Arsenal suffered another humbling defeat to Liverpool at Anfield last week, but they have every reason to feel confident ahead of the visit of Tottenham on Sunday.
The Gunners have not lost the north London derby at Emirates Stadium since surrendering a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 in November 2010, in Spurs’ only away league victory against their fierce rivals in the last 26 attempts.
Spurs were beaten 4-2 in this fixture last season, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring two of his three goals against the ‘big six’ in England’s top flight.
The striker’s record might sound in desperate need of improvement, but there are signs Unai Emery is cultivating a new system at Arsenal that could play right into the strengths of their Gabon star.
7 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored seven goals against Burnley in four league appearances, four more goals than he has netted against any other Premier League side. Menace. pic.twitter.com/fnA429z8YH
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 17, 2019
ARSENAL STARTING DEEP TO SPRING LIGHTNING TRAP
We may be only three games into the season, but there are indications Arsenal are adapting their play to sit deeper and hit with more speed – something that surely suits Aubameyang and record signing Nicolas Pepe.
In the opening matches of 2019-20, no team has attempted more shots from fast-break situations than the Gunners (four), with Aubameyang’s goal at Newcastle United coming from just such an attack.
Opta defines a ‘fast break’ as a fast counter-attack starting from the team’s own half, where they turn defence quickly into attack with the ball moving at a high tempo. The opposition defence must also be at least partly unsorted.
The attempt at goal must be made 15 seconds after winning the ball in the first quarter of the pitch, or 10 after winning it in the second quarter.
To help with this apparent proclivity for fast breaks, Emery has had his side dropping back further than usual.
The Gunners have been starting possession spells from much deeper positions on the pitch. Indeed, on average, they have started open-play sequences of possession 35.8 metres from their own goal, which is nearer than any other Premier League team and far deeper than in any of their previous five seasons.
50 – Nicolas Pepe has become the first player to successfully dribble past Virgil van Dijk in the Dutch defender’s last 50 appearances in the Premier League, since Mikel Merino in March 2018 for Newcastle. Beaten. pic.twitter.com/B1oRZMciOB
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 24, 2019
DIRECT AND TO THE POINT
No team has had more direct attacks in 2019-20 than Arsenal (10, at an average of 3.3 per game). A ‘direct attack’, according to Opta, is an open-play sequence that starts just inside the team’s half and has at least 50 per cent of movement towards the opposition penalty area, with that team ending with a shot or a touch in the opponent’s box.
Emery’s side have not averaged above 2.8 per game in any season since 2014-15, which again points to something of a shift under the former Sevilla boss compared to the more patient approach of Arsene Wenger’s teams.
This deeper, counter-attacking brand of football is also yielding fewer turnovers in possession. A ‘high turnover’ is defined as a sequence that starts in open play and begins 40 metres or fewer away from the opponent’s goal. This season, no team has had fewer than Arsenal’s five.
The signs for the rest of the campaign are promising, too. At an average of 1.7 per game, the Gunners would be comfortably below their previous high turnovers since 2014-15, when they averaged a league-high 4.8 per match.
There is a problem, however, with their passing.
They have completed 39 per cent of their passes in the opponent’s half this season, and 20.1 per cent of passes ending in the final third. Each of those tallies is the lowest they have recorded stretching back to 2003-04.
This seems to be a trend under Emery. Completed passes in the opposite half last term fell by nearly nine per cent from 2017-18, while completed passes ending in the last third dropped by more than five per cent.
When it’s Friday… and north London derby weekend is here!
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) August 30, 2019
PICK YOUR SPOT, PIERRE
Arsenal’s overall trend of play bodes well for Aubameyang, who in turn needs to sharpen up against the Premier League’s big hitters.
The former Borussia Dortmund star’s shot conversion rate against the rest of the Premier League is a healthy 30.1 per cent, dwindling to 9.7 in big-six matches.
His differential in terms of ‘big chance’ conversion is even more stark – 16.7 per cent down from 48.8.
Aubameyang’s expected goals per ninety minutes is 0.59 in big-six encounters, with 0.78 elsewhere, indicating the quality of chances coming his way in such games is lower than normal.
Enough of Arsenal’s work over the opening weeks of the season suggests that might be about to change. Starting on Sunday, can Aubameyang make the most of spearheading Emery’s flying forwards?