The Breakdown: Evaluating our season so far

Played 14. Won 12. Drawn 1. Lost 1. It has been an outstanding start to the season from Mikel Arteta’s side, and when the campaign resumes on Boxing Day we’ll hold a five-point lead at the top of the table. Here is Adrian Clarke's breakdown of what we’ve seen so far:

Fast starts

If you start matches with bright minds and positive energy it makes such a difference, and this was definitely a contributing factor to our success in the early months.

The way we tore at Liverpool from the first whistle in a 3-2 Emirates Stadium classic was typical of our mentality at the start of matches. Sharp and aggressive right from the get-go, we scored the opening goal in 12 of our first 14 games.

During the first 30 minutes of matches this term we have scored 11 times and conceded no goals whatsoever, which I think is an absolutely remarkable statistic. Our +11 first half goal difference is also second only to defending champions Manchester City.

If you start matches well it often sets the tone for a top performance, and of course statistically your prospects of taking all three points leaps greatly when you score the first goal. It’s important for the team to maintain their fast starts.

Strong in both boxes

Winning the midfield battle always gives you a better chance of success but the bottom line is this; matches are decided by what happens inside both penalty boxes. Thankfully that’s been a strong suit for us this season too:

Goals Expected Goals
1. Manchester City 40 1. Manchester City 28.09
2. Arsenal 33 2. Arsenal 27.02
3. Tottenham Hotspur 31 3. Newcastle United 24.99

Last season were the sixth-highest scorers averaging 1.6 goals per game, but as we stand after 14 matches of 2022/23, we rank second for the most goals scored. Playing a brand of fluid, fast, attacking football, we have also seen our goals per game average leap from 1.6 to a very healthy 2.36.

Goals conceded Expected Goals against
=1. Arsenal 11 1. Manchester City 11.28
=1. Newcastle United 11 2. Arsenal 11.96
3. Manchester City 14 3. Newcastle United 14.56

Defensively the improvement has been even better. Last season seven Premier League teams conceded fewer goals than us, but right now it is us who boast the joint-best goals against record, shipping just 11 in 14 games. Working tremendously well as a collective out of possession, this Arsenal side is far tougher to break down.

Better pressing, more control

Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard

Our pressing has been consistently effective this season. That, and our improved control in central midfield are two noticeable improvements this side has made.

This Gunners side is significantly more difficult to play against. Having four attacking players who are willing to close down with enthusiasm helps greatly, but our organisation with the press has also gone up a level too. Opponents have found themselves suffocated inside their own half and they’ve found it harder to play through the lines. We are not reliant on turnovers, but it forms a vital part of our strategic approach.

Defending from front to back with hostility has unquestionably eased the strain on our defence, and simultaneously limited the number of quality chances our opponents create. Our midfield unit of Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard has also purred this term, playing with a sense of wonderful assurance. Providing a sense of control that we perhaps lacked at times last season, our average share of possession has leapt from 53% to 58%. The middle third is nice and stable now.

Settled side

Not always, but pretty often the very best sides have a settled starting XI that trips off the tongue. It’s been a while since we could say that about Arsenal, but this season it’s been a different story. The manager has been incredibly consistent with his team selection.

Manager Fewest changes to starting XI
Mikel Arteta 11
Eddie Howe 20
Frank Lampard 20
Patrick Vieira 21
Jesse Marsch 23

In the 13 matches that followed our opening day win at Crystal Palace, Mikel Arteta has made just 11 changes to his starting XIs. That is nine less than any other top-flight gaffer at this stage of the campaign. He has a formula he trusts, and wants to use it as often as possible. It’s also worth noting that the manager has also deployed the same 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3 formation in every game too. Tactically, he is content.

Emerging star: William Saliba

He isn’t a new signing, but William Saliba very much feels like one! Forming a terrific partnership with Gabriel, the 21-year-old Frenchman has enjoyed a phenomenal start to life in our first-team.

Saliba has been calmness personified, wearing the red and white. Unflustered in awkward situations, he is a defender that exudes cool-headed confidence, no matter what the occasion is. The youngster has power and pace, and loves to defend. That heady cocktail of attributes has made him one of the division’s very best centre-backs.

He is only 14 games into his Premier League career but you sense that rival forwards already lack the belief to beat him in one-v-one duels. Saliba has quickly built an aura that stands out. The France international has also proved to be useful as a bonus goalscorer too. I enjoyed his run and near post flick header in the win at Brentford. He has been exceptional.

No reliance on a single player

Our five most attacking players have all been fabulous so far this season. Together they rotate positions and perform with purpose. Tellingly, they also share the load in terms of end product.

Chances created Goals
1. Bukayo Saka 29 1. Martin Odegaard 6
2. Martin Odegaard 25 =2. Gabriel Jesus 5
3. Gabriel Martinelli 23 =2. Gabriel Martinelli 5
4. Gabriel Jesus 22 4. Bukayo Saka 4
5. Granit Xhaka 20 5. Granit Xhaka 3

No other Premier League outfit has five players who have laid on 20 or more chances this term, which I think is a real positive. When one or two of them are quiet on any given day, we have consistently seen the others step up to deliver big contributions.

This team does not rely on one individual, which has to be considered extremely healthy. It’s been fantastic to watch Jesus, Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli and Xhaka all chip win with moments of creative inspiration.

Evolving roles: White and Xhaka

From a tactical perspective, there have been two distinct changes to individual roles across the early phase of this campaign, and new responsibilities for Ben White and Granit Xhaka have improved the team.

Ben White in action against Chelsea

No one expected to see White played at right-back this season, or for him to become first choice in that position, but he has taken to that role brilliantly. Confidently popping up on the inside or outside, he has shown great confidence in advanced areas of the pitch, performing like he has been a right-back for years. To keep Takehiro Tomiyasu out of the side he knew he had to perform well, and he has!

Granit Xhaka has been one of the players of the season so far, revelling in a box-to-box midfield role that sees him operate inside the final third far more often than we have seen from him in the past. The Swiss midfielder has looked liberated, and seems to be enjoying his football more than ever before. His direct goal involvements, energy levels and leadership have helped to elevate the team.

Main man: Gabriel Jesus

It’s hard to pick out one player above the rest this season because every regular starter has been very, very good but the impact Gabriel Jesus has made up front has been nothing short of remarkable.

2022/23 in PL Jesus Rank
Touches in opposition box 141 1st
Total duels 258 1st
Duels won 108 2nd
Shots inside box 48 2nd
Fouls won 38 2nd
Dribbles completed 27 3rd

Across the first 14 games Jesus’ skill and sharpness sped up our attacks quite magnificently. Even when he wasn’t scoring, the Brazilian was always a key figure with his work-rate, aggression, movement and dribbling prowess. No-one has enjoyed more touches inside the box, or won more duels than Jesus either. He stretches opponents and fits beautifully with the managers’ style of play.

Jesus has notched five goals, most of which came during a wonderful start to the campaign, and that final third threat will leave a hole while he recovers from a knee operation. The team will certainly miss his energy and talent, but hopefully our number nine will be back fully fit and flying very soon.  

Last word

Arsenal team celebration against Bournemouth

Our feet have to stay on the ground but topping the table at Christmas is a fitting reward for what has been an incredible start to the season. This team has great togetherness and spirit, we have made eye-catching strides from a tactical perspective, and you sense there is a strong collective desire to make sure we don’t stand still.

There is a long, long way to go, but right now we are in the title mix, and that’s something to savour

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