Seven games into the Premier League season, Arsenal aren’t top of the table - but statistics suggest the Gunners have been particularly impressive in some aspects of their attacking game.
Here are five ways Arsenal, or their players, are leading the way in this season’s Premier League…
1. Highest average possession
Arsenal are the only side in the Premier League to be averaging over 60 per cent of possession, with the two Manchester clubs next, both on 57 per cent. Across Europe’s major five leagues, only Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Paris Saint German boast a higher average possession share.
"Arsenal’s dominance starts from the back, where Wojciech Szczesny attempts to pass out to the defenders whenever possible"
Arsenal’s dominance starts from the back, where Wojciech Szczesny attempts to pass out to the defenders whenever possible, helping Arsenal work the ball gradually up the pitch. Ball retention ability is also obvious up front, where both Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez are pacy enough to sprint in behind, but also reliable in possession, coming deep regularly to link play.
Arsenal’s highest share of possession came on the opening day against Crystal Palace, a 2-1 victory. Only once have Arsenal been outpassed - in the 2-2 draw against Manchester City.
Much of Arsenal’s possession has come when the Gunners have been chasing games, but the possession play in the second half at Aston Villa, at 3-0 up, was particularly impressive. Arsenal only attempted one second-half shot - through Danny Welbeck in the 52nd minute. It was about pure possession play after that.
2. Most dribbles
Arsene Wenger always encourages his attacking players to express themselves, and while Arsenal’s game has always been based around quick, one-touch passing, it’s rare to see so many talented dribblers in the same side.
The majority of Arsenal’s attackers are capable of evading opposition challenges in possession, and Arsenal are the only side to have completed more than 100 successful dribbles this season.
Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil lead the way - both have dribbled past an opponent 17 times - with Santi Cazorla on 15 and Alexis Sanchez on 14. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is another prolific dribbler, and while he’s featured primarily from the bench this season, if you calculate the dribbling on a ‘per 90 minutes’ basis, he comes out joint-top alongside Wilshere.
"Arsenal are the only side to have completed more than 100 successful dribbles this season"
Arsenal’s dribbling was particularly impressive in the high-tempo 2-2 draw against Manchester City, with Wilshere (No 10) excelling in midfield positions and Sanchez (No 17) dangerous in the inside-left channel (see Fig 2).
3. Most through-balls
When faced with a solid, organised back four, many teams attempt to go around the opposition, getting the ball wide before crossing.
Arsenal, however, attempt to go through the opposition, and therefore have played more successful through-balls than any other team, averaging four per game.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Arsenal have players like Wilshere, Ozil and Cazorla capable of threading intricate passes through the defence, and runners like Sanchez and Welbeck getting onto the passes.
The 2-2 draw with Manchester City was an interesting example - Arsenal’s two goals were assisted from central positions, whereas City’s two goals were both assisted from wide (see Fig 3).
4. The most reliable passer
Mikel Arteta has suffered an injury-interrupted start to the 2014/15 season, but when the Spanish midfielder has been available, he’s been typically reliable.
Arsenal’s skipper has completed 96.4 per cut of his passes this season. Of players who have started more than one match, that’s the best in the division, with centre backs Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker also excelling in this respect, averaging 93 per cent apiece.
"Laurent Koscielny is a naturally proactive defender, and he’s become increasingly effective at winning the ball quickly"
Arteta has become more defensive in the past couple of years, but he remains extremely useful as a metronomic deep-lying playmaker. With other midfielders determined to burst forward and take risks in possession, Arteta remains crucial for his calm, reliable distribution, particularly obvious in the 3-0 victory at Villa Park (see Fig 4).
5. The most prolific interceptor
Laurent Koscielny is a naturally proactive defender, and he’s become increasingly effective at winning the ball quickly.
When paired alongside the impetuous Thomas Vermaelen, he often played a calmer covering role, but alongside the disciplined, reserved Per Mertesacker, he takes the lead and regularly sprints forward, nips in ahead of his opponent, and wins the ball cleanly.
As refereeing has become stricter, intercepting rather than tackling is more important than ever, and often means the interceptor can start a quick attack - something Koscielny does excellently with his forward passing.
This was particularly obvious during Koscielny’s superb performance against Manchester City, when he made an impressive nine interceptions, and three tackles - showing his determination to win the ball with the former rather than the latter (see Fig 5).
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