Sunday, April 2, 2023


Arsenal’s untold statistics

“It makes no sense, when you think about it for even a second. Ben White. Leandro Trossard. Aaron Ramsdale. Granit Xhaka. At the start of the season, would you have described any of them as imminent champions? And so perhaps the only real hope for Arsenal is to trust fully in this alternative reality, submit to it, keep doing the things they do without ever really knowing why they do them.”

It’s a typical putdown from the Guardian, one of a number by different news media of late, aimed at covering up the failure of English football journalism to keep track of what has been happening to Arsenal tactically since December 2019. And still, rather than admit how wrong they got it, they keep on and on coming up with excuses. Mind you, as excuses go “It makes no sense” is just about the lamest there is.

The fact is that it is quite possible that Arsenal will end this season with four players having scored 10 or more goals, something that is quite a rarity. As things stand Martinelli has 13, Saka 12, Odegaard 10 and Gabriel Jesus seven. I wouldn’t put it past Jesus to get three more between now and the end of the season. Especially as given that Jesus has scored his seven in just 15 league games and he has nine left to go.

In comparison, for Manchester City Haaland has scored 28 league goals – an astonishing number. Foden is on nine but is now out for a few weeks, yet could well make it back to scoring ways by the end of the season. After that we are looking at Alvarez and de Bruyne on six and five.

Of course Manchester City don’t need other strikers with Haaland available, but the problem with being totally reliant on one striker comes when he gets injured. Then what happens?

With Gabriel Jesus, Arsenal played 14 games before the world cup, and had a record of 12 wins, 1 draw and 1 defeat. The club scored 33 and conceded 11.

After the world cup and before yesterday’s game, Arsenal also played 14 games – obviously without Gabriel Jesus. The record was 10 wins, two draws and two defeats. But the goals scored was once again 33, although the goals against were 15. As a result the goal difference was 18 (instead of 22) and the points 32 instead of 37.

And just to be pedantically clear, I am including the game against Crystal Palace on 19 March as one without Gabriel Jesus since he only came on as a sub on 65 minutes by which time Arsenal were 3-0 up.

So the fact is that as the table above shows, with Gabriel Jesus Arsenal do slightly better than when he is not playing. But the difference has nothing to do with goal scoring as Arsenal were scoring with him and without him in exactly the same way – 33 goals each time. No, the difference is Arsenal let in four more goals.

Of course, that doesn’t mean Gabriel Jesus is not of great value to the club – he obviously is. What it means is that Arteta has two things. One is a team that is flexible and getting ever more flexible as time goes by. And the other is that he is quite capable of buying a centre forward known for his goal-scoring, and have him scoring a decent number of goals, but also building a team that can continue to score a decent number of goals even without him. That’s quite an extraordinary achievement.

For the key thing about Gabriel Jesus is that he touches the ball a lot – and that is something that Arsenal really like.

Now the official “touches” data from the Premier League is slightly odd in that, for example William Saliba is shown as currently being clubless, but if we correct for oddities we find Arsenal have four players in the top 20 players list as measured for touches: Gabriel Magalhães, William Saliba, Ben White, and Thomas Partey. Only one club has three such players – Brighton and Hove. Manchester City has one (Rodri), Tottenham has two, as do Liverpool.

Thus as with other metrics, Arsenal are showing their strength. Of course, no club wins the league by having the largest number of touches of the ball, but it is once again one factor that is helpful. And indeed once again a factor that a) the official League table can’t quite get right, and b) one in which Arsenal is again ahead of everyone else.

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