In August of 2011 Cesc Fabregas demanded to be traded to Barcelona and when Arsenal granted his wish, he took with him Arsenal’s offensive and defensive firepower. No place was this loss in quality as obvious as in Arsenal’s Champions League campaigns between 2011 to 2016.
Just looking at shots per game created and conceded in Champions League Group Stages shows us a stark reminder of how much Arsenal dropped in the years after Cesc slithered off to Barcelona.
Arsenal’s offensive nadir was 2012-2014 when the Gunners finished two consecutive seasons as the 31st worst team in the Champions League group stages in terms of shots created. That’s 31st of 32 teams. If you’re tempted to think Arsenal had a tough group, 2012/13 saw Arsenal paired with Shalke04, Montpelier, and Olympiakos. 2013/14 was a much more difficult group with Napoli, Marseille, and Borussia Dortmund which helps to explain why Arsenal have a low shots per game creation record but… if the groups were that tough, we should see Napoli and Borussia Dortmund struggling to create shots as well, but all three teams finished significantly above Arsenal, Borussia created 16 shots per game, 4th best in the group stages, Napoli created 12.8 shots per game, and even Marseille created 10.2 shots per game, all better than Arsenal’s rather poor 8.7.
But incredibly, Arsenal managed to get through all of those group stages and go on to get beaten in the next round by top quality opponents. Twice Arsenal faced Bayern Munich, twice Barcelona, and once Monaco.
By topping the group, Arsenal have, for the first time in 5 years, given themselves an improved chance to face beatable teams. Along with Arsenal’s improved offense and defense, finally getting back to pre-Cesc levels, Arsenal have a good chance of advancing to the quarter finals for the first time since 2010 (where Arsenal lost to Barcelona…).
Interestingly, Arsenal have the same goal difference (+12) as they did when they last got to the quarter finals. This is the best goal difference we have had since 2010.
Game Stats v. Basel
Funny fact… I thought Gibbs was going to get credit for the assist for Perez’ third goal but his pass was deflected by Alexis and so the Chilean got the assist. His pass was intended for Perez, whether it would have made it to him or not is a question. I also don’t think Alexis meant to make that pass, it actually looked like a miss control. But the important fact here is that basically any last pass, or last touch, that results in a goal is usually given as an assist.
Another interesting note on Gibbs’ game: he only had two interceptions all game but one of them led to the Perez third goal.
Also, for Gibbs’ only actual assist of the game, it was an Alexis pass which set up the assist, something that Alexis did twice in this game, once for the opening goal and once for Arsenal’s fourth goal. You will sometimes hear this pass called a “pre-assist” or a “hockey assist”. Özil had one too, his pass to Gibbs set up the shot which was deflected into Perez’ path. And technically Gibbs has a pre-assist for the third goal described above. I don’t track pre-assists but I know that many of you do, especially if you play fantasy football.
I counted 38 passes in the build up to the second Arsenal goal. I had to count manually and I may be wrong there. This whole build-up was started by Granit Xhaka intercepting the ball and then Arsenal start passing the ball around and building up play. This (plus other stats) runs counter to some match reports which tried to paint Arsenal as a counter attacking team. Arsenal dominated possession 59-41. Arsenal also dominated interceptions (20-15) and tackles (30-27). Basel did take more shots than Arsenal (15-12) but the Gunners were more efficient getting 7 shots on target to Basel’s 5. Basel also needed set plays to generate their shot superiority, taking shots from 6 set plays compared to Arsenal’s 2.
I initially wanted to see what Ramsey and Xhaka’s numbers looked like together but Xhaka played the full 90 while Ramsey was taken off at the 70th minute. Together they did combine to go 6/10 tackles, with each player winning 3 tackles. Xhaka led all players in passes (104/111), ball recoveries (14), Interceptions (4, tied with Koscielny), and fouls committed (4). Interestingly, his brother Taulant led all players in getting fouled with 4. I can’t actually see who Xhaka fouled. It would be funny if he was just kicking his brother all over the pitch.
That’s all for today, sorry this was late but I have a real job and a real child to take care of. Plus beer to drink. Sometimes I can’t get to see the match live and that throws a wrench into everything.
Sources: Whoscored.com (Champions League), 442 Stats Zone App