Contrary to the pre-game worrying and fretting by many fans and the usual scare-mongering by those who need to generate clicks and eyeballs on their websites, Arsenal recorded a clear-cut victory over their top-6 rival Chelsea last Saturday. It should have come as no surprise to those who take an objective and unbiased, if not critical, view of the Gunners over the season. Yours truly predicted pre-game:
Like the Spurs game, expect AFC to play at a very high level, contrary to the recent streak of flat performances. Will this be enough? (ShottaJanuary 19, 2019 at 12:58 pm, PositivelyArsenal.com)
It certainly was enough. Unlike the flat, unimaginative performance versus West Ham one week earlier, against Chelsea AFC seemed more motivated.
- Started on the front foot scoring two first-half goals at the 14th and 39th minute mark.
- Robustly defended their advantage in the second-half, eventually seeing off their opponents without any blemish to the score sheet.
Unai Emery is justly being applauded for his team selection.
- Started Aaron Ramsey in a midfield three after bringing him from the bench vs West Ham as he has been for a number of games.
- Restored the Xhaka-Torreira partnership after tinkering unsuccessfully with Xhaka-Guendouzi for two games in succession.
- Reverted to a back-four after fiddling with a back-three in the two prior games.
The data shows a near “demonic” transformation from one week to the next; from the cool, possession-oriented Mr. Hyde to the bug-eyed, hail Mary of Dr. Jekyll.
|vs CFC||vs WHU|
|Shots on target||5||2|
Note the frenzy on the defensive side:
- 360% increase in clearances from 11 to 40.
- 100% increase in tackles from 16 to 33.
- 30% increase in fouls conceded.
Gone was the emphasis on owning the football:
- 50% reduction in possession from 58.6 to 35.7 percent.
- 17% reduction in touches from 714 to 587.
- 36% reduction in passes from 555 to 355.
The attacking philosophy could be summarized in the following:
- Increase the shots on goal; by 20% from 11 to 13.
- Improve the accuracy with shots on target; by 250% from 2 to 5.
- Get the first and second goal and then defend as if your life depended on it.
It was quite Mourinho-esque, if you ask me.
Style of play is unsustainable
The issue here, however, is this back-to-the-wall, rearguard-type action is impossible to sustain, especially against teams who are not willing to take the game to Arsenal as was the case with Chelsea. While the Blues were dominant in possession, touches and passes, they failed in the most important offensive stats, i.e. making shots to trouble the Arsenal keeper with only one on target. To any serious, unbiased observer of the game, this should be very concerning to both fans and management of Arsenal as Chelsea can easily turn the tables by improving their shooting; something that is not far beyond them given the resources at their disposal. In fact, in Arsenal’s first round of the season game with Chelsea, the Gunners were beaten 3:2 with similar inferior possession stats:
|11||Shots on target||6|
The primary difference, then, was the Blues had 66% more shots and double the number of shots on target. AFC had a superior number of clearances but that was obviously because they were under the “cosh” most of the time.
But back to whether this Dr. Jekyll persona can be sustained, it is noteworthy for the season-to-date Arsenal has been mostly Mr. Hyde.
|vs CFC||Season Avg|
|Shots on target||5||5|
The data suggests Arsenal is more familiar and more comfortable with the following:
- 59% possession, 64% higher.
- 750 touches per game, 27% higher.
- 560 passes per game, 57% higher.
The only metrics which the Gunners could consider normal is Shots at 13 and Shots on target at 5. I suspect that this is the area which Arsenal is inferior to the top clubs in the league, such as Man City and Liverpool. I don’t have the data to back this up but it appears those two clubs put opposition defenders and goal keepers under more pressure than Arsenal. Based on the feedback to this blog I will decide whether it is worthwhile doing the research to verify this.
Post-game, I asked the question on Twitter whether my followers were satisfied with the performance. Nobody it seemed was willing to be the Grinch at Christmas. In fact one or two were quite effusive. Some tweets, directed at Arsenal fans generally, went to the complete extreme and literally demand a censoring of any discussion of the performance. As far as they are concerned just STFU and enjoy the results.
Certainly, Saturday’s positive result has had almost all the entire media football media, mainstream and social, lurching back to their old narrative; all is going to plan at Arsenal as the new man seeks to reverse all the ills of the past and needing more time to stamp his philosophy and vision on the club. Unai Emery may well have successfully implemented a very clever game plan but, as the data from this most recent game has demonstrated, he is far from implementing a consistent style of play that is able to dominate most, if not all teams in the league. He may well succeed in this endeavor, given the time. But so far it is anybody’s guess who will appear from game to game, Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde.
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