I needed a day after this very frustrating match to collect my thoughts. I have cooled down some but I have a feeling that this is going to be a long and maddening international break where the issues with Arsenal are gone through with a fine tooth comb.
Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa: By the graphs
xG Shot Map
Arsenal 0-3 Aston Villa: By the numbers
13 – Shots for Arsenal, tied for most this season in the Premier League
17 – Shots allowed by Arsenal, second most this season in the Premier League
2 – Shots on target for Arsenal, second fewest in the Premier League this season (Manchester United last weekend was the fewest)
5 – Shots on target allowed by Arsenal, tied for second most in the Premier League this season.
6 – Passes into the penalty area completed, fourth fewest in the Premier League this season
16 – Passes into the penalty area allowed, most this season in the Premier League
24 – Attacking third pressure events for Arsenal, second fewest in the Premier League this season
This match was very frustrating and I think a couple of these high level stats really help explain some of my frustration. The 13 shots that Arsenal took were tied for the most that Arsenal have taken this season. Arsenal have played 8 matches this season and having 13 shots be the most that the team has taken is shocking to me. The decline in shot numbers has been going on for the last couple of seasons but it really feels like things are hitting a new low.
One of the trade offs that is supposed to come with this neutering of the attack is that the opposition is also supposed to be kept at arms length. For the most part that has happened this season, but in this match Aston Villa seemed to have no problem advancing the ball quickly up the field to their two most creative players in Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley.
Barkley managed to have 43 touches in the final third leading all players, Grealish got the ball in the final third 31 times, by comparison Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Willian led Arsenal but only managed 23 final third touches a piece. It is just as stark looking at touches in the penalty area where Barkley had 11, Grealish 10 with just 4 each for Aubameyang and Willian. I am not even sure who is supposed to be the main creative force for Arsenal but in this match they struggled to get anyone a decent volume of touches in positions to create for teammates.
This leads into the next thing that is really frustrating for me. If a team is not going to play with a “creative” attacking player one of there are a few alternatives to create chances. The first is playing on the counter attack, but that didn’t really seem to be in the cards in this match. More and more teams are also not coming out to challenge Arsenal when they have possession in their own half which constricts the space that Arsenal would like to take advantage of. In the last three Premier League matches teams have all pressured Arsenal less than 30 times in Arsenal’s defensive third, that happened in just 8 matches last season.
The other effective way of creating big chances without a traditional creative player is using a high press to create transitions high up the pitch, in this match Arsenal’s best chance came from one of these rare situations. This is one of the things that Arsenal seemed to do a lot more in the beginning of the Mikel Arteta area but has really dropped off lately. Last season before lock down, Arsenal averaged 33 attacking third pressures per match, during project restart that dropped to 28, and this season it has fallen to 27. These typically end up with the team regaining possession about a quarter of the time, so those 5 missing pressures are leading to 1 to 2 less chances to attack in transitions compared to last season.
Willian not living up to expectations
0.16 – Non-Penalty xG per 90 this season, in line with the 0.14 that he had last season.
0.13 – xG assisted per 90 this season, down from 0.24 last season
0.9 – Shots per 90 this season, down from 2.3 last season
1.2 – Key passes per 90, down from 2.5 last season
1.4 – Passes completed into the penalty area per 90 this season, down from 2.4 last season
2.6 – Progressive passes per 90 this season, down from 5.0 last season
2.6 – Shot creating actions per 90 minutes this season, down from 5.1 last season
0.4 – Successful dribbles per 90 this season, down from 2.2 last season
2.1 – Touches in the penalty area per 90 this season, down from 4.8 last season
It is still really early (just 7 matches and 512 minutes) but one of the selling points of the signing of Willian was that he was Premier League ready and should have been able to slot right into the team, injecting attacking threat without a settling period.
Right now his numbers have almost across the board declined. The decline hasn’t been modest for most of these stats either with 50% or more compared to what he was able to do in the Premier League with Chelsea last season.
The share of minutes (71% of minutes compared to 76%) and average minutes per match (73 vs 72) being played is all in line as well so I don’t think that this is something weird in the playing time.
I had major concerns about this deal when he was signed, but I did have hope that at least for this season he would be able to provide something positive. I am coming more and more concerned that this will not be the case.
Sources: Opta via Whoscored, StatsZone and my own database. StatsBomb via FBRef.