In one of Emery’s first press conferences for Arsenal he said that he wanted to get the team playing a more modern style of football and press high up the pitch. While it’s difficult to sometimes quantify using widely available stats like Tackles, Interceptions, and Blocks, and ideally you’d want something more like an index of forced turnovers or backpasses* there has been a significant enough change in Arsenal’s front three that I think we can just use those simplistic stats to illustrate both how Emery is pressing and who is doing most of the work.
Comparing Arsenal’s three forwards from this season to last, there has been a massive increase in the amount of defensive work that Lacazette is doing this year:
Lacazette’s tackles have jumped from 1.9 per90 to 3.1. His Interceptions are also up from 0.3 to 0.8 per90 and even his blocks (blocked passes and crosses) are up from 0.7 to 1.1 per90. Overall, his defensive contribution is up from 2.9 to 5 per90.
Aubameyang’s tackles are also up from 0.9 to 1.9 per90 and while his INT and blocks numbers are slightly down, that still puts his overall contribution to the defense up from 2.3 to 2.9 actions per90.
Özil is one of the few players whose defense has gone down this season. These stats are “per90” which means that they do take into account the fact that he’s only played 750 minutes. And if we swap out Ramsey here for Ozil, Rambo has 3.7 tackles, 0.5 INT, and 0.5 blocks per90. That’s 4.7 defensive actions.
Iwobi has been even more active than Ramsey, he has 3.1 tackles, 0.8 interceptions, and 1.6 blocks for a total of 5.5 defensive actions per90. And Mkhitaryan also kicks in some defense: 2.8 tackles, 0.7 INT, and 1.9 blocks for a total of 5.4 defensive actions per90.
This illustrates the selection headache that Emery has at Arsenal. On the one hand, he wants the team to press high up the pitch and the best players for that are Ramsey, Lacazette, and Mkhitaryan. On the other hand, he needs Arsenal to score goals to win matches. It will be interesting to see how he balances this out.
One player who has been an absolute revelation is Alex Iwobi. His pressing, dribbling, and creating (not pure chances but getting the “second assist”) could be the secret to unlocking this team. I’d love to see him get more starts.
Emery clearly has a plan to get Arsenal pressing more but also seems to have a bit of a problem with the overall balance of attack and defense. If he can get that right, while also keeping everyone happy, we could see an improvement overall in Arsenal’s defensive structure, fewer Big Chances conceded, and less reliance on the keepers to save the team.
*Paul Riley started one but hasn’t updated it since 9/22 – perhaps because it’s kind of difficult to read or maybe because he just didn’t want to put the work in anymore. I mean, it is free.