Sunday, April 21, 2024

Arsenal 4-2 Leeds: By the visuals

Note: You can open large versions of each image in a new tab by clicking.

Sunday’s 4-2 win over Leeds provided three very welcome points for The Arsenal who, despite playing well in recent weeks, had failed to register a win in their previous three matches.

Mikel Arteta made five changes from the side that lost 1-0 at Villa Park. Bernd Leno returned from suspension, while David Luiz got the nod ahead of Rob Holding in defence. Elsewhere, Martin Odegaard made his Premier League debut, Dani Ceballos came in for the injured Thomas Partey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang started up top for the first time in four league outings.

Above are the cumulative Expected Possession Value (EPV) and EPV gameflow plots that depict the probability of either team scoring from possession during yesterday’s encounter.

Arsenal dominated in that regard for large periods after Aubameyang caught the Leeds goalkeeper off balance 13 minutes in, with a reverse shot that flew inside the near-post. The club captain added a couple more goals either side of Bellerin’s effort at the end of the first-half, securing a first ever Premier League hat-trick with a well taken penalty after Saka was fouled by Meslier, and a close-range header from Smith Rowe’s shot-come-cross.

Some uncharacteristically poor defending from a corner gave Leeds a lifeline, who went on to add a second goal and made the match more of a contest, before Arsenal managed the closing stages well and saw out the victory.

Arteta’s side lined up in a familiar 4-2-3-1 with Xhaka and Ceballos instructed to act in a flat pivot, while ahead of them Smith Rowe and Odegaard were tasked with the responsibility of dropping deep to progress the build-up.

It’s perhaps alarming to see Odegaard score so low on possession value but important to understand the context. Smith Rowe played a similar role with only a few ‘forward’ passes, but he helped Arsenal’s combination play well, and he too would have registered similar PV numbers had he not assisted Aubameyang. However, both players were tasked with keeping it simple and both played their part exceptionally well – completing 84% (Odegaard) and 88% (Smith Rowe) of their respective pass attempts.

Above are the individual passmaps for Arsenal’s starting XI.

The passmaps help identify Gabriel and Luiz’s progressive passes and the angles they created during the build-up as Arsenal tried to bypass the inevitable Leeds press. They further highlight the roles of Odegaard and Smith Rowe who were constantly available to link with their teammates and aid the buildup, and pinpoint how busy an afternoon Cedric (55), Luiz (54) and Ceballos (53) enjoyed leading Arsenal for all passes.

Above are heatmaps for the creative trifecta that started the match.

Bukayo Saka’s versatility has seen him play all over the pitch, but yesterday he was very much our go-to-option in the final third. His willingness to run at the Leeds defence was a consistent threat as he relentlessly looked to progress the ball into the opposition area.

One of the more promising takeaways from yesterday’s victory was having 4 players linking up between the lines as demonstrated in the build-up that led to the third goal – Ceballos pushed up from deep to connect with the aforementioned trifecta, and was involved in a nice passage of play within tight areas before supplying a lovely final pass.

Another was surrounding a world-class striker with three creative outlets. Aubameyang has received plenty of criticism this season, but yesterday he did what he does best and scored goals. His final goal was a typical poacher effort inside the 6 yard box, from the type of service that’s been lacking all too often this season.

Although only one game, who would have thought surrounding Aubameyang with technically gifted playmakers would bring the best out of him? The Gabonese showed that he can still get into the positions he wants to from a central starting position, and using him there gives the opportunity for more creative players to work their magic.

That’s all for today. I’d like to thank Dom for all his hard work on By the Visuals to this point and look forward to providing the viz from here on out.

Follow Jon @jonollington

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Var Will Solve The Problem

To be honest, when I saw the line up I was kinda worried to see no Laca. Auba through the middle didn’t work before. Hope all my humble pies taste this good! And to have that many technically gifted players on the field: ESR, Oddegaard, Saka, Ceballos. It was like the days of Rosicky, Hleb, Fabregas, Diaby…or Willshere, Fabregas, Nasri…forgot how it was like till I saw yesterday’s game! Some of those slow soft touches like lover’s caress where the ball only moves few feet but exactly at the right place for your on rushing teammate to run onto…beautiful! Long… Read more »


As good as they were and as much as injuries hampered their progress, I don’t think the Wilshere/Arsene generation of arsenal youth come close to what we have currently. Not just in terms of talent, but also end product and mentality. Martinelli, Saka and ESR will be talked about in the next 5 years as some of the best players in the world, injury permitting.


With the exception of Fabregas of course


The youth we are seeing now is a result of Arsene Wengers work


I’m sure we all hope so – although the same things were being said about those players from the earlier generation. The problem, as always, is making the transition from showing great potential to “the end product” as you put it – and they aren’t there yet. That means consistently performing at a high level against quality opponents in the PL and Europe over several seasons. It’s still too soon to say how the likes of Martinelli and co will actually turn out on that measure by, say, the 2023-24 season. Undoubtedly they are looking good now, and long may… Read more »


I’d respectfully disagree when it comes to Saka. He’s already doing it at a level that’s world class. How he shielded the ball with his body yesterday, his movement – it’s a delight. While we obviously can’t know the future because it’s not happened yet, we’re seeing consistency and quality from him that bodes so well I think something would have to go seriously wrong for him not to come good.

Chippy Brady

Wilshere destroyed one of the best midfields in history at 19 years of age. Imagine Saka or smith Rowe did that now. We are quick to forget that a good start may be half the battle, but it’s not the full race.

Naked Cygan

I was the same and wanted Laca to play in the middle. I still think Auba is best starting from the left and having the freedom to cut into the center when he wants. I know we scored 4 in one game, but based on previous games Auba played in the middle for us he was just MIA. I feel Auba is our best option on the left, Laca middle, Saka on the right, and ESR running free behind Laca to go center, right, and left. Also, Laca is no Giroud, but his hold up play and physicality is much… Read more »

santi's thigh grab

I respectfully disagree. Auba is a low touch in the box poacher whose special sauce is getting in goal scoring positions that others cannot find. The difference between now and when he played there and didn’t work, was when we had the likes of Kola and AMN feeding him passes. Then there was Hector and KT feeding him. We had no creative forward players except for Saka and he couldn’t carry the whole team. We know have an appropriate amount of creative technically secure players MØ, ESR, Saka, DC to properly support Auba in the position he’s played his entire… Read more »



Naked Cygan

Your disagreement is based on one game. One game does not mean anything. Leeds also has one of the worst defensive records in the league (joint 2nd worst). We all wanted Auba to play central and he did for a few games and it didn’t really work well. When Auba scores goals as a central striker against Villa, City, Brighton, Spurs then come and make your case, and I hope he does and I am wrong!


Great visuals. I think it’s interesting that in the last few years while the watching world was salivating over young prospects such as Grealish, Odegaard, Foden, etc (all very good), a player who is good at just about everything escaped their attention. Even now I don’t hear people outside of Arsenal fans giving ESR much attention. Long may this continue.


Agreed. Le’Equip just released their list of the 50 best U-20 players in the world. Saka and Martinelli are on the list, of course (Saka in the top ten, one place behind Greenwood—which made me chuckle). But ESR is nowhere to be seen. Despite the absurdity of this, it pleased me. It’s good if his talent stays under the European radar for a bit longer. No problem with that at all. The players in the top ten on the list truly are prodigies, Camavinga, Pedri, Ansu Fati, the Ajax midfield kid, Claudio Rayna’s boy at Dortmund, etc.—maybe only Greenwood is… Read more »


Thankfully he is realizing his potential, which we got a glimpse of 2-3 years ago.
He has turned over 20 though, so may not be eligible for that list.


Really fantastic visualizations! As an aspiring data nerd, can I ask what software was used, and where the data was pulled from?

Jon Ollington

Thanks for the kind words. I use python and the matplotlib package.


Thanks very much, great stuff!


The more creative players you have in your front 4, the more chances you create. The truth of the matter is that Arteta and Edu bought Willian to be our main source of creativity and it backfired massively. Instead of playing Ozil – Arteta tried to create through our full backs with crosses and that didn’t work as we were too predictable. He stumbled upon ESR and surprise surprise – there’s a bit of cohesion in the final 3rd. The 3 behind Auba is an example of how we should be setting up if we don’t play with a target… Read more »


Arsenal are a work in progress and not everything has been good. But I think you have to give credit to Arteta for making a working system with ESR. Saka and Ødegaard in, and Partey or Tierney not being available.
It wasn’t just a lucky accident.

Once a gunner

That’s why Le professor Wenger always flood his teams with technically gifted midfielders


Thanks for the visuals. Can the data guys tell how often Arsenal score from corners/free kicks and how we compare to the league as a whole. In my mind we below average to poor in both but the data may show otherwise. From what I see our corners in particular are poor to awful


I remember only one goal scored for Arsenal by Gabriel on Willian’s corner (his first match)

The Far Post

Can someone explain why ESR often would show for the ball, but when the CF passes forward to him, he would immediately zip it back? My only guess is that this action would somehow relieve whatever pressure the CF was facing and give him time to look for the long pass upfield. This doesn’t quite fit though, because ESR usually sends the ball back so quickly that the opponent is still near enough to the CF to continue the pressing. Even more puzzling was when Ceballos received the CF forward pass and managed to make the turn with plenty of… Read more »


It could maybe be because that would provide a few more seconds to open up another passing option for the CF because he can see the field behind the CF.
I didn’t see the Ceballos pass, could have been to create space, but failed.


Thanks Jon, much appreciated. Really like the colour scheme with the black backgrounds – makes it much easier to read for me. Look forward to many more!


Only just caught up with this. Welcome Jon and keep up the good work, I do feel the visuals are better at explaining the numbers – for me anyway.


This is a Cedric appreciation post. He has effectively thrown all the negativity around his signing away.
Good lad


Good point. Though his limitations on the left are shown up a little bit (right footed so link up a bit hard/some poor touches) but he’s proved to be a real pro and puts in a proper shift. Shame about the Villa goal…


I’m a bit interested on what we can do to protect the young guns from Rotational fouling. Someone is going to get a serious injury if it’d not addressed. Many of the fouls by Leeds were cynical, and the referees are eith unable or unwilling to tell the opposing captain to tell them to stop it or he’ll get the cards out. In Super League, referees allow 3 “team” fouls (on the same player). He then has a word with the captain, and the next one get 10 minutes in the sin bin. There is no such option in EPL,… Read more »


@Jon, it will be helpful for the visualization if the EPV plots have the goal scoring minutes marked (with a little football symbol). This way, you can tell if a goal was scored by the dominating team or against the run of play.

Jon Ollington

Agreed! There are a few improvements I hope to have in place for the Benfica game.

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