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!