the third by 79 minutes. Following this pattern can double your chances of turning a game around – though it should be said that you still have a less than even chance of managing it, because if you’re losing that’s usually for a reason.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I despise people trying to prove that Arteta (or whoever) is better than Rosicky (or whoever) because he makes more passes, or more successful passes, or a better percentage of successful passes, or any other damn thing to do with passes, or assists, or what his inside leg is. I was only on about it again a few days ago. But I’m okay with these substitution stats, because hundreds of games have been studied to build the picture – it is not measuring the actions of one player amongst literally millions of other essentially random actions, it’s an accumulation of a vast amount of data.
The Times piece goes on to emphasise (as I do repeatedly) that context is everything with stats, especially in football. If it wasn’t we’d all be happy to sign every 30-goal-a-season striker from a Sunday League team – cos he can score goals, right? Loads of them.
In football there are now millions of pieces of statistical data collected – Chelsea’s analytics database draws on 13,000 games and has 32 million pieces of data, we are informed. What the analysts are still working on is how to make best use of all the data, given (at the risk of repeating myself once too often) the essentially random nature of football.
Other interesting titbits from the sidebar: Man City have ten full time analysts now working on this stuff; one in nine corners leads to a goal – not at Arsenal it bloody doesn’t! – and in an average Premier League game the ball is turned over 400 times. I must say I’m struggling to believe that Arsenal lose possession 200 times in a match! Though perhaps with Santos in the team, they do.
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