Searching the Stats: The Crossing Game

Avoiding the Bus

The modern state of the Premier League, particularly the gulf between the Top 6 and the rest of the division, means that lower ranked sides tend to play a familiar tactic against the top teams. Sitting deep and narrow, forcing the top-quality players in to unfamiliar wide spaces, where they can’t control the game.

Over the years this tactic has become more and more popular, “parking the bus” becoming an all too common phrase. Unfortunately, from an Arsenal perspective, the Gunners have been known to succumb to the tactic on many occasions, and have struggled to break down the likes of West Brom and Stoke as a result over the years.

The question being asked of these top sides as they attempt to break down the bus is, do they have a plan B? Man United, for example, have the most obvious plan B, in the form of Fellaini. Arsenal have started to deploy centurion Olivier Giroud as a substitute in the last couple of years. However, it’s not clear whether the team changes its shape accordingly when they are chasing that late winner.

Arsenal’s Plan B?

Last season, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla were the only players to average more than one cross per game. For a side that gave so many minutes to Giroud and Welbeck last year, that is remarkable. The likes of Bellerin, Monreal, Walcott, Iwobi and Sanchez couldn’t muster more than 0.4 crosses per game.

No club wants to be associated with route one, long-ball football, least of all Arsenal. But the question does need to be asked, why is there such an aversion? Of course, many of Arsenals wingers tend to cut inside to impact the game, as inverted wingers. But why do they never, ever try it?

Progressive Football

In 2011/12, for example, Arsenal had an attack consisting of Van Persie, and pretty much no one else. He was the only striker that season to consistently score, racking up 30, yet the opposition had no way of predicting how he was going to score. That may be because the number of crosses was significantly higher.

Van Persie himself led the crossing charts, which shows how he was utilised as a complete forward. Sagna, Arteta, Walcott and even Jenkinson all recorded high numbers of crosses, as the side averaged 23.6 crosses per game.

In 2016/17, the side recorded just 18.3 crosses per game. That may still seem like a lot, but when the side are trying to break down a team, and the likes of Ramsey, Welbeck and Giroud are waiting in the middle, those extra five crosses could make all the difference.

This is not a suggestion that Arsenal should become a crossing side, but when you’ve got the players in the box who bury crosses for a living, you’ve got to play to those strengths.