Arsenal continued their winning start to the 2020/21 Premier League season with a less-than-convincing 2-1 win against West Ham. Mikel Arteta’s introduction proved pivotal as the England under-21 star scored a late winner after good work from Bukayo Saka and Dani Ceballos in an otherwise lackluster performance from the Gunners against what was a well-organised and solid West Ham side.

Let’s dive into the data to see if we can find some positives and perhaps areas to improve.

Above is the Possession Value Added Difference between the two teams, on a 5-minute rolling average, from Saturday’s game.  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. It is essentially a measure of how threatening you are when you have the ball.

From the above we can see that Arsenal generally controlled the game, with West Ham having a few periods of increased threat, notably the first 20 minutes where they grew in confidence. Arsenal’s goal (minutes 25 and 86 above) came during periods of PVA dominance but equally Michail Antonio’s equaliser (45th minute) also came in a period of Arsenal PVA dominance showing, perhaps, a vulnerability to this Arsenal side even when dominating.

The above shows cumulative Possession Value Added for both teams during the game. This further demonstrates Arsenal’s slow start which continued until the move that led to Lacazette’s goal. Despite the early struggles, Mikel Arteta will surely take positives from the way Arsenal finished the game, with Nketiah’s goal coming during a period of extended threat. This chart further shows the benefit of using non-shot metrics to judge a game as Scott does in his ‘By the Numbers’ series .

Both his non-shot xG model and my PVA model recognise that despite the lack of high xG shots, Arsenal largely dominated the game, but they still allowed West Ham to create a large amount of high xG chances despite this dominance which is of course worrying.

Above is a Pass Map for each of the Starting XI, showing the successful and unsuccessful passes for each player. Although our passing down the flanks is promising and relatively effective in producing chances, our lack of a presence in the ‘Number 10’ area of the pitch is worrying and may be a reason for our rumoured interest in Lyon’s Houssem Aouar. 

To coincide with the Pass Map, above is a Pass Map showing the Possession Value Added for each successful pass by each player and each players Possession Value Added from their successful passes. What the PVA values highlight to me is our left-sided bias during Saturday’s game, with 2 of our top 3 PVA passers being our Left Wing-Back Bukayo Saka and our Left Winger Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

On the topic of Bukayo Saka, the Hale End graduate was pivotal in both goals providing the ‘Pre-Assist’ for both goals as shown above, with his through-balls bypassing a combined 7 West Ham defenders. On a night with a dearth of promising performers, the Ealing native continues to show his potential.

Let’s look at some of our other key performers, starting with Gabriel Magalhães.

Another player who impressed yet again was Gabriel Magalhães. The new signing from Lille put in another solid performance against tough opposition in Michail Antonio. Gabriel’s passing was much improved, with the Brazilian adding 11.56% in Possession Value through his passing, with 16 of his 77 pass completions progressing the ball at least 10 metres vertically.

Now let’s look at another of our star performers, Dani Ceballos.

Ceballos played a key role in Saturday’s game, providing the assist for Eddie Nketiah’s winner as well as a key interception inside his own penalty area to prevent a potential West Ham goal. Ceballos produced 15 progressive passes from 93 completions with 3 passes into the West Ham penalty area. Ceballos’ all action performance proved pivotal as the Spaniard stepped up on a day we needed him to.

Now onto a less positive performance.

I deliberated over whether or not to include this section as I do not enjoy criticising players openly, but I feel like Sead Kolasinac’s performance on Saturday needs highlighting. The Bosnian international managed to complete only 1 progressive pass, with 34 of his 54 completions going backwards.

If we compare this to Kieran Tierney last week, then the Bosnian’s % of passes that go forward is 37% compared to 51% of Tierney’s against Fulham. To further this 19 of Kolasinac’s backwards passes came from inside the West Ham half and whether this is due to inability or a lack of confidence it is clearly negatively affected Arsenal’s ability to attack incisively.

All in all, saturday’s showed that despite our uptake in form under Arteta, we still lack a certain cutting edge against teams who sit in a deep block against us. Hopefully this problem gets addressed before the transfer window shuts.

It’s onto Liverpool next week for Arsenal, with the Gunners hoping to win a Premier League game at Anfield for the first time since September 2012, with a Carabao Cup game against Leicester on Wednesday sure to see some of the squad players getting some action

@DomC0801

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C.B.

Thanks, very thought-provoking as usual. Kola is poor.

PeteyB

Absolutely. I don’t think I’d appreciated Arteta’s full range of talents as a player manager… “Mikel Arteta’s introduction proved pivotal”
?

pound4pound

This is fantastic work. Thanks for putting this together!

Dave

Love this

Justno

The biggest problem this team had is clearly Kola… Honestly I believe, had Tierney played, the the players around him would have performed significantly better.

Naked Cygan

Please forward this to Arteta. Thanks

Trent

Personally, I think that Tierney is the most important player in this 3-4-3 system. There is no other player who can pass like him from the left side of a 3 and get forward. Without him we can’t build attacks in this system. Kolasinac can do a job as a left back or wing back, but he should not play on the left of a 3 again.

Futsboller

Well said. Which is why Arteta has to be more flexible (ironically) with this flexible system — meaning, he’s got to have a better back up plan than throwing Kola in there to try and do a Tierney job. Doesn’t work. If we can’t field the personnel to make the magic in his 3-4-3, then revert to a back four for and add an extra midfielder to shield the D and help transition to attack — that could have been Saka, Elneny, or even Willock. I’m loving Arteta, have been championing him since Wenger first departed, but this match made… Read more »

Onenil

I think the last minute injury for Tierney meant Arteta could not change the entire system, without confusing the players.
He had to ask Sead to do a job. He was not up to it.

Futsboller

Right – but that’s my point. We prepare one way for the match, one based on the particular skillset of a (rising) star player, and he gets injured — and we couldn’t slot in like-for-like, and nearly dropped 2-3 points. I’m so pleased we got the victory and our resilience at the back is a big help to that, but it worries me a bit that we already look a little predictable. I love Arteta and am sure he’ll be more prepared for this circumstance next time it happens.

A Different George

I don’t think it makes any sense to switch to a back four, at the last moment, when your two centre halves are Holding and Gabriel (the latter in his second match for Arsenal). And, although Kolasinac was very poor going forward (which is normally his relative strength), I am not sure he was a liability as a third central defender.

EmanAfc

Oooh fancy visuals.

Simon

FYI – the Kola chart labels it’s self Ceballos

Con

Good stuff. Lacazette needs replacing.

Column

A Center forwards hold up play and passing back to a midfeilder will always look poor per the possession added value pass map. That being said his 2 attempts to cross/chip to Abua were poor.

Con

Yep, but we need to replace him with a forward who drops deep to link the play, and plays between in the lines.

Gooners & Roses

I would think we can compare his stats with those of Firmino for peer analysis. But play more or less similar role.

Both Lacazette and Firmino did not start their careers as strikers but were converted midway. In my opinion Firmino does not take to the striker position as naturally as Lacazette but that’s another story. So far they’ve been averaging similar numbers. Firmino has averaged 0.55 goal contributions per game (177 games). Lacazette has averaged 0.61 goal contributions per game (99 games). I think Klopp has been patient with Firmino because he originally signed him as an attacking midfielder. Klopp likes dynamic forwards and has thus far favoured Firmino over Benteke, Origi and Sturridge. However this might change with the signing… Read more »

K-Gooner

This is some next level stats! I already feel like the technical director ?

Chidi

Reading this amazing Stats and I’m wondering if Arteta’s got a better one (he probably does). Thanks for the wonderful analysis. Kola for the short term is a worry but hopefully he’s gone before the window shuts. Saka just keeps impressing one wonders what his ceiling would look like. I hope we get Auour transfer targets because we need every bit of creativity for teams who sit deep. The prospect of a midfield three of Partey, Ceballos and Auour and we’re looking at some elite city level bullying. On to the next match. Coyg

Arteta probably knows what each player’s resting heart rate is??. I disagree that the two midfield signings will get us to Manchester City’s level though. We still don’t have any players in the squad that has shown they’re capable on getting more than 15 goals in the league besides Auba. That has been the case for the past three seasons. Pepe might no longer be a new signing but the onus is still on him to breach that landmark in the league. If the guy (His agents admitted this) wants to use Arsenal has a stepping stone to an even… Read more »

Kostas

How are the defensive actions defined?

Eddy F

If we stick to that formation even when Tierney is out we should play Xhaka in that left sided CB role. He can do it, and with the way they’re instructed to step into midfield when we have the ball would be a very handy addition. Sure he won’t overlap down the left, but just instruct Saka to do that more instead.

Scott P

I do wonder if putting Xhaka in that position would reverse some of the good Arteta has done with him in the side. One of the ways that Xhaka’s been helped in this team is that his weaknesses have been minimized due to the more limited and defined role he has been asked to play. To put him in a position to perform a more expansive role like Tierney has been able to do, I would worry about Xhaka defensively facing counter attacks. Like you said, maybe that can be mitigated somewhat by the LWB, but doing so would defeat… Read more »

Central midfield is the area of the team with the least manpower.

Playing 3 out of 5 available Central midfielders at the same time is not a good idea.