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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