Last week I was having a chat with Clive Palmer (@ClivePAFC) and he had a hypothesis to see if I had data that could back it up. His theory was that one of the reasons that Arsenal's attacking metrics have looked better this season is that the distances between players has improved.
This was an intriguing question and one that I will try to answer here as best I can but one that also pushes what is possible with the standard event data towards its limits.
The thing to remember with event data is that it looks at the events happening on a completely dark field with a spotlight on the ball. So with the event data that I have access to things that are happening off the ball can at best be inferred but it is largely unknown.
With this preamble out of the way one of the things that came to me to answer this question was looking at the average passing distances and mix of passes that Arsenal attempted in the attacking third over the last few years.
The first is to look at the average distance for open play passes that start in the final third of the pitch over the last three seasons (going back to 2020-2021).
2020-2021: Average pass distance 14.1 yards
2021-2022: Average pass distance 14.5 yards
2022-2023: Average pass distance 12.4 yards
Seeing the average pass distance drop by two yards doesn't seem like a ton but that is a decrease of nearly 15%!
Next I wanted to look at how the share of short (less than 15 yards), medium (15 to 30 yards), and long (30+ yards) have changed.
2020-2021: 4189 short passes, 1956 medium passes, and 388 long passes. That translates to 64% short, 30% medium, and 6% long.
2021-2022: 3973 short passes, 2123 medium passes, and 360 long passes. That translates to 62% short, 33% medium, and 6% long.
2022-2023: 375 short passes, 125 medium passes, and 17 long passes. That translates to 73% short, 24% medium, and 3% long.
It is still very early but there is a noticeable trend in the mix of passing here. This really backs the hypothesis that Arsenal are able to manage the distances between players in a much better way than they have in previous seasons.