Arsenal were held to a 0-0 draw against Red Star Belgrade (RSB) and it was a rare performance where Arsenal dominated nearly every statistical category but just failed to create the big chance breakthrough that would have won the game.
Arsenal dominated possession 640-360 passes but crucially struggled to get the ball forward: Arsenal’s most active players in terms of passing were Debuchy (93) and Coquelin (82) while RSB’s most active passer was their attacking midfielder Kanga (53). Wilshere was ostensibly Arsenal’s designated playmaker but while Kanga had 53 passes for RSB, Wilshere only managed 48.
Arsenal did have 9 key passes and it was a whole team effort – only Ainsely Maitland-Niles (2) and Wilshere (3) had more than one key pass for Arsenal. Both of Maitland-Niles’ key passes were good scoring chances for Giroud – one in the 9th minute and the other in the 63rd minute. As I mentioned above, Arsenal didn’t create a single big chance – these are the one-v-one chances where you expect the striker to score (they actually score at a 50% rate) – but RSB created two of them. Both shots were by Boakye and he missed both of them, much to the relief of Macey and the defense.
The big surprise stat was that Arsenal attempted 35 dribbles in this match. As you know, this is a stat I’ve been interested in all season because Arsenal used to lead the League in this category (or at least be near the top) but have dropped off significantly this season and are down to 9.4 successful per game from last season’s 12.1. But in the Europa League, Arsenal are back to being one of the most prolific dribbling teams and are 3rd with 14.8!
This is almost all down to the young players facing a great red wall. Jack Wilshere attempted 10 dribbles today (won 5) and Ainsley Maitland-Niles added 4, Reiss Nelson 6, and Freddie Nketiah attempted 5. The three young players, however, were a bit wasteful in possession and only got past their man 5 of 15 times (combined). Nketiah and Reiss Nelson were especially wasteful and only won 3 of their combined 11 attempts. I applaud their youthful vigor but this is a skill that builds with time as the player learns how and when to take on an opponent rather than just trying anything to see if it will come off.
The lack of quality shooting was probably self-evident but using my own expected goals formula I get 0.89 for Arsenal and 1.29 for them. Arsenal took 11 shots and 0.89 shows an awfully low shot quality for the Gunners. To give you some context, the Liverpool match is widely considered this season’s low water mark: Arsenal took 8 shots in that match and had an expected goals of just 0.59.
An uninspiring match perhaps. Or maybe for a lot of these youngsters this was their first taste of a cynical opposition choking off space inside the 18 yard box. Either way, it was a match that cried out for a little quality and saw none. And yet it’s hard to complain: 10 points from 4 matches means Arsenal will move on to the next round where they will face Barcelona.