Thursday, June 1, 2023

Emery’s passive Arsenal needs to get stuck in

Hey folks, Tim here, you know me as 7amkickoff. I’m back! 

When I left last year I got asked if there was something personal that happened between me and Blogs and the truth is no. Andrew is a great dude! You know that. Me, on the other hand, well, I’m irascible, alcoholic, etc. etc. 

The truth is that I had to quit writing my regular column here on Arseblog News because writing a regular column for you all, twice a week, was eating up way too much of my time. These stats articles require a ton of original research. Even the “By the Numbers” pieces (which might seem easy) took up huge portions of my free time. I also have to be honest that Thursday matches were another problem. I am a single dad and I have to get my daughter after school on Thursdays so it was always a rush to watch the games, look at the data, and try to come up with something interesting.

Anyway, Blogs asked me if I could write something more on a monthly basis and it turns out that I can! I still collect all the data I used to collect so it would be kind of a shame if I didn’t use it for something. Which is why I’m here! Today, we are going to look at what’s going on with Emery’s latest iteration of Arsenal, some of the problems, and perhaps a prescription to get out of the mess.  


We know that through matchday 7 Arsenal have allowed the most shots in the League with 126, or 18 per game. This is a pretty incredible stat when you compare to Arsenal’s 2001/02 title winning season when Wenger’s team allowed just 262 total shots. To put that in the modern context: last season Man City conceded just 239 shots (6.3 per game) and this season City are on pace to concede 262 shots (6.9 per game).

That stat alone is pretty damning and gets worse. Through matchday 7 Arsenal were 5th worst in expected goals allowed (xGA) with 12.2 (source: and tied for 7th worst in goals allowed (11). In addition to the high xGA numbers, Arsenal also have the 2nd most saves in the League with 4.6 per game. 

However, there’s a clue here as to why Arsenal aren’t allowing more goals: most of those saves are coming from outside the box, 2.7. Tottenham actually lead the League in shots saved, 5 per game! And.. Tottenham are relying heavily on Lloris, who is making 3 saves per game from inside the 18 yard box. 

You might think that Tottenham would have a bigger xGA number considering how many shots they are allowing in the box compared to Arsenal but the real problem for Arsenal is Big Chances allowed. Tottenham allowed just 10 through matchday 7 (1.4 per game). That’s a lot but Arsenal have already allowed 14. That’s more than 2 per game. 

Again, for context, Arsenal allowed just 35 Big Chances total in 2015/16 – the season when they had a midfielder that Thierry Henry called “The Policeman”. In comparison, Arsenal allowed 77 Big Chances last season (2 per game), and 69 Big Chances in 2017/18. 

Big Chances are an important stat because these are those one-v-one chances with the keeper or shots from close range with little or no pressure. Big Chances are scored at a nearly 50% rate and account for over half of a team’s goals (scored and allowed). Big clubs, title challengers, typically allow less than 1 per game. 

What I learned from the 2010/11 season dataset

Big Chances have almost always plagued Arsene’s Arsenal. I found a dataset for the 2010/11 Premier League season (on the StatsZone app). That was a season where Arsenal only allowed 8.2 shots per game and through the first seven matches (to compare to this season so far) Wenger’s Arsenal side only allowed 83 shots. But they had allowed 16 Big Chances in those first 6 matches, conceding 10 goals, 6 of them Big Chances.

With Fabregas in the middle of the park, in 2010/11 Arsenal were in their “Barca-lite” prime. They dominated possession stats with 57.7% average per game. That explains the overall few number of chances conceded. That possession also ultimately kept Arsenal’s goals conceded numbers down as well. But, and this is a huge but, Arsenal conceded 64 Big Chances that season, 1.7 per game.

First, the overall number of Big Chances allowed (64) is bad. Expected goals allowed was 44.78 (actual goals allowed 43) and would have been much worse if Arsenal hadn’t been so dominant in possession.

Arsenal also allowed 7 goals off individual errors, conceded 6 more goals off penalties, and Squillaci scored an own goal. 14 goals that season were errors, 33% of the total goals allowed. Moreover, one third of the matches featured individual errors for goals. 

One major reason why Arsenal were such a mess that season was because the Arsenal lineups were all over the map: Almunia started the season as number 1 and was dropped for Szczesny, who was dropped for Lehmann but returned to the lineup.

The defense also had personnel problems: Vermaelen spent the entire season injured, Djourou featured and played alongside Koscielny, and Arsenal had to rely on the error-prone Squillaci in defense.

And in midfield, Wenger struggled to figure out a good starting lineup. He played Denilson, Song, and Wilshere along with Cesc with Ramsey and Diaby also swapping duties.

In short, in 2010/11 Arsenal were a great possession side but saddled with an error prone defense, a manager who was constantly changing lineups, and a number of players who were not anywhere near good enough. Sound familiar?

Another feature of that season was Arsenal’s lack of what I call “proactive” defense. Wenger’s defensive scheme was mainly to have his back line nip in and win the ball back with interceptions. Alex Song was the only player outside of the back four who was making any meaningful interceptions/tackles numbers. 

Ramsey, Wilshere, Fabregas, Diaby, Arshavin, Nasri, Chamakh, van Persie, Walcott, Bendtner.. These guys were barely doing anything in terms of proactive defense. Meanwhile, Gael Clichy was constantly tackling (3.4/4.2 per game) and trying to win interceptions (3.2 per game). That means players were running at him and shows that Arsenal played a much too reactive defense.

With little pressure up top, and Wenger’s back five gambling on winning the ball back, Arsenal were easily sliced open by the opposition. One more telling stat from that season: Arsenal were the most dispossessed team in the League. Meaning that we were the team most often caught with the ball at feet. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to look at the “deep” stats from the 2010/11 season but now that I have seen them I understand why Fabregas wanted out.That team was a defensive mess.

Similarities/Differences between 2010 and 2019

Before I start here I want to be clear that just because I am comparing Arsenal to Leicester I am NOT suggesting that we sign Brentan. I’m also not jumping on the bandwagon because they beat 10 men Newcastle 5-0 this weekend. I was looking at these stats all season and noticed the change in their style from last season. Leicester are merely a useful foil for describing what Arsenal are doing wrong and what they could be doing better.

The first problem is that Arsenal are no longer a strong possession side. The Gunners are now 9th in possession overall 53.6% It’s not a huge drop in possession from 2010/11 (just 3%) but that drop in possession means that Arsenal allow the opposition more of the ball than before and thus, more opportunities for shots. 

The major problems are that Arsenal are dead last or at the bottom of the table in most of the defensive stats. Now, defensive stats have very small correlation to shots allowed and goals conceded. However, they do tell us whether the team is aggressively trying to win the ball back. Arsenal are not doing that, we are playing passive, low block defense for long stretches of the season so far.

  • Arsenal are 18th in tackles per game with just 15.1; Leicester are 1st with 23 per game
  • Arsenal are 17th in interceptions per game with just 8.6; Leicester are 7th with 12 per game
  • Arsenal are 19th in passes blocked with 5.3 per game. Leicester are top of the League with 12.4 per game
  • Arsenal are also 16th in crosses blocked per game with 1. Leicester are 8th with 1.6
  • Arsenal have allowed the most shots per game, 18.3. Leicester have allowed the 2nds fewest, 8.7
  • Arsenal have allowed 14 Big Chances, Leicester have allowed just 6
  • Arsenal have already conceded 2 errors for goals plus 3 penalties. Leicester have just 1 error for a goal and 1 penalty conceded
  • And finally, Arsenal are 17th in being dispossessed per game with 11.7. Leicester are 5th with just 9.3

The result of this passive defensive work is that Arsenal have allowed 14 big chances this season (2 per game and on pace to concede over 76 big chances). Have allowed the most shots per game, 18. And have already allowed 11 goals, on pace to concede 60 goals. And, playing it out from the back has proved to be a huge problem at Arsenal. We lead the League in possession lost in our own half!

Arsenal are playing the ball out from the back, losing the ball in our own half, and also not winning the ball back enough. You may have heard me say that there are “structural” problems at Arsenal. This is what I mean.

So, what can be done? Well, how about playing some defense? And I don’t just mean the center backs and fullbacks. I love Bellerin and Holding is my favorite defender in a long time, plus Tierney looks like a real winner. I think adding the three of them is going to help Arsenal’s possession stats (Ainsley Maitland-Niles leads Arsenal in possessions lost with 89). But unless the team starts pressuring when out of possession I fear for them in this system because Unai Emery’s passive defending is going to keep putting pressure on the defense.

Man U may be a bright spot

Pepe’s pressure on Tuanzebe forced the error for Aubameyang’s goal. We have seen that sort of pressure applied periodically this season and when the team does it, it works well. The question is what are the triggers? Are there triggers? If feels awfully random right now but it could be part of a plan.

Arsenal’s low block defense against Man U was hard to watch – because we aren’t used to seeing our team do this – and our lack of possession/pressing allowed Man U to take 16 shots. However, the shot pattern was mostly excellent.12 of their shots were from outside the box, they only created 1 big chance (McTominay’s missed header) and their only goal came from a blocked shot. Overall, I would prefer if the team controlled games more proactively but as a temporary solution, keeping the opponents shooting outside the box is a legitimate defensive scheme.

Unai also looks to have abandoned playing it out from the back. There was one moment where we tried to play it out but Luiz was caught in possession. From then on, Leno kicked it long. The problem there is that we don’t have anyone to reliably win those long balls (until Lacazette returns) and the team needs to scramble to win the second ball. One side note, back in 2011/12 Wenger used to have Szczesny kick it long to Sagna who won a ton of aerial duels that season, he led Arsenal with 2.7 per game. Yesterday, Calum Chambers won 3 of 5 aerial duels, all from Leno long balls aimed at him. 

And finally, defense. Ok, so Arsenal conceded 55% of the possession to Man U yesterday. Not good. However, we did at least put in a shift trying to win the ball back. Arsenal made 19/26 tackles but most importantly won 9/12 tackles in their half and 5 of 6 in their final third. We also had 2 of our 8 interceptions in their half. And we had three blocked passes in their half. Plus! As I pointed out once before, Pepe’s pressure forced the error that led to the goal. 

The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be a clear progression from one style to another. Last season Arsenal finished 5th in possession with 56% but 11th in overall shots taken, 15th in tackles, 13th in interceptions, and 10th in passes blocked. We also allowed fewer shots last season, 13.1 (10th in the League). So, if anything the stats look like we are going backwards. Like we are becoming more passive, less proactive. And that’s worrying.

Even more worrying is that Arsenal’s attack is heavily reliant on Aubameyang’s incredible scoring record. As of this writing, Aubameyang has scored 7 goals in 7 matches from just 21 shots. 10% finishing is normal for all shots, 20% is a great finishing rate for a striker, 33% is probably unsustainable. 

Or, who knows, maybe Auba will score 38 League goals on 114 shots this season? I would still wonder where the other goals are going to come from and how we were going to stop the opposition.


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Great article. Really happy to have you back.

Dave M

Second that. Although it’s not pretty reading despite the nice writing. All this talk of “stop complaing we’re 4th on the table” really just glosses over the problems you highlight here Tim. We aren’t going to finish top 3 or top 4 if we keep this play up. We are shovelling sh*t up hill every game. (1) Again as I and many others have highlighted a lot of this seems to stem from our completely unbalanced midfield. Xhaka as our DM is complete lunacy for me. We are so often getting exposed to counter attacks and they lead much more… Read more »

El segundo

1) emery seems to prefer to press up top – willock is suited to this role and should start ahead of torreira, if emery persists with his approach
2) xhaka, guendouzi seems the transition midfielder, rather than a defensive screen
3) playing willock closer to the strikers also increases chances of goals from the midfield

Hence, xhaka + guendouzi starting should keep torreira and ceballos out of the team

Dave M

(1) I’d be fine with that if it wasn’t so much in isolation. One man (occasionally supported by one or two others) press is so easy to beat as the passing options are open and the guy under pressure can easily get the ball away. (2) Not really sure what you mean here. If you mean they aren’t really a defensive screen combined and they are more switchable – sure i agree, and I see that as a major problem as to why we are so exposed against fast attacks – no-one is entirely responsible and it’s easy to say… Read more »


the problem is the obsession with Guendouzi. He cannot defend or attack at pace. So he doesnt work as a CM. His only bright moments have come when he has two other midfielders to support him, and he plays as #10.

Emery loves Doozi and has constantly tried to create a system that will allow him to flourish, in a way similar to how Cesc had to be accommodated or Mesut. Currently that hasnt been possible except to play a 3 CM central midfield but that kind of leaves us a big disjointed.


1.) I have been calling for the benching of Xhaka since his arrival in North London.. I thought he was a good addition as a back up.. to have him not only as a regular starter but as our CAPTAIN! is bonkers to me. Elneny can do a better job. Hell…get Coquelin back and he will do a better job!! I agree 100000%, stop this bullsh*t with Toerreira running around like headless chicken as an attacking midfielder.. and put him as a CDM.. 2.) Willock, Willock , Willock… hes a gem! I really fear for him and Ghenoduzi.. I wonder… Read more »

Eternal Titi Berg Pat Nostalgia

Once a gunner, always a gunner.


Excellent read. Great having you back. Could you please email this to Emery. Thanks!


emery reads it. laughs at it. and continues the same s***




Always enjoy your insights Tim. Welcome back.


Really enjoyed this article although the content may force a grown man into tears… A consequence of our lack of proper defensive structure that it make the team to work after the two sins of defending, being passive or careless aggressive. Xhaka is a prime contender for both , a rod with his hands behind his back or stupid challenges anywhete on the pitch. On the positive I think we have a lot of players with the right attitude in the team just waiting for the right trigget factor. Bellerin, Holding , Chambers, Tierney ( I think) , Guendouzi ,… Read more »


Brendan Rogers? ??‍♂️?


No, he’s a pair of triggers wired together on that shotgun pointed at your own foot.


Good article as always Tim. Welcome back.


Yes, fantastic stuff.
Thank you.


I’ve been missing this, great to have you back!


Great article! Thanks Tim!
This sounds very bsd. I’m worried…


Unai must read this.


Great article. Once a month is worth the wait for early like this.

When I read the headline I immediately thought of our pedestrian attacking phase. It’s damning that our defence is so passive as well.

But for all our defensive woes in 10/11, we still played some amazing attacking football. We beat Barca in what I still regard as the finest football match I’ve ever watched. Theo van Nasregas tore Chelsea a new one.

The year 2019 was marked by this absolute joyless brand of football (except beating Spurs). I’d love to see your statistical insights on this front.


‘Early’ should read Articles.


A bit off topic but anyone else remember when Walcott and Campbell kept Gnabry out the side. And Pulis benching him? Man, life is funny…

Gutbukkit Deffrolla

Gnabry having a blinder and making all Gooners happy with his hat-trick (so far) in the 6-2 (so far) humiliation Bayern Munich are giving to Sp*rs. I seem to remember the Sp*rs fans being a bit gobby when it happened to us.

OMG he’s made it 4 goals on the night. A 7-2 home drubbing (so far, still a few minutes left)

Thierry Bergkamp

The way I see it is, we’re in no position to be happy about others misfortunes. What the fuck have our club done on the pitch for the last few seasons?


don’t be daft


It kind of depends (for me). I found little to crow about Spurs while Arsenal were going through an end-of-season meltdown last year. This year though – chuckles all round.


In what has been a fairly joyless season so far, you grab at any morsels available. And 5pur2 conceding seven at home is a veritable feast!


Exactly! I knew people would say something about Gnarby. He has been gone for about 3 years. Seeing how they already writing off Emery and pepe, you think they would wait for him to develop???

Thierry Bergkamp

Just from Gnabry’s odd game here and there for us when he was fit, it was obvious that he was going to be a quality player at some point. Tonight though….Wow!


Where can I praise Gnabry and mock Pulis?


Despite all our problems, which Tim correctly highlights, we are competing with Manure, chelsKids and the Ha Ha 7-2! sack of Spuds.
There is hope.


Worst United team in a long time with players openly wanting to leave, Chelsea, lost best player and had a transfer ban…we took their CB. Spurs, players openly want to leave and can’t buy a point in the last 17 games. Honestly awful awful moments for their clubs and we not only cant beat them we are only a point or two infront. It aint great!

Lord Bendnter

Hahha I came here to do the same


Did we put a buy-back clause in his transfer by any chance?


We didnt sell Gnabry to Bayern….

SB Still

Watching Spuds being mauled by Bayern.

My first feeling is, thank goodness we don’t play in the CL!

Next Gnabry, 4 goals, what a player he has become, would he have done that if he stayed with us? He & Ox could have been terrorising opponents on either side of Auba. Don’t get me wrong I still have high Hope’s for Pepe, Saka, etc. However, it’s continuous rebuild, recovering, instead of natural progress.

2-7 Spuds 🙂


Gnabry wasn’t good enough for Wenger. Now I see why were in this mess ??

Thierry Bergkamp

To be fair, Wenger did want to keep him. Gnabry clearly made the right decision in leaving, as he knew Arsenal were a sinking ship.


Arsene tended to take his time with most players to ensure they were ready.. he liked to bring them along in spits and spurts. But some players are more a ‘sink or swim’ type. Gnabry was one of those, he needed to be thrown in the deep end and he wasnt getting that at Arsenal. A move back to Germany and boom he swam! Happy for him, as a former gunner he would no doubt still be experiencing the joy of kicking some Spud butt.


But to be fair, Arsenal isn’t really a very supportive place to develop as a youngster. We often don’t give our young ones enough time to develop and learn. Gnabry didn’t go from Arsenal to Bayern to be instant success. He went to lower teams for two years before, where he could learn and develop without pressure and attitude that couple of mistakes means you are useless. Same for Malen, same for Jeff. We do it with most our youngsters – when Chambers game to team, he was future captain, couple months later after his form suffered, he was useless.… Read more »

Gutbukkit Deffrolla

It only came really good for him when he returned to his home country, Germany. I would say that his blossoming was more related to being comfortable at home than anything else.


as did Wenger. He did try to get the women and children off the ship before abandoning it.

Flavoured Rice

And yet Wenger bought us Henry, Bergamp, Fabregas to name but a few. He helped produce far more gems than made mistakes. Don’t be pushing your anti Wenger agenda now ate when he is long gone..

Got what you wished for, Wenger is gone. Now we have someone even worse. You should be more concerned about that


Wenger gave him his start and he was playing well for us until he got injured for basically 2yrs, and then he was sent on loan because we had others ahead of him by then unfortunately pulis messed it up. And then he wanted to go to germany or Bayern against Arsenal’s wishes, Arsene definitley didn’t want to sell him. He even complained about bayern tapping up, don’t rewrite history.


Come on you Serge!!!!

You are now officially an Arsenal legend!!!!

God is a Gooner



No, Ibaka


Thanks Tim, a thoroughly enjoyable read as always. We need a Policeman in midfield. Gendouzi might be the answer in a couple of years


I think he’s the answer now. Man of the match against United and Villa.

Ya gooner

Replace xhaka with torriera, have guen or willock as our b2b and one of cabellos or ozil as more attacking and we’ll improve. I know it’s boring but having Xhaka in our midfield makes our attack and defence worse he’s one of the laziest midfielders I’ve ever seen, never shows for the ball, always jogging back, turns like an arctic truck and thinks pointing at his head when we score makes him a good captain. I pray we get rid in jan.


On topic, seems then our defense and tactical nous is nonexistent still, and not only that, we’ve lost the attacking flow we were recognized for! with perhaps better players than what we have back in the days of yore.

Out of topic, Hats off to Serge Gnabry, delighted at him tearing the spuds a new one!


Interesting read, but Leicester have very good players. Chilwell, Evans, Pereira, Soyuncu, Ndidi, Maddison, Tielemans would all stake strong claims to be in our starting 11. Leicester are a well run club, who’s scouting has been exceptional, and they know when to move a player on, something we’ve been terrible at. If you took Evans, Chilwell, Pereira out of Leicester’s starting 11? I’m confident you’d see a dip in results and performance. We’re essentially missing 3 of our first choice back 4, I still think if we can hang in there until the New Year? Keeping a clean bill of… Read more »


Cheers Tim! great insight as always.

Flavoured Rice

Appreciate the well researched article but I’d hazard a guess Emery, with all his tactical nous, is well aware of these figures. My concern is he seems to think padding out the midfield with defensive midfielders (which consequently suffocates the forward line) seems to be the answer. It’s clearly not working, but he never seems to learn. Watching Emery manage leaves me in a constant state of bemusement. I’m nervous before every game because Emery does so love to play Russian Roulette with our squad. During games I’m forced to watch drab, insipid and impotent football. Its the same old… Read more »


Great, terrifying analysis.

And props to Serge Gnabry, who bailed out of Arsenal an age ago but still hates Sp#rs. Good lad.

Gooners & Roses

Ah, welcome back Tim! A nice surprise in such a dull moment surrounding Arsenal right now.


Great to have you back Tim!! Missed you!!


Great to have you back! We did wonder. Thanks for it all here.

The overall picture is that Emery seems to want all his players to be jacks of all trades. Talk about unsustainable!


Thanks Tim, great read!

Also, calling agent Gnabry, we need you back here…


What a brilliant article – fascinating. Really high quality stuff – thank you!


Off topic, Gnabry destroyed Spurs yesterday and that guy we sent to Tony Pulis on loan… On the positive besides the humiliation of Spurs is that Marte would never let this happen today.


funny how everyone can see that xhaka is the problem but Emery. The arsenal Board should force him to try this just in a single game “to prove us wrong”


Not everyone….Arsene didn’t see Xhaka as a problem either, or his coaches at Borussia who made him captain at an early age or his Swiss coach who made him captain of a good international side. I’m at as much of a loss as anyone to understand why Xhaka isn’t dropped by now….but let’s not suggest Emery is out on his own in viewing him as indispensable – all his coaches have. If anything, it makes it more confusing…..


but it really is simple. Xhaka can be a very good player if he is being used correctly, in a very limited role that is mainly focused on spraying balls from deep, sort of like Arteta used to play (note how he was criticized for similar things as Xhaka is), or that Matic has. the problem with this is that the tempo of PL makes it impossible to have an efficient team that would limit one of the positions to the role Xhaka requires, which both damages the team as a whole and Xhaka as a player within it. i… Read more »


Lemme consult my crystal ball on this… ?


xhaka isnt the problem..its that twerp doozi, who gambols around bumping into things and is no where to be found when needed in defence.


Granit is that you? That’s no way to talk as a club captain!


Thank you for this. Brilliant work as always.

You’re setting high standards for single dads. I didn’t watch the United game because I decided to prioritize sleep. Well done, sir.


Arsenal goaled 2 against Spurs, Serge 4 all by himself. But the Arsenal fans, coach, players were very happy to get a draw at home against Spurs. Ambition…

Flavoured Rice

And water is wet. What’s your point ?


arsenal fans have settled for pathetically low standards, in their hate for Wenger.


When is the last time a manager did so little with so much talent at his disposal?

Please, let the answer not be UE at PSG!

Xhaka's 18-Point Turn

Yaaaay he’s back! I can only deal with your brand of stats @7am


I cannot think that Emery does not see what the majority of fans see, else he wont be in the job. There must be other reasons for the “strange” combination of players he fields.

But Curious

Sad when you left missed you while you were gone. Thrilled you have returned

Teryima Adi

Great piece. So impressed.

Gareth Hogan

Great to have you back Tim!


Glad you are back…..our young and hungry English crew will be fun to watch plus Chambo , Rob and Bellerin….Arsene at his best…long will live the team the Arsene way…..gunner for life.

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