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xGunners: Sead’s passing struggles

After a strong start, Sead Kolasinac’s passing hasn’t been great over the last three weeks. Why?

Arsenal v Huddersfield Town - Premier League
Sead Kolasinac’s form has dropped over the last three weeks
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Sead Kolašinac started his Arsenal career very brightly. He was voted Arsenal’s player of the month in August to start the season (maybe a little dubiously), and continued to play well through September and October.

Kolašinac’s passing over the last three weeks, however, has taken a pretty significant dip. Over the first 11 weeks he passed at an 80.0% rate. Over those first 10 games played his completion percentage was fairly stable in the high 70’s to just below 90 percent but over the last three weeks his passing rate has dropped to an average of 64.9%

Passing Percentage by Match

The real challenge, when looking at information like this, is to look beyond the top line passing percentage numbers to see how this dip in efficiency has affected his overall production.

Here is a table comparing his stats over the first 10 appearances compared to the last 3 matches (stats are in per 90):

Kolašinac Stats

Stat Week 1 to 11 Week 12 to 14
Stat Week 1 to 11 Week 12 to 14
Key Passes 0.9 1
Big Chance Key Passes 0.4 0.3
xA 0.18 0.15
xG Chain 0.71 0.88
PPVA 0.27 0.03
Pass% 80.00% 64.90%

Looking at those numbers above, the only output to really have dropped along with the passing percentage is his passing value added stat. Even that is a bit deceptive, though, with two negative games followed by a very good passing value added match against Huddersfield Town.

PPVA by match with season trend

.The overall trend this season for his passing value added has been slightly downward, which is mostly in line with his pass completion percentage. A lot of this negative trend is driven by his atrocious first half against Burnley, where he completed just 56% of his passes and racked up a -0.2 PPVA, although he bounced back somewhat in the the second half with a 65% completion percentage and 0.05 PPVA.

The overall decline in pass completion percentage for the season makes me wonder if the types of passes he is attempting have been more difficult over the last few weeks, and also whether perhaps his attempts are not coming off for him.

Here are all of the passes that he has attempted over the last three matches:

Just by the eye test, it looks like there are a good amount of completions (blue lines) in the defensive and middle thirds, but quite a few less in the final third. Looking at his completion percentage by zone over the season bears this observation out as well.

Passing percentage by third of the pitch

Outside of a dip against Tottenham, where Arsenal changed their overall tactics to be more direct, his completion percentage has remained pretty stable through the season. What has changed is where Arsenal have asked him to attempt his passes.

Comparison of passes within the final third and passes entering the final third

Over his first four matches, Kolašinac was asked to make about an equal number of passes entering the final third and within the final third, but after that, the two really diverge with him being asked to do more within the final third.

This is a big difference, because passes within the final third are much more difficult to complete (league average completion rate is 61%). When those difficult final third passes are completed, though, it is a really good thing for your team.

After digging deeper into the numbers, things do not look nearly as bad as they did on just the basis of passing percentage alone. With Kolasinac integrating into the team, it looks like his tactical role has evolved further up the pitch, evolving away from building up and turning into creating more.

These passes are harder, but come with more rewards for the team, and Kolasinac has showed a good ability to really pick out these passes. Going forward, if his role stays the same, his passing percentage might stay lower than it was earlier in the season but his creative production for the team should hopefully be able to remain high.