I am trying not to get too down after this loss by Arsenal but it is starting to feel like deja vu match after match. Maybe the expectations for Arsenal were raised too high after some high profile wins and a lifting of the FA Cup.
This match, and the humbling performances away to Liverpool and Manchester City show that Arsenal still have a lot of work to do, to get back to where they want to be as a team. This is a team that is still unbalanced and struggling to play up to our expecations of them.
Arsenal 0-1 Leicester: By the graphs
xG Shot Map
Simulated Match Result
Arsenal 0-1 Leicester: By the numbers
20 – Touches in the box for Arsenal in the first half
2 – Touches in the box for Arsenal in the second half
11 – Shots in the first half for Arsenal
1 – Shot for Arsenal in the second half
1.3 – Arsenal Non-Shot expected goals in the first half
0.6 – Arsenal’s Non-Shot expected goals in the second half
23 – Progressive passes completed by Arsenal in the first half
17 – Progressive passes completed by Arsenal in the second half
I don’t remember seeing a more boring and blunt attack as what I saw from Arsenal in the second half of this match against Leicester City. In the first half, Arsenal wasn’t great but did seem to have some ideas of how to break down the defense and create opportunities to get the ball into dangerous locations, in the second half that stopped almost completely.
One of the things that I like to look at is where Arsenal have possession of the ball. In the first half, things were pretty balanced between left and right, there was a lot of possession in the middle third, but also a fair amount into the final third. This wasn’t amazing, with far too often the possession resembling the dreaded “U” shape but it did lead to some chances.
In the second half, the balance is thrown off with the left-sided bias coming back strong. There is also a huge decrease in Arsenal’s ability to move the ball into the deep portions of the final third.
I think that a lot of this can be traced first to the loss of David Luiz, who for all of his faults defending is a very good passer. Before he was substituted he was Arsenal’s leading passer of final third entries (11) and progressive passing (6). His passing from the right was also a big reason that Arsenal showed more balance.
The loss of Saka, was another one that really hurt Arsenal. He was one of the few players for Arsenal that was capable of receiving passes between the lines in this match. It wasn’t his most influential match, but he was one of the few Arsenal players that did seem to try to find those pockets of space.
Arsenal’s declining attack
Schedule will influence to a degree but right now on a rolling 10 game basis in the post-Wenger world, Arsenal’s xG For is as low as it’s been and the xG Against is about as high as it’s been. pic.twitter.com/uTrSKKk9IW
— James Yorke (@jair1970) October 26, 2020
These graphs show that there is a very worrying trend for Arsenal.
Looking at raw shots, Arsenal went from slightly above 15 shots per match in the last four seasons of Arsene Wenger, to 12 in Unai Emery’s first season, followed by a drop to 10.5 last season and another drop this season to just 8.7.
Arsenal has made some trade-offs with their shot selection, where they are foregoing longer range shots to work for shots that are of higher quality. Arsenal currently has one of the higher xG per shot in the Premier League at 0.13 (3rd highest) but with just the 17th most shots per match, this attack is very average.
The Wenger teams would often be beaten with similar attacks, with the description that he wanted Arsenal to walk the ball into the back of the net, but even those teams managed to create a lot more volume while maintaining a very high average quality.
I think that Mikel Areta has done a good job bringing structure and solidity to Arsenal’s defense, to where Arsenal are no longer a team that gives up massive amounts of shots. This just looks like it has come at great expense to Arsenal’s ability to create more than a few good scoring chances in a match.
This strategy can work well, especially in cup competitions or when the team is an underdog but over the course of a League season being tough to beat combined with lower shot volumes on both sides can lead to being bitten by variance far too often. I trust that Arteta and his team know this and are working out ways that they can turn up the dial on Arsenal’s ability to attack without giving back too much of the gains that have been made with the defense.
Sources: Opta via whoscored, StatsZone, my own database, StatsBomb via FBRef