Arsenal beat Burnley 1-0, extending their winning streak to 8 games¹. The Gunners were dominant in every statistical category, including the only one that counts, ball recoveries (72-59!). Just kidding, everyone knows the only stat that matters are dribbles (Arsenal were 17/22! 77%!). Offensive aerial duels? Clearances? Final third passes?
Yeah, just the 1.
I could get into the individual stats for this match (they are available at whoscored.com and via the 442 statszone app for those who want to see Coquelin’s rather impressive performance) but given Thierry Henry’s rather lavish praise for “The Detective” I’d rather focus this article on the 12 game run since Coquelin came into the team and what Arsenal are doing better in terms of offense and defense.
First, you need to know some stats about Coquelin:
4 – Coquelin is 4th in the League in tackles per game at 3.5. That’s just 0.01 fewer tackles per game than Morgan Schneiderlin. Coquelin has made more tackles than Jack Wilshere in the last two years. Not trying to slam Wilshere, but in both Champions League and Premier League play, Wilshere has 2776 minutes and just 49 successful tackles out of 71 attempted
77 – Coquelin is a 77% tackler. Cesc Fabregas leads the League among CM’s in the category “dribbled past” with 2.5 per90, Coquelin is only dribbled past 1.5 times per game
10 – Coquelin is also 10th in the League in fouls per90 among CMs. WHich is admittedly a wonky stat but what I’m saying here is that he tackles a lot, tackles well, and doesn’t foul
1 – Coquelin leads the League in interceptions per game with 3.8 (tied with Jedinak)
2 – He is second in the League among CM’s with 2.7 aerial duels won per90 (N’Zonzi is 1st)
68 – Coquelin isn’t just a sideways and backwards passer (not that I would have a problem if he was) he averages 68% of his passes forward this season. Nemanja Matic only averages 66% forward passes and Schneiderlin also hits 68% of his passes forward.
5 – Coquelin has only created 5 shots for teammates this season, so he has room to improve!
In the match against Burnley we saw what Coquelin offers to Arsenal:
2 – He created 2 shots for his teammates, he’s improving!
9 – He had 9 ball recoveries, Cazorla and Özil led Arsenal with 10 each
2 – He only made 2 tackles (Nacho had 5) but he was 2/2 and both of them broke up a Burnley counter
11 – He led all players with 11 interceptions, which is a nuts number when you consider that great player average 4 a game
86 – He completed 86% of his passes – he was almost perfect here, except that 4 of his square passes were off
1 – He was dispossessed just one time
Has he changed the team?
As you can see, Arsenal’s shots per game are down from 15.6 to just 14 but Arsenal are scoring more goals, 2.4 per game v. 1.9. This is because they are converting at a much higher 17% rate². It is possible that since Arsenal are scoring more efficiently, they simply don’t need to shoot as much.
Arsenal’s “big chances” numbers (big chances are the shots that you would normally expect the team to score from, such as 1 v. 1 with the keeper) basically haven’t changed. They are creating 2.4 big chances per game and converting those shots at a 50% clip.
The opposition, however, are struggling to get any efficiency against Arsenal’s new swarming, pressing defense and their “big chances” have drastically dried up. Opponents only convert these big chances at a 44% rate (they lack the quality of Arsenal) but still, generating big chances makes up the bulk of goals scored both for and against³. So, if Arsenal can almost cut that number in half, they are doing something right.
In fact, I suspect that limiting the number of big chances is the reason why Arsenal’s opponents’ conversion rate has taken such a huge tumble. They aren’t forcing the opposition into more long range shots than before, it’s only the number of big chances that have decreased.
Defensively Arsenal have increased the number of interceptions per game, aerial duels per game, and clearances. And this is normal when a team are winning because they will play more defense. As noted above, those are all stats categories Coquelin is a league leader in.
The tackles one, though, is odd. That number in the chart is just successful tackles. I expected to see the tackles numbers jump up during Coquelin’s Fin de siècle because he is Arsenal’s most active tackler. Coquelin has already successfully won the ball 60 times this season — that’s tied with Sanchez for the most successful tackles this season at Arsenal. And he’s done it in about about half as many minutes.
So, why aren’t the numbers up significantly? My guess is that he’s tackling more and others don’t have to tackle as much. I haven’t had a chance to go through everyone else’s numbers to prove it, but I would be surprised if that wasn’t the answer.
No matter how you look at it, Arsenal with Coquelin in the middle of the pitch have clearly been much more defensively solid. I think the thing he does best is what Wenger said “he breaks up play”. You don’t know what the outcome of those plays would have been (big chance, turnover, goal, etc) but the fact that the opposition aren’t getting as many big chances as before is indicative of the team playing better defense all around. It could be attributed to Coquelin or it could be that the whole team presses better, it’s hard to tell.
The one thing I am comfortable saying is that the Coq makes Arsenal stiffer in the middle.
Tip the waitress, try the veal.
¹It’s 8 in the League or 8 straight in all competitions
²I take goals and divide by all shots for my conversion rates. I know some stats folks remove blocks but isn’t a blocked shot a… wait for it… a shot? I’ve asked around about this and the answer was because that’s how it was done in the old days. I suspect this is because conversion rates were originally a keeper stat and in that case, removing blocks makes sense. Since I think of it as an offensive efficiency stat, I keep blocks in my total tally. If we remove blocks, Arsenal’s shot accuracy is 51% on the season and 58% since Coquelin. And my number might be a further bit weird because I don’t count the own goal at Villa. That wasn’t a shot.
³Big chances is a controversial stat because people complain about its subjectivity but all stats are subjective: a subject views a game and records a stat. I like this stat. It makes sense to me because not all shots are equal and there has to be a way to account for those moments in a game which get everyone out of their seats. 61% of Arsenal’s goals are from big chances and 55% of the opposition’s goals are from big chances.