Arsenal kicked off their first full season under Mikel Arteta with a convincing 3-0 win away to newly promoted Fulham. This was the first time since the 2009/10 season (Everton 6-1) that Arsenal won their first Premier League game of the season by more than 1 goal.

Let’s delve deeper into the data to see how Mikel Arteta’s men fared in the Premier League curtain-raiser.

Above is the Possession Value Added Difference between the two teams, on a 5 minute rolling average, for the game on Saturday. 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.

Arsenal dominated the majority of the game with Fulham starting quite threateningly but failing to get any sense of control after Alexandre Lacazette scored the opener for Arsenal. Arsenal capitalised on a strong start to the second half to extend their lead before Aubameyang scored a wonderful goal from a great team move to seal the three points.

Above is the Cumulative PVA for both teams which shows that Fulham’s fast start petered out, and Arsenal steadily provided more and more threat as the game went on. Arsenal’s defence and midfield managed to almost completely nullify the Fulham attack, with the home side being limited to only one shot in the box all game.

Among Arsenal’s starting XI were 2 Brazilian debutants, Gabriel Magalhães and Willian who both played starring roles in the victory at Craven Cottage. Let’s look at their performances.

Gabriel led all players on the pitch for touches and passes, with the Brazilian completing 107 of his 114 attempts (94% accuracy) and adding 3.51% in Possession Value. He did well in an unfamiliar role as the central defender in a back 3 and combined well with Kieran Tierney, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Granit Xhaka in possession. Gabriel attempted 10 Defensive Actions (including ball recoveries), completing 6 in a solid defensive display.

Now let’s look at Willian’s performance.

Willian added an astounding 85.8% in Possession Value which, in layman’s termsm means his passing resulted in Arsenal having an 85.8% higher chance of scoring in possessions he was involved in. What is very noticeable is the amount of cross-field switches Willian completed with the quick switch being a hallmark of Arteta’s build-up so far. Willian also contributed with five successful Defensive Actions (including recoveries) showing his willingness to put in a defensive shift for the team.

Let’s take a look at how Arsenal approached the game.

In possession Kieran Tierney pushed out into a more conventional left-back role with Hector Bellerin pushing far up the right wing overlapping Willian who occupied the right half-space. Mohamed Elneny covered the space vacated by Bellerin with Granit Xhaka playing slightly further forward on the left side. Substitute Nicolas Pepe noticeably played far further forward than Willian, with the Ivorian being the most advanced player after coming on, with Ceballos and Bellerin in support of him.

Above is a PVA Pass Map and the corresponding Possession Value Added % for each of Arsenal’s starting XI as well as the substitutes (excluding Nketiah who only completed 1 pass). What is very noticeable is how effective Arsenal’s right-side was in increasing the chances of scoring, with Holding (RCB), Bellerin (RWB), Willian (RW) and Pepe (RW) all scoring highly in Possession Value Added. The Gunners’ left-side was less involved but Kieran Tierney still showed his ability on the ball with the Scottish international providing a consistent source of progressive passing with 7 (2nd to only Hector Bellerin). Bellerin also lead the way for Passes into the Penalty Area with 4, showing his quality and effectiveness in this system.

With Fulham being limited to only 1 shot in the Arsenal penalty area, let’s look at how Arsenal’s position groups fared in Defensive Actions (this time excluding Recoveries to highlight raw defensive duels):

Arsenal’s defenders were relatively unchallenged, with Rob Holding facing the majority of the duels, completing 5 of an attempted 7 defensive actions in a solid display. The defence were mostly excellent in nullifying the Fulham attack and dealt with the pace of Kamara and the strength of Mitrovic with relative ease. I feel a special shout out is needed for Kieran Tierney here, with the Scotsman proving to be a true ‘Mr. Consistent’ (A better Nacho Monreal essentially) and showing all-round quality and tactical intelligence in every game he plays.

Now let’s look at the Arsenal wing-backs and midfielders.

From the above we can see that the Arsenal ‘midfield’ fared well defensively with Mohamed Elneny in particular putting in a good shift, covering the space vacated by Hector Bellerin when he went forward. The Egyptian impressed again and will surely have increased his chances of a staying as a squad player in what was his first Premier League appearance in 489 days. Elsewhere, Ainsley Maitland-Niles did a good job in securing the left-wing in defence as he continued in his dual-role as a left-back in defence and a midfielder in possession. Hector Bellerin meanwhile completed both of his defensive actions in the opposition half which further emphasises the attacking freedom he was allowed at Craven Cottage.

The Arsenal ‘midfield’ stifled Fulham and provided a solid screen for the centre-backs as well as proving effective in possession and in build-up patterns.

Arsenal’s forwards were relatively uninvolved in Defensive Duels (apart from Lacazette) at Craven Cottage. Lacazette was very involved however, attempting 5 defensive duels in his own half showing his work rate and willingness to help his midfielders by dropping in and putting his foot in. That work rate will be massively appreciated by Mikel Arteta who places a lot of responsibility on Lacazette’s shoulders in this system.

All in all, Saturday was another sign of the progress being made under Arteta, with Arsenal already surpassing their points total away to promoted teams from last season (1 point). Arteta will hope to build on this momentum further against West Ham on Saturday before facing a very tough run of fixtures in October.

Hopefully before then we will have some positive news on the transfer front!

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Evaristus

Damn!

Nacho Cheese Kalevra

Come on Arsenal!

C.B.

Impressive stuff, shows how poor we were last season at times (1 point away to promoted teams…).

Lets see where we are after 10 matches, encouraging start.

C.B.

Great analysis and images, though leaves me wanting more eg Holding looks like he had a good match, would be good to see more, and Tierney etc etc

Daveo

30pts surely!?

fanboy

Quality content this 👍

Jungu Beans

Simply excellent article.

Mayor McCheese

It’s insanely good!

Anonymarse

Can’t help but wonder why we don’t have ainsley doing the same job on the right instead of the left (or both), you would think he would be more effective on the right

Presumably Hector would be effective on the right side of a 3 in much the same way Tierney is

I guess maybe the boss fancies Tierney more in that role, or it is the fact we have Aubameyang on that side

God is a Gooner

Yes, it confirms to me what I saw with my eyes: that the game passed AMN by. It’s a shame, I would like to see him start a bit more central as a left-sided CM in a 433. But Arteta knows best..
His average position was almost redundant, and if we replaced him for a more central, attacking midfielder this team could get scary fast.

mjc1892

To me it demonstrated that AMN is an excellent utility player and hugely useful in games against the Liverpools and Citys of the world, when we need discipline and lack possession, but that against teams we could and should dominate he has massive limitations in offensive contribution.
I think he’s great in many ways, and I like him, but I really wouldn’t be as devastated as some were we to pick up £20m to contribute to the centre mid we truly need.

God is a Gooner

Yep, he’s a square peg in this setup. I’ve got a feeling Arteta is playing him over Saka more to convince him to stay than for a tactical plan. He was pretty anonymous in this match, either by-passed by Tierney to Auba, or infield to Xhaka.. I don’t think his attacking instincts are bad per se, he’s just being played in a very weird position. In his time at Rwb he was very dangerous and got a few goals and assists over there. I think anyone would find it tough to contribute in this hybrid role on their wrong side.… Read more »

A Different George

This is a complicated system and Maitland-Niles plays it well. (I have been quite surprised, to be honest.) Defensive cover on the left when out of possession, then more central–giving up the left side to Teirney advancing and Aubameyang when we have the ball. And he is often very advanced in that central role, ahead of Xhaka/Ceballos or Xhaka/Elnenny, making a run into the box to open space for Aubameyang in possession. You’d almost think that Arteta had watched Guardiola or something.

Ordnance Dave

Must have been watching a different game to me then. AMN’s off the ball runs were crucial in both open play goals. His run into the box created space for Auba to cut back the ball before Laca’s opener and his run into the box created the angle for Auba to cut inside and score his trademark Henry goal.
AMN is the doing the Ramsey like donkey work off the ball that always goes unappreciated by the masses, but Arteta knows how valuable he is to the team right now.

mjc1892

We’ll have to agree to disagree. I dont think any of his movement is particularly special. Sure he occupies space, but you’d expect that off of any fullback. I’m hugely appreciative of players whose work often goes unnoticed. I just think that in this case he- as the other poster on this thread said- is being accommodated when an ‘actual’ left sided player would do better, solely to convince him to stay. Would have liked to have seen what Saka could have done there on Saturday, for example. Anyway, doesn’t matter too much whilst we’re playing well! Hope he proves… Read more »

Social Assassin

Sorry to step in to disagree to disagree, but your casual dismissal of the runs AMN was making as ‘expected’ is unfair IMO. The value of occupation of defends is extremely high. If a player can make a run to occupy two defenders, which he did many times, this is equivalent to the player with the ball dribbling past his mark, something you wouldn’t necessarily ‘expect of any fb.’ The threat he provides is so valuable, and the joy we were having down that side supports his tangible contribution to the game.

Tic Tac

Absolutely, AMN seems to be the most complex piece for current Arteta ball. He’s playing everywhere, helping out in every part of the field and executing the managers instructions brilliantly. In the increasingly complex and fluid systems we’re playing day by day I can only imagine where AMN could possibly end up. Hopefully, our fans see he is increasingly growing contributions soon.

kyoukaiten

to accommodate Auba

Tired

I think there are two issues: a) hector is not great at defensive aerial duties, every team would try and position an Andy Carroll on his side of the back three b) AMN is right footed, he moves inside, allows Tierney to bomb down the left while he can look for a goal-facing pass.

Matthinc

I think Arteta likes having a lop-sided attack as it makes the team much harder to mark and defend against. So pushing Hector up and having Elneny drop in on the right creates a very different avenue of attack than building on the left via Tierney and AMN.

COYG1001

If a good picture is worth a thousand words, you’ve packed a couple million easily digested words into that post!

Forget the metaphor! Awesome and thanks!

Q3 Technique

Great read, though the visuals were very difficult to read using the arseblog app as I couldn’t get the screen to phone to rotate to landscape view, I had to view it on the web browser to do this. Anyone else have this issue?

C.B.

I can enlarge them with two fingers on the screen.

Arteta Tots

I guess the key difference we need to make this season is to not concede too many defending mistakes while we typically start the game with low PV.

Fortunately we played Fulham for the first game, might not be so lucky if we play bigger opponents moving forward.

COYG

Qwaliteee

Well, these stats don’t lie.

Kudos to both players for a fantastic Arsenal debut. The longer the game went on, the more comfortable they seemed.

What was also clear is these lads, along with the rest of the team, were enjoying their football. That hasn’t really been seen since the days of the Invincibles.

As in the recent Community Shield, at no time did I ever feel uncomfortable watching this game – the confidence of the players was tangible.

The Arteta Effect is up and running again.

Matthinc

I still felt nervous at 1-0! Although we defended well, Fulham did get forward and had some pace and we’ve just seen so many winning positions slip away these last few years.

Cory

Really enjoyed the visuals included for this piece. Insightful analysis, and a joy to read!

Naked Cygan

The key test for improvement will be beating the likes of Villa and Brighton. Arteta has a great blue print of beating the bigger clubs which we have not been able to do even under Wenger on a regular basis. If Arteta can find a good system to beat the mid table and bottom teams we will have a very bright future.

Ashish

This is pretty good content. Hope this becomes a regular feature of the blog

arseblog

Yes, Dom will be doing this column for all Premier League games, and hopefully Europa League when it gets interesting.

datanerd

Good work.. Really brings out certain aspects to some players game which gets overlooked, like how our midfielders drop to the wing to cover the wingback. A caveat is that, by the above analysis, over a season, PVA will always tend to favour midfielders and fullbacks. Keepers and Center backs are too far away from the action to meaningfully contribute, and forwards game is anyway based on risk, so they make fewer contribution to PVA (but good contributions to xG – interesting to see Auba’s xG stats in that context).. How about showing xG vs PVA? This gives a comprehensive… Read more »

Bob Holdy

Excellent analysis and write-up. Really enjoyed this article from a reader’s perspective.

Kanu Believe It

I’m not reading that first graph as Fulham starting fast before dropping off; they gradually seem to improve throughout the game.

What I’m seeing is that we were NOT at the races to begin with, then started performing closer to our perceived levels of superiority.

We basically got our arses in gear with that first goal.

Rod

Very well presented

Billy bob

I know it is slightly off topic but I am surprised Ozil isn’t chomping at the bit to play in this Arteta revolution, I can’t help but think he is a money grabber with little interest in playing football!!! Sad times seeing a player with skill tiddle it down the karzee!!!

Mohd Fauzan Salleh

👍👍

MurderingCrow

Amazing data work! Thanks Arseblog team.

themightybun

What a buzz I’m getting from being an Arsenal fan at the moment

heihaci

is arseblog going to give props to Raul Kia for Willian signing? he spent a lot of time bashing this signing