202 – Pressures applied by Arsenal against MCFC – 2nd most pressures Arsenal have applied this season (203 was 1st, Chelsea)
54 – Pressure regains against MCFC, the 2nd most we’ve had this season (62 was 1st, that was against Leeds)
72 – Pressures Arsenal applied in the MCFC final third, the most that Arsenal have applied this season in that area
Some context is needed here.
First, the Man City Oilers had 70% of the possession. Which is Arsenal’s 2nd lowest total of any match this season (the lowest was.. Man City). And while the red card didn’t help things, it didn’t really hurt things either – Arsenal only had 33% of the possession prior to the red card. And there is a small correlation between pressures and possession but it’s not a strong correlation because whether a team pressures or not is a coaching decision. For example, against Chelsea, Arsenal had 35% possession and 203 pressures and against Leicester City Arsenal had 36% possession and 124 pressures. In the game against Norwich (home) we had 52% of the possession and 163 pressures. In the two matches against City we had 202 pressures and 124 pressures – the lower number could have been adversely affected by Xhaka’s 35th minute red card but the point here is that it’s a choice that the manager makes.
Second, the high number of pressure regains is outstanding but the percentage was kind of low at 26%. We average 30% this season which is in the top 10.
But, the key thing is that we attacked them in their own final third with 72 pressures. Last season we played Man City twice in the League (which is really unusual…*) and only attempted 19 pressures in their final third, and 15 pressures in their final third. And the season before that we mostly pressured them in midfield rather than in their own final third.
|Date||Venue||Result||GF||GA||Opponent||Tkl||TklW||Def 3rd||Mid 3rd||Att 3rd||Press||Succ||%||Def 3rd||Mid 3rd||Att 3rd|
As shown by this small excel spreadsheet, Arsenal made more high pressures in this one match than they had in their previous 4 matches combined.
So, the question then is why?
If I look at the players’ numbers we see that Lacazette attempted 16 (in 70 minutes!), Saka 13 (in 83 minutes), and Xhaka even had 12 final third pressures. Ødegaard spent most of the match waving his teammates to press high, but ironically, he himself only had 7 (4th in the team for pressures in the final third).
One answer could be “personnel”. That is one thing that Arteta’s proponents often trot out when they are protecting his often unorthodox coaching decisions; we just don’t have the right players for him to play a certain way. I’m not sure how much of that I buy. In the two matches against them last season Xhaka made just 4 (total) high pressures. Saka made a combined 5 high pressures. Lacazette played in both matches but crucially, he came on as a sub, with P-EA starting up top. The reality is that we just didn’t press. We weren’t a pressing team for two years under Arteta, that is just a statistical fact. We played almost no proactive defense under him. Which was easily the most frustrating thing about Arteta’s first two years.
Another answer could be that he knew City would be tired. That is possible, Pep complained about the rest that Arsenal had and said that allowed us to be more “physical”. I think there is some kernel of truth to this, however, again, the plan wasn’t just some small increase in high pressure, or just a few moments of pressure, Arsenal committed to the high press and were relentless about it – despite the fact that a player was sent off in the 61st minute.
I have been openly frustrated with Arteta’s coaching decisions for a few years now. And I have explained numerous times that most of my frustration comes from our side’s passive (some people would call it “patient”) attack and defense (which people said was because we had too many slow players like Xhaka).
But in the last month – after his team received much criticism and since dropping Auba – Arsenal look like a massively changed side. We are very clearly attacking more (xG is WAY up), taking teams on with dribbles, and getting into dangerous places in the opposition final third. And as we saw with the game plan against the Manchester Oilers, we are also starting to add pressure and proactive defending to our tool kit.
Maybe this was part of the “process” all along? And if it was or wasn’t I don’t care. All I care is that we continue playing football this way and don’t go back to our anti-dribble, anti-defense, anti-football.
*Once home and once away. Does that happen every year? Weird.