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Monday Cannon Fodder: fine margins

Manchester City v Arsenal - The FA Community Shield Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Good Monday morning, TSFers. We are in the home stretch. The Premier League season kicks off on Friday with Manchester City traveling to Burnley. Arsenal get things underway on Saturday, playing host to Nottingham Forest. As always, it’s going to be a season of fine margins — I’d wager the title will be decided by less than three points.

To that end, Arsenal spent the summer becoming more unpredictable and less reliant on the same players, in the same setup, playing the same way to win matches. They also made the squad meaningfully deeper, which should help avoid the massive dip in form we’ve seen the past two seasons down the stretch when key players went out with injury.

The ability to give opponents a different look, both in personnel and formation, and rest players without losing quality, might provide the fine margin that Arsenal need this season.

And it can’t hurt that the Gunners added probably the best player available in the window in Declan Rice. Rice looks better every time he pulls on an Arsenal jersey. He’s already miles ahead in terms of comfort and understanding his role if you compare his performance against Manchester City to his first minutes for the club. He will only continue to settle in, and in doing so, will become more influential on matches.

Shifting gears (but staying in the category of fine margins), I saw last night that the USWNT were extremely unlucky / unfortunate at the World Cup. Basically, based on their shots and only scoring four goals, they were living in a world that should only happen 2-5% of the time. Statistically, they were more likely to score 14 goals than 4. About 65% of the time, the USWNT score between 7 and 11 goals on the same shots.

Caveat: some people who know statistics better than I took issue with the model. That’s above my pay grade, but I can see that there is no accounting for when and against whom the shots occurred. It doesn’t matter if the USWNT “should” have scored 5 or 6 against Vietnam — that doesn’t change the result of the Sweden match.

Quarrels with the modeling aside, it’s important when evaluating team performance to look beyond the results to the underlying numbers and the quality of the play. That will be the case with Arsenal this season. Yes, finishing is a skill and ultimately what matters is how many times you put the ball in the net, but I won’t be concerned about the team under Mikel Arteta until we see a consistent dip in the underlying numbers. He’s got this team playing the right way. And that should have them racking up the points once again.