How Emery has changed the Arsenal pt. 3: his main squeeze

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.


  1. That’s a really nice graph, very informative. I suspect Ramsey’s greater defensive impetus got him the start against City in that pressing #10 role. Pity his offensive production hasn’t justified continuing in that role.

    I don’t think Ozil’s been as passive as this suggests. He’s never going to win a lot of tackles but it does seem as if he’s closing down more aggressively and covering more ground than he did previously when it comes to stopping the opposition. He’s always been a hard runner when it came to freeing himself up to receive the ball. He and Auba are cut from the same cloth in that sense which is probably why we seldom see them start together anymore.

    1. “I don’t think Ozil’s been as passive as this suggests. He’s never going to win a lot of tackles but it does seem as if he’s closing down more aggressively and covering more ground than he did previously when it comes to stopping the opposition”.

      Doc, you have to stop doing this… arguing that pink is green for the players you happen to favour. You used to do the same for Wenger against all available evidence. How did that turn out?

      Some of us have argued, based on what we can see plainly, that Ozil can and should work harder off the ball. Now Tim has supplied the statistical evidence, and you’re still arguing that it’s not the case.

      He can be sublime and game-changing (and on occasion he does press and harry) but it is quite obvious that he doesnt do enough. Clear as day. I’d say as well that while pressing and tackling is one thing, how you do it is another. Looking busy in the general direction of the man on the ball and sticking out a weak leg in lieu of an actual tackle isn’t pressing and tackling. Both he and Elneny do that. The problem for Elneny (who’s barely been seen) is that he’s no Mesut Ozil.

      1. Geez, Doc doesn’t “have to stop doing” anything.

        All he’s saying is that stats don’t always tell the whole story (something that we ALL KNOW anyway), and that in his opinion, on the evidence of his eyes (interesting that you’re happy to cite the evidence of *your* eyes Claude…), this is one of those occasions where the stats fail to pick up Ozil’s increasingly hard work without the ball under Emery.

        That’s a perfectly valid position, whether or not you agree with it.

        1. Heh. Your response reminds me of the old joke where the philandering husband asks his wife, “Who are you going to believe? Me (in this case insert “stats”) or your lyin’ eyes?”

        2. He’s alive! I have missed the Subway (i.e. footlong) posts 🙂 Honestly

          You shouldn’t take “stop” literally, PFo. I think it’s a bad argument, and on this here public forum, im going to say so, if you don’t mind. And stay robust but respectful.

          1. Nice link, but bias isnt the issue. It’s the denial of facts. Much like conservatives on climate science.

      2. Ozil’s defensive stats have been on a major decline since he joined the club, that’s just a fact.

        Tackles p90 (from his first season to the most recent):

        INT p90:

        Blocks p90:

        1. There’s a line of demarcation on tackles, so what I’m seeing there is three years of about 2/90 and the last two years about 1.5/90. So he lost 0.5/90 tackles give or take in the last year + 3 months. I think some will be tempted to jump to the assumption that that’s because he stopped trying as much but that’s just one of many possible explanations: 1. He’s being asked to stay higher on opposition set pieces to provide an outlet for counters 2. He’s pressing with the forwards now instead of with the midfielders 3. Arsenal controlled games more and thus required fewer defensive actions 4. He wasn’t asked to play in or was removed early from matches that demanded intense physical attributes 5. The team’s defensive focus shifted from trying to win individual duels to closing down as a cohesive unit. Or none of the above. Or all of the above. Or some of the above. I don’t know but they all seem like worthwhile hypotheses instead of “he’s more lazy.”

          The INTs/90 look like a wash except for this season; the 0.1 may be real at this point or it may be an outlier that will regress. The blocks look like a wash too.

      3. Claude – I think that’s a bit harsh. TIm has listed 3 stats that are readily trackable and easy to analyze. But defensive contributions can be measured in other ways. Being positioned to disrupt a passing lane, or harrying a player so he makes a poor touch/pass, or running him into a teammate who then gets a tackle are all valid and valuable contributions that wouldn’t show up in Tim’s chart. If you look at Adrian Clarke’s analysis of the Liverpool game, starting at 0:36, as he waxes poetic about Torreira and Xhaka’s midfield play, you’ll notice Ozil applying pressure that helps create a poor pass by VVD, and then at 1:22 his pressure results in a successful Xhaka tackle, and again at 1:31 his pressure forces a hurried pass, resulting in a tackle and turnover. None of these would be considered a block, INT, or tackle. But the turnovers probably don’t occur without them. I can’t point to other specific instances, but my overall impression was one of greater effort and contribution, and that’s been the same over most of this season, with CP being more the exception than the rule.

        So Doc’s eyes aren’t arguing pink for green in this instance. I think there’s genuine reason to believe Ozil’s making a very solid defensive contribution. Could he do more? Absolutely. But as this video shows, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize his effort as “sticking out a weak leg”. He’s signed on for more defensive contribution – even if it’s not capture by the stats.

        1. I realise that these things can be subjective, but for me, it’s plain as day that Ozil does not consistently work hard off the ball. Some games he does (like y=the FA Cup final of 2 years ago), too often he doesn’t. And when he does, it’s often to “look busy” ineffective type of harrying

          So for me Tim’s stats settle the argument. Why are we insisting that the stats are bunk in this one, sole instance? Honestly no one will spontaneously self combust if they admit that, great a player as he is, Ozil doesnt CONSISTENTLY do enough off the ball. There’s a kind of stubborn pointlessness to the debate. We can see that. And ststistically, it’s been stood up.

          Dont get me wrong… I like the player, and consider him to be a vital part of our challenge. I like it that the captaincy seems to rouse him, and long may that continue. But while we gain much, we lose defensively. heck, it’s why the coach played him wide right for a while.

          1. “I realise that these things can be subjective, but for me, it’s plain as day that Ozil does not consistently work hard off the ball.”

            Ok, so just to clarify:
            the real conflict is not between “the facts” (aka the stats, the things we can measure) and Doc’s arguing “against all available evidence” that “pink is green for the players he happens to favor.”

            The real conflict is between what Claude’s eyes are telling him and what Doc’s eyes are telling him.

            Glad we got that straightened out.

          2. I freely admit Ozil apologist tendencies. Still, I am more than willing to criticize when it’s warranted. He was awful vs. CP. And he’s had games where effort was very much lacking, especially when he was on the right side – where he’s a very poor fit.

            But it’s also fair to say he’s shown improvement. My eyes see a substantial difference vs. last season. He’s working harder on defense and doing it more frequently. He’s never going to be a defensive force, but he’s learning that he will be subbed off if he doesn’t put in a shift, so he’s now putting in better effort. He needed a kick in the butt and Emery’s doing it.
            Consistency is lacking – I totally agree. But that’s not incompatible with progress.

          3. That doesn’t make any sense.

            One of us trying to argue against the science. And given our respective monikers, the answer is kind of amusing.

          4. Fair post, LA. Fair points.

            And balanced. The thing about footy debates is that they can be a bit all-or-nothing. “Walcott is crap”, “Ozil is lazy” etc etc. We cant seem to find a middle ground where someone says, “you know what… he was out of this world good against West Ham, but really poor against Swansea”. Or “both his defence and passing were pinpoint against Spurs, but his pressing was really poor against United”. And so, on social media, we have “haters” or a “fan boys”.

            When someone wont even admit that Ozil was bad against Crystal Palace — as you have — well, what can I say. Hard, statistical evidence isn’t going to be persuasive.

            I have both sung Ozil’s praises and slated him, when I thought he’s deserved one or the other. I have been very critical of Xhaka in the past, but unfailingly acknowledged his recent excellence. Ive done the same with Iwobi, Ramsey, Bellerin, Mustafi and Lacazette. We have to be analytically flexible enough to say, “you know what?… this guy proved me wrong”. Or “Im not so sure about him anymore”, something Im increasing feeling with Mhki.

            Bellerin for one has proven me wrong. I’ve gone from thinking he needs to be benched, to thinking that he’s among our Top 4 most important players (the others are Torreira, Ozil and Lacazette in my estimation. Remove any one of those long-term, and we lose a lot of what makes us play.

            I think it’s fair to say say as Mesut’s fans do that he’s working harder off the ball under Emery, but that doesn’t mean that he’s good or effective at it. Yeah, he’s LOOKING more energetic, but my eyes tell me that while he isn’t strolling around off the ball anymore in the expectation that the peons will win it back, he’s not a particularly good presser (he does the Elneny as well as Elneny). AND THE STATS BEAR THAT OUT! He’s doing the bare minimum on OTB defence.

            If he’d commit more wholeheartedly to winning the ball back, he’d add so much more value that his already high attacking value. Luca Modric, David Silva and Eden Hazard are top class footballers who get properly stuck in to their ball winning chores. Mesut is in that elite bracket, but does not. His defensive efforts need to be better and more consistent than they are. Or as Tim says, it presents Emery with an issue. And a choice.

            (Do I argue strongly? well yeah. But fairly, I hope. This is a football forum. You should see me at my local bar… 😉 )

          5. “One of us trying to argue against the science. And given our respective monikers, the answer is kind of amusing.”

            Are you trying to provoke me? It sure seems like it. I don’t feel the need to defend myself against this claim but I will ask you at this point if you’re just trolling or what because it’s getting annoying. This isn’t your first nibble by any means and while I like to think I have a relatively thicker hide these days, I’m not about to be your whipping post either. You can make your points and disagree without having a go at me each time. So what will it be?

      4. Completely agree. It’s time to stop making excuses for Ozil. The best argument is a comparison with other playmakers in the Premier League: Eriksen, De Bruyne, and Silva have better defensive stats AND better offensive stats than Ozil. There’s no doubt that Ozil is a world-class player, but he’s simply not consistent offensively and not hard-working defensively. He has often been compared to Zidane, but Zidane in his prime had 7 or 8 good games out of 10. With Ozil, it’s just 2 or 3 good games out of 10, not good enough for the wages he earns.

  2. ‘Pressures’ is an interesting defensive stat to look at. I know its not available for free. But on eyesight I feel that should be up for these players from last year in particular for Ozil. We can visibly notice him rushing the opponent without actually getting a block, tackle or interception but leading to ball recovery in the next pass or two.

    Also, your stat clearly illustrates the importance of Lacazette to this team. If we are going to play Auba through the middle then there is a need to offset the defensive stat by playing Iwobi and Micki.

    One puzzling thing for me is the reluctance of Emery to play Ramsey on either right/left. I cannot see the reasoning behind and glad if someone can point to me here.

  3. Great work again, sir.

    Laca has been a revelation, pressing from the front. It’s perhaps why, even when it’s not working for him, Emery prefers to take off Aubameyang. It’s certainly why he’s Emery’s first choice CF, even though Auba looks to me to be a better pure goalscorer. Laca sometimes backpasses carelessly, though, and it’s cost us game-losing goals (Chelsea) and game-tying goals (Palace).

    Agree Iwobi has to start more games. Arguably the most improved player under Emery.

    Ramsey? Of course he does his share of hard defensive work. Sadly for him, he’s homeless in Emery’s double pivot, which showed signs in the last game that it could finally click. I’d play him over Mhki, but not Iwobi, who’d be my first choice there if we play Auba left. On that backheel goal that he scored, he was the one who won the ball at RB

  4. Lots of wise words expounded on here and many other Arsenal football blog sites, so my miserable contribution is just that – backing my lying eyes.

    Hey ho.

    oh, yeah, them miserables words — I just love the atmosphere and the upbeat feelings wafting out of the Ems and the belief that Arsenal are coming good again.

    Love it!!

    1. Couldn’t see what happened but it seemed like he landed awkwardly after challenging for that cross. Poor Danny. That’s his Arsenal career ended there I would think. Snake bitten. It’s a blow to Arsenal as well, he was an able body in forward positions and gave us some big physical potential that is going to be missed.

  5. Halftime.

    Oh Danny boy. What terrible luck youve had with injuries. Did not like the look on Guendouzi’s face one bit. Or Ramsey’s look of recognition. Prayers, bro.

    We’ve three-quarters of the possession, and do not look like scoring. Guendouzi, apart from being caught on the ball one time, is dictating really well and is the best player on the field. Ramsey the holder, which is brave.

    Mhki… dont know about him anymore, man. ESR is 18, yes, but needs to settle.

    And oh, our back line is four right-footers. Hope that Kola makes an appearance at some point.

  6. Nothing to add, except a pet peeve. After 7 or so minutes treating Welbeck on the field, 4 minutes added time at halftime.

    After no meaningful breaks second half, 5 minutes added time. It’s an absurdity.

    Credit to Lisbon. They defended well.

  7. The importance of the FB in attacking areas shines through again. Jenkinson just about got it done vs. Blackpool but here he was so painfully limited in an offensive sense against a well drilled unit.

    On the positive side, it was nice to see AMN make his return from injury. And, we kept a clean sheet while holding them to without a shot on frame. No BC conceded in this match, I don’t think.

  8. Arsenal, if we’re the club I hope that we are, would offerWelbeck a new contract on his hospital bed. I’m seeing all around twitter, and on here, that he’s played his last game for us . I hope that’s wrong. He was injured on the job, in service of the club. And I wish that folks would stop sharing those horrible images on social media.

    1. It would be an excellent time to demonstrate the values of the club by doing the right thing. Danny has been a soldier and we will miss him more than many think. I’m chagrined that I jumped on the “clumsy Danny meme” bandwagon last year when he was struggling. He’s shown real class, grit and spirit. We owe him this.

  9. make no mistake about it; arsenal will miss danny welbeck. he gave the team depth as he could play anywhere on the front line. only aubameyang and, to a lesser extent, ozil, could do that. when we need to give guys a breather, he’s a big, strong, hardworking, striker who’s been banging in goals this season. arsenal need to replace him in january but it’s so tough. who, of welbeck’s quality, will want to come to arsenal knowing they’re going to sit behind lacazette and aubameyang? this sucks.

    for everyone eager for arsenal to sigh mkhi when he went to man utd, now you can see why i was excited that arsenal didn’t sign him. he’s a good player, no doubt, but was in the perfect team at dortmund and that made him look better than he actually was. the same goes for mario goetze. arsenal need to replace him as well. bring back reiss nelson or one of the dembele’s and i’d be happy. in the meantime, allow hector to develop a chemistry with hector.

    back to ramsey, the more i think about it, the more it make sense. next summer, i believe arsenal are going to sign lo celso from psg to replace aaron ramsey. i mentioned his name at the end of last season and many of the brethren here lamented that they liked his quality but doubted psg would release him. well, lo celso was sent on loan for the season to real betis by tuchel. considering it was emery who brought lo celso to psg, where he quickly became a fan favorite ala guendouzi, he could also bring lo celso to arsenal to replace ramsey. lo celso is younger, better, and far more creative than ramsey with a much higher ceiling. considering that tuchel doesn’t fancy him, i think arsenal can sign him for a reuben on rye and a bag of potato chips. for the record, i believe leandro paredes is a better player but lo celso is very good and will be much cheaper than paredes.

    1. Wasn’t expecting Mkhitaryan’s defensive numbers to look as impressive so thanks for pointing that out Tim.

      JoshuaD I agree with you on Mkhi except I think maybe getting him before he went to Utd might’ve been better for his development. In any case, he’s never looked like recovering his stellar form from that one great season in Germany *and* sustaining it over a significant portion of a league season. The idea that we did something really smart in swapping him for Alexis is one of the worst late Wenger-era narratives.


  10. Im a bit of a socialist when it comes to workers’ protections, LA. Football is unique, but it must meet the real world wherever it can. Jean Marc Bosman forced an important change with his landmark case. Even if Welbeck never kicks a ball again, Arsenal Football Club should take some step or other to safeguard his financial future. They have, as I’ve often been told as a senior manager, “a duty of care”. I don’t care what is currently the norm in football.

    The thing I liked about Arsene Wenger was that he would often extend protections to injured players for as long as he could (please note, I said as long as he could). Diaby. Rosicky. Santi (to a point…. his was a curious, and terribly botched medical case, but Arsene did give him a contract extension while injured). Welbeck will still be in recovery when his contract ends. It is inconcievable to me that we’d end our relationship with the player under those circumstances.

  11. I wonder if there are stats available that show the mileage a player is running while his team is in the defensive phase of the game. I don’t believe in the empty running and i think that the when the team presses as a whole, running by the opponent is helping and creating tackle/interception opportunities for the team members. And my “eye test” says that Özil is more engaged and diligent in his defensive duties.

  12. Since I’m relatively new to this community, I was wondering if there has ever been an in-person gathering of its members? I could imagine a one-day gathering where we have a pre-game preview by someone who’s really good with stats ahem ahem, then we watch a match, then there’s post game chat/armchair analysis. Food and/or beverage for all in some sort of dinner or lunch, depending on where the gathering occurs. We might even schedule a non-football topic for discussion, as long as everyone promises to be nice. We all seem to have strong views on things like, oh, I don’t know… “Privilege”.

    I know we’re scattered all over the world, but it occurs to me that you all are very fascinating folk, whether we agree or disagree, and we all seem to share a desire for real but respectful discourse, whether it’s Ozil’s defending or the nature of racism. I might get laughed out or moderated out with this one, but I’m curious if anyone has done this in the past.

    PS – I would promise to sit between Claude and Doc at all times. 🙂

    1. As long as you dont block my access to the beer, we’ll be fine 🙂

      Shard and I were in London at the same time recently, he suggested a beer, but we couldnt make it happen

    2. Lovely idea LAGunner. Wouldn’t it be great if one of us was a secret lottery millionaire or trustafarian who could foot the bill for a special 7amkickoff community matchday experience at one of those fancy exec suites at the Emirates? Plus there’d be on-site security in case any debates got out of hand 😁

    3. I’m in the Boston metro and I suspect we are all rather scattered to the wind BUT a video chat along these lines would be pretty cool.

Comments are closed.

Related articles