The Arsenal attack isn't clicking
Things aren't working right now for Arsenal
One of the reoccurring themes in this early season for Arsenal is the frustration and lack of cutting edge.
Outside of the one Champions League match I have noted that it seems like the fluency in attack has dropped significantly from last season. After 6 matches last season Arsenal had scored 14 goals and this was a continuation of the flying start that Arsenal had done from the start of pre-season.
This year after 6 matches it is 11 goals, with 3 coming on penalties.
Looking at this season compared to last season overall and it doesn’t get that much prettier. Lower on goals, xG, xG per shot, with shot numbers down as well. Even more concerning to me is that it looks like creating chances from open play has become even more of a slog for Arsenal this year. Looking at the numbers and ranks this season Arsenal are 8th on open play shots, 12th in open play xG, and tied for 11th in open play big chances.
The ball progression is roughly the same to a bit better and that I think presents more questions than answers.
Looking at the comparison more on style instead of production I think is also illuminating.
Arsenal have been more ball and territory dominate this season with more possession, and more field tilt. This has come with a pretty significantly slower and less direct style, with the second slowest progressive speed toward goal and the second most passes per possession sequence this season. Arsenal did not play directly by any means last year but the change from last year is pretty stark where they were much closer to the average teams.
This could be a factor in why the progressive pass, progressive carry, and touches in dangerous locations look similar or better but have not translated into more danger. There is more to dig into here so let’s continue down the rabbit hole.
Looking at the same corresponding fixtures is always a good place to start. There is no perfect apples-to-apples comparison with the constant change in teams and the score effects in the game but at least this can better handle the strength of schedule type difference to help see where things are different.
For most of this season, Arsenal has been close, more against Fulham (score effects probably big here) and less against Tottenham (playing a very different style than last year) but overall coming out in the same spot.
Last season there was more balance on where the ball progression happened but it wasn’t perfect with more coming down the right-hand side and it concentrated in the half-spaces.
This season that balance is completely off with the tilt heavily pushed to the right-hand side. Arsenal’s left-hand side has seen a number of changes from last year with the biggest the departure of Granit Xhaka and the arrival of Kai Havertz, but also a rotating cast of left-backs, with injuries on top that has seen Gabriel Martinelli and Gabriel Jesus miss time.
Looking at the leaders in progressive passes this is less surprising why the balance is off. Last season the progression came through the fullbacks who tucked in, with a major chunk coming from Oleksandr Zinchenko.
This season Zinchenko has played less of the available minutes, having been brought into the team slowly after picking up an injury in the offseason. The overall production from most other players is also still down.
Zinchenko’s numbers are still a drag on the overall performance with his progressive passing down from 6.2 per 90 last year to 4.2 per 90, the drop from the players filling in has been even larger with Takehiro Tomiyasu at 3.5 per 90, Jurriën Timber (in his one half) also at 3.5 per 90, and Jakub Kiwior at 3.7 per 90.
The biggest change outside of ZInchenko is coming from the players in the more advanced midfield roles. Martin Ødegaard’s progressive passes are down from 5.2 per 90 to 3.2 per 90 this season, Kai Havertz and Fábio Vieira have 2.6 per 90 compared to Xhaka’s 4.0 per 90, this is not helped by Eddie Nketiah only adding 1.0 per 90 while Jesus added 2.2 per 90 last season.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Cannon Stats to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.