Arsenal’s slow starts cost them the League: By the Numbers


Chelsea Bosses Arsenal: Bad Passers

Arsenal had a number of players who were tidy with the ball but three whose terrible passing was Arsenal’s undoing.

17 – failed passes by Shkodran Mustafi (of 68) – he attempted more passes than anyone and failed more than anyone on the way to completing just 75%. He was 1/8 on long passes but that also means that he misplaced 10 short passes. As a center back you just can’t give the ball away 10 times on short passes. 12 of his misplaced passes were forward but that means the other five were bad passes sideways and backward, again, this is where you need your center back to be almost perfect.

10 – failed passes by Koscielny – slightly better than Mustafi, Koscielny was only 0/2 long but gave away 8 short passes. However, unlike Mustafi, most of his misplaced places were forward (8) and he only played 2 poor balls square.

10 – failed passes by Coquelin – slightly better still than Koscielny, 9 of his misplaced passes were forward (one led to the Hazard goal) and one was square. His one failed square pass was also deep in Arsenal’s half.

Low passing percentages from your back three are normal when you’re playing counter attacking football. But what happened with Arsenal was that Chelsea set out a deliberate strategy to allow Koz, Mustafi, and Coquelin to make the entry passes. Leaving those three alone to make the pass meant that Chelsea could gamble on interceptions and tackles.

Kante and Matic led all players with 4/6 and 4/5 tackles each and Kante and Hazard led all players with 20 ball recoveries between them (11 and 9 respectively). All of the Chelsea players got involved in closing the passing lanes down, Chelsea had 9 players with interceptions while Arsenal’s Mustafi and Koscielny had 8/10 of Arsenal’s interceptions and Ox and Gabriel just 1 each. This shows excellent defensive coordination by Chelsea and the subsequent starvation of service explains why Arsenal’s six forwards (Alexis, Özil, Iwobi, Walcott, Giroud, and Welbeck) only managed 3 shots among them.

Stand out player

93 – percent of passes completed by Ox. Chamberlain led all players (in pass %) with 55/59 passes. He also created 2 chances (the same as Özil), was 2nd on Arsenal in passes in the final third (20/22), was 4/4 on dribbles, led Arsenal with 8 ball recoveries, led Arsenal with 4/4 tackles (tied with Mustafi), was second on Arsenal with 4/4 clearances, led Arsenal with 3/3 headed clearances, led Arsenal with 3 blocked crosses, and was second in fouls suffered with 3.

Arsenal’s slow starts are now endemic

In the last five League matches, Arsenal have gotten off to a slow start in four (Chelsea, Watford, Swansea, and Bournemouth) and had just one first half (against Burnley) where they came out the gates looking like they were going to win the match. The resulting stats are atrocious.

In the first 35 minutes against Chelsea, Watford, Swansea, and Bournemouth Arsenal have managed just 6 total shots with 5 of those from outside the 18 yard box. That’s an “expected goals” tally of 0.26.

The opposition in those same games (Chelsea, Watford, Swansea, and Bournemouth) have managed 23 shots in the first 35 minutes. Their expected goals based on those shots in that time is 3.18.

Even if I include Arsenal’s good start against Burnley, Arsenal’s first half performances in the last five games has been rather poor. This first graphic shows cumulative shot quality by Arsenal:

This graphic cumulates all Arsenal shots and all of their opponent’s shots by 5 minute increments in each of the last five games. Cumulatively, in terms of shots taken and their positional value* Arsenal are being dominated by the opposition until the 50th minute.

When we look at the periods as stand-alone segments, the opposition have one period which shows huge dominance, the 10th-15th minute, of every match, where Arsenal have conceded shots worth over 2 goals.

Arsenal, on the other hand, don’t get going until the 40th minute, but they continue rolling until the 55th and then pick back up in the 90th minute. Arsenal do show shot dominance throughout most of the second halfs of games with few if any periods owned by the opponents (just the 81-85th).

The goals also follow this pattern, with Arsenal conceding 2-6 in the first 55 minutes and then going on to dominate games 9-3 after the 60th minute;

If this was just one or two matches I would write it off as an anomaly, but this is now a clear pattern of Arsenal starting matches slow and finishing them strong that has developed over the last five games and has killed off Arsenal’s title hopes for yet another season. This cannot be attributed to physical exhaustion, actually just the opposite, and has to be down to either poor preparation or poor mentality (perhaps hubris, thinking that they are better than they actually are) on the part of the squad.

Against Chelsea, this pattern continues with the Blues dominating Arsenal completely between the 1st and 35th minutes and Arsenal finally waking up after going two goals behind.

Arsenal continued their propensity for late goals with a Giroud consolation in the 91st minute. But have now allowed 9 goals in the last five matches, that’s 32% of Arsenal’s goals allowed this season in the 20% of the season where Arsenal were supposed to be pushing for the title.


*shots outside the box are awarded 0.03, shots in the box 0.11, shots in the 6 yard box get 0.3, big chances 0.4, and penalties 0.7

Sources: Opta, my personal database


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