Spent the whole morning compiling this chart as a follow up to my post on Arseblog News dispelling the myth that the back 3 was some kind of panacea for Arsenal’s defensive woes.
As I showed in my previous post, Arsenal’s defense was still leaking a lot of shots and shots in great positions to the opposition but Arsenal’s keepers were saving at a much higher rate and as a result making the Arsenal back three defense look more solid.
The back three also seemed to delay any goal scoring and the average time for the first goal shot up by 20 minutes per game.
Arsenal’s attack, meanwhile, blossomed under the back three, which is counterintuitive since a back three is usually considered a “more defensive” setup.
Yankee Gunner asked me to look at another wrinkle. He wanted to know if there was a significant difference with Cazorla and without in the back four and how that compared to the back three. Here I made a quick chart comparing the back 4 with Cazorla, without, the back 3, the Arsenal season average, and the Chelsea season average.
This chart includes all of Arsenal’s Champions League matches, Premier League matches, and the final two FA Cup matches.
It should be noted that Cazorla isn’t the alpha and omega of Arsenal’s midfield. He was usually paired with Coquelin and Coquelin is Arsenal’s only defensive midfielder. Cazorla is an attacking midfielder by trade and does offer a significant improvement in Arsenal’s attack. I suspect the inclusion of Coquelin explains why Arsenal’s defensive numbers look better with Cazorla.
When Arsenal lost Cazorla, it is pretty clear that they had a dip in form in all areas of the pitch, including the keepers. And when Wenger switched to a back three, he managed to jumpstart the offense. But there wasn’t much improvement in the defense. Yes, the defense went from atrocious to just bad, but I include Chelsea here to show what a properly defensive back three looks like.
While both Chelsea and Arsenal played a 343 this season Chelsea play with two defensive midfielders (Kante and Matic) and Arsenal played with one passing midfielder (Xhaka) and Aaron Ramsey who was instructed to join in the attack. This is why when Arsenal switched to a 343 the attack got better and the defense got “better” but only better in the Arsenal sense: which is far below the standard of other top teams like Chelsea and Tottenham.