Arsenal playing much better attacking football

Hi folks, just a quick post. I’m still not feeling 100% but I want to give you all a thread to keep discussing things and if I don’t post a new “article”, the comments section of the old one will shut down automatically. This is done to reduce spam.

I was looking at some stats for Arsenal yesterday and I noticed a few things that stood out right away so, let me share them.

First, Arsenal are 4th in goals per90 this season, 5th in expected goals per90 this season, and third overall in shots taken per90. This are all hugely important data points which show that Arteta has seemingly hit on a combination of play which has improved Arsenal’s attack immensely.

It cannot be under sold that for the last two years Arsenal were TERRIBLE in attack. We were 9th in xG last season. People who complained about Arteta and Arsenal for the last two seasons, I think, had legitimate complaints.

The big problem at Arsenal was that we lacked a creative talent, someone who could get his teammate chances. Ozil was too old and was on his way out and Arteta tried to solve that problem by bringing Willian in, which fell flat.

We also played a stodgy form of football which limited creativity in the team in exchange for more defensive solidity.

So, how did shots go up?

Well, we signed Martin Ødegard for starters. When I did my season preview I was huge on this player and what I thought he would bring to Arsenal and sure enough he has delivered. Øde is 5th in the League in shot creating actions (SCA) per90 with 4.39. And he’s 3rd overall in SCA from open play with a total of 88. That’s just behind Bruno and Bernardo. Øde only has 4 assists (which is 46th in the League) but I feel like a lot of that is because of poor finishing at Arsenal – he’s 11th in expected assists. One last stat here for Øde: he’s 4th in the League in passes in the penalty area. That’s up there with guys like Cancelo, Bruno, TAA, and Salah.

Øde has been immense for Arsenal this season but I think he’s also had another effect, which is that he’s made the game a bit easier for Saka and Saka’s numbers have blossomed as a result. Again, to pat my own back, I predicted this. Saka has become almost the complete package in a wide forward. Saka is 4th is SCA from open play and 7th in xA. And he’s one of our main outlets this season where he’s 6th in progressive carries and 4th in carries into the penalty area. And he’s 9th in the League in dribbles!

What makes Saka a “complete” forward is that he can create for teammates and also gets shots for himself. He’s 5th in the League in total number of shots taken this season with 82. That’s just 6 fewer shots than Sadio Baldé.

The only mark against Saka is that his shots on target percentage is low. So far, he’s only getting 32% of his shots on target and that’s happening because he gets a lot of shots blocked. He’s had 32 of his 82 shots blocked this season with most of those blocked shots coming from the right hand side of the 18 yard box.

But that feels like a harsh criticism and I don’t mean to make it sound like that. I think it’s fantastic for a 20 year old to have the season that he’s having. I’ve said this many times before but getting shots is a good measure for how good a forward is and I think that it’s also a very useful predictor for how good a player could be in the future – the younger they are when they hit the magical number of 100 shots in a season, the more likely I think they are going to be a success. Saka has more shots this season than any other player under 21 in the big five leagues (I’ve been using 82 because that’s what fbref counts but Whoscored has him with 84 shots) and it’s not even close: second best is Patrick Wimmer with 54. And most important, he has 64 shots in the 18 yard box! 2nd best in that category is Georginio Rutter with 33 shots in the 18 yard box.

So, I think those two are playing a massive part in why Arsenal have had a renaissance under Arteta this season and why we are challenging for top four.

And to wrap up this post, I also need to say that we should watch out for Gabrielle Martinelli. He’s another player under 21 who is slowly getting himself a ton of shots. And! Let’s not forget about Emile Smith Rowe who has scored 10 goals this season. I can’t stress how important it is to have young, energetic players who want to perform for the team and who constantly look to improve themselves in training.

I’m still managing my expectations for this season (anything above 6th place is great!) but so far it’s looking like we might be legitimate top four contenders.



  1. Tim, I wasn’t aware that you weren’t 100%…. Hope all is ok and that you’re back up there soon.

    Thanks as always for the post (although frankly you could post a picture of your morning toast if it’s just to allow us a comment thread!).

    Very encouraging to hear, and generally speaking correlates to the eye test. Saka is an unbelievable kid. Be interested to hear a similar season end debrief on the relative stats of each of our team (from Ramsdale forward) – I don’t visit the stats sites you pull from, and anyway your interpretation of them is always fascinating and enlightening in equal measure for me

  2. Ode is the beating heart of the Arsenal team. Knits play, goes short, goes long, lays it off with just the right weight of pass. His touch pass to a late arrive Smith Row against Chelsea was wondrous stuff. We got him incredibly cheaply. Offsets the White purchase, for which we overpaid. Im also glad to see that he’s apparently captain in waiting. I love the player.

    Saka is very special. And now he’s demanding the ball for penalties. Im not checking anything before saying this, but he’s got be close to being a 9 figures value player. Automatic selection on the England right

    He gets a lot of shots blocked because teams now overload his side, and take away his left footed shot from the right. But he combines well with Ode… and Lacazette, when he was playing well.

  3. We appreciate you, Tim. You can write 2 lines and we the regulars would assemble. So thanks for this. I don’t have many subs, but if this was one, I’d be in.

  4. This reminds me of an old Richard Pryor bit. “Tim, man you sick?!?!”

    Feel better soon.

  5. Hope you get better soon!
    Yes, I am very excited for Arsenal.
    The next 3-4 years will be amazing.

  6. Hope you feel better, TIm.

    One interesting thing – in my opinion – is the 50:50 calls from the referees that Saka seems to be getting in his favour off-late. And I say 50:50 because in the past I have seen such calls often not going in favour of Arsenal.

    Is the English International Effect? Referees in England do seem to be more generous towards English Internationals. I am hoping that to be the case so as we don’t have another Eduardo incident.

  7. You’d have to be a real miserable bugger not to be excited by these young attacking players like ESR, Saka, Ode and Martinelli.

    I’m looking at the manager and Edu now for providing the next step in their development

    Improvement is not linear, and we’ve seen that from these group of players already. We’ve seen a pattern, in my opinion, of things going stale / drifting off, and then either the manager changes something or injuries force him to change something, and that triggers a new phase of development, where the players find out something new about themselves and play in a slightly different way. That’s how they will grow and flourish, without that stimulus they may remain inconsistent or not reach their potential.

    The run-in is going to push them and I hope they respond.

    Beyond that I think the next phase for them will to play alongside a really good striker, and with another really good midfielder behind / alongside them. No disrespect to either Laca or Xhaka who are and have been immense in so many ways.

    This is actually not a bad way to judge whatever players come in – how will those signings push these lads? I’ll be excited to watch any quality additions in their own right, but a big part of it will be watching how the other players respond to them.

    White’s one of my favourites. He was expensive, we paid a little over the odds, but it’s clear that they identified him as the one they wanted, they were decisive and they didn’t haggle too much on the price – similar to Partey – an approach we’ve been been asking for for years.

    I think the price is justifiable when you consider his age and what he’s added overall to the backline. Defensively he’s had his moments, but overall he’s been strong on the ground and in the air and reads the game very well. Where he really earns his fee though is in terms of security, ball progression and penetration from the back. I think he’s done pretty much exactly what I hoped he would do – with the positions he takes up in possession he’s lifted the overall platform from which we launch our attacks, he’s the foundation for players like Odegaard and Saka to do well and I think we see that in the stats.

    1. I intentionally left Benjamino Blanco out of my article because.. well, you should have a look at his stats this season compared to last:

      A lot of what you’ve said about him isn’t showing up in the data and while stats do not tell the whole story I would expect that they would at least reflect positive changes in his progressive passing, carries, and so on. So far, he doesn’t really look like much of an upgrade on Chambers. But I assume his ceiling is higher.

      1. You’re right, Holding’s stats are better and Saliba’s stats are great.

        I’m probably biased in favour of White because I always liked him at Brighton and Leeds, but assumed he would end up at City or Man U.

        Saliba may well be better than White already, in which case hindsight says the loan to Marseilles was a mistake and we could have saved the White money or spent elsewhere.

        But this rapid development was not guaranteed, and he desperately needed to play. Given where he was at the start of the season, and given the level of inexperience in our squad, putting him in our first eleven would have been a massive risk both for the team and the player.

        I don’t think it’s a choice between White or Saliba. I don’t understand why some think Saliba is done at Arsenal. Of course anything could happen but it makes no sense. I think both will likely be playing for us next season, and that’s the required quality of backline options if we’re serious about challenging for titles or progressing in the CL.

  8. I disagree with Greg on Ben White. He is a decent player, but unexceptional. Not bad, but nowhere near his valuation. Arteta talked to him and immediately liked him, by his own telling, and that apparently counts for a lot with the manager.

    He’s 5’10 or 11 and gets bullied in the air. He’s good at ball progression and carry, and this ability gives him midfield and RB versatility, but as Josh says, defend well first and everything else is gravy.

    It is not at all the case that he reads the game well. Mentioned several times here that he gets caught out a lot, but he’s a superb athlete and is able to recover and throw himself into blocks, which he does a lot. I actually like that about his game… his full commitment to shot blocking, not that half-assed half-turn that you see from many modern defenders. lf you want to see what reading a game is all about, go watch a tape of Fernando Hierro or our own Mertesacker. Or Arteta in the Arsenal midfield. But they were older players. White is 24 and may reach that level one day, but reading the game right now is a weakness.

    His arrival also hasn’t improved our defence. We passed the same number for goals conceded in the last 38 game season in game 32 this season. So even though as Tim correctly notes we are much better in attack, defensively, we’ve not improved. We’ve missed Tomi more than people realise.

    Back to White. Guy named Scott Wiilis, who contributes to the Arsenal Vision podcast presented a circular stats graph on twitter, that showed White as a firmly middling player. Willis put it best, in saying, ….”because twitter is not the place for nuanced opinion, I am far from saying he’s shit. He’s a good player and has talent but man Arsenal paid like he’s already a star and I am really not sure about that.”

    Exactly. Im not either. But if we underpay for some and overpay for others, that’ll balance itself out, I suppose. Tomi and Ode were great value.

    1. Some would say Saliba is already twice the player. I have a theory on him which I don’t think has been floated yet. William was tested in a few friendlies, but as soon as that selfie video of him and another (nude) guy in the locker room got out, he hasn’t been seen again. Big Willy by name… Anyway, he was completely frozen out and then unceremoniously shipped off.

      It’s almost if Arteta had some worries about his perception in the changing room, and took action. This could well be a total coincidence, but it looks awfully suspicious from here.

      It is not to say the bridges are burned, even if I think they are and he will be sold to psg this summer, and he’ll no doubt go on to win 2 world cups, the CL and the ballon d’or.

      Look at his stats. While there are some concentration concerns, as a defender he excels in every single department, while on the ball he is in the 90th percentile across the board, at age 20. It is unheard of.

      I hope he comes back and gives White a real run for his money. But I just cannot see him willing to accept a cup game here or there.

      1. Saliba remains a head-scratcher for so many of us. Why was he shipped off? Is he coming back? I wonder if Arteta just a “very immature” vibe from him overall. Someone he believed had the potential to make a bad influence on the other young players. He needed a lot of guidance and support that Arteta didn’t have the bandwidth for. So he sent him off to buy time and establish a culture where immaturity wouldn’t be accepted. Saliba goes off and get great experience under his belt, grows up a little bit and comes back into a side with an established style of play and culture. A place where Saliba can thrive. Very clearly a post-hoc explanation but one I could understand. Will be fascinating to see what happens next.

        1. Seems pretty unlikely that we plan to bring him back considering the fact that him and Ben White play in the same position and we paid 50mm for White.

    2. I do agree that the jury’s still out on Ben White, but…

      1) He’s still won the most aerial duels for Arsenal this season (now tied with Gabriel after the Man U game)
      2) 9 of the goals we conceded (first 3 games) were without Ben White’s involvement, and at a time when we were missing 4 of our best XI because of Covid at the start of the season, so harsh to judge him on that.
      3) His best quality is his passing and his on-ball security. Few defenders who can offer that, fewer still that are/were available.

      Plus, CBs generally improve as they get older; younger CBs are the exception to the rule (Saliba, Gvardiol come to mind), and if Ben White’s performing this well at 23, I’d love to see if/how he develops in 2-3 years.

      1. Fair points, all of them.

        Look, we may get out of jail (i.e. get champions league football) for not investing where we really needed to (midfield mostly) and splunking 55m in an area where we had a big overstock of bodies. It struck me as misplaced prioritisation.

        The manager looks set for a long tenure. What I want to see him do better than he has done is increase the value on his books, rather than look for “his” player in an area in which he has much raw material.

        Im excited, for example, to see what he can do with Nuno. There’s a video of them in the deep chat during a break in play, and the body language between them was great. Evidently the player and the manager have warm relations, irrespective of what had passed between them. Nuno against Chelsea, btw, made the long pass out of the back that Christiansen couldnt deal with and Nketiah punished. He also scored against United. Teach him defensive awareness and security, and we have a heck of a player there.

        1. 100% Agreed on the misplaced prioritisation; also struck me as a Pep-style signing (i.e. Pep famously spent HUGE sums on defenders compared to the rest of the market before any other side did) which irritated me for some reason I still can’t quite express properly.

          On Nuno: If Arteta’s reputation based on his one-to-one specialization and improvements is to hold, that is *exactly* the kind of progress I want to see. Young players being optimized, making use of the gems in our academy, and that value maximisation is exactly what we need. I’ve wanted Arteta to succeed (since his success means Arsenal’s success) but the progress he shows with our younger charges over the next 2-3 years is what will justify his claim to being our manager in my mind. Fingers crossed he can do it!

          1. Agree. Totally.

            In fact I was going to mention the Pep thing. You’re not at City anymore, Mikel. You need a different approach at Arsenal. Emile and Saka were already breakthrough players when Arteta arrived. He’ll really earn his corn developing those a level below.

            Thankfully, we’ve bought well, and we’ve bought young. The Willian lesson seems to have been absorbed

    3. But most of the time he’s bang on the money for positioning, preventing attacks before they happen. A lot of a CB’s work goes unnoticed because they shut down options.

      He doesn’t get bullied in the air, that happened a couple of times in the first game against Brentford and the narrative stuck.

      Most impressive is his possession though. I think he’s the main reason we’re not getting pressed. Opposition forwards generally don’t get near him, because they know he can play around them, and he is very comfortable on the ball, patient, doesn’t just get rid of it. There was that miscontrol and hilarious dive against Wolves, but that’s about all I can remember – I could be wrong. He adds so much control to our game.

      Fair enough his reading can improve, he has a way to come on the pure defensive work but overall I’m very pleased.

  9. I wasn’t overly impressed with Odegaard, and I’m still not on board with the praise. I feel he’s decent to good rather than good to great, but maybe I have that wrong, or maybe it will come. Saka on the other hand looks the part. Like he will be the ‘it’ guy. It’s probably a silly comparison for all sorts of reasons, but watching the game against ManU, it occurred to me that Ronaldo vs Saka is a bit like Henry vs Ronaldo was back in the day. Anyway, the next step in his development is scoring more goals, but that ability is definitely there.

    I’m still going to say the jury is out on Mikel Arteta the manager and coach. Managing resources and dealing with adversity have seen some lows from him. I’m also not ready to treat this youth revolution as real. Not yet. It wasn’t just Willian. We signed Mari, we signed Cedric. We kind of made a mess of the whole GK situation. We also got rid of some young players I felt could have contributed, and been a bit confused as to who to keep or sell. So far, Arteta’s being bailed out because the club is willing to spend its way out of mistakes.

    Until we see the next line of young players make the breakthrough and not spend 200m on buying ‘youth’ I don’t think I can term him as manager developing the players at the club.

    Anyway, negatives/caution aside, the positives in the last couple of games are there. In fact, if we played with this approach all the time, I would be willing to give him more time. Objectively, we rode our luck, but far better to do it in this fashion than by sitting back and being afraid of making a mistake. We’ve got top 4 in our hands and it will be great to be back in the Champions League. It is also the only way we can accelerate our improvement. Something the club claims, and to be fair by its actions, shows, it is keen to do. It’s down to the players and the manager to go out and do it in the next 5 games.

    1. While I agree with you in that I’m still not entirely sold on Ode (he has, on multiple occasions this season, not shown up) the same can be said of other MFers, and I do believe MFers are affected by the system, and who is playing around them.

      I do disagree with you as to the youth revolution. While Arteta needs to continue to promote talented young players, and did not play young players early enough in my opinion, once the decision was made, he seems to have committed to it.

      I would ask which young players we sold you thought could have contributed. AMN? Guendouzi?
      I think criticism of Arteta is merited on the grounds that he sold players without bringing in reinforcements, but the players he sold were also ones who had been given a chance to contribute and either did not, or were not -in his system-able to contribute.

      1. Maybe it’s just that I’m not sold on his system justifying the sort of transfer movement that’s been done. We’ve spent 200m+ since he got here, plus maybe half of that in wasted wages and payouts. If we’d done none of it, we’d likely be better off in terms of finishing position, and have more to spend to get better according to his preferences, but with a better understanding of the squad, both in terms of talent and personalities.

        Even this season, if we’d kept Saliba and Mavropanos instead of buying White, and kept AMN and/or Guendo around instead of buying Sambi, we’d have 70m more to buy a forward, could have sold Lacazette and Nketiah and probably bought another midfielder too.

        It may seem like nitpicking but really it’s like 300m spent for not much gain. I don’t buy into a project youth that spends that much. It sounds more like a method to buy time, which is what they were doing till February when they first spoke of top 4.

        In any case, now it is done. I’m just reluctant to believe we’ve turned a corner and moved past the trial and error approach to squad building. Qualifying for the CL would be a good outcome though, and more about our transfer approach will be revealed in the summer.

  10. I’m sorry to hear you’re poorly, Tim. I hope you feel better soon. To be able to write such a great piece when feeling unwell firmly demonstrates the quality of your creativity.

    Great to see that the data confirms the basis of our love for the wee man.

    It’s anotherbig match this afternoon. Let’s take all three points from the Spammers! COYG

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