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Newcastle 1-0 Arsenal: The Debrief
A controversial day at St. James Park
There is no way to write about this match without acknowledging the massive controversy that occurred with the refereeing. I might even here with that sentence sounding too neutral, calling it a controversy when they were pretty simply bad calls.
So I will get it out of the way here.
Those calls stunk and were massive turning points in this match.
If you want a bit more of the emotion and frustration the instant reaction from yesterday has it but the main takeaway is that those were calls that were very high leverage and while it is impossible to know how things would have played out, by measuring the swing in win probability they were worth about 1.5 points for Arsenal combined:
The non-called red card is a 0.5-point swing going from 2.0 points if it is called at that stage of the game from a potential 1.5 expected points before (and after) the call. If that is correctly given Arsenal are incredibly unlikely to lose the game and have a whole 45 and a bit extra to try and break down a 10-man side.
The goal is another massive swing, this takes the game from 1.4 expected points to 0.48 expected points. From the game being at 0-0 to 1-0 on the win probability from that point.
The rest of this post will be on the way that Arsenal played, lets dig in.
Newcastle 1-0 Arsenal: The Graphics
Newcastle 1-0 Arsenal: The Debrief
14 - Shots in this match for Arsenal, this is the 8th time in the Premier League that they have taken less than 15 shots.
72% - The percentage of matches played this season where Arsenal have taken fewer than 15 shots.
0.6 - Arsenal expected goals in this match. That is the second-lowest total this season.
1 - Shot with an expected goal value over 10%
0 - Big Chances, this is the 4th time that has happened this season
0.04 - Arsenal’s average chance quality in this match, the second-lowest of the season (Manchester City 0.03 average)
14th - Arsenal’s rank in non-penalty expected goals this season in the Premier League (there are still games to be played as I write this but the other teams are not likely to overtake Arsenal)
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The story of this season is starting to emerge and it is centered around the question of what is wrong with the Arsenal attack. Last season Arsenal were a high-flying team scoring the most goals any Arsenal team had done in a 38-match League schedule. There was some air in those numbers but last season Arsenal were a legit scoring force.
The numbers that generally lead to more and better shots are not that different for Arsenal. They are still getting a lot of touches in dangerous locations, they are still showing good progressive numbers (but in different locations than last year), but without it leading to chance creation.
Trying to figure out why is probably going to be one of the tasks of the season, and there are lots of threads that are contributing, change in tactics (both for and against), injuries to key players, and change of players from last season. On a recent episode of the CannonStats Podcast, I talked with Jon Mackenzie of Tifo and we had some theories about what is going on here:
It is an imperfect explanation but like all things in life, there are trade-offs to be made when making decisions and soccer tactics are no different. Here it looks like Arsenal are trading taking more risk in attack for playing excellent defense. Mackenzie has noted that Arsenal are the best out-of-possession team in the world right now, but when he talked with me, he said that might not be ideal and that while it is great fun for tactics-obsessed people it might not be the best choice for a team looking to win points.
This is something that I wholeheartedly agree with (I should be aware of confirmation bias here) and when Arsenal were in the middle of a defensive collapse was still beating the drum that scoring goals, especially for a team at the top of the table is more valuable than keeping them out.
I think this match showed that again.
The defense played really well.
1.2 - Expected goals, but 0.85 of that came in the sequence that scored the goal (and should not have been counted IMO).
9 - Shots allowed, that is the 7th time this season they have held their opponent under 10 shots.
0 - Times this season that an opponent has taken 15 or more shots against Arsenal
7 - Times this season that Arsenal have held an opponent under 1.0 expected goals (8 if you want to count this match)
Looking at where this game was played shows again how good Arsenal were at keeping Newcastle away from their goal.
Newcastle had just a handful of passes that they completed into Arsenal’s box, completing just 7 from open play here. With just 4 carries into the box on top of that. When you hold a team to 11 box entries you feel that the defensive line did their job and I don’t think you can say differently in this match, even if they ended up conceding a goal (and had a couple of other moments with a bit of danger).
What this does illustrate is that even if Arsenal didn’t deserve to lose, they also probably didn’t deserve much more than a point either. I think James McNicholas said it well in what is probably an unpopular take but shouldn’t be:
Given Arsenal’s lack of threat in this game, even with the goal taken away, this is not a match that Arsenal win. Running the match simulation without that sequence still leaves this most often ending in a 0-0 draw.
Arsenal played to keep the game tight and they got it, hoping that they might create one moment to score and it never came. This is part of where having a good defense is great but if it comes too much at the expense of creating a good attack it can be just as bad, and maybe even worse.
If the attack can only generate chances that are worth 0-1 goal most of the time that really limits the upside because you can’t win if you don’t score and 3 points are worth a lot more than 1, even if it comes with the team having a few more losses.
Even when they were in desperation mode they still struggled to cause any threat and looked completely out of ideas from open play, looking like the only way something might happen would be from a set play.
2 - Shots after going down a goal for Arsenal, with just 1 from open play
0.05 - Expected goals for Arsenal after the goal
90 - Passes attempted in the final third after the goal
5 - Passes completed into the box after the goal, just 3 from open play
0.4 - Goal Probability added for Arsenal after the goal.
It is easy to be furious about the calls not going Arsenal’s way but this is very much something that can happen when you play a game where the margins are very tight.
Did Kai Havertz have a good day?
34 - Pass Attempts with 67.6% Pass completion % and 87.6% Pass Efficiency (completed less than expected)
3 - Final 3rd Entry Passes completed
4 - Progressive Passes
1 - Box Entry Pass
0 - Key Passes
1 - Shot
0.05 - xG
0 - Dribbles Completed, of 1 attempted
1 - Time Fouled
1 - Carry into the Final Third
6 - Progressive Passes Received
10 - Touches in the box (led Arsenal)
1 - Time Dispossessed
3 - Tackles, with 1 time dribbled past
2 - Fouls
5 - Ball Recoveries
4 - Aerial Duels Won
50% - Aerial Win%
Kai Havertz has been a major talking point this season and I have backed his performances as basically fine more than most. I am a little surprised to see the reaction to his performance today, where the general consensus seems to be that this was his best match (or at least among them) as an Arsenal player.
I can’t really bring me to say this was any more than fine, and probably less than you would hope to get from a "big signing” in a major game.
I think this is a bit the opposite of some of his other matches where people are overly indexed on things that I don’t think actually impact the game. He showed PASHUN today and looked UP FOR IT being more physical here. Which I guess is good and something he maybe didn’t show before but that didn’t lead to an actual tangible impact and he also put himself on the edge of getting sent off with a challenge. I don’t think it was a bad challenge, but it was risky, from my watching that was just a regular yellow to potentially no card more than it was a yellow to potentially red card but who knows these days.
From his position in the right 8 and striker, this was a game where he needed more final third impact and that was again something missing. He had just the one shot, it was pretty tame and easily blocked. He had 0 key passes for teammates and had just 2 passes completed within 25 yards of goal.
He was a good target for passes, winning 4 aerial duels but he wasn’t a major outlet in areas that were impactful with just 6 progressive passes received and just 4 passes in the box received.
He was not bad, but I think we need to expect more from him. This was a good building block hopefully for him to grow from but this level of impact is still not good enough to be more than just fine.
Declan Rice Steps Up
57 - Pass Attempts, 1st among Arsenal players
89.5% - Pass completion %
105.0% - Pass Efficiency, completing more passes than expected
7 - Progressive Passes, 1st among Arsenal players
6 - Long Passes completed, 2nd among Arsenal players
75.0% - Long Pass %
3 - Box Entry Passes, 1st among Arsenal players
4 - Deep Completions (excluding Crosses), 1st among Arsenal players
537.8 - Progressive distance in yards passing, 1st among Arsenal players
1 - Key Pass, 0.07 xA
2 - Shots, 2nd among Arsenal players for 0.12 xG, 2nd among Arsenal players (that’s probably concerning right there)
2 - Dribbles Completed, 100% success rate
383.7 - Progressive distance carrying, 1st among Arsenal players
4 - Progressive Carries
2 - Touches in the box (6 in his own too, very box to box today)
4 - Deep Touches within 25 yards of goal
0.33 - xG Buildup, 1st among Arsenal players
3 - Interceptions plus Blocked Passes
5 - Ball Recoveries, 2nd among Arsenal players
5 - Clearances, 1st among Arsenal players
0.36 - Goal Probability Added, 3rd among Arsenal players
8.38 - Fields Gained (total progressive distance passing and carrying), 1st among Arsenal players
Short and sweet, he has been everything Arsenal could have hoped for when they signed him. Just a delight to watch.