Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Arsenal vs Leeds and Aston Villa: By the numbers

This is a bit of a combo/bonus by the numbers. I was traveling last weekend so I didn’t have time to sit down and write and I normally skip the Carabao cup matches because well it’s the League Cup.

This time it comes with extending the winning run with two well-played victories and that is worth looking at a little deeper.

Arsenal 3-1 Aston Villa: By the numbers

4 – Shots by Arsenal after their first goal and the penalty that turned into the second goal, these were 0.5 expected goals.

9 – Touches in the box by Arsenal after their first goal and the penalty that turned into the second goal, Aston Villa managed 1.

24 – Final third pass attempts by Arsenal after their first goal and the penalty that turned into the second goal, Aston Villa managed 9.

One of the most frustrating things about the match against Crystal Palace was that Arsenal became incredibly passive after scoring. In the week Arteta commented on this as well, challenging his players to be braver and go for the second goal, well I would say that they did here and it was a breath of fresh air. Arsenal dominated the first half, allowing 0 shots and essentially shutting Aston Villa from getting anywhere close to their goal with just 3 touches within 25 yards of goal.

Looking at the stats up to Arsenal’s third goal (after which the match was all but done)

18 – Shots for Arsenal, 3 shots for Aston Villa

6 – Shots on target for Arsenal, 1 for Aston Villa

1.1 – Expected goals from open play for Arsenal, 0.1 for Aston Villa

1.2 – Expected goals from set plays for Arsenal, 0.1 for Aston Villa

6 – Big chances for Arsenal (1 is the penalty and another was the rebound), 0 for Aston Villa

102 – Final third touches for Arsenal, 57 for Aston Villa

29 – Touches within 25 yards of goal for Arsenal, 11 for Aston Villa

The high pressure was better in this match but the major difference in this match compared to others was that Arsenal did not let Aston Villa through the middle third easily. Aston Villa completed just 6.5 passes per defensive action for their passes in their defensive and middle thirds (Arsenal completed 12) while they also had 74 middle third defensive actions (the most they have had in a league match this season).

Arsenal managed to keep the ball much better, averaging almost 6 passes per possession while really limiting Aston Villa who managed just over 4 per possession.

The last thing I wanted to touch on in this match was that the team shape seemed to show more balance. This was still the hybrid back three with Takehiro Tomiyasu playing a more revered role but it was not nearly as extreme as we had seen in the past. Tomiyasu managed more final third touches (22% compared to 19% of his total touches) than he typically does but I think better for Arsenal’s overall structure was that Tomiyasu (31) and Nuno Tavares (34) had an almost equal number of touches in the opposition half.

Arsenal 2-0 Leeds United: By the numbers

This match wasn’t quite as dominating as the Aston Villa match but with a significantly changed team against a Leeds team that only made 3 changes it was still a good performance and a great result.

45% – Arsenal’s share of possession, both in the share of passes and the share of minutes in control (27 minutes for Arsenal vs 33 for Leeds)

52% – Arsenal’s share of the final third possession

42% – The percentage of Arsenal’s possessions that entered the final third, Leeds managed to enter the final third 35% of the time.

1.3 – Non-shot expected goals (the expected goals from moving the ball up the field) for Arsenal, Leeds created 0.5.

8.8 – Leeds passing per defensive action against Arsenal

100% – Pass efficiency for Arsenal (actual passing % compared to expected passing %)

4 – Number of Leeds possessions that started within 40 yards of Arsenal’s goals

One of the things that I thought was very positive about this match was how Arsenal managed Leeds press. This has been a weak area at times for Arsenal this season and this was a major concern for me, especially when I saw how strong the lineup was that Leeds put out.

Leeds put quite a bit of pressure against Arsenal but it did seem like Arsenal were well prepared to deal with it. Arsenal played significantly fewer short passes in their own half (66) and many more medium and long passes (127), choosing to play more direct going over the press rather than playing through it. The other strategy that seemed to be very effective was using the center backs to carry the ball up the field, Leeds use a primarily man-oriented system, and the ability of Rob Holding (5 progressive carries), Calum Chambers (2 progressive carries), and Ben White (2 progressive carries) to evade the first line of pressure left tons of open space to exploit and destabilized the Leeds defensive structure.

The Nicolas Pepe Conundrum

5 – Shots (3) plus Key Passes (2)

0.6 – Expected goals (0.13) plus expected goals assisted (0.48)

0.03 – xG Build up involved in (this is the total expected goals of the possession chains that a player is involved in minus taking the final shot or pass that sets up the shot)

6 – Progressive passes, led all players

9 – Progressive carries, led all players

1 – Dribble completed, of 4 attempted

6 – Miscontrols (4) plus Dispossessed (2), led all players

11 – Final third entry passes received, led all players

8 – Touches in the box, led all players

0.4 – Goal probability added, 0.15 through receiving the ball, 0.18 through passing, 0.21 through carrying the ball, -0.12 through losing the ball. Led all players. (Goal probability added is my version of an expected threat type system, measuring how players actions on the ball add or subtract from a teams chances of scoring)

This was a classic frustrating performance from Pepe. He lost the ball nine times and seemed to be the place that attacks went to die. If he wasn’t providing either the final pass or taking the shot the possession sequences with him amounted to very little (just 1 shot). He was also the team’s most threatening player and created the most shot involvements (plus an assist for Chambers’ goal).

In this match, he was the focal point for the team’s attack leading as the main outlet to relieve pressure from Leeds’ pressure, while also leading the team in progressive actions. So it was even more obvious when things broke down after he had the ball.

I am not sure what can be done about this (perhaps sometimes as a more true striker?) at this point. I think to a certain extent this is just the player that he is. He is one of the few players on the team that can create something from nothing, but he will often turn promising moves into nothing. In this match his net contribution was positive but that isn’t always certain with the way he plays and it is understandable why he doesn’t get consistent playing time.


Sources: Opta via whoscored, StatsZone, my own database. StatsBomb via FBRef.

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Interesting thanks.

Will be interesting to see if the lessons learnt in these recent matches can be taken through to better oppo. We were dominant in both these matches, let’s hope we can keep it going.


Been waiting on the Villa game in particular. Balance. Balance. Did I mention balance?! Just look at that positioning tracker. It looks…well balanced. Which is really an abnormal balance from what we normally see with our imbalanced, left dominated attack. Midfielders moving all over the pitch with a central average point. Flexibility to go right or left. And you know what, we dominated! I’d say the Villa game was even quite a bit more dominating than even against the sp*ds. The only thing I really wanted to see here Scott was a in-depth dive into Sambi in this game. I… Read more »

Alan Sunderland

He was very good against villa, we might have got a very good player a year before he was out of our price range.

Alan Sunderland

No expert on stats, but I think he might be a better player than what shows up on the stat sheet. To me he’s far from the finished article, but we might have got very lucky signing him when we did. Same goes for Tavares.


I wouldn’t call it lucky. We were just smart in the market. The same would go for Saliba where we jumped the gun and got him at least two seasons in advance before he went unreachable. If you see the positives, we got him for 27M paid through multiple installments, loaned him out to ASSE,Nice and Marseille and recouping the transfer fee through some loan fees effectively reducing his overall cost and we will have a player next summer who will be close to a finished article at an age where we will eventually make a massive profit when Madrid… Read more »


I think we got Saliba at the right time, but count me as massively skeptical whether he still has a career to salvage at Arsenal. At the end of the season, he has 2 years left. That is time to sign a new deal. There is no reason why he would do that, which means we have 1-year to salvage the relationship, with a guy we dropped 50M quid on ahead of him. We signed him at the right time, but we managed him awfully bad.


You’ve come around a long way Al, good to see mate!

Alan Sunderland

Credit where it’s due, you were convinced by him from the brentford game, took me a while longer to get on the bandwagon.


Would love to see that take Scottie!!

Hank Scorpio

Agreed. This new-found balance also seemed to free up ESR. Not sure how that translated to positions he took up, where he got the ball, amount of possession but he was clearly our best player against Villa without Tierney being so prominent in attack.


It would be interesting to compare the passing network maps of the Villa and CP games. My sense is that with two holding midfielders, the full backs can be the ones to hold the width, whereas in a 433/4141, Tomi ends up more central and not as far forward, and our right winger (Saka/Pepe) becomes easier to defend against.

Dr Zebra

Thanks Scott, though I would add that Pepe had a good defensive presence in supporting Cedric and he worked hard in that regard. If we’ve seen any improvement since his signing it appears to be his willingness to defend.

A Different George

I’m not the first to compare Pepe to Alexis. Alexis was a better player (at his very best, he was in the final rung below only Messi and Ronaldo), and his goals probably kept us in the Champions League places almost by himself. But he lost the ball a lot, because he was always trying to attack. He wasn’t selfish, in the sense of not being willing to pass to a teammate (neither is Pepe), but he just kept trying stuff that was very low percentage. And then he scored. Pepe has some of that last part too, but not… Read more »

typical tantrums

Pepe’s problem is his first touch, he really needs to work on it hard in the training. He also needs to improve his ability to play the ball into spaces rather than to a man in the attacking / final third.

Our attack breaks down far too many times because of these shortcomings, it’s just too frustrating to watch credible attack failing so many times, I assume it’s a bit demotivating for the rest of the players on field too, this might bring down his confidence level during the game as well.

Funsho Patrick

9 turnovers! Picture what saka would have done with those….I’ve seen Pepe play better on the left though…saka has some ambidexterity about him,not so much for Pepe…Arteta is always the last to see these things,like he was with Willian…

Alan Sunderland

Not arteta’s biggest fan, but it’s safe to say he knows a lot more about football than any of us posting on here.

Teryima Adi

Pepe is an enigma only Arteta can solve.

Wrighty's hats

It was hugely satisfying to see us dominate in the middle of the park against Villa – we’ve been missing that for so many seasons, and it gives us such a stronger foundation to play with. Sambi had an amazing game and it was a great team performance by everyone. The confidence and spirit they’ve gained from these wins – that alone can make such a difference with passing accuracy, pressing, willingness to chase second balls. Plus it’s a joy to watch. It’s not always going to be as nice as this week has been, we have to prepare (just… Read more »

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