Since the arrival of Arsene Wenger in 1996, Arsenal have been renowned for their technical superiority in the Premier League and their style based on possession retention, passing and movement.
Some of the finest team goals scored in the Premier League era have been Arsenal goals. The likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas and in this current team Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have created and finished some of the most intricate goals the English top tier have seen.
However, Arsenal’s best passers of the ball are their defenders, statistically – Laurent Koscielny leads the Premier League with a pass completion rate of 93.3%, with Per Mertesacker jus behind on 93%, and defensive midfielders Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini behind them in third and fourth with 92% and 91.7% respectively.
Now, obviously their rates are not only a reflection of the fact they can pass the ball but also the fact that none of them are generally playing passes in the final third which is, of course, more difficult.
However, within the top 20 most accurate passers so far this term, for example, there aren’t all that many centre-backs in there. There are plenty of defensive midfielders – Lucas Leiva is 5th, Jose Canas is 7th, and the list goes on to include Leon Britton, Javi Garcia, John Obi Mikel and Morgan Schneiderlin.
In terms of centre-backs, however, only Martin Skrtel, John Terry, John Stones and Martin Demichelis are in that top 20 alongside the Gunners’ centre-backs.
When you think about the areas Arsenal win and lose the ball in, it’s rarely in that central area between their penalty area and the halfway line – when we see the Gunners play out from the back, they do so extremely well and that is likely the main reason for these exceptional passing rates.
When Arsenal lose the ball, it’s predominantly (and understandably) in the opposition’s half, especially in the final third and wide forward areas but we rarely ever see the Gunners give away the ball in their own half. The way we have seen Arsenal most exposed this season has been when they have pushed up, played with a high line and been caught on the break by the opposition.
That happened against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City and it has been their main vulnerability this term – losing the ball up field has cost them valuable points on the board, not, as pundits would have us believe, through poor defending.
It has been through poor attacking that Arsenal have been most undone this season. Arsenal have an overall pass completion rate of 85.7% but that is still well below that of their defensive midfielders and centre-backs.
Interestingly Lukas Podolski who has been a peripheral figure this term has the highest pass completion rate of all attacking and wide players with 88.6% accuracy, Mesut Ozil is on 87.7%, Santi Cazorla is on 86.7% and Jack Wilshere is on 86% but the forwards and the No.1 goalkeeper have the poorest rate of all.
Olivier Giroud has just 68.4%, Yaya Sanogo has 56.3% and Wojceich Szczesny has 63.4% which I think highlights exactly where Arsenal are losing the ball. It’s from goal kicks which the striker’s don’t win in the air bringing pressure back on to the Arsenal defence and from poor attempts to play in teammates in the final third of the pitch from the strikers. If the Gunners had a more technically assured frontman, they would not only be a lot more threatening going forward but, crucially, they would be less vulnerable defensively.