A couple of weeks ago I wrote about research that some American dude did into the best time to make substitutions. This concluded that if you were losing and wanted to affect the result then you need to 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 you still have a less than even chance of salvaging something.
Less than a week later The Times then published this Fink Tank piece about substitutions. The Fink Tank approached it from a different angle: They looked at the times of substitutions, but also at whether it makes a difference when you substitute players in different positions – an attacker for a defender, midfielder for an attacker, and so on.
The evidence seems to suggest that firstly most substitutions are like for like – attacker for attacker, etc – and in most cases don’t affect the result.
However, it seems there is more chance of holding on to a lead by bringing in an extra defender than there is of coming back from a losing position by bringing on an attacker. So if you’re winning with ten minutes to go, bringing on a defender is a positive move, in the sense you are more likely to still be winning at the end.
It also suggests to me that although the chance of turning a game around may not be that high, managers should be a bit more adventurous when losing. If you’re going to make a substitution, don’t take off your poorly performing attacker, take off a defender and bring on another attacker to increase your chances of a comeback. And if you add in the previous research, then you should be doing this by the 58th minute.
Arsene Wenger is notoriously conservative with substitutions. Like for like at 67 minutes is the usual thing. Yesterday against Swansea, when 67 minutes came up it was the Ox and Giroud on for Podolski and Gervinho. That’s not going to win awards for tactical bravery.
Thirteen minutes later Wilshere was replaced by Rosicky. You could say that was slightly more attacking, but it’s a small step if anything. By general consensus Arsenal were poor for the whole game, but the starting tactics remained in place.
Meanwhile at Reading, Man Utd went behind twice and had conceded three goals by the time half an hour was up (though to be fair they had also scored three). Alex Ferguson decided enough was enough and took off Rafael on 32 minutes. He may have been replaced by another defender, but the point here is that the manager took action to rescue the situation. Result: no more goals conceded, and Man U went on to win.
Would Arsene Wenger have done the same? I think not. In fact I think never in a million years, but if you disagree please do tell me why.
Was it not fairly obvious in the Arsenal v Swansea game that the Gunners were not getting anywhere? Sitting and waiting for something different to happen without doing anything different is usually pointless (which coincidentally is what Arsenal were at the end of the match). Or as Steven Tyler once sang, “If you do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you always got”.
I don’t want to turn every blog post into a criticism of the manager but Arsenal are now predictable, stale and dull. Arsene Wenger may make the excuse that the team is jaded, though I’ve no idea why they should be – hadn’t anyone told them the season is the best part of ten months? – but the fans are even more so. A good shake up is the only way to get out of a rut, and the longer you leave it the bigger the shake needs to be. It would be a shame if the legacy of a great manager were to be irretrievably tarnished, but that looks like the direction we’re heading.
I guess Arsene’s choice, while he still has one, is whether to do the shaking up himself or let things drift until he becomes the victim. Shaker or shakee, if you like. Lay your bets.