With the international break well and truly here, I guess now is as good a time to reflect back on how the team has performed this season compared to last season. The easiest to do that is to compare like for like. The matches that have been played this season versus the corresponding fixtures last season. As Swansea was only just promoted this season, I’ve left that particular fixture out and concentrate on the other 10 games. Table below is some data I picked out from here.
Without jumping head first into the numbers, perhaps we can talk about impression wise. I feel that this season, we’ve had a slight change. No longer are we dominating a match like we used to. I meant that in the way that we no longer drive forward at every opportunity and pepper the opposition goal with shots. The style of play has become slightly more direct (not in the Stoke kind of direct though) and less redundant passing.
Results wise, it’s been mixed thus far. There were the disappointing start to the season but performance have picked up over the last few weeks and while we’re not particular near the top of the table, it’s safe to say that we’ve recovered from that rocky beginning. In fact, the points tally gathered from these 10 games are 3 points better than the same set of fixtures last season. Now, let’s look at the numbers.
Possession wise, the change is not remarkable. The average possession is the same for this and last season. 60% for us and 40% to the opposition. However, in terms of individually, something has changed. While last season, we saw more of the ball in every single of those 10 matches, we’ve not gained the upper hand in that regard for 2 of those fixtures this season. It’s not a mind-blowing fact but one which could mean several things.
Personnel change could be one of the factors for this “decline”. In Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, we had 2 players who could hold the ball and keep possession by just playing it close to each other. Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey are current two who probably adopts a more riskier approach with their passing. With that approach, the possession is easier lost if the accuracy is slightly skewed.
The opposing teams would’ve looked at the team sheet and be encouraged by what is perceived as a weaker squad and came with a more attacking plan than they would normally do. To be honest, there were not a million miles wrong with that assumption. Reserves and youngsters were called in to plug the gaps until new recruits were acquired. Even then, opposing teams were heartened by the fact that those new players requires an acclimatisation period.
Though, once they had settled down, Arsenal began to reap the rewards with consistent results. The return from injury of key player like Thomas Vermaelen has also helped not only with the performance on the pitch but also provides the boost injection that the squad desperately needed.
I included the shots on goal data to reflect how we approach the game now. Comparatively, we had less shots on target in 6 of those matches compared to the same ones last season. On the other hand, we conceded less shots in 5 of the same set of fixtures. If we take into account the points garnered, I can only see it as an improvement of the entire team.
That we are now a team that is more compact defensively and are doing that better as a team. After the early glut of goals leaked, we’ve improved considerably. At the other end, we’ve also had less shots at the right end. Yet, as pointed out earlier, we’ve got 3 more points than last season already. Clinical is the word we’re looking for here.
It ties with the last data I collected, the saves. For are those that the opposition had to make while against is the one we depended on Wojciech Szczesny. Average of 10 shots less, both in terms of for and against. This ties in with the main point which I wanted to raise today, that the team’s style has changed.
The Arsenal today is less expansive in style than those of previous seasons. I wouldn’t put that down as being less better. Actually, I would classify it as being more consciously aware. Aware of the fact that the we can no longer bomb forward and neglect those defensive duties. Aware that it’s a shared responsibility to defend better as a team and no position should be left exposed without support.
That puts us down as being more cautious in our approach. Yes, when we click into gear, we can still produced the sort of champagne football that we’ve come to love and enjoy from an Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. However, indication are there that when the going gets tough and when things are seemingly going against us, the team now has the ability to handle it better.
It’s a still a working progress with the team and there’s still a few more important players to come back from injuries. At the moment, things are turning for the better.