I didn’t have huge expectations for Arsenal post re-start but I did hope that the matches could at least be a fun distraction.
For the first time in a while, I think that was actually true. I appreciate Norwich helping that along with their dedication to trying to play an attacking style but Arsenal also did an excellent job dominating possession, pushing Norwich back and then actually creating some dangerous opportunities.
I don’t want to get my hopes up but with the teams above Arsenal in the table struggling, the distance between Arsenal and qualifying for Europe have compressed. The Champions League is still probably too far away (thanks Unai and Raul) to realistic but getting back into the Europa League seems pretty realistic again (my model give it slightly more than a 1 in 3 chance). The Europa League kinda sucks but given Arsenal’s ugly finances anything extra is not something that fans can turn their noises up to with the rebuild required at the club.
Arsenal 4-0 Norwich City: By the graphs
Arsenal 4-0 Norwich City: By the numbers
8 – Shots Allowed, tied for second fewest allowed this season by Arsenal
0 – Shots in Prime Allowed, tied for fewest allowed this season (the other was also against Norwich) by Arsenal
28.9 – The average distance from goal for Norwich City’s shots, the longest average distance allowed this season by Arsenal
0.2 – xG allowed, the lowest allowed this season by Arsenal
7 – Touches in the box allowed, the fewest allowed this season by Arsenal
1 – Shot from a set piece allowed (direct free kick after a Mustafi special), tied for the 2nd fewest allowed (the fewest was 0 against Manchester City in the 3-0 that was done after about 20 minutes)
This was by far Arsenal’s best defensive showing this season. You can add an asterisk if you like because it was against the last place team but even with that Arsenal have really struggled to not allow teams to do better than their typical performances.
Before this match, Arsenal allowed teams to take 118% of the average shots against them, 110% of their average xG, 102% of their average touches in the box. Essentially teams faced Arsenal and faced little resistance and often put up some of their best attacking numbers of the season against them.
I think that this is clearly something that Mikel Arteta has been focused on, even if it meant that the attack suffered. Arsenal have looked better organized, the pressing has looked sharper and overall the system has made large improvements. Individual mistakes, red cards and injuries have masked the improvements but I do believe good things are happening.
Dani Ceballos impresses
58 – Passes completed, 2nd on Arsenal
7 – Passes completed into the final third, tied for first on Arsenal (with Granit Xhaka)
11 – Progressive passes completed, most for Arsenal
6 – Passes completed into the Penalty Arsenal, most for Arsenal
2 – Through balls completed, most for Arsenal
24 – Pressures, 2nd on Arsenal (behind Alexandre Lacazette who gets a lot of deserved crap but he ran his socks off yesterday). Of those 8 led to Arsenal regaining possession which led the team.
9 – Attacking third pressures, 2nd on Arsenal
4 – Interceptions, most for Arsenal
61 – Targets (passed aimed to him), most for Arsenal
28 – Final third touches, most for Arsenal
2 – Dribbles completed, most for Arsenal
182 – Progressive distance carried, most for Arsenal
1 – Key pass but 4 shot creating attacking actions (3 pre-assists to open up the defense)
This is the kind of performance I had hoped Dani Ceballos could give Arsenal on a regular basis when they got him last summer, unfortunately they have been few and far between. In this match he was always available for teammates (you can that in his total targets) but more importantly when he received the ball you could see that his intent was to drive the ball forward. Too often this season the ball would come to Ceballos and then slow down, he would make some pretty touches, maybe even evade a defender but then the ball would end up sideways or going backwards. This match he was the driving force, especially in the first half, moving Arsenal forward.
I think that this was partially helped by the back 3 that Arteta implemented that freed both Granit Xhaka and Ceballos to push forward. This isn’t always possible when Arsenal use the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 because in possession, Arteta seems to want 3 players back to keep the defensive protection. Often it is one of the midfielders that needs to drop back to make up the line of 3 while the full backs push forward.
Hopefully this is a sign of Arteta figuring out how to best use the midfield to support Arsenal’s attack.
Sources: Opta via whoscored and own database, StatsBomb via Fbref