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.
It was touched on in the arsecast, but as we seem to be playing a 4-1-4-1, maybe we put ESR into Xhakas position, giving us two 8/10’s, one for either side of the pitch, worth a try, unless we’re actually going to put Martinelli up top at some point (if if if …)
Yes. Yes. Yes. Xhaka has been moved forward so we don’t have to rely on his defensive immobility. Partey is essentially playing as lone 6. I think Lokonga would thrive in such a role too, but ESR’s creativity and ability to get into spaces and between the lines would be ideal (both can also recover way better than Xhaka too). The team is working, but once again it feels we’re fitting tactics around Xhaka’s weaknesses rather than using players that don’t have those limitations.
Interesting stuff, I agree that ESR and Lokonga would be greatin Xhaka’s position.
Also on the numbers, it is interesting to take out the first three losses and see our performance since then. 22 games and 48 points, extrapoloate that and we would be top three definitely.
We’ve done this already this season. Against Burnley at home and against Liverpool in the Carabao home leg. Both times Lokonga played as the 6. In neither situation did it really work as I’m not sure Emile is really ready for that role yet. You have to be more positionally disciplined than a 10 obviously but still be able to affect the game significantly in the final 3rd. Emile looked caught between his defensive responsibility and attacking threat which led to a somewhat meh performance both times. I personally think he is our best option on the left side because… Read more »
I agree with Graham here. I think it’s easy to get carried away looking at the offensive side of the team and get excited about how ESR might plump up those attacking situations and numbers. And maybe as he develops he will grow into it. But I think the bigger problem is we lose a lot of security without Xhaka there when we fall back into the defensive shape, and this is a team built on its defensive solidity and structure which I don’t think Arteta is keen to change. I think it’s why Pepe doesn’t play, and why Xhaka… Read more »
Once again we see the strengths and weakness of Xhaka. If we had lost a game since Partey returned or he had made any significant error he and Arteta would be bashed for thinking he, Xhaka, can be used in a more forward role. Arteta uses his versatility, his being coachable, his desire to do and be the best at whatever his team needs. These qualities from Xhaka and Laca are teaching so much to our young players…we are a team, you do your very best wherever and however your team needs you. The end, non negotiable.
Oh my god, call the xG police. We actually lost this game.
Actually a bit surprised by that. I felt as comfortable yesterday for large portions of the game as I’ve felt this season.
Maybe that says as much about my renewed faith in the team as it does the performance.
The xG for Ødegaard’s goal looks low to me. Yes, there are defenders there, but as he’s in a great position and with time to pick his spot, I would expect an attacking player to put those away much more often than the 1/10 that the xG suggests. Does xG take into account the time/space a player has available to pick his spot?
There are proxies for that but it is not directly measured in the event data that I have.
Part of what makes it feel underrated is that Odegaard finished it so well. If he isn’t perfectly accurate there are lots of chances that it is blocked by one of the defenders in the way. It is a decent chance and a great finish in my opinion.
i think part of the reason why Odegaard’s goal seems to have a surprisingly low xG is the juxtaposition on the graph with Watford’s first goal having a significantly higher xG (great position to shoot from, relatively unmarked, etc.), but the model probably doesn’t account for the fact the shot is an overhead kick which 9 times out of 10 misses the target altogether.
Just re-looked at the graph and you’re right, haha. How can an overhead kick from the penalty spot have a higher xG than the shot Odegaard scored from?
Scott, I get your rationale for the Odegaard chance being that low, but how in holy hell can the Watford goal have a higher xG?
One limitation of the model is that it examines only the shot and not the build up.
For example Watford 2nd was about landing a ball that came from behind, go through White’s pixels and Ramsdale’s arm a la FIFA bug.
That was not a clear cut chance compared to MØ but xG is xG.
The type of buildup is considered in the model, I have established final possession, started from high turnover, and direct attacks as variables to try to capture some of these types of situations.
I know, right? Did Dr. xG watch the same game we did? Love the numbers as points of reference. But can’t really wed perception to reality in this case.
It says that sometimes when you watch the game, you understand it pretty well. Yes, they had chances when we made mistakes, but we were in control except for the last twenty minutes. Yes, they scored earlier, but their first goal proves the point: I don’t know the xG, but unless it is Pele, you will almost always escape unscathed if you allow an opponent that shot.
Odegaard has been covered by now; the other goals coming from outside/edge of the box means they’ll have a lower XG, even if the pretty passes gave them some extra room and time to get off a good shot. As for Watford, so much of their total XG came from the second goal (from very close range; and the other from inside the 6-yard box, assume that was the fluffed one-timer from the long switch/cross?).
(Not arguing with anybody here — I agree that the numbers are surprising at first, just wanted to look at how it happened).
Imagine how these stats could look next season if we replace Xhaka with a dynamic #8 and Laca with an elite striker. We would (will?) be a nightmare to play against.
On a stranger note– I didn’t realize till I’d read it today– that Xhaka and Partey have only started together in 10 of Arsenal’s 25 PL matches.
Arsenal are 7-1-2 in those matches. Were that extrapolated over a full season– it’s 27-3-8 and 84pts. That’s better than acceptable.
By my calculations it’s 11 games together; 9 wins and 2 defeats.
And the 2 defeats were both unlucky injury time loses at Everton and then City on New Year’s Day.
Be careful as you’ll upset the Xhaka haters who utterly refuse to see the improvement he makes to the team
Both these things can be true: we are much better with Xhaka (when Partey is also in) than with any other player in our squad. And we need an upgrade on Xhaka–basically a Xhaka with better pace and therefore not forced into desperate grabs and lunges leading to yellow cards (or worse)–if we are to figure consistently in the top four and (gasp) possibly mount a title challenge.
Exactly right. Xhaka is fine and a great backup for that role next season (i.e. champions league group stages & lesser league games) but a top class 8 would help us make that next step and help us overhaul Chelsea.
Sure so if we ignore the losses to Brentford, Chelsea, City (and the Red card in that game…and the one in the Cup against Liverpool). And call the City (and penalty he conceded) and Everton losses unlucky (and the fact he is immoble, all time leader in pens conceded in EPL by a midfielder, and a contender for top 10 red card rates) then he undoubtedly improves us.
Why not Arsenal lovers instead of Xhaka haters?
People would like an upgrade of him not because they hate him.
Do you happen to have a list which teams we were playing against on each category?
Stats; that art of lying.
An elite striker is definitely needed. However just look at the improvements in our results and play since Xhaka returned from injury.
So wait we can’t blame xhaka for our fall from the top 4, but we can associate any slight up tick in form purely with him?
I think they call that check mate. Well played sir 😂
the left triagle mave no adjustment until now, because the absence of Takehiro Tomiyasu (Tierney plays with knock-on effects), the absence of Smith Rowe (more combinatorial than Martineli). Xhaka also can offers more with diagonal or half -set passes
The press. Just wow. Ode-Laca-Martinelli-Saka are some combo pressing the opposition backline. I freaking love this element of the current team.
Thanks for the numbers Scott, always look forward to these after a match so keep up the good work!
Looking at the xG, I’m a bit surprised that Odegaard’s goal is rated quite low and not considered as a big chance. Seemed a pretty good chance to me (10/11 yards away from goal and quite
central) and would’ve been gutted if he missed that.
xG – 0; actual goals – 3. That says it all about the precision in the goals.
For Ødegaard, an inch to the left, a defender stops it; to the right, the keeper’s hand touches it.
Saka wraps it perfectly round a defender.
Martinelli gets it into the only area he could put to leave the keeper stranded and still get it in. The flight, pace and curve of the ball are just perfect.
Great goals indeed
I wonder if any of the deficiencies from our left side have to do with Watford’s defending? Honestly wondering, I don’t know their players well enough to say if their left-side defenders are easy targets that we attacked on purpose. Of course that’s only part of it; as others have discussed, a big part of it is definitely from the dominance of Odegaard and Saka (and relative weakness of Xhaka, and Martinelli’s playing style being more low-touch than the others).
I wouldn’t mind signing Emmanuel Dennis from Watford
He’d bag in the goals for us given the opportunities we create