David Luiz and Rob Holding: Emery’s Ideal Cure for Arsenal’s Aviophobia


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There are a lot of Arsenal fans who have gone as far as demanding that Emery should abandon the tactics of playing out from the back. They want goal kicks lumped forward. I sympathies but such fans are only over responding to their fears of the moment, seeing only the moment instead of the larger picture. If the tactical and statistical advantages of playing out of the back are better understood, the fears of the moment becomes easier to manage.

Study has shown that about 70% of plane passengers fear to fly, but are able to manage their fear because they know that the odds are very much in their favour. For example according to the US Census Data one’s chances of dying in a plane crash is 1:205,552. Note that the chances of dying in a car accident is 1:102. Yet we feel so cosy inside cars, so cosy lumping the ball forward.

In statistics, models are built on large samples. For example in the two matches played so far this season we have taking 21 goal kicks (terrible compared to City’s 8). At that rate (I believe it will come down) we would have taken 399 goal kicks in the PL by the end of the season. That’s potentially 399 playing out of the back. Brace up for it, there’s likely going to be two or three crashes but the benefits from playing out of the back would overwhelmingly outweigh the cost. Already this season Adrian and Ndidi of Liverpool and Leicester respectively have blundered but Klopp and Brendan Rogers are never going to begin to lump the ball forward. In modern football, lumping it forward as the go to is nothing short of a car crash.

To understand the science behind playing out of the back you have to look at the whole field. We have a goal kick. Auba and Laca, ever drifting into spaces, stay on the shoulders of the opposition back line. Even though we normally play out of the back, the opposition knows that any moment Leno or Luiz or some one else could go long. Therefore they put at least 3 men on Laca and Auba knowing that 2 on 2 is bad defending.

In our box area the opposition would have 3 players (usually) pressing our 2 central defenders and a central midfielder, but we have a 4th man who is not an outfield player, Leno. That means we always have a free man to pass to. If one of them decides to press Leno, then one of our 3 outfielders engaged in playing out of the back is free. We now have 3 of their outfielders against 2 of ours around our box.

Sum the numbers at their defensive line and at our box area and we have 6 of theirs engaging 4 of ours. Automatically in the middle patch of the field we have 6 players against their 4. That is a whopping 50% overload and that is the name of the whole game: overload in the middle, easier transition.

50% overload at the middle patch of the field for 399 times in a season from goal kicks would fetch many goals. So it’s easy to discount the 2 or 3 that it would cost us and to discount the nerves. Nobody knows the flight that would crash not even Pep the Master, but what the master knows so well is how sweet the odds are.

No doubt one of the big reasons Luiz was acquired is to bring the calmness and the confidence that are essential to that process to the team. These days defenders must be good with the ball at their feet, calm and assured in their passing of the ball. That is exactly why Holding is being missed, not because of his tackling numbers or his pace. The lack of it is also why the guy with the our best defensive numbers is out in the cold. People wonder about Mavro. He is fantastic defensively but they say he is nervous with his passing. The coaches are working hard on him.

By road or by air? Get me a flight ticket please.

By PE.

43 thoughts on “David Luiz and Rob Holding: Emery’s Ideal Cure for Arsenal’s Aviophobia

  • Many thanks for the fine post, PE, and I like the analogies. Agreed: playing out from the back is the best way even though it will leave our hearts in our mouths time and again. It is one of the reason I reckon Xhaka is soooo important to our team. He is so pivotal to our team in terms of receiving and redistributing the ball and is a master in finding space and simply anticipating where the ball needs to go next. This often gets unnoticed, but I recommend everyone to rewatch the Barcodes’ game and see how effective Xhaka’s 80+ (many more than anybody else) passes were time and again. This sort of role will of course lead to mistakes now and again…. and this will not go away by the nature of the modern game. A real shame though that many cannot see beyond this.

    Okay enough about Xhaka… 😀

    Luiz and Holding are indeed likely to improve our ability to play the ball out from the back. I think it is both important to remain calm and pass precisely and also dare to run forward with the ball into the open spaces left behind by the pressers. Both Holding and Luiz are very good at this and then they also have a good next pass in them. Just passing ourselves out of danger is unlikely to be enough..

  • PE, that’s too many stats for me. My mind is blown after reading your post.

    Anyway, passing out from the back enables high pressing teams and route one teams to take advantage by putting players in front of the keeper and defenders and pressuring them to make mistakes. The stats are already written but still stats are not everything. Mustafi had good stats but his brain blows during high pressure from opposing teams.

    Against Liv we have good opposition that presses super highly to counter our playing from the back. Chambers or Elneny is a good option to be the DM helping the defenders but should we go for long balls once in a while?

    TA, good point about Xhaka but i am not sure if he is available for the crunch tie.

  • Morning PE,

    I’m a stats man and use them constantly, so I’m a real believer……………………
    however the stats also say that at my rare old age watching Arsenal dither about in playing out of the back is more likely to give me a heart attack than just lumping the ball out.

  • njk, .. absolutely not too many stats. I hope you don’t mind my asking you this question. Why do the best teams, City, Liv, Barca, Real, Bayern, PSG, Juv eats, play out of the back? I’d love to get a reply.

  • N5 ….. if your heart is able to handle crossing the Atlantic, it would handle Luiz and co nonchalantly bringing the ball out of the back. Trust me.😂

  • N5,

    Well then we have joined the league of the best teams. We are no longer with Stoke fc and co.

  • Many teams don’t do organized box press any more for the sake of not falling into the trap. They instead begin their press middle of the field (mid press). 2017/18 Liv did a lot of the final third press and conceded many goals. 2018/19 they adjusted to more of the mid press and conceded much fewer goals.

  • Pony Eye,

    My 12:07 was a tongue in cheek comment. In reality I can see the benefits of retaining possession, but we are still novices and both Pool and then Spurs will take full advantage of that. It’s highly possible that the next two games will be decided my small margins and conceding possession in our last quarter could be the deciding factor.

  • N5,
    You’re right but a Emery says we have to continue with the process because tomorrow is another day. They should be given a slightly bigger window to go long if they feel the noose tightening.

  • Okay we have a sole winner for our first weekly prediction game…..

    It is…………………………………. Seventeenho!! 10 points for you Tiger of Tahoe!

  • If anybody wants to volunteer to produce a spreadsheet for this and do the admin on a weekly basis, then please be my guest! I will even let you pick the five games every week!! 🙂

  • GN5–
    That is a great piece from the BBC on Josh Kroenke.
    Important hearing (reading) meaningful quotes from the club’s principals– as opposed to disseminated pablum, filtered, and distilled for clicks.

    I’ve kept a fairly positive view of Josh K from the results he’s been responsible for– at the KSE US sports franchises (NFL Rams, NBA Nuggets, less so with NHL Avalanche). His ‘bedside manner’ is much different from his father’s– and he’s taken initiative that, to me, has gone unheralded in the self-important reporting of fan TV-style gossip, and online-clickbait headline writing.

    Have had a model of sorts which I’ve been tracking mentally for many years with AFC. With the upheaval of the past 2-3 seasons? The personnel moves (but not-quite-yet the desired results on-pitch) are, in advance of the expectations I’d projected up-until-now.

    Ever optimistic, I have hopes for a surprising season.
    A result from this Saturday’s match would go a long way toward bolstering those hopes.


  • PE, the answer to your question is that they do that to counter press the high pressing and route one teams. Total football is the way to go.

  • Hey TA, I’ve got a comment that won’t post… Could you send me a copy of the banned words… Or maybe it’s just because it’s too moist… i.e., dripping with sarcasm… (Even though I tried to make it clear that I enjoyed PE’s post…)


  • Yes, well, TA, regarding the contest…It’s easy when one knows one’s football… 😉

    I think you can keep the tally fairly easily (like even on paper…) since you’re using a winner(s) take all formula. In my mind, the contest is already over, so I’ll take my kit now… More winkys, eh…

    I want the shirt now because I’m torn between a Mustafi 25 and an Ozil 10…both of which (I fear) might not be available in a couple of weeks. If Arsenal do some funky underwriting of salaries, (or maybe just send these guys out on loans–even if they’ve only got a year left on their Arsenal contracts) couldn’t we get SOMEBODY to take these two off our hands?…

    I jest, and (don’t kill the messenger, hateful Gooners…) we’re likely stuck with both players for another season (same with Xhaka, another Wenger buy and thus target of “supporters” vitriol). That doesn’t mean Emery will play them, however. So, TA (last post), if your method for getting a result at Anfield includes using those fellows (ALL 3 OF THEM)…Forgeddaboudit…

    Frankly, I think our chances of getting something up there in Liverpool is just about zero…BUT, our chances of avoiding a blowout aren’t so bad. Losing by (only) 2 goals would be an improvement, no?…

    Sorry for the bad attitude…It’s only Tuesday, so we’ll have plenty of time as the team news comes around to preview the match… And, let me know if my pessimism precludes me from doing a live-blog (the thing I think I enjoy the most)…

    Onto this post… While I enjoyed reading it–and I understand (all too well…) the statistics of flying vs driving–I don’t quite get what you’re after, PE, though I’m guessing that somewhere there are (were?) panicky voices suggesting that our kicking it around the back is too heart in mouth for many.

    (Also, I don’t understand the 8 GKs for Man City vs 21 for us…Does this mean that they intercept higher up the pitch–or simply possess the ball that much more than we do? If so, I think I understand why they’re odds-on to win the league–and a few other trophies–again…)

    My take is that Emery wants us to both play it AROUND (not out of) the back AND go route one when we get it to the MFs (notably Xhaka’s left foot) or send it back to Leno (or Luiz)–IF the opponent isn’t completely lured forward (so that we might have numbers on the break). In other words EVERYBODY (both drivers and flyers, maybe?…) wins… This Arsenal have it all–(pointless) possession AND the best elements of the English game (Route One footy and plenty of blind crosses from out wide)…

    I’ve written about this a million times and not so many really seem to see it or agree with me, but I’m gonna keep saying it (or just drift away–except to try and win the contest) until, a) I stop seeing it, or, b) other folks acknowledge that Emery wants to lure the opponent forward (usually by giving them the ball after some pointless possession of our own–deep in our own half) so that we’ve got the numbers (overloads) IF and WHEN they give it back to us. (Hint: it’s not all that original, though he takes it to an extreme…and it’s called playing on the counterattack…) Let’s be clear. In our manager’s mind, it’s all about the quick strike.

    Finally, if we’re going to extrapolate from tiny statistics to the whole season (which we absolutely shouldn’t do, IMO…) then we need to see that all three of our goals have come from a total of three passes (1 pass each). Build up play (including out of the back) is NOT part of the (goal-scoring) plan… So, continuing to extrapolate, we’re gonna score 57 goals (Laca scoring 19, PEA getting 38) from 57 SINGLE passes (Dani C gets 38 assists, AMN 19…) BUT, if you see us string together TWO (or more) passes, you should KNOW that we’re not going to score a goal (from that particular move)…

    Or something… (Mostly, I’m just hoping folks will see that, for Emery, it’s all about the quick strike…)

    Apologies…But, who cares? Just keep (getting lucky and) winning and Emery is the answer… (Tougher perhaps at Pool or vs Spurs than against teams like the Toon and Burnley, maybe?…)

    Freddy by February…or Anybody (else) in (by) August, I say…

    In the meantime, what are this week’s matches (to pick), Gaffer?… 😀

  • OK, I’m not sure what I changed but now it has posted… Like I say (for those who read it–and cheers to you)… Apologies…

  • HT, I suppose what I have tried to describe essentially fits what you’ve been hammering on ie swifter transition (counter attack is a more specific term). When Emery sucks enough of opposition players out of the central areas spaces appear for faster transition. Or have I got the essence of yours wrong?

    Don’t hold fast on the 399 goal kicks for the season. Used a too small a sample of 2 matches to work it out which I qualified that I expect it to be much smaller. Just a model used for discussion.

  • TA, that WAS my favorite goal of the (early) season, but alas… VAR is gonna call a mess of them back, I’m guessing… 🙂

    Hi PE. It kinda seems like your post was in response to Professor Geoff’s (lecture) on overloads…

    Indeed, overloads are the essence of moving the ball through parts of the pitch…but doing so at the back, I think, is pretty (damn) pointless when you’re gonna (eventually) boot it from the center circle (or on a backpass to keeper or CB) anyhow (and hope our pretty excellent front-men can get lucky and beat a man or three in order to make–relatively rare–scoring chances). My main point is that Arsenal are playing football like a “small” (or at least mid-table) club (and very differently than we did under Wenger, naive as that might have been)… We want the other team to have the ball and (thus) get drawn out of their defensive shape by trying to attack us. It’s nothing complicated, just playing on the break–or setting out not to lose (rather than going for the win). A whole mess of Italian coaches–and a special one from Portugal (Mourinho)–have made great careers by doing just this…

    And, since Emery ain’t gonna beat Pep by trying to play like him…It’s probably the way forward in (what we hope will be) a promotion campaign (back to CL football)… A few extra draws (instead of wins and losses) may not yield a point total that will compete with the league leader(s), but it also helps mute the (always over-the-top) drama of the Goonersphere…

    So, overall, I think you’re understanding my viewpoint…and, at least you’re not against a couple of errors (at the back) that lead to (easy) goals… but you’re still too happy about the current state of affairs… (in my humble–and grinch-like–opinion…

    Even Josh Kroenke (who reminds me too much of Trump Jr., I hate to say)…is urging patience…

    OK, gotta run…

  • Rob Holding is a decent option, problem is hes so overrated by arsenal fans.
    Tbh alot of articles on this site are extremely optimistic and lack realistic conclusions based on Afc performances over the past 10/15 years.
    This isnt a negative criticism, just a wish for more accurate conclusion which are less emotionally based and more performance merited.
    Keep grinding.

  • Well said Pony, I think passing out from the back is quite fundamental in football.

    I personally don’t mind us playing out from the back, even if we make a ton of mistakes doing it. After all, experience is the only way to improve that aspect of our game.

    What is frustrating, however, is not sticking to the gameplan and causing turnovers recklessly. I have mentioned how deep our CBs drop when the goal kick is taken, almost on level with Leno. On quite a few occasions, Leno just boots the ball aimlessly downfield and gifts possession away.

    For me, if we are playing out from that deep, there’s not much improvement that can be made in terms of positioning from the CBs. The main improvement that I can see right now is that the deepest lying midfielder has to take more responsibility, to want to receive the ball under pressure and help build up play, whether it is Torreira, Guendouzi, Ceballos or Xhaka.

    They hide sometimes, not wanting to receive the ball (though Xhaka is an exception). You can’t blame them though, there isn’t an immediate outlet for them. Which is why Granit gets caught dwelling on the ball a lot, there simply isn’t a pass on for them, which means he has to take and extra touch or two.

  • If you reeeally knew your footie HT?
    You’d know Shkodran is #20. Unless it’s Jenko’s jersey you truly want. 😉


  • Aaaand– since it’s not a match at 6:00am (4am where you are HT)?
    I’ll try to join you on the live blog Saturday!


  • Lucas, with all those Xhaka supporting comments you are quickly becoming a BK favourite of mine. 🙂

    Jim, thanks for the feedback and there was me thinking we are a bit too pessimistic at times! 🙂

  • Jenko, El Scrot… Both are done at Arsenal (I’m guessing…) hence my confusion, J-Dub… Ozil might (yet) get a chance if things go as I fear over these next couple of matches… How many Turkish (or Italian) Lira = 300,000 Pounds/week?… Not enough, probably…

    If you can help me avoid mistakes with our players who (actually) play during a live-blog, I’d be much obliged… It’s a 9:30 start (my time) on Saturday, so I should be good to go…

  • Haha TotalArsenal, I’m just stating things I see during our games. Didn’t realize you were a supporter of Xhaka.

    He has the potential to be a fantastic player imo, but he hasn’t quite evolved to the player that I know he can be yet. He’ll get there soon! It doesn’t help that people incorrectly label him as a defensive midfielder, because that is not his role in the team.

  • By the way, I love the little smiley face at the footer of the page. These little details make it so much more unique!

  • Haha TotalArsenal, I am just stating things I see during our games, didnt realize you were a fan of Xhaka!

    He’s criminally underrated imo, though admittedly he hasn’t quite developed into the player we know he can be. It doesn’t help that people incorrectly label him as a defensive midfielder, which is not his role in the team.

  • jim–
    Hope you stop in again.
    The emotion-based posts and commentary here? Are a feature– and not a bug.
    Total Arsenal (TA for short) has provided an assorted cast of misfits and free-thinkers a place to speak our minds.

    I visit a number of other Arsenal sites. Speak to people seemingly ITK on the club and footie.
    But Bergkampesque is the place I find comfort in the– ‘mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world*’– of football.

    It grows on you.
    (You try to get it off of you ~sigh~, but I digress… 😉 )

    Drop by again.


  • Lucas, bloggers have pointed this smiley face out to me before, but it has been a while and I had to go and look for it again! I have no idea why/how it got there… but glad it put a smile on your face.

  • Now and again I wake up with a song in my head… This morning it’s this one (I listened to at the weekend so not sure why it popped up in my head this morning)…

  • Oh my, TA. You guys are just too quick for me these days. It’s all I can do to read the comments before a “New post” appears.

    Well, let me just commend PE for a real lesson in the advantages of “playing out from the back”; pretty much the 101 of that modern style of play. You hit the nail on the head with your remark about how the pressing teams leave spaces in midfield for even the keeper to exploit. That’s how Madrid, Bayern and Barca do it. Once the press is too close, the outlet sought is the midfield and boom! Pressing team is on the defensive.

    Enjoyed and truly impressed with the quality of comments above. And, congrats to 17ht for taking the first gong in TA’s prediction game. 👍🏽👏🏽👏🏽

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