Arsenal and their buildup towards goal
9 min read

Arsenal and their buildup towards goal

Arsenal's top-line attacking numbers are not good, but there are signs in how they progress the ball that they are getting better.
Arsenal and their buildup towards goal

I looked at something similar to this a while back and wanted to come back to this and revisit this now that the team is starting to play a bit better.

First looking at how often Arsenal are able to get the ball into the final third, by my stats I have Arsenal entering the final third 31.8 times per match, which works out to 39% of their possessions including an entry into the final third.

Team Total F3rd Entires % Poss with F3rd Entry F3rd Entry Rank F3rd Poss % Rank
Manchester City 41.1 51% 1 1
Liverpool 41.0 45% 2 2
Manchester United 35.1 42% 3 3
Chelsea 33.8 41% 4 4
Arsenal 31.8 39% 7 5
West Ham United 31.5 37% 10 6
Wolverhampton Wanderers 31.7 36% 8.5 7
Brighton & Hove Albion 31.1 36% 11 8
Aston Villa 30.3 35% 14 9
Everton 31.7 35% 8.5 10
Southampton 32.9 35% 5 11
Tottenham Hotspur 28.8 34% 17 12
Crystal Palace 31.0 34% 12 13
Watford 29.7 34% 15 14
Leeds United 32.3 34% 6 15
Newcastle United 25.9 33% 19 16
Burnley 30.6 33% 13 17
Leicester City 29.1 31% 16 18
Brentford 28.3 30% 18 19
Norwich City 25.8 29% 20 20

I think that this is a positive thing for Arsenal. Considering that the team has been without Granit Xhaka most of the year who specializes in this, and lost David Luiz, the team's ability to get the ball into the final third is holding strong among the best teams in the league.

This has been something that has become more spread out among the Arsenal players in the absence of Granit Xhaka, and that might actually be a good thing with Arsenal varying the ways that they can advance the ball up the field.

Next in advancing towards the goal is looking at the ability to get the ball into the box.

Team Total Box Entry % Poss with Box Entry Box Entry Rank % Poss Box Entry Rank
Manchester City 31.0 38% 1.5 1
Liverpool 31.0 34% 1.5 2
Chelsea 26.4 32% 3 3
West Ham United 23.8 28% 6 4
Aston Villa 23.8 28% 5 5
Arsenal 22.2 27% 9 6
Manchester United 21.9 26% 11 7
Brighton & Hove Albion 22.6 26% 8 8
Southampton 23.7 25% 7 9
Leeds United 24.3 25% 4 10
Crystal Palace 21.8 24% 12.5 11
Everton 21.4 24% 14 12
Burnley 22.0 23% 10 13
Brentford 21.8 23% 12.5 14
Wolverhampton Wanderers 19.8 23% 16 15
Leicester City 20.6 22% 15 16
Tottenham Hotspur 18.5 22% 18 17
Watford 19.1 22% 17 18
Newcastle United 16.8 21% 20 19
Norwich City 17.9 20% 19 20

Arsenal again look pretty solid in this measure, but down slightly from their ability to get the ball into the final third. One of the things that jump out at me in this is that Manchester United seem to have an even more pronounced fall than Arsenal, they were above Arsenal in the ability to get into the final third but are now below Arsenal when it gets to getting the ball into the box, that would be an interesting thing to examine in more detail and I imagine has something to do with the types of attackers they have favored and the general disappointments Jaydon Sancho who should be taking a bigger role in this.

Another interesting thing is that Arsenal are good at passing the ball into the box (4th) but only rank 10th at carrying the ball into the box. I would imagine with the talent Arsenal have with carrying this can be better, and perhaps it will improve as the team settles into how they want to play a bit more.

Who is receiving the passes in the box (min 3 90s played) is interesting. Alexandre Lacazette is still the leader, even with his tendency to drop deep, Nicolas Pepe rates well followed by Bukayo Saka and then Nuno Tavares (!).

Player PA Passes Received
Alexandre Lacazette 3.43
Nicolas Pepe 2.76
Bukayo Saka 2.08
Nuno Tavares 1.85
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 1.59
Kieran Tierney 0.92
Gabriel 0.70
Thomas Partey 0.62
Granit Xhaka 0.60
Emile Smith Rowe 0.55
Takehiro Tomiyasu 0.41
Martin Ƙdegaard 0.26
Albert Sambi Lokonga 0.11
Ben White 0.09
Ainsley Maitland-Niles 0.00
Aaron Ramsdale 0.00

The next set of stats is about each team's ability to generate shots from this possession.

Team %F3d Entry with Shot F3rd Entry Shot Rank % Box Entry with Shot Box Entry Shot Rank
Manchester United 36% 9 57% 1
Watford 37% 8 57% 2
Liverpool 42% 2 55% 3
Chelsea 42% 1 54% 4
Everton 37% 7 54% 5
West Ham United 41% 3 54% 6
Newcastle United 35% 10 54% 7
Leicester City 37% 6 53% 8
Manchester City 39% 4 51% 9
Leeds United 37% 5 50% 10
Southampton 35% 11 48% 11
Arsenal 33% 12 48% 12
Wolverhampton Wanderers 29% 19 47% 13
Norwich City 33% 13 47% 14
Burnley 32% 15 44% 15
Tottenham Hotspur 28% 20 44% 16
Brighton & Hove Albion 32% 14 44% 17
Crystal Palace 30% 17 43% 18
Aston Villa 32% 16 40% 19
Brentford 30% 18 39% 20

This is where things get a little worrying for Arsenal, but maybe less than they look at first glance. Yes, it is important to turn deep possession into shots, but looking at the overall ranks on this metric there are some "good" attacking teams that are down a bit on this metric.

There is still some worry for me, especially looking at Arsenal's forwards. Lacazette leads Arsenal in touches in the box but only turns those into shots within 12 yards 3% of the time, Aubameyang is still significantly better at this managing to turning 27% of his touches in the box into shots from within 12 yards.

One of the things that is starting to emerge is that Arsenal have two forwards with different skills that don't overlap much that theoretically make a complete forward, except for it comes at the expense of getting another creative player on the field.

A new one that I am looking at more closely are teams ability to enter into "Zone 14" and also the left and right half-spaces close to the box. I don't quite have these into the ability to make fancy tables but the teams at the top of the table are well represented at the top of both of these.

The runaway leader in zone 14 entry passes is Manchester City, who manage 24.5 per match from open play. Liverpool follow them at 21, with Manchester United (19.9) and Chelsea (19.5) rounding out the top 4. Arsenal rank 5th with 17.1 per match.

From zone 14, Arsenal have been pretty good at then getting things into good locations. The Goal Probability Added for the passes that started in zone 14 for Arsenal so far this season is 1.97 (ranks 4th).

The other areas that I think are interesting to look at are the half spaces just outside the box. While zone 14 is important, I think in the modern game it is more an area you occupy more to destabilize defense rather than directly create chances from. The reason I think this is that I believe teams will sell out their shape to ensure that there are no easy entries through their middle straight to goal. This means that the half spaces have increased in the value for creating chances.

Arsenal do well at creating passes through these zones but still lag the leaders with the best attacks in the Premier Leage. Starting with the left half space the leader is Manchester City who enter the left half space 24.4 times per match, with Liverpool at 19.8, Chelsea 16.8, and then Arsenal at 14.4.

On the right side things are roughly the same, with City at 15.1 per match, Chelsea at 18.6, Manchester United at 17.4, Liverpool at 15 (I was a little surprised they occupy the left space more, maybe Salah's and TAA's possession is just outside the zone and my memory is playing tricks on me). Arsenal are just outside the top 4 teams with 13.8 passes into theright half space per match.

The numbers match my general expectations for Arsenal (maybe a bit higher in the rankings given the general consensus that the team hasn't been good at attacking), the team favors the left but with Saka doing things primarily from the right it has brought more balance.

Looking at what Arsenal do when they get the ball into these spots is interesting in contrast to what the Zone 14 charts looked like. There is some recirculating but there are also significantly more aggressive passes into the box to set up cut back or direct shooting chances.

One of the things that becomes a bit more clear looking at the heat maps is that Arsenal create more danger from the left side then they do the right side.

Generally after looking at this, and watching Arsenal play over the last couple of months you can see more of the plan that the tactics of Mikel Arteta are leading to in attack. Things were very structured for a long time, with attacks having to come from practiced sequences but now that these are more ingrained (and perhaps better countered by defenses) wrinkles and more improvisations are being built on top of these structures.

It is a worry to see the team producing just the 13th best non-penalty expected goals and 9th best non-penalty goals, but looking at how Arsenal build towards goal there are some signs that are closer to the 5th best attack than they are to midtable. The next step is the hardest but I think Arsenal have the talent to start turning more of this possession into chances and goals.