This loss was frustrating for Arsenal but not in the same way that the last few have been.
The losses against Wolves and Sp*rs were Arsenal being outplayed while also playing into the tactics that the other teams wanted. Those losses were deserved.
In this match, Arsenal for the most part were playing well (grading on a curve still) and my hunch is that if Granit Xhaka doesn’t lose his head Arsenal more often than not go on to win this match.
Arsenal 0-1 Burnley: By the graphs
Arsenal 0-1 Burnley: By the numbers
18 – Shots for Arsenal, a new high for the Premier League.
6 – Shots on target for Arsenal, a new high for the Premier League.
1.7 – Expected Goals, the second-highest total in the Premier League and the highest since the first match of the season.
13 – Passes completed into the Penalty Area, tied for third-most in the Premier League.
34 – Touches in the penalty area, third-most in the Premier League.
29 – Open play cross attempts in this match, of which 3 were completed.
It is pretty obvious and part of why it is a punishment to deter bad actions but before the Red Card, Arsenal were on their way to what would have easily been their best attacking day of the season. Even with the momentum hauling red card, this was probably pretty close to the best that Arsenal have performed this season.
Arsenal generated some pretty good shots in this match and that most weeks would have resulted in at least one goal. When you simulate the xG values of the shots Arsenal took, not scoring only happens about 15% of the time.
The end of Granit Xhaka?
44 – Passes completed, 7th most on Arsenal
7 – Long passes completed, 4th most on Arsenal
9 – Final third entry passes, led Arsenal
8 – Progressive passes completed, led Arsenal
0 – Passes into the penalty area completed
0 – Key passes
0 – Shots
8 – Touches in the attacking third, 9th most on Arsenal
0 – Dribbles completed, with 0 attempted
0 – Times lost possession
0 – Tackles
0 – Blocks
1 – Interception
4 – Pressures, tied for 10th on Arsenal
Let’s go into Xhaka’s stupidity for just a second, that was a situation where he made a cynical foul to break up a counter-attack chance. That’s not a dumb thing to do and it is his job. It also looked like he was about to escape that situation without getting the yellow card he deserved. Instead, he gets takes offense to the Burnley players not liking his unsporting (but totally okay within the rules and a smart play) foul and choke pushes an opponent. In the span of a couple seconds, this went from a smart but cynical tactical foul that helped Arsenal to Arsenal earning a red card that killed all momentum
From his stats, you can see what he brings to Arsenal and that is passing. In this match, his role was to play deep (looking at his average position he looks almost like a hybrid between a midfielder and a centerback) and distribute from deep and connect things to get the attacking players. He led Arsenal in progressive passing and final third entry passes. Those are needed actions for a team that wants to hold possession but with how little else he brings in the way of generating attack or shielding the defense it is hard to see why he is in the eleven.
He adds minimal goal threat (his shots are almost always 3-4% chance speculative efforts) and more often than not looks to recycle possession in the final third instead of setting up a teammate. As a defensive midfielder, his lack of elite mobility means that often his attempts to win the ball back lead to fouls or simply being bypassed.
I will be candid and say upfront that I have always thought that Xhaka was a player who as long as he got minutes in Arsenal midfield limited the ceiling to how good the team could be. His elite skill (ball progressing) isn’t good enough to make up for the areas where he isn’t.
I have a hard time seeing him finding his way back into the Arsenal team for a while, even after his 3 match suspension is over.
Bukayo Saka the silver lining in the grey cloud that is Arsenal
6 – Shot creating actions, led Arsenal
4 – Shots (1 on target, 0.6 xG), tied for most on Arsenal
1 – Key pass (0.03 xA)
2 – Passes completed into the penalty area, tied for third on Arsenal
33 – Touches in the final third, second on Arsenal
4 – Touches in the penalty box, tied for second on Arsenal
3 – Successful dribbles, led Arsenal
209 – Progressive distance carried, led Arsenal
11 – Pressures, tied for fourth on Arsenal
It is almost becoming expected but the performances of Bukayo Saka are very good for a player his age, especially considering how dysfunctional the Arsenal attack is currently. I have to remind myself that he is just 19 years old because so often he becomes the main creative threat for this Arsenal team and that is a really big burden to place on a teenager.
He is one of the few players on this Arsenal team who looks comfortable and technically secure enough to hold possession close to the opponent’s box. With Pepe still serving his suspension, he is also Arsenal’s only true threat to beat a defender with a dribble.
With things going so poorly for Arsenal, it is important to look to things that are still positive and could be something that would allow for Arsenal to build into a somewhat good team again.
Sources: Opta via WhoScored, StatsZone and my own database. StatsBomb via FBRef.