Arsenal kicked off the 2020/21 season just 4 weeks after winning the FA Cup by beating reigning League Champions Liverpool in the FA Community Shield. They managed to beat a strong Liverpool side despite the majority of the squad having less than a week of training following their holidays.
Let’s delve deeper into the data to see how the Gunners triumphed in the annual curtain raiser.
The above graph shows the Possession Value added difference between the two teams from yesterdays match. Possession Value Added or PVA measures the increase or decrease in the likelihood of a possession ending in a goal based on the successful passes a team makes. Essentially it shows how threatening you are when you have the ball and whether or not your passing is effective in increasing your chances of scoring.
From this we can see that Liverpool dominated the majority of the game, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s goal coming slightly against the run of play. Despite that, Aubameyang’s goal seemed to settle the Arsenal side who were much more threatening from that point until the end of the first half. The second half however saw more Liverpool dominance with the Arsenal defence and midfield putting in a commendable shift given the lack of preparation they have had and the transfer noise surrounding some of them (Maitland-Niles and Holding).
Mikel Arteta managed to make a difference with his substitutions though, with his 82nd minute introductions of Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson for Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Saka proving a masterstroke as the two Hale End graduates showed great energy and drive in pushing Arsenal forward in an 8 minute spell which proved the most dominant of the game.
Now let’s look at some of Arsenal’s key Possession Value passers:
Ainsley Maitland-Niles put in a Man of the Match performance on his birthday as well as receiving his first ever England call-up (not a bad birthday!). Maitland-Niles’ successful passes resulted in a 25.96% increase in Possession Value meaning that the Academy graduate increased Arsenal’s chances of scoring by 25.96%, second to only Andy Robertson yesterday.
More on Maitland-Niles’ performance later though.
The above graph shows Joe Willock’s successful passes and the resulting increase in Possession Value associated with that pass (Blue shows a decrease in PV, orange a slight increase, red a large increase).
Willock in particular proved pivotal as he was deployed in a seemingly unfamiliar centre-forward role where he dropped in between the Liverpool defence and midfield and used his strength and pace to push forward.
He finished the game as Arsenal’s 2nd best Possession Value Added passer, with his 6 successful passes resulting in a 19.32% increase in Arsenal scoring a goal which was third to only Andy Robertson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles overall.
Another Hale End graduate who proved pivotal in the victory was our new number 7, Bukayo Saka. He gave Arsenal a great outlet on the right-hand side and linked well with Hector Bellerin to get through the Liverpool press, while also increasing Arsenal’s chance of scoring by 16.32%. This worked wonderfully for the goal, with Bellerin picking out Saka on the right-side who got in behind Andy Robertson and produced a cross-field ball to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who did what he does best to curl it brilliantly beyond Alisson.
Saka’s cross-field pass to Aubameyang resulted in a 10.5% increase Arsenal’s chances of scoring and displayed the 18-year old’s undeniable ability.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was Arsenal’s 3rd highest PVA passer with a PVA of 17.8% showing that the Gabonese international is not just a world-class goalscorer, but also effective in build-up play. Aubameyang’s ball from the left touchline into the box, which resulted in a blocked Kieran Tierney shot increased Arsenal’s chance of scoring by 19.6% which was Arsenal’s 3rd highest individual PVA pass.
Now let’s focus on our defensive performance, starting first with the centre-backs.
Arsenal’s 3 centre-backs showed great resolve and discipline in containing one of Europe’s highest-scoring teams from last season to just a single goal. This in spite of genuinely limited preparation (Mikel Arteta revealed after the game that David Luiz had only had one training session since returning from holiday). Rob Holding in particular was put under a lot of pressure, with Liverpool focusing the majority of their attacks down their left-hand side with Sadio Mane and Andrew Robertson targeting the area between Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin.
Holding, despite the speculation surrounding a loan move to Newcastle, put in a stellar defensive performance with the former Bolton man completing 10 Defensive Actions (Headers, Interceptions, Tackles, Blocks etc.) and failing in 3. David Luiz and Kieran Tierney were less troubled with the pair combining for 8 successful Defensive Actions and Tierney failing in 3 in his time on the pitch.
Now let’s look at our wing-backs.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles put in a brilliant defensive performance as he completed 10 Defensive Actions, only failing in 3 as he helped to keep Mohamed Salah and, for a period in the second half, Sadio Mane quiet. Maitland-Niles successful challenge on Sadio Mane in the box was wonderfully done as the Liverpool man would have been 1 on 1 with Emi Martinez had he not intervened. Hector Bellerin put in another good performance as the Spaniard continues to look more and more like his old self following last season’s injury problems. Bellerin completed 5 Defensive Actions, failing in 3, before being substituted in 60th minute.
And finally – the central midfielders.
Arsenal’s central midfielders both showed tremendous discipline without the ball and great composure on the ball as they helped shield the Arsenal defence in a backs against the wall display. Granit Xhaka continued his good form under Mikel Arteta, completing 10 Defensive Actions and failing only 1 with the Swiss international winning the ball in the Liverpool half 4 times, 2 of which came in the last 10 minutes as Arsenal pushed Liverpool back in search of a winning goal.
Alongside Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny put in a disciplined display in what was his first game for Arsenal since the last fixture of the 2018/19 season away to Burnley, completing 9 successful Defensive Actions with 1 unsuccessful. With Arsenal’s lack of midfield options and speculation surrounding the futures of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, could we see the Egyptian starting the season alongside Xhaka?
In the end, it’s another trophy to Mikel Arteta’s name and another impressively gritty performance to add to what is a growing list under the former Arsenal captain, all of which is very promising for the upcoming season. Hopefully over the next few weeks we will see more incomings in the window especially in midfield where we could use an injection of quality and depth.
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