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First XI Supplement: CHE/MAC Edition

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No Gooner was surprised to see that from Clichy in a big match against a quality winger.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
No Gooner was surprised to see that from Clichy in a big match against a quality winger. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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This match was interesting enough that it deserves it's own post rather than me burying some comments in an edited and re-posted version of the original First XI post from yesterday. Here are some random thoughts for you in no particular order:

  • I LOVED the new nickname for this match "El Cashico" - coming on the heels of El Clasico on Saturday the timing couldn't have been better for that joke. I couldn't follow the Twitter patterns backward to figure out whose idea that was but huge points to them.
  • Hard to tell what happened to City after that first goal and then the subsequent chances that should have put them up 2-0. I couldn't tell if Chelsea finally adjusted and forced them to look bad or if the combination of bad weather (even for London in December) and arrogance after the torrid start gave them the idea they could just put it in cruise control.
  • It did appear that Chelsea took a different approach to defending that finally put an end to the sorts of runs that led to City's first goal. Hopefully this signals that AVB, like all young people, is realizing that being a purist is great in theory but that reality generally requires that you be more flexible of thought. What worked every time with a certain set of players a Porto and in a given league isn't the one true path to success. There is certainly more talent at Chelsea than their recent results have shown and it speaks well of the manager that he's figuring out how to get the most from it.
  • With those nice things said about Chelsea, my take was that this was more a case of City giving Chelsea the match rather than Chelsea taking it from them. Really, it was a case of Gael Clichy giving Chelsea the match. A few thoughts on that:
      • Exhibit #1: Chelsea's equalizer came directly from Clichy getting beaten badly by Sturridge who put in a great cross for Meireles to finish off. It isn't criminal for a good wing defender to get beaten by a good winger who gets in a cross but I've seen far too many of Clichy's Arsenal matches to think this was an isolated event. He's just not that good as a defender.
      • Exhibit #2: Clichy's first YC was the result of him getting completely burned by Sturridge yet again and having to commit a professional foul to prevent him from running alone down the sideline. For a defender who's best asset is supposed to be his speed, you a) can't get beaten like that and b) should have enough confidence in your team and your own speed not to give up the YC to recover.
      • Exhibit #3: He's just not that bright as a defender. The foul that led to his ejection wasn't necessary and it was another example of sloppy defending and poor judgment. This time it led to his team being down a man for an extended period, having to remove their best attacking players and ultimately giving up the deciding goal.

Jeremy noted that I seemed a bit venomous about Clichy on Twitter yesterday and wondered if this was the result of being a jilted Gooner. I think I can say that my honest answer there is a definitive "no" and the more I think about it there are three things that come to my mind about Clichy:

  1. City Have Gotten Little from their Ex-Gooners - You could argue that Nasri could still be a valuable contributor but after a spectacular start to his City career, he hasn't contributed much more than any of City's other want-away Gooners. Kolo Toure was an unmitigated disaster between declining skills and his positive drug test. K2 is playing well not for Spurs but did next to nothing for City. Clichy continues to be an OK but deeply flawed wing back who shows few, if any, signs of improving with respect to poor judgment, poor positioning, and making big mistakes. I am starting to think of him as the wing-back version of David Luiz. Talented but just as likely to take things off the table as put them on. The big difference this season has been that until now Clichy's teammates have covered over his errors by being ahead by so much it really didn't matter if he made a mistake or two per match.
  2. City Kept Arsenal Afloat - As discouraging as the transition years between Highbury and the Emirates has been for Arsenal supporters used to being in the top two, can you imagine how bad it would have been if City hadn't been so generous in buying from Arsenal? For a massive pile of cash they got Toure, K2, Clichy, and Nasri and of that group, Nasri is really the only one that we might miss and given his up-and-down history, I'm still not convinced he's any better than a healthy Ramsey. I don't think any of us believe that Adebayor would still be at Arsenal regardless of whether City bought him to not play him. So, thank you to City for keeping my favorite team going as they collected spare parts not worthy of starting for a team with their ambition.
  3. The K2/Clichy Downside - The biggest way that the sales of K2 and Clichy have hurt Arsenal in this season's standings is their performances for and against rivals for Champions League spots. K2 has come back to haunt Arsenal by helping Spurs reach new heights and making Arsenal's fight to retain their spot in the Champions League that much harder. Likewise, Clichy's blunders above helped a struggling Chelsea team to 3 points that righted their bid for a top four place. A loss to City yesterday - a distinct possibility with better defending on the left - would have seen Arsenal stay in fourth and heaped misery on Chelsea's recent doldrums.
  4. The Season of Bad Stats-based Purchases - As statistical analysis becomes part and parcel of the Premier League (as seems inevitable at this point) there are likely to be some hiccups along the way as "stat-heads" and more traditional scouting techniques are blended to optimize player selection. Manchester City has put a lot of effort into using stats and in general I applaud this. My suspicion is that Clichy was over-valued based on stats that tell much but not all of the story. I don't have the numbers but my guess is that he looks great when evaluated on measures like passes completed (due to Arsenal's system of play), Miles/KM run (he definitely runs a lot), and area covered during a match. Given his association with a manager (Wenger) who is also a disciple of statistical analysis you can see how someone judging players this way would be enticed. What I have yet to see in statistical form is something that evaluates "Key Blunders" (poor defending that led to a chance created) or "Blown Offside Traps". Those sorts of errors undo many of Clichy's statistical virtues (again, I'm assuming he looks great on paper). Seriously, there had to be a reason that Gooners and Wenger didn't get upset at Clichy leaving the way they did at Nasri and Cesc wanting out despite the fact that only the perpetually injured Keiron Gibbs was on hand at Clichy's time of leaving.