Arsenal Analysed: 9 reasons why we shined in 23/24

Arsenal celebrate Odegaard's opener against Burnley

Having witnessed the goals going in, clean sheets kept, wins racking up and us battling for the biggest prizes, it is easy to conclude the 2023/24 campaign was enjoyable to be a Gooner.

However, having been running the rule over Mikel Arteta's team all season long, Adrian Clarke is well-placed to give his verdict on why we were so impressive, which might not be so obvious to the untrained eye.

Here are the nine factors he felt were instrumental in our excellent form last term:

Best defence in Europe

William Saliba, Gabriel and Takehiro Tomiyasu celebrate beating Manchester City

Our off-the-ball work in 2023/24 was by far the most robust it has been under Mikel Arteta, and it helped us earn the division’s best defensive record. Conceding just 29 goals (and only 13 away from home) we reduced our goals against tally by around a third from the previous campaign.

Protecting our goalkeeper superbly, David Raya was comfortably the Premier League’s least busy number one. Conceding chances worth just 28.3 expected goals, we actually delivered the lowest mark across Europe’s top five leagues.

Since the start of 2024, we also kept 11 clean sheets in 18 games, averaging an astonishingly low 0.65 expected goals against per match.

Arsenal 23/24 22/23 21/22
Shots faced 323 342 425
Saves made 55 95 100
Clean sheets 18 14 13
Goals against 29 43 48

Why were we so good in this department? We defended from the front with enthusiasm, Declan Rice’s arrival certainly added a fresh layer of protection inside the engine room, and it was useful to start with a consistent back four too.

William Saliba featured for all 3,420 minutes of the campaign, and for around 80% of 2023/24 he had Gabriel to his left, and Ben White to his right. Having such a settled back line, with three of the four virtual ever-presents, provided valuable stability. In open play, our record was simply remarkable, letting in one goal every two matches.

Goals conceded in open play
Arsenal 19
Man City 27
Liverpool 28

Stealing the ball high

Martin Odegaard in action against Manchester City

Usually led by our captain Martin Odegaard, the Gunners’ pressing was superbly coordinated right across the whole season. 

Displaying a real appetite to hunt down opposition defenders, the team worked exceptionally hard to create turnovers in advanced areas of the pitch, presenting us with so many bonus opportunities to score goals. Playing out from the back against Arteta’s side was fraught with danger: 

Possession won in final third Shots from high turnovers
Man City 285 Arsenal 74
Arsenal 283 Man City 73
Tottenham 247 Liverpool 71

Saka steps up a gear

Saka NLD celeb

The excellence of Odegaard, Rice, Gabriel and Saliba should not overshadow what has been another season of improvement from Bukayo Saka. Our two-time Player of the Season produced his best campaign yet, delivering a string of top displays and important contributions.

In almost every match our style of play was set up to feed the ball consistently to the right-hand side, isolating Saka in 1v1s against full-backs. On average 41% of our attacks were funnelled down the right wing, and this made him such a key player.

Saka often found himself double-marked by two opponents, but it never fazed him, as the 23-year-old matched his record of 25 direct goal contributions in the Premier League (16 goals, 9 assists). As you can see below, Saka – who enjoyed more touches inside the box than any other player in the division - took his attacking output up a level:

Bukayo Saka 2023/24 2022/23
Chances created 91 75
Chances created in open play 69 59
Passes played into box 220 205
Touches in opposition box 287 255
Shots 108 89
Direct goal involvements 25 25

A young, settled XI

Arsenal line up before their game against Bournemouth

Despite experiencing the rigours of Champions League football, Arteta resisted the temptation to heavily rotate his side. In fact, Crystal Palace were the only side to make fewer changes to their starting XI, with the manager showing great trust and faith in his talented young players.

It should also be noted that our starting XI was the third youngest in the Premier League; a sign of real promise as we look to improve again next term.

Youngest av. starting XI Fewest starting XI changes
Chelsea 24y 233d Crystal Palace 50
Burnley 24y 248d Arsenal 63
Arsenal 25y 158d Burnley 63

Dead ball delight

Gabriel scores against Crystal Palace

Led by innovative set-piece coach Nicolas Jover, we matched a Premier League record for the most goals scored from corners (16). The quality of deliveries from Odegaard, Saka and Rice were superb, with inswinging near post corner routines by far our most successful ploy. As a side containing many six-foot-plus players, we now have an aura at corner kicks that strikes fear into the opposition’s minds.

Overall, we led the way in the Premier League with 20 set-piece goals. These made a tremendous difference and helped us reach 89 points from 38 games.

Starting and finishing strongly

Declan Rice celebrates the winner against Luton Town

No one scored more Premier League goals than us inside the opening 20 minutes, as we habitually raced into early leads. Our 17-4 goal difference during that key tone-setting period set us on our way to several important victories.

We also finished matches exceptionally strong. Liverpool were the only team to plunder more injury-time strikes than us, with two of our goals beyond the 90th minute turning out to be winners.

90+ goals
Liverpool 11
Arsenal 10
Chelsea 9
Newcastle United 8

Arteta’s second-half replacements played their part from the bench on numerous occasions. Leandro Trossard scored against Chelsea, Liverpool, and Brighton as a sub, with many other bench players contributing too. Overall, our subs scored 12 goals and made eight assists.

Our late winner at home to Manchester City involved three substitutes combining, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kai Havertz setting up Gabriel Martinelli for a famous strike.

Sub goal involvements
Liverpool 24
Newcastle United 22
Aston Villa 21
Arsenal 20

Running machines

Arsenal chasing down Brighton's Julio Enciso

Allied to our impressive starts and finishes to games is the work ethic of this side. In 36 of our 38 Premier League matches, we outran the opposition, which is a statistic that outlines how fit Arteta and his staff have got the players.

Working hard for each other, in and out of possession, only two sides covered more ground across the entire campaign:

Most distance run in 23/24
Distance (km)
Manchester City

Pleasingly, two of our star players also featured in the top five for individuals and distance ran. Rice and Odegaard are not just super talented, but they also both work relentlessly for the team:

Distance (km)
Bruno Guimaraes
Newcastle United
Pascal Gross
Declan Rice
Conor Gallagher
Martin Odegaard

A constantly evolving side

Rice Havertz.png

The record books will show that Arteta used his favoured 4-3-3 formation in all 38 matches, but the fluidity of his side’s shape is its hallmark. Throughout the season we saw players interchanging positions, in and out of possession, and it made us extremely difficult to play against.

Key personnel also found themselves changing roles too. Rice began the campaign as our defensive midfield lynchpin, but for much of the season he revelled in a box-to-box left midfield position instead, driving the team forward in inspirational fashion. Scoring seven goals and making eight assists, Rice proved he is tailor-made for that type of role.

Another new signing, Havertz, evolved during the campaign. He began as a left-sided midfielder but across the second half of 2023/24 the German was truly outstanding as a mobile, target man centre-forward. 

Pressing brilliantly, displaying clever movement, and holding the ball up extremely well for others, Havertz’s positional switch had a transformational effect on the team and his own game, and a record of nine goals and six assists in his last 14 matches shows it was a switch that paid off.

Captain fantastic

Martin Odegaard celebrates our win against Manchester United

There are a lot of players who should feel proud of their performances and individual development, and skipper Odegaard is certainly among those.

On and off the ball he took great responsibility, leading by example with his skilful and wholehearted displays. The Norwegian also walks away from 2023/24 knowing he was the Premier League’s most creative player, laying on 88 chances in open play.

Most chances created from open play
Martin Odegaard 88
Bruno Fernandes 75
Bukayo Saka 69

This was a magnificent campaign from the Norwegian, who just about shaded it for my Player of the Season. 

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