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Arsenal Season Review Part II – Offensive Analysis

Welcome to part II of my season review article. In the first part of my article I focused entirely on the defensive performance of Arsenal in 2012/2013, providing both analysis and my own opinion on our defensive frailties and achievements. This second part of the review will now focus on the offensive performance of Arsenal’s season.

The summer was a tough period for Arsenal as we lost our top scorer and best player, he who shall not be named. However we replaced him with Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla who have all played their part this season and proved to be more than useful acquisitions. Last season we managed to score 74 goals from our 38 League games, conceding 49 goals and achieving 70 points. This season we saw a small drop in goals scored, with 72, but radical improvements defensively meant just the 37 conceded, and more points gained with 73 this term. Fantastic.

Goal scoring issues

To me it was evident from the first 10 games of the season that scoring goals was going to be the challenge this season, a trait we have not come to expect from Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal sides. From our 21 victories this season, 9 of those victories came by a margin of just the 1 goal, which is fine considering 3 points are 3 points at the end of the day. However a more worrying statistic would be the fact that on 22 occasions this season we failed to score more than the one goal. On 7 occasions we failed to score completely, something I can’t remember ever happening to an Arsenal side under Arsene Wenger. Four 0-0 draws and three defeats to nil, is simply not acceptable when a team is prided upon their attacking dexterity. It was not too long ago when Arsenal FC were breaking records for consecutive games scoring goals, going to whole season without failing to score. To now fail to score in 7 games this term, is one of the major differences between us slumming it out for 4th place and challenging for the title. Manchester United incidentally only failed to score 3 times this season, Manchester City 6 times and Chelsea 5 times. Margins may be small but at the end of the season you look back at games you failed to score in and think just one goal would’ve been the difference between 1 point and 3 points or, 1 point and 0 points. If Arsenal are to challenge for the title next season they must surely find the back of the net in a higher percentage of games and have less of those detrimental goalless games.

Goal scoring record against Top 7

It is no secret that our record against the top 7 has been extremely poor this season, managing only the 11 points from 12 games. One of the main reasons for this has been our inability to score goals against the top teams. In the 12 games we only managed to score more than once 3 times, 5-2 v Spurs, 2-0 v Liverpool and 2-2 v Liverpool. 2 of the 12 games we failed to score and in the other 7 games one goal was not enough to secure us a win. For quite a few seasons now our record against our top of the table competitors has been far from good enough, to win games you must score goals, something we just don’t do enough against the top teams.

Shooting fish at the bottom of the barrel

Our main saving grace for this season has been our ability to beat teams in the bottom half the league, something traditionally under Wenger Arsenal have struggled to do. This season however we managed to assert ourselves against the bottom 13 sides, failing to win only 7 out of our 26 games, losing only twice. It was against these teams that we started to see more fluid attacking displays, which of course is to be expected. Huge wins against Southampton, Spurs, Reading x2, West Ham and Wigan really did do our ‘goals for’ column the world of good, scoring a total of 29 goals in those 6 games alone. In the remaining 32 games of the season, we managed to score 43 goals, averaging 1.3 a game. The presumption in a world full of lazy journalism and stereotypes based on previous seasons is that Arsenal struggle defensively and have no problem scoring goals, however this season has been quite the opposite, relatively sound defensively but struggling to score enough goals to really compete and dropping points because of it.

Classy Cazorla

At a period of time where it is deemed Arsenal have no world class players left, well an argument can be made for Santi Cazorla. His first season in English football has been nothing short of spectacular, producing some amazing individual performances and goals. This season saw Cazorla start off as a CAM, as the more advanced of the midfield trio. However towards the end Wenger deployed Cazorla on the LW.

  Starts Goals Assists Team Goals Win % Team Goals p/game
LW 13 4 6 19 69.2 1.46
CAM 24(1) 8 5 51 48 2.04

 

The change of Santi Cazorla to be played on the left wing saw a decrease in goals scored towards the end of the season; however it benefited the team as we managed to secure more victories. Wenger’s midfield trio of Rosicky, Arteta and Ramsey gave the balance defensively which enabled us to win games, albeit it by the odd goal. Whilst Cazorla may be more effective from the centre, it gives Wenger a nice problem to fix during the summer, on how to fit Cazorla in the starting XI where he will be benefiting the team both offensively and defensively.

Prolific Pod

When Podolski first joined Arsenal in the summer we were unsure whether he was bought in to play along with Van Persie or to replace him. The large majority of the season saw Podolski deployed out wide on the left where he plays for the German National Team. Podolski has been effective without setting the Premier League alight. He has become a fans favourite already with his loveable character but I’m sure there isn’t an Arsenal fan out there who doesn’t feel there is still more to come from Podolski. Blessed with a terrific strike, we have seen some fantastic goals from Podolski this season.

  Starts Goals Assists Team Goals Win % Team Goals p/game
LW 21(8) 8 9 42 51.72 1.45
CF 4 2 1 7 75 1.75

 

With just the 4 starts up front it’s hard to judge on whether Podolski is an answer for us up front. Personally after watching those games I don’t feel Podolski is what we need up top and is far more effective from the left. However Podolski had a tendency to go missing for the majority of his time on the pitch in quite a few games this season, whether that be because of fitness issues or what have you, Podolski was also the Premier League’s most subbed player in 2012/2013.Towards the end of the season Wenger started to bring Podolski on rather than take him off in an attempt to get something out of the game. Lukas Podolski was the 3rd most prolific striker in the Premier League this season, just behind Hernandez and Le Fondre, with a conversion rate of 20.37%. Impressive.

Productive Theo

2012/2013 certainly wasn’t a boring season for Theo Walcott, both on and off the pitch. Long periods of uncertainty over signing a new deal, as well as much publicised concerns over where he should play. Theo this season produced his best ever goal scoring season and is turning into a fantastic finisher, but is that enough to claim that spot up top?

  Starts Goals Assists Team Goals Win % Team Goals p/game
RW 19(9)) 11 10 43 57.14 1.54
CF 5 3 0 11 60 2.2

 

14 League goals from 24 starts is impressive stuff, 11 of which coming from the right wing. Then you add 10 assists into the mixer and only Bale (25), RVP (34) and Suarez (28) have more assists and goals combined. In his 5 games up front, we saw Theo score 3 goals but did he do enough to convince me that he has enough to lead the line? No is the answer. With Theo up front you are so limited in how you can play, he isn’t going to hold the ball up, he isn’t going to create something magical week in week out, his best position is out wide and that is where he should play.

Gorgeous Giroud

After a slow start to English football, I think we can all admit that Giroud has had a decent first season. He has shown desirable qualities for the Premier League, his hold up play is second to none and has shown great guile and deft touches in some memorable moves this season. However the question remains, is Giroud good enough to be our leading striker if we’re to challenge for the title next season?

  Starts Goals Assists Team Goals Win % Team Goals p/game
CF 23(10) 11 3 44 54.55 1.33

 

11 League goals and 17 in all competitions, is a tally I would’ve taken at the start of the season having not scene much of Giroud previously.  As the season wore on he definitely settled more and adjusted to the Premier League.  A worrying statistic that strikes me is that Giroud was involved in 33 of our games this season and we only scored 61% of our goals with him on the pitch, averaging just the 1.33 a game. That tells me that as an attacking outfit we seem to do better with Giroud off of the pitch. Giroud also had a good goal scoring record at the Emirates this season, scoring 10 of his 11 Premier League goals at home. Giroud is a big old fashioned target man and not your typical Arsene Wenger striker, lacking in pace and rarely getting in behind. Giroud is somebody who I’d be resorting to as a Plan B, rather than starting him week in week out as our leading striker. Arsenal’s style of football really does suit somebody who is willing to get in behind, as well as creating chances in and around the box. Giroud only ticks one of those boxes, so in my opinion if we’re going to challenge for the title next season, a leading striker should be top of our shopping list.

 

Everybody Else

 

Player Position Starts Goals Assists Team Goals Win % Team goals p/game
Chamberlain RW/LW 11(13) 1 3 26 58.33 1.08
Arshavin RW/LW 0(7) 0 0 2 14.29 0.29
Gervinho RW/LW 9(5) 1 3 11 50 0.79
Gervinho CF 4 4 0 6 25 1.5
Rosicky CAM 7 2 1 14 70 1.4
Wilshere CAM 5 0 0 5 60 1
Ramsey RW/LW 5 0 1 7 33.3 1.17

 

Alex Oxlade Chamberlain has had a difficult season. It is the stage of the young man’s development where he is in the process of finding out his best role and his form has dipped as a result. Whilst it may have appeared that Alex has played less, in actual fact he played more this season than he did last season. It is almost certain that Alex’s long term future at the club lies in the centre of midfield, which is where we could see more of him next season. Chamberlain’s 3 assists this season all came from the bench, where some of his best performances have been as an impact player, scaring defences with his pace and directness. Next season will be key in Chamberlain’s development, more games, more goals; more assists and more consistent performances will be the targets.

It has been announced this week that Andrey Arshavin’s time at the club has come to an end, which is hardly surprising news considering he has barely been in the team for the last 2 seasons. The magical Russian enjoyed some success, but never really hit the heights expected of him. This season he made 7 substitute appearances in the league, the last of which came in the defeat against Chelsea in January. It will be sad to see Arshavin go, but his time to go has been well overdue.

Is there another player on the planet who can look World Class and Sunday league standard all in the space of 30 seconds? Well if there isn’t then Gervinho is one of a kind. At the start of the season we saw the Ivorian played up front where he scored 4 goals and looked awesome, but then disaster struck and his form dipped drastically. Gervinho was then deployed in his usual position out on the wing, but really failed to impress, scoring just the one goal. If Arsenal are going to challenge for the title next season, either Gervinho is going to have to improve radically or we’re going to have to look elsewhere, either in house (Gnabry etc) or on the transfer market.

Tomas Rosicky for the last two seasons has been a breath of fresh air in our fight for the top 4. One can only imagine how well we could do if Rosicky managed to keep himself fit for the season. Rosicky took Cazorla’s position as the more advanced of the midfield trio, as Cazorla moved out to the left. Rosicky’s presence seemed to find the correct balance in our quest to be a more stable defensive unit, however going forward I still feel as though Rosicky has so much more to give in terms of end product. A player of his quality should be scoring far more goals than he does. If Rosicky can stay fit next season, Arsenal have a player capable of putting in a shift defensively as well as a playmaker going forward. It will be interesting to see if or how Wenger fits both Rosicky and Cazorla in the same team next season.

Everybody is aware of Jack Wilshere’s quality and potential, however there are doubts over where Jack Wilshere’s best position is. Is it as a defensive midfielder? Is it as a box to box or ball winning midfielder? Or is it playing in the advanced playmaker role behind the striker? Jack has played the majority of his comeback season in the middle with Arteta, allowing Cazorla to play in the more advanced role. Jack has played in the advanced role 5 times this season, but no consistent run in the team in that position, just a game here and there. If Wilshere’s future does lie in the advanced position he will most certainly have to improve on his final product and add more goals to his game. 0 goals and 3 assists from 20 Premier League starts is certainly something to improve on for the future. In the latter part of the season Wilshere lost his place in the team to Aaron Ramsey, with concerns over his fitness, a long summer off will definitely do Jack wonders of good.

The form Aaron Ramsey hit in 2013 was reminiscent of the form he was showing before he broke his leg in 2010. It’s been a long road back for Aaron but now it seems as though he is finally re-establishing his place in the side. In the early part of the season Wenger played Ramsey on the left wing for some of the big games, where to be honest he did quite well considering the left wing is such an unnatural position for him. Personally I’m still not convinced that Ramsey gives us anything different going forward, I certainly wouldn’t play him in the role Cazorla, Wilshere or Rosicky plays in, neither would I on the wing. The balance and work ethic he gives the team defensively means it’s hard to leave him out of centre, which leaves a nice problem for Wenger on how to set up his sides whether that be  a Conservative approach with Ramsey or added flair with Wilshere. An expected arrival of another central midfielder will also be interesting to see where everybody fill fit in.

How we scored our goals

  Home Away Total Percentage
Open Play 29 (1st) 16 (6th) 45 (4th) 63%
Counter Attack 4 (1st) 3 (3rd) 7 (1st) 10%
Set Piece 8 (4th) 4 (14th) 12 (9th) 17%
Penalties 4 (2nd) 1 (11th) 5 (3rd) 7%
Own Goals 2 (1st) 1 (11th) 3 (5th) 4%
Total 47 (1st) 25 (5th) 72 (3rd) N/A

 

This season we managed to score the most home goals in the Premier League, however just scoring the 25 away from home, which was the 5th most in the division. Considering Arsenal only conceded 14 goals in the League away from home, the best in the Premier League, 25 goals in our away games managed to secure us the second best away record in the league. Despite having the best home goal scoring record, conceding 23 at home meant we only had the 5th best home record in the league.

As expected we scored most of our goals from open play, however one of the biggest surprises has been the 12 goals we scored for set plays this season. The addition of Giroud has definitely aided this feat, along with the aerial presence of Mertesacker and Koscielny; we finally look like a dangerous team from set plays, something that traditionally, we’ve been accused of not defending well enough from set plays and not scoring enough from set plays. Another stereotype this new look Arsenal squad has put to bed this season.

Statistically Arsenal scored from the most counter attacks in the Premier League this season. 7 times we found the back of the net on the counter. Surprisingly however 4 of the goals from counter attacks came in home games and only 3 came in away games. Traditionally you associate playing on the counter with away games but Arsenal managed to catch teams on the counter at home more than any other team in the Premier League this season.

Where we scored the goals?

  Shots Goals
Inside 6 yard box 7% 29%
Inside 18 yard box 53% 61%
Outside Box 41% 10%

 

41% of our shots this season came from outside the box, so remember that next time when you criticise players for not shooting enough from outside the box, or accusing them of trying to walk the ball in to the net. Cazorla’s arrival this season is the main catalyst for this higher shots % outside the area, the little Spaniard loves a pop and has scored one or two crackers this season.

  Home Away Total
Shots p/game 18.3 (4th) 13.1 (7th) 15.7 (6th)
Shots on target p/game 6.2 (4th) 4.6 (7th) 5.4 (7th)

 

When were the goals scored?

 

Time Period (mins) Goals
0-15 9
16-30 8
31-45 11
46-60 13
61-75 13
76-90 18

 

Statistically Arsenal score 39% of their goals in the first half and 61% of their goals in the second half, averaging at about 53 minutes for when we score our first goal. Now that says to me that either we’re slow starters or we do a really good job of wearing the opposition down and scoring late on. Possibly a bit of both. 18 goals in the last 15 minutes of games won us countless points this season, special praise must be given to gambles in tactics and substitutions taken by Wenger, but criticism must also be given to the team for giving all of us heart problems. At home 23 of our 47 home goals this season came in the final 30 minutes, which illustrates to me a problem of struggling to break teams down for the first 60 minutes, something Wenger certainly needs to look at this summer.

Of course there is the statistic this season that when Arsenal score first we never lose, this occurred in 20/38 League games this season. Another change we’ve seen from previous years where we never seemed to be able to keep hold of a lead.

That leads us to the end of my 2 part season Review. This Arsenal team may not be as talented and as free flowing as previous Arsenal teams under Wenger, but this season we have seen many improvements in areas where we have customarily struggled. Towards the latter part of the season our performance as a defensive unit improved remarkably, our vulnerability from set plays has been eradicated, instead we look more threatening from set plays. Away from home we’ve been fantastic, we’ve shown this season we can spread the goals around rather than relying on one man, managing to actually hold on to leads when we get them. Plenty of positives can be taken from this season but of course there are areas for concern.

Despite having the 4th best goal scoring record in the League this season, I still feel we don’t score enough goals, too many games where we have failed to score in cost us valuable points. Our record against the top 7 teams must improve, in terms of points, goals and goals conceded. An added creative spark may be missing in the midfield or up front, which would enable us to break down defences earlier on in the game, rather than waiting so long for the first goal. Ultimately a decent season with lots forward to for this coming summer and the start of next season, certainly a foundation is there to build on to challenge for the title next season.

Thanks for reading.

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Arsenal Season Review Part I – Defensive Analysis

Finally after celebrating what felt like a title victory, it suddenly hit home that we had only finished fourth. However at the start of the season, I don’t think many people could have foreseen anything more. Our fantastic run towards the end of the season, really did save face and covered up many cracks in what has been an ultimately disappointing season as an Arsenal fan. However the end run has left us reeling in excitement for next season, finally feeling optimistic about the clubs future.

Second best defence in the league, and haven’t conceded a goal in open play for 9 games since Hal Robson Kanu scored against us at the end of March, certainly sounds very rosy. However early season defensive naivety certainly cost us dear in pursuing anything higher than fourth place. This article will analyse our season in the Premier League defensively, commenting on everything from the goalkeepers, to set pieces, giving statistics as well as my own opinion on our shortcomings, achievements and things to improve on for next season.

Renewed competition or a new number one still needed?

In a season where Szczesny, Mannone and Fabianski have all had at least one run in the team, the jury is still out as to whether we actually have a keeper at the club who is ready to be part of a title winning team. Szczesny undoubtedly has the potential, but at the tender age of 23, who in goalkeeping years is still a baby; mistakes still manage to creep in at vital times. Fabianski came in to replace Szczesny before getting injured and the layoff seems to have worked wonders for Szczesny who has reclaimed his number one spot again. The big question is whether Wenger should bring in an older more experienced keeper to help groom Szczesny’s future. Goalkeepers generally peak at about 27/28, so when you see a young keeper like Szczesny who is only 23, claim the number one spot without any real competition, complacency is bound to creep into a young man’s game, which we saw earlier on in the season.

Starts C/S Win % Conceded p/game
Szczesny 25 10 56 0.96
Fabianski 4 1 100 0.75
Mannone 9 3 33.3 1.22

As our defensive displays improved towards the end of the season, as did the keepers statistics. Fabianski’s run in the team produced 4 wins out of 4 and after getting injured, Szczesny kept the run going with 4 wins from the last 6, making it 10 games unbeaten, keeping 4 clean sheets along the way, making his tally go to 10 clean sheets for the season. The start of the season saw Mannone in goal, who to be fair made some fantastic saves however a few mistakes cost us a few points. Fabianski and Mannone hardly fill you with confidence when you see their names on the team sheet and I think we may have seen these two play their last games in an Arsenal shirt, as Wenger will look to bring in a new keeper to challenge and tutor Szczesny.

The Sagna situation

There can be no doubts about how great a player Bacary Sagna has been for us ever since he joined the club in 2007, establishing himself as one of the best right backs in the world. However in the last two seasons, especially this one, Sagna has found himself scrutinised for poor performances as well as concerns over his commitment to the club. On his day Sagna is still a fantastic right back and among the best, but too many times this season we have seen a Sagna who’s mind maybe elsewhere, and with his contract due to end at the end of next season and no deal being put in place, it could well be that Arsenal will have a new first choice right back next season.

The obvious person to replace Sagna would be Carl Jenkinson who many will say was unlucky to lose his place to Sagna after an impressive start to the season. Jenkinson has clearly come on leaps and bounds this season and silenced critics with great improvements defensively.

Starts C/S Win % Conceded p/game Games v Top 7
Sagna 24 8 62.5 1.08 8
Jenkinson 14 6 42.8 0.78 4

Both Sagna and Jenkinson had sustained runs in the team. Jenkinson’s run came at the start of the season whilst Sagna was injured and was part of an Arsenal defence who found it easy to keep clean sheets in the beginning, but the team weren’t winning enough games.  Jenkinson then lost his place to Sagna, where  we started to win more games but conceded more along the way. It came at a time where Arsenal was going through an inconsistent phase through the season. Arsenal this season have only lost 3 games in which Sagna has started, Sagna having the highest win % ratio of any player in the Arsenal team bar Monreal and Rosicky. The statistics show that even though individually Sagna may not have had the best of seasons, he is a vital element of a winning Arsenal team. Wenger will have to work hard to keep Sagna at the club, or look for a suitable replacement, as it still could be too soon for a Carl Jenkinson full season.

Gibbs v Monreal

When both players are fit, Wenger seems to prefer Gibbs over Monreal, but I suppose that has a lot to do with Monreal’s adjustment period to the Premier League, going with Gibbs who has far more Premier League experience than Monreal. However next season the Gibbs v Monreal debate could prove to be quite intriguing. Here we have two very different left backs, one being very quick, athletic and willing to bust a gut to get forward, and another who is more tactile, methodical and technical. Different opponents could suit different players, but at the moment I don’t think a single Arsenal fan would disagree with Gibbs as being the most improved player at the club this season and very worthy of being the first choice left back at the club.

Starts C/S Win % Conceded p/game Games v Top 7 Goals Assists
Gibbs 23 8 52.1 1.04 9 0 3
Monreal 9 5 88.9 0.55 1 1 1

The statistics show Monreal’s impressive start to his Arsenal career, with 8 wins in his 9 appearances this season. However against Spurs he showed the he hasn’t yet acclimatised to the speed of English football yet, which is why in more recent games against top 7 teams, Wenger has decided to go with Gibbs. From the left hand side we look far better offensively than we do with our right full backs, with both Gibbs and Monreal chipping in with goals and assists. All in all a very nice problem for Wenger to have next season down the left hand side.

World class Kosc

I’ve been saying since last season that Koscielny needs to be the first name on the team sheet. The man is immense and is naturally one of the best defenders I have ever seen. Quick, strong, agile, a striker rarely gets the better of Koscielny, as RVP found out this season. It is no coincidence that our improved defensive record towards the end of the season came about as Koscielny was a regular starter.

Starts C/S Win % Conceded p/game Games v Top 7
Koscielny 20 7 55 0.85 6

All in all the statistics don’t paint a mind blowing picture of Koscielny’s role in the side this season. But upon closer reflection when you consider that Arsenal have only lost twice whilst Koscielny has started this season, you have to wonder how Wenger managed to keep Koscielny out of the team for half the season. Koscielny could be the one world class player we could lose this summer, hopefully Wenger will do enough to keep him to ward off interest from top clubs who will inevitably enquiring about Laurent.

Dependable Mert

A lot of Non-Arsenal fans as well as Arsenal fans still have their reservations about the BFG, still too slow, still not mobile enough, still a liability. I was one of those people up until about mid-way through last season. Mertesacker’s positional prowess and sense of awareness is remarkable and when partnered suitably, has proved he really is up there with the Premier League’s best.

Starts C/S Win % Conceded p/game Games v Top 7
Mertesacker 33 14 60.6 0.9 12

Unlike Koscielny, these set of statistics do paint a great picture for Mertesacker, and show how much of an important factor Mertesacker has been to Arsenal having the second best defensive record in the Premier League.

Vulnerable Vermaelen

The normally dependable Vermaelen has had his poorest season to date since signing for Arsenal. With many individual errors creeping into his game, the captain has since lost his place in team. Vermaelen made the most individual errors leading to goals for any outfielder in the Premier League this season (3).

Starts at CB C/S Win % Conceded p/game Games v Top 7
Vermaelen 23 6 56.5 1.26 8

On his day I’m a great fan of Vermaelen, the passion he shows from match to match is unrivalled. I just feel however that sometimes that same passion, that desire to do so well, hinders his game and this is where mistakes start to happen. Vermaelen’s leadership skills are unquestionable, however his displays of late mean he longer gets away with playing just because he is the club captain. Not a bad back up centre half to have though, however will that spur Vermaelen on to get his place back or will he look to go elsewhere for regular football.

The Unbeatable partnership

After starting 15 games together in the Premier League this season, Koscielny and Mertesacker remain unbeaten as a pair this season. An incredible feat which features 9 wins and 6 draws with only 9 goals conceded. 5 of those 15 games came against sides in the top 7. Surely this partnership is key to Arsenal’s title chances next season, if Koscielny and Mertesacker can keep fit and maintain their impressive form, Arsenal defensively could be a force to be reckoned with next season.

Starts C/S Win % Conceded p/game Games v top 7
Verm/Kosc 5 0 80 1.8 2
Verm/Mert 17 6 58.8 1.12 5
Mert/Kosc 15 7 60 0.6 5

The partnership of Vermaelen and Mertesacker doesn’t fill me with confidence, despite having a good win % ratio. Vermaelen certainly doesn’t bring out the best in Mertesacker like Koscielny does. Whilst Koscielny and Vermaelen on paper would be a dream partnership, it just doesn’t seem to click. Maybe because they are too similar to each other and both want to play as the ball winner, whereas Mertesacker plays as a covering centre back allowing either Koscielny or Vermaelen to be the ball winner. If Wenger can keep hold of both Koscielny and Vermaelen and add a decent 4th choice centre back to the ranks, then Arsenal will have a good crop of defenders to choose from.

Arteta’s influence

Mikel Arteta has been an integral part of Arsenal defence ever since he joined the club in 2011. Arteta’s presence is sorely missed every time he is injured and is probably the only man in the squad, except possibly Cazorla, who is guaranteed to be on the team sheet. When Arteta came off midway through the first half against Newcastle, we all felt the loss in midfield, and shows how important he is to the team that Wenger would start him knowing that he was nowhere near fit.

Starts C/S Win % Conceded p/games Games v top 7
With Arteta 34 14 58.8 0.88 9
Without Arteta 4 0 25 1.75 3

Although Arteta was only missing for 4 games this season, the absence was key; winning only 1 of those 4 games he was missing, conceding 7 goals. Next season will probably see the introduction of a new DM, relieving an ageing Arteta from playing almost every single game, giving Arteta the role of playing in games where we have to be formidable defensively. Having Arteta as a defensive option coming on from the bench would be fantastic, as well as having the option to playing 2 defensive midfielders in games we need to.

Midfielder’s defensive contribution

Starts C/S Win % Conceded p/games Games v top 7
Ramsey (as CM) 18 7 66.6 0.72 4
Wilshere 20 6 55 1.2 8
Rosicky 7 3 85.7 0.57 1
Coquelin 3 0 33.3 2 1
Diaby 10 5 40 0.6 4

Above are the statistics of all the players who have played as the two more defensive central midfielders this season, Cazorla not included as he normally plays as a CAM or out wide. The one player who really does stand out is Aaron Ramsey. Whether you think he is good enough or not, you can’t deny Ramsey’s outstanding record whilst in the team this season when playing through the middle. Out of his 18 games started through the middle, Arsenal have only suffered 2 defeats and conceded only 13 goals.

The trio of Rosicky, Ramsey and Arteta have certainly been a major part of Arsenal’s strong finish defensively. Rosicky has been absolutely outstanding towards the end of the season, instrumental in 6 wins and with some fantastic eye catching individual performances, notably the games against Manchester United at home and Bayern Munich away. If only we could keep him fit for the whole season.

Speaking of another injury prone central midfielder, Abou Diaby started off brightly before injury once again wrecked his season, sadly for the last time in my opinion, as I can’t see Diaby returning in an Arsenal shirt after this latest injury. Diaby’s contribution earlier on in the season defensively was there for everybody to see, when fit Diaby has to play. When Diaby came off against Chelsea after 17 minutes at the Emirates earlier on in this season, you could see the hole that had been left from his absence. A new defensive midfielder in a Diaby mould (just less injury prone) would do Arsenal wonders next season and would aid Arteta greatly.

This season saw the return of Jack Wilshere and whilst his defensive stats may not look that impressive, Arsenal fans know that Wilshere’s greatest talents lie going forward. However with the trio of Rosicky, Ramsey and Arteta doing so well, the latest absence of Wilshere hasn’t been felt at all. This leaves Wenger with a nice problem next season in terms of finding the right balance in midfield with so many options available to him. Personally I feel Wilshere’s best position is playing as the attacking midfielder of the 3 in the centre, the role in which Rosicky has been occupying in recent weeks.

Improved Set Pieces

We have earned ourselves a stereotype of being poor at defending set plays. Over the past few years Arsenal haven’t covered themselves in glory, even the laziest journalists and armchair supporters know that Arsenal in recent history have been weak at defending set plays. However the introduction of Oliver Giroud in defending corners and free kicks have seen radical improvements. With Giroud on the pitch I feel so comfortable with defending corners and free kicks, so much so that when he doesn’t play I get nervous every time the opposition gets a set play The statistics certainly support that, whilst Giroud has been on the pitch Arsenal have only conceded 2 goals from corners and 1 goal from an indirect free kick. Arsenal in total have only conceded 3 goals from corners and 3 goals from indirect free kicks this season, 2 of them coming in the same match against Chelsea at home (incidentally Giroud was not on the pitch at the time). 6 goals conceded from set plays in total, a further 2 were conceded from direct free kicks, surely must be down to the influence of Steve Bould and the presence of Oliver Giroud, who seems to be a ball magnet when the ball is in the air.

Areas for concern

It’s easy to look at the last day of the season and get carried away with the proceedings, at the end of the day we still finished 4th in the League and the last 10 games of the League season really did paper over the cracks of the 28 games previous to that. Hopefully we are beginning to learn from the mistakes that almost deprived us of Champions League football next season.

Individual errors cost us dearly this season, only Liverpool conceded more goals from individual errors this season than us according to @orbinho. 10 goals conceded from individual errors, as well as 5 goals conceded from penalties, in the early part of the season we certainly had ourselves to blame for dropped points. If we are to challenge for the title next season we really do need to cut down the individual errors and give away less penalties, 7 in total were conceded this season.

Our defensive records against the top 7 must also improve. In games against Chelsea (A), Liverpool (H), City (H), Spurs (A) and United (A) we went 2 goals down, which is completely unacceptable if you want to challenge for titles. Winning games against the top 7 is hard enough without giving them early 2-0 leads.  Only in 3 out of the 12 League games against top 7 sides did we take the lead, against Everton (A), Liverpool (A) and United (H). 59% of the goals we concede occur in the first half.

Another area of concern would be our knack of conceding goals just before the half time whistle. We’ve conceded 10 goals in the 30-45 minute time zone this season, either allowing the opponent to take a half time lead or to go in level after scoring first. These lapses in concentration have been costly this season in terms of giving the opponent momentum.

A persistent problem in the early part of the season was the defensive structure when we were being counter attacked. Statistically we only conceded 3 goals from counter attacks this season, however it could have been far more if the opposition in some games had been more clinical. In recent games it has been less of a problem since defensive structure has improved from front to back, however the game against United showed we can still be vulnerable on the counter attack. Something for Wenger to work on.

All in all I think Steve Bould has a lot to be proud of in his first season as Arsenal assistant manager. As we know Arsene Wenger isn’t exactly the most defensive orientated coach and you can certainly see the influence of Bould in this latest Arsenal defensive structure. Some of the goals we were conceding in the early and middle part of the season would’ve made Bould pull his hair out, if he had any to pull out of course. We seem to be defending more as a team now, the midfield are  doing their job, no doubt the influence of Rosicky in there who has been a colossus towards the end of the season has aided that. When the midfield is doing their job, it gives the defence confidence and relief, thus alleviating the possibilities of individual errors, that we saw so many of in the first 2/3’s of the season.

Below is a table of our top defensive performers in different categories this season. (Stats taken from whoscored.com)

1st 2nd 3rd
Interceptions p/game Arteta (2.9) Monreal (2.5) Gibbs (2.4)
Tackles p/game Arteta (3.2) Gibbs (2.8) Jenkinson (2.3)
Clearances p/game Koscielny (4.9) Mertesacker (4.8) Vermaelen (4.5)
Blocked shots p/game Vermaelen (0.7) Mertesacker (0.6) Koscielny (0.4)
Offsides won p/game Koscielny (1.3) Mertesacker (1.1) Vermaelen (0.7)

Thank you for reading, please stay tuned for the next part of the article, which will focus on our attacking performances this season.

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Stats in this blog have either been of my own or via whoscored.com