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Arsenal’s missing creativity
One of the things that I think that I have noticed watching Arsenal this season is that there has been a change in the way that Arsenal attack. These kinds of things are hard to know for sure, we can pretty easily fall back on the narrative of the moment, our biases or even just simple memory failings.
To my eye, it has looked like Arsenal have pretty radically changed the way that they go about breaking down defenses. They seem to be switching from a patient, probing style, where they would hold the ball in the final third before cutting through, to a more direct attack that builds from the wide area and attacks teams through the half spaces.
I really felt like this was true, Arsenal have become a very good team at creating cutbacks, and while the fullbacks have always been important in attack for Arsenal they have gone up another level under Unai Emery; but I wanted to see if this bears out in the numbers for the chance creation.
Below is all of the starting pass location for all of the open play key passes that Arsenal have made from the 2015-6 season to now.
It is a bit hard to make out too much of a pattern from this graphic, but at first pass it does seem that the areas just outside the 18 yard box, especially the central zone, were used more in the past than they have this season.
Going forward, I am going to primarily look at this season compared to last year. I think this is best because there is the fewest overall changes to the make up of the team outside the manager.
2017-18 Chances Created
Last season Arsenal 406 chances from open play, with 50 (12%) coming from the zone right behind the “D” and 119 (29%) coming from the edge of the 18 yard box.
The wide left locations made up 36 (8%) of the open play chances created last season, with 28 (7%) coming from the wide right locations.
From the prime cut back locations Arsenal created a total of 54 (13%) open play chances, with an equal 27 coming from the left and right sides.
2018-19 Chances Created
This season, Arsenal 172 chances from open play, with 17 (10%) coming from the zone right behind the “D” and 37 (22%) coming from the edge of the 18 yard box.
The wide left locations made up 23 (13%) of the open play chances created last season, with 19 (11%) coming from the wide right locations.
From the prime cut back locations Arsenal created a total of 30 (17%) open play chances, with a 18 coming from the left side and 12 from the right side.
Arsenal vs the rest of the League
Arsenal went from being one of the most prolific creators from the edge of the 18 yard box to a slightly below league average creative team, as a total percentage of chances created. They have dropped from 4th most total last season to ninth most this season.
The biggest change is that they are now creating more from the cut back locations and from wide areas. Arsenal have created the second most chances from the deep half spaces this season, just behind Manchester City.
From the wide areas Arsenal have gone from a team that didn’t create much out wide to a league average team, with the team creating 64% of its total chances from wide spots already this season, from just 55% of the season.
It will be interesting how this trend finishes the season, and I am glad to see that my observations are backed up in the data. I am concerned with the change from creating in more central locations to wider, as these are generally harder locations to create good scoring chances from.
I think that the missing central chances are also from the tactical switch away from a team built around the creativity of Mesut Özil. I really hope that Unai Emery has a plan to make this work.
This post originally ran on The Short Fuse