clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

xGunners: Arsenal’s missing creativity

New, comments

Arsenal seem to lack creativity under Unai Emery. has there been a change to where they create chances this season?

Brighton & Hove Albion v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images

One of the things that I think that I have noticed watching Arsenal this season is that there has been a change in the way that Arsenal attack. These kinds of things are hard to know for sure, we can pretty easily fall back on the narrative of the moment, our biases or even just simple memory failings.

To my eye, it has looked like Arsenal have pretty radically changed the way that they go about breaking down defenses. They seem to be switching from a patient, probing style, where they would hold the ball in the final third before cutting through, to a more direct attack that builds from the wide area and attacks teams through the half spaces.

I really felt like this was true, Arsenal have become a very good team at creating cutbacks, and while the fullbacks have always been important in attack for Arsenal they have gone up another level under Unai Emery; but I wanted to see if this bears out in the numbers for the chance creation.

Below is all of the starting pass location for all of the open play key passes that Arsenal have made from the 2015-6 season to now.

It is a bit hard to make out too much of a pattern from this graphic, but at first pass it does seem that the areas just outside the 18 yard box, especially the central zone, were used more in the past than they have this season.

Going forward, I am going to primarily look at this season compared to last year. I think this is best because there is the fewest overall changes to the make up of the team outside the manager.

2017-18 Chances Created

Red dots are assists

Last season Arsenal 406 chances from open play, with 50 (12%) coming from the zone right behind the “D” and 119 (29%) coming from the edge of the 18 yard box.

The wide left locations made up 36 (8%) of the open play chances created last season, with 28 (7%) coming from the wide right locations.

From the prime cut back locations Arsenal created a total of 54 (13%) open play chances, with an equal 27 coming from the left and right sides.

2018-19 Chances Created

Red dots are assists

This season, Arsenal 172 chances from open play, with 17 (10%) coming from the zone right behind the “D” and 37 (22%) coming from the edge of the 18 yard box.

The wide left locations made up 23 (13%) of the open play chances created last season, with 19 (11%) coming from the wide right locations.

From the prime cut back locations Arsenal created a total of 30 (17%) open play chances, with a 18 coming from the left side and 12 from the right side.

Arsenal vs the rest of the League

Premier League Key Passes

Team Season Total Key Pass Total Big Chance KP Key Pass Central Key Pass Central % Key Pass Half Space Key Pass Half Space % Key Pass Wide Key Pass Wide %
Team Season Total Key Pass Total Big Chance KP Key Pass Central Key Pass Central % Key Pass Half Space Key Pass Half Space % Key Pass Wide Key Pass Wide %
Arsenal 2017-18 406 77 119 29% 54 13% 64 16%
Arsenal 2018-19 172 25 37 22% 30 17% 42 24%
Bournemouth 2017-18 300 31 51 17% 30 10% 77 26%
Bournemouth 2018-19 134 32 35 26% 16 12% 35 26%
Brighton and Hove Albion 2017-18 232 32 53 23% 19 8% 66 28%
Brighton and Hove Albion 2018-19 113 12 20 18% 12 11% 36 32%
Burnley 2017-18 212 24 33 16% 13 6% 68 32%
Burnley 2018-19 96 14 22 23% 11 11% 23 24%
Chelsea 2017-18 433 55 137 32% 39 9% 91 21%
Chelsea 2018-19 221 32 63 29% 22 10% 49 22%
Crystal Palace 2017-18 280 48 78 28% 33 12% 48 17%
Crystal Palace 2018-19 149 8 39 26% 15 10% 35 23%
Everton 2017-18 223 37 43 19% 20 9% 64 29%
Everton 2018-19 134 21 22 16% 14 10% 44 33%
Huddersfield Town 2017-18 233 26 47 20% 18 8% 73 31%
Huddersfield Town 2018-19 120 11 16 13% 8 7% 48 40%
Leicester City 2017-18 254 42 49 19% 34 13% 63 25%
Leicester City 2018-19 132 21 32 24% 6 5% 44 33%
Liverpool 2017-18 438 74 123 28% 35 8% 75 17%
Liverpool 2018-19 173 33 46 27% 15 9% 31 18%
Manchester City 2017-18 450 88 132 29% 70 16% 83 18%
Manchester City 2018-19 231 50 54 23% 42 18% 42 18%
Manchester United 2017-18 350 55 94 27% 31 9% 78 22%
Manchester United 2018-19 168 29 29 17% 16 10% 45 27%
Newcastle United 2017-18 273 42 65 24% 16 6% 73 27%
Newcastle United 2018-19 107 16 22 21% 4 4% 47 44%
Southampton 2017-18 291 37 59 20% 23 8% 81 28%
Southampton 2018-19 139 13 26 19% 16 12% 35 25%
Tottenham Hotspur 2017-18 414 68 111 27% 27 7% 108 26%
Tottenham Hotspur 2018-19 145 28 36 25% 17 12% 36 25%
Watford 2017-18 277 34 68 25% 31 11% 62 22%
Watford 2018-19 136 28 32 24% 12 9% 23 17%
West Ham United 2017-18 239 31 56 23% 18 8% 68 28%
West Ham United 2018-19 145 29 24 17% 16 11% 34 23%

Arsenal went from being one of the most prolific creators from the edge of the 18 yard box to a slightly below league average creative team, as a total percentage of chances created. They have dropped from 4th most total last season to ninth most this season.

The biggest change is that they are now creating more from the cut back locations and from wide areas. Arsenal have created the second most chances from the deep half spaces this season, just behind Manchester City.

From the wide areas Arsenal have gone from a team that didn’t create much out wide to a league average team, with the team creating 64% of its total chances from wide spots already this season, from just 55% of the season.

It will be interesting how this trend finishes the season, and I am glad to see that my observations are backed up in the data. I am concerned with the change from creating in more central locations to wider, as these are generally harder locations to create good scoring chances from.

I think that the missing central chances are also from the tactical switch away from a team built around the creativity of Mesut Özil. I really hope that Unai Emery has a plan to make this work.