This was on paper (or more realistically on a screen) Arsenal’s easiest remaining match of the season but it felt like it had the potential to trip Arsenal up. Watford are not a good team (they ranked 18th in Attack and 18th in Defense) coming into this match, but they are/were fighting for survival on their home ground.
This was a match that had “trap” game written all over it and Arsenal almost got themselves caught in it, doing just enough to escape with all three points and sole possession 4th place.
Watford 2-3 Arsenal: By the graphics
Watford 2-3 Arsenal: By the numbers
16 – Shots for Arsenal. Raising the season average to 15.5 shots per match, which is good for 3rd most in the Premier League.
0 – Big Chances for Arsenal (A “Big Chance” is an Opta qualifier where a player should reasonably be expected to score, usually in a one on one scenario or from very close range when the ball has a clear path to goal and there is low to moderate pressure on the shooter.). This is the 5th time this season that they have created no big chances but the first time that they have scored in one of those matches.
3 – Goals for Arsenal (and wow what goals they were). Raising the season average to 1.6 per match, which is good for 4th most in the Premier League.
This was another pretty good attacking performance for Arsenal. Maybe not the best but partly because Arsenal’s attack since the middle of December has really clicked into gear. These are the stats for Arsenal after the Everton match on the 6th of December.
17.8 – Shots per match
2.2 – Goals per match
2.1 – Expected Goals (xG) per match
47.6 – Deep touches (within 25 yards of the opponent’s goal) per match
34.6 – Touches in the box per match
34.2 – Progressive passes per match
This is just a small sampling of how the team has jumped in attack (most of these numbers if done over a full season would be at a borderline title challenge level). The defensive numbers has generally matched as well with Arsenal allowing 0.7 goals per match, 0.9 xG per match from 10 shots allowed per match.
The recent run of points accumulation has not been a fluke, if Arsenal can maintain something close to this level the rest of the season the goals for the season will be in reach.
The Right Side Triangle Excels
2 – Goals from 3 shots combined (1 each) for Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka, and Cédric Soares.
158 – Passes completed by Martin Ødegaard (69), Bukayo Saka (36), and Cédric Soares (53). That was 33% of Arsenal’s total.
17 – Progressive passes completed by Martin Ødegaard (11), Bukayo Saka (3), and Cédric Soares (3). That was 52% of Arsenal’s total.
11 – Final third entry passes completed by Martin Ødegaard (5), Bukayo Saka (2), and Cédric Soares (4). That was 33% of Arsenal’s total.
7 – Key passes by Martin Ødegaard (4), Bukayo Saka (2), and Cédric Soares (1). That was 50% of Arsenal’s total.
78 – Touches in the final third by Martin Ødegaard (22), Bukayo Saka (36), and Cédric Soares (20). That was 57% of Arsenal’s total.
21 – Progressive carries by Martin Ødegaard (5), Bukayo Saka (14), and Cédric Soares (2). That was 38% of Arsenal’s total.
60 – Pressure events by Martin Ødegaard (19), Bukayo Saka (20), and Cédric Soares (19). That was 48% of Arsenal’s total.
Odegaard and Saka look like they have developed a great understanding on the right-hand side (James wrote a great article about this in The Athletic) and this match opened my eyes to dream what these two can do together for the years to come and the sky feels like the limit.
The Left Side Triangle Struggles
1 – Goals from 4 shots combined for Granit Xhaka (1), Gabriel Martinelli (3), and Kieran Tierney (0).
88 – Passes completed by Granit Xhaka (39), Gabriel Martinelli (13), and Kieran Tierney (38). That was 18% of Arsenal’s total.
4 – Progressive passes completed by Granit Xhaka (2), Gabriel Martinelli (1), and Kieran Tierney (1). That was 12% of Arsenal’s total.
4 – Final third entry passes completed by Granit Xhaka (3), Gabriel Martinelli (1), and Kieran Tierney (0). That was 12% of Arsenal’s total.
4 – Key passes by Granit Xhaka (1), Gabriel Martinelli (1), and Kieran Tierney (2). That was 28% of Arsenal’s total.
32 – Touches in the final third by Granit Xhaka (9), Gabriel Martinelli (11), and Kieran Tierney (12). That was 23% of Arsenal’s total.
11 – Progressive carries by Granit Xhaka (3), Gabriel Martinelli (4), and Kieran Tierney (4). That was 20% of Arsenal’s total.
25 – Pressure events by Granit Xhaka (5), Gabriel Martinelli (12), and Kieran Tierney (8). That was 20% of Arsenal’s total.
The differences between Arsenal’s left and right triangles is pretty stark in this match. Some of that could be explained by the absence of Takehiro Tomiyasu causing some structural changes to how Tierney plays with knock-on effects for the other players on the left-hand side. Still, it is a bit worrying to see such a drastic difference in production. One of the more worrying things was how disconnected Xhaka seemed was his partners in this match, he completed just 1 pass to Martinelli and just 4 passes to Tierney in this match (his normal go-to pass).
The change to a more 4-3-3 shape (see above) has seen Arsenal go up a level in attack but it has also exposed that Arsenal are asking Xhaka to play in a role that he isn’t 100 percent suited for (even tho I do think that he has been good given his known limitations). I don’t think Arsenal need a carbon copy of Odegaard on the left, but if Arteta wants to persist with this shape it will probably mean adding a player more comfortable further up the pitch.
Sources: Opta via WhoScored, StatsZone, my own database. StatsBomb via FBRef.
A little more on the Odegaard chance after some of the comments.
My model rates this as a 9% chance (any time you look at one shot in isolation you should put some error bars around it). Looking at the freeze-frame of the shot I think that is a pretty accurate reflection of the probability.There is not a ton of goal open to shoot at with a defender and the goalkeeper blocking most of the easy areas of the goal to aim at. He isn’t under a ton of pressure but there are defenders close to him here but the give and go has given him ample space to shoot. From this location a 1 in 10 chance of scoring is probably right, the goalkeeper looks in a good spot to cover the near post, the defender has the far post blocked, leaving a curled shot past the defender(that he pulls off) as the best option but one that still has a decent chance of missing wide.