The world is a mightily different place to what it was this time a year ago, but for Arsenal fans the winds of change were supposed to signal a return to past glories.
Former Gunners captain Mikel Arteta served an apprenticeship as assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and assumed the top job at Arsenal left vacant when Unai Emery’s tenure went sour.
Victory over Chelsea in the FA Cup final meant there was reason for cautious optimism among Gunners fans despite finishing eighth in the Premier League last season.
A league win over champions Liverpool at the back end of that campaign was followed by a penalty shoot-out triumph over the Reds in the Community Shield.
But the situation now appears bleak. Arsenal have lost seven of their 13 Premier League matches in 2020-21 and were just five points above the relegation zone in 15th heading into the weekend.
Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of Arteta’s appointment, and we used Opta data to analyse issues affecting the Gunners.
7 – Since Mikel Arteta’s first Premier League game in charge (Boxing Day 2019), Arsenal have been shown seven red cards, four more than any other PL side in this period. Mist. pic.twitter.com/6fXjoVralK
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 16, 2020
A pressing concern?
Arsenal’s exciting teams of the past were known for quick, free-flowing attacking football but also being in the faces of opponents to win the ball back high up the pitch.
Under Arteta, the data suggests pressing has been an issue for Arsenal so far in the 2020-21 season.
Their average starting distance for building an attack is 42.1 metres from their own goal, the sixth highest in the division, suggesting at least a willingness to press and win the ball high.
The problem is they don’t quite seem to be overly successful in the endeavour. The Gunners have made 71 high turnovers which equates to 5.46 per game – the sixth lowest in the Premier League.
For contrast, Manchester City and Liverpool – unsurprisingly – rank highest in this category, with 9.33 and 9.31 respectively per game.
This is further reflected by the fact Arsenal are 12th of the 20 teams for passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA) with an average of 14.4.
The smaller a team’s PPDA, the higher, in theory at least, is their level of intensity as it shows a desire to quickly regain possession. For example, Leeds United – who are earning plaudits for their high-intensity game under Marcelo Bielsa – allow just 8.4, while Southampton, whose coach Ralph Hasenhuttl is a proponent of the ‘gegenpress’, allow only 10.5.
The big build-up not paying off
There was huge relief for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as he celebrated just his third league goal of the season in the midweek draw against Southampton.
But the struggles of their captain are emblematic of a wider problem for Arteta and the Gunners, namely putting the ball in the back of the net.
The 11 goals scored at an average of 0.85 per game is the fourth lowest in the league, while the 133 shots (10.23 per game) and the 44 on target (3.38 per game) are each the fifth worst.
It would stand to reason then, you would think, that Arsenal’s build-up play has been left wanting this term.
Well, this does not quite necessarily seem the case. Arsenal have played 388 passes (including crosses) into the box, an average of 29.8 per game – only Liverpool (38.1), Leeds United (36.0), Aston Villa (34.6) and Manchester City (31.7) perform better.
Arsenal fare a little worse for touches in the opposition box, but 298 at a 22.9 average is still the eighth best rate in the Premier League.
The evidence, therefore, suggests the issue is not necessarily getting into the attacking third but turning their play into shots or goals.
648 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has ended a run of 648 minutes without a Premier League goal at the Emirates. Overdue. pic.twitter.com/zDfLHcEbqv
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 16, 2020
Back four woes and tinkering trouble?
Since Arteta’s first game in charge, Arsenal have received a disappointing seven red cards in the Premier League – four more than the next six worst offenders sides on the list, who have each had three sent off.
Couple that with injuries to key players and Arteta has at times had no choice but to alter his XI.
Since Christmas Day 2019, Arsenal have made 92 alterations to their line-up – only Manchester City (123) and Brighton and Hove Albion (94) have made more.
This season alone, Arsenal lead the way alongside Liverpool at 32 – an average of 2.5 changes per match.
So, it could be that an unsettled XI is playing a part in Arsenal’s inconsistency, but so too could the flip-flopping between a three-man and four-man defence.
When playing with a three-at-the-back formation, Arsenal have won 50 per cent of Premier League matches, taking 1.64 points per game. This figure rises to 62 per cent when looking at matches across all competitions.
However, when going with four in defence, the figure slips to a 32 per cent win rate in the top flight (1.26 points per game) and 48 per cent in all competitions.
The damning facts
Arteta has now overseen 50 matches in charge of Arsenal, and his win percentage of 54 is actually the fourth best of any Gunners boss in their first half-century of matches.
Unai Emery sits top at 64 per cent, while Arsene Wenger is way down in 10th on 46 per cent.
But these Opta facts highlight the rancid run Arsenal presently find themselves in.
– Arsenal have won just 14 points from 13 Premier League games this season, their lowest tally at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1974-75 (nine pts – assuming three pts/win).
– Since Arteta took charge of his first Arsenal game in December 2019, the Gunners have won more matches in cup competitions (14 of 17) than they have in the Premier League (13 of 33).
– Arsenal have picked up just one win in their last nine Premier League games (W1 D2 L6).
– The Gunners have conceded in 10+ consecutive home Premier League games for the first time since February 2002 (11 games).