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Arsenal 2-1 Nottingham Forest: The Debrief
Arsenal get off to a winning start but there might be a sign of worry in the performance
Arsenal got the three points, but it wasn’t the high-flying performance that we hoped for to start the season and that is really what matters.
It got a little worrying when Forest scored a goal and with some of the lackadaisical effort to start the second half but in reality, it probably never got too close to dropping points with Arsenal clamping down to see out the win.
It was also interesting to see Arsenal try something newish with all three new signings getting their debuts with the team. Let’s break down the numbers.
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Arsenal 2-1 Nottingham Forest: The Graphics
Arsenal 2-1 Nottingham Forest: The Debrief
15 - Shots for Arsenal
0.05 - xG per shot for Arsenal
1 - Shot with an xG value over 10% probability of becoming a goal. [Saka 87th minute - 18% shot]
19.2 - The average distance in yards for the shots Arsenal took in this match
2 - Shots in prime locations (within 12 yards of the center of the goal)
0 - Big chances in this match
Arsenal had a TON of the ball in this match. They had just under 80% of the possession, with nearly 90% in the first half. They not only had most of the ball they also camped inside of Nottingham Forest’s third with just over 80% of the field tilt, with 91% in the first half.
Where things broke down in this match was completing the final pass and creating the killer ball to open up Forest.
A lot of this is that Forest spent most of the match trying to stop this specific thing with all the bodies in the way. It is a bit unusual to see Arsenal complete fewer passes than normal in these situations but they were missing key players that typically help unlock these types of play, with Oleksandr ZInchenko only coming back into training and Gabriel Jesus out with a knee injury.
There is also the nagging worry in my head about how the team players with Eddie Nketiah as the starting striker. I am probably over-worried and being harsh here because the numbers with him as a starter for the attack vs when he wasn’t look very close without a discernable drop-off.
Some stats that try to illustrate the effectiveness of an attack (without Eddie starting vs with Eddie starting):
xG: 2.1 vs 2.0
Passes per shot: 12.7 vs 12.6
Final Third Passes per shot: 7.9 vs 7.9
Percentage of possessions with a deep completion: 40% vs 39%
In certain areas of the pitch namely the left the difference was larger but it is probably unfounded for me to have worried about the drop off. I think this is a good illustration of where our memories can be faulty and looking back at things is not only helpful but pivotal. That’s a good reason to pivot into looking at Eddie in this match.
Eddie Leads the Line
3 - Shots, 1st among Arsenal players
1 - Goal
0.18 - xG, 2nd among Arsenal players
14 - Pass Attempts with a 100% completion percentage, 12th among Arsenal players
0 - Progressive Passes
1 - Forward pass, 14th among Arsenal players
0 - Dribbles Completed of 2 attempted with 2 times lost possession
1 - Progressive Carry, 11th among Arsenal players
5 - Progressive Passes Received, 4th among Arsenal players
7 - Touches in the box, 1st among Arsenal players
9 - Deep Touches, 2nd among Arsenal players
1 - Tackle
1 - Blocked Passes
1 - Ball Recovery
2 - Aerial Duel Won with a 100% win rate
If you are looking to have Nketiah play like Gabriel Jesus you will generally end up disappointed. Nketiah does not have the natural pull towards the ball to help knit together play and that is really apparent in the passing numbers. Last year Jesus avered 29 passes per 90 with almost 30% of them aimed forward after he dropped deep and turned to look up the field. In this match, Nketiah had just 14 passes (but did complete all of them) with 1 aimed forward, that’s just 7% of passes aimed forward.
This is probably just who he is as a player and expecting something different is futile. There might be questions if players like Leandro Trossard or Kai Havertz are a more true like-for-like alternative to Jesus but at least at a high level with Nketiah with the rest of the first eleven in the Premier League Arsenal has been able to perform at a fairly high level (roughly 3rd to 6th on historical terms) and that is about as good as you can hope for a backup player replacing in my view a very special player.
Overall you probably can’t say anything other than he did his job. He got needed shots, scored a goal (even if it needed a bit of a fortunate bounce) and was a willing runner off the ball (which perhaps his teammates should have tried to find him more often). It is going to be a big call for Arteta on what he does for the starter in the next match.
Kai Havertz makes his Arsenal Premier League Debut
2 - Shots
0.12 - xG
2 - Key Passes
0.22 - xA
51 - Pass Attempts 88.2%
3 - Progressive Passes
4 - Times Fouled
6 - Progressive Carries
10 - Progressive Passes Received
5 - Touches in the box
1 - Tackles
2 - Fouls
1 - Interceptions
3 - Aerial Duel Won (of 7 attempts)
It has been interesting to see the opinions on how Havertz did in his debut, I have seen the range of it was a disappointment to my take of it being quietly effective. It still looks like both he and his teammates are figuring each other out and I think it might take playing with a different type of striker like Jesus where he can do more swapping to see the best of him.
What did seem clear is that he has a nose for finding pockets of space in the box and I think that will be something that pays off down the road.
Declan Rice makes his Arsenal Premier League Debut
89 - Pass Attempts at 92.1%, 4th among Arsenal players for pass attempts
7 - Final 3rd Entry Passes, 4th among Arsenal players
2 - Progressive Passes
0 - Box Entry Passes
396.2 - Progressive Pass Distance, 5th among Arsenal players
0 - Key Passes
3 - Shots, tied for 1st among Arsenal players
0.14 - xG, 3rd among Arsenal players
8 - Progressive Carries, 3rd among Arsenal players
412.5 - Progressive Carry Distance, 3rd among Arsenal players
4 - Tackles, 2nd among Arsenal players
2 - Fouls committed, 1st among Arsenal players
5 - Ball Recoveries, 4th among Arsenal players
This felt like a bit of a safe debut for Rice. He looked fine and showed some flashes of why he was made the centerpiece of Arsenal’s summer but he also still looks like a player that is coming up speed in a new team. I thought his long shooting looked good and I think that will be a weapon for Arsenal, and he showed his signature ability to carry the ball well, where he looked just a bit off was making an impact with his passing and helping to balance out some of the very strong right-sided bias that the team had.
A decent start but hopefully more to come.