Arsenal give the ball away like a mid-table club: By the Numbers

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In away games this season, Arsenal average 15.2 unsuccessful touches per game, that’s 5th highest and Arsenal also average 12.1 dispossessed, 3rd highest. Arsenal also boast (depreciate?) the most unsuccessful short passes of any team in the League in away games, giving the ball away 74.8 times per game on average. That’s almost 11 more (per game) than 2nd worst, Liverpool. Arsenal’s short passing in away games is so bad that they have given the ball away 897 times this season. That’s 136 more giveaways on short passes than Man City, who have completed 1581 more short passes than Arsenal in away games this season.

Comparing all 20 teams in away matches and combining all of the short passes and long passes together, Arsenal have given the ball away 1234 (not a typo) times this season off passes. That’s the most in the League and tied with Huddersfield.

The least four profligate teams are Man City, Chelsea, Man U, and Tottenham.  Arsenal have given the ball away 250 times more than Man City – remember, this is just in 12 away games. That’s 21 more times that Arsenal give the ball away on passes, per game, than Man City.

The picture gets worse when we add all of the times that Arsenal are dispossessed, take a bad touch, or give the ball away on a bad pass. The Gunners average 130 of those events per game in away games. That’s per game and it’s 21 more times per game than Man City.

This pattern continues in home games. Using the same metric of combining bad touch, dispossessed, and bad passes, Arsenal are still among the worst in the League and down in the group with clubs like Burnley and Leicester who are counter attacking teams.

Arsenal’s overall possession stats are very high. They are 2nd in the League in possession percentage with 59% and total passes with 631.5 per game. But unlike the other top passing teams (Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Man U) Arsenal (and Liverpool) tend to give the ball away a lot. 20 times more per game than their peers.

With Arsenal, the majority of the bad touches, dispossessed, and bad passes were from Alexis Sanchez (396 of Arsenal’s 3128 turnovers as defined above, 13%). But from my view, the problem looks systemic. Xhaka has 336 of these events (his are mostly bad passes) and Bellerin 265. Granted, they get a lot of the ball but they are also supposed to be more careful with it because they are playing deeper. Compare them to Ozil 229 and Lacazette 220. Ozil especially, because he averages 69 passes per game and most of them are in the attacking zone where teams typically try to win the ball back more aggressively.

It’s clear that Arsenal need to clean up their possession stats and be more tidy with the ball. They put the defense under undue pressure by coughing the ball up so often and it’s especially a problem when the defenders and midfielders are the guilty parties. Whether subtracting Alexis and adding Mkhitaryan will fix that problem is unknown. Last full season, Alexis averaged 18 of these bad events per90 and in Mkhitaryan’s last full season with Borussia Dortmund he averaged 15 per90.

I’d suggest that getting a central midfield partner for Xhaka would be the most important priority.

@7amkickoff

Sources: Opta, via Whoscored.com

Qq

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64 Comments on "Arsenal give the ball away like a mid-table club: By the Numbers"

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Big+Sheezy

I always thought that you have to take care of rhe ball. Starting with cech and his terrible distribution percentage, ramsey loves to give the ball away also, but alexis turnovers were ridiculous. I always doubted that man city would want him. Pep loves players who can keep possession while going forward at the same time. I didn’t think he would be interested in him again.

Lord Bendnter

Exactly my thoughts!

Nunocentric

Pep is paranoid about loosing possession. I too, always doubted that he would need Sanchez. There is so much feigning in transfer activity, similar to the dropping of the shoulder on the field.

Eddie McGoldrick

Your point about Cech maybe explains the original stat by 7am. Man City pass short from the GK while Cech kicks it long. Under instructions and team tactics I presume.

This would see Cech and Arsenal have very high number of give aways. While Man City less.

This does not mean we are careless or give the ball away more. Just that we use the tactic of the keeper playing it long.

Serpent

Is the reason we hoof it long that our defenders aren’t really capable of playing their way out of pressure?

Santi\'s tattoo transplant
Santi\'s tattoo transplant

I think our defenders are quite fine. A lot of issues come from our midfield though. I’m a huge fan of Wilshere, and I think he has been playing great lately, but he does have a tendency to give the ball away in our own half trying to make short passes. And well the fact that Xhaka hasn’t been dropped this season is completely bewildering, as the stats support, he misses a lot of short passes, which is really the one thing a CM can’t be doing. I think Xhaka is the main weakness in our team. He offers some strength and physical size in the middle, which is very necessary and probably the reason why we can’t switch him out, but his passing (especially short) is really letting us down a lot.

If we get Mkhitaryan, I would love us to try playing Mikhi and Maitland-Niles in the middle. I ain’t sure if Mikhi cuts it, but I think he has a lot of similarities to Cazorla, and if he could play CM, it would be great.

Flummoxed

I upvoted for the first bit, but I’m not sure that Mk can do what cazorla did for us.

poly

If we wanted to try and recreate coqzorla we shouldn’t have sold coq?

ArsenalReboot

I think Coqzorla, even given that both players improved their respective weaknesses, was too limited. It worked better than Xhaka + anybody else, but it appears Cazorla might not play again, so replacing that piece+hoping there is cover for Coq if injury would be too difficult. It seems it would be less difficult, albeit much more expensive, to find two players who can hold possession, dribble, pass effectively and defend through the middle-or even one to partner with Xhaka.

A Different George

I think Mustafi and Koscielny are both exactly the kind of centre half who can play the ball out and, historically, this is what Wenger likes to do. But to play it out like that, you need a midfielder like Arteta or Cazorla (or Cesc). None of these were true defensive midfielders (what everyone always says we need), but creative and quick-thinking, accurate passers, with good vision. I think Wenger thought Xhaka could play that role; I think Jack might be suited.

Fabulous

And as 7am has pointed out amazingly well, the one person we’ve missed most really is Santi Cazorla. Since he’s been injured our overall midfield play is absolutely horrendous, can’t even keep the ball against lower league oppositions. And against quality pressing teams or counter attacking teams we get found out every single time. And I need to point this out but Wenger needs to carry some of that blame by insisting we play possession based football when we don’t have the personnel to do so. The most infuriating thing is when we insist to try and play the ball out of the defense, and inevitably losing it; most times leading up to stupid goals. We have Xhaka who’s extremely good with long balls, we have Giroud whos a decent target man and speed in Lacazette and Sanchez, surely a counter attacking strategy won’t hurt. I don’t give two sh*ts really about us being Arsenal and playing the Arsenal way; when we don’t have anyone who’s half decent at keeping the ball in midfield we should be frank with ourselves and try something else to get the most out of the team.

A Gorilla

To counter attack you often have to play the ball out from defence quickly

Fabulous

Which we can if Xhaka wins the ball from deep (i.e. a third CB when we defend) and hit long balls straight away. Not with Xhaka having his back in the center circle while our not so technical defenders play it short between themselves.

A Different George

I am not interested in watching a Tony Pulis side. Sorry.

Heavenly Chapecoense

I am glad we will improve in some of these statistics and Man U will get worse in them. They will improve in goals scored though.

Nunocentric

Sanchez has great assets but the liabilties in his game are underrated because they are usually less dramatic, though a lot more often.

poly

Alexis was able to cover his giving the ball away by charging all over the field for which he was commended by the media – he was the anti-ozil so he was heaped with praise and ozil derided for what was actually indiscipline

kaius

Alexis has had an interesting evolution. Some fans say Wenger has improved him and others can’t wait to get to rid of him.

In his Udinese days he played strictly as an attacking midfielder, often from the centre. Lots of spectacular dribbles. Conte wanted to sign him for the champs Juve, but so did Barca. Alexis chose Pep, who already had a great midfield and wanted to use him strictly as a forward. At the time Pep said:

“He is very young, he can play in three different attacking positions, he has a lot of defensive intensity, he can unlock a match and, from what I have been told, he is a very good boy.”

That was the player we signed from Barca. After 3 years of working under Pep, Alexis knew that if he didn’t press he didn’t start. In his first season were all shocked at how intensely he wanted to press and track back all the time. His usual partners Walcott and Giroud would just look on with bemusement.

After Cazorla’s injuries our midfield became totally dysfunctional. Instead of fixing the midfield problem Wenger’s response was a 3 at the back system where we funnelled play down the flanks and our CM’s would push up giving CB’s room to recycle play in a U-shape. Bellerin and Sanchez suddenly had too much of the ball and as these stats show, give it away a lot as well.

It’s just too easy to press players in wide positions and cut off their passing lanes. I love what Alexis has done for us, but we can definitely improve without him and his baggage. We have one of the best no.10s in the world (and Mesut Ozil… just kidding) so if we can go back to playmaking from the centre and find a dominant DM to protect them and guard against counters we’ll be fine.

Diarra

Agree with you, I have made very similar observations.

We can deal with any player leaving as long as we fix the real weaknesses in the squad/formation.

gunnerdaremkd

You a right as much as i love the guy he was not sticking at the game plan he always want to press and he is forcing our atacking players to press when everyone sees that that is not the plan we are talking about players like giroud lacazette ozil welbeck that they are expirienced interenationals and am sure that when given game tactic plan they would press not watchig alexis in bemusment why is he forcing tham to press. Alexis became more a treath to our game plan and playing on hus own than he was helping us he did also the same last year and trust me if he stayed and sign the mefa contract he would have done the same as he startet to think he was bigger then us.

Am 100% that now we will ve more balanced team abd we will return to olaying very good possesion that will flow.

H2k

Great bit of analysis. Even though we dominate the possession, by losing the ball so much we allow the other teams more chances to score, and that is what is the difference right now between us and the rest of the top 6.
While I like the fact we seem to be after more attack minded players this transfer window so we can try and score more goals, we really need someone who can control the midfield and keep things ticking over without losing the ball. We miss you Santi!

goonerbynature

Absolutely unforgivable for Xhaka to give the ball away 50% more than Özil

thanasis

Its almost natural, because Xhaka has 50% more touches than Özil

Ars

He loose the ball easily

Vonnie

He’s been left isolated a lot with no decent pass to make a lot of the time, to be fair. He can certainly improve, but it’s not totally his fault.

Fabulous

Part of the blame has to be the tactics we deploy as well. Xhaka is useless with his back to goal and carrying the ball out of defense to initiate attacks. He needs a partner who keeps the ball better, note how when Wilshere returned our midfield play improves by a mile. Xhaka’s strength is in the long balls, and shooting. He has the skill sets to be like Xabi Alonso or Toni Kroos, but he needs to be closer to Cech instead of closer to the mid circle, where he can ping the long balls to start attacks. When we’re pressed tightly then we’ll need to offload to his partner (currently Wilshere, again by series of fortunate events rather than proper management), who’s much better at creating room for himself in tight spaces.

Zder

Spot on! And not sure it really has to do with the system. He often looks careless in possession, lacking concentration.

Yesterday again, even if I admit he was playing higher than usual, I could see him fail at least three easy passes whithout any pressure, one of them at the end which could have set Nelson brilliantly on a counter.

No hate on the guy as I think we need his mentality and physicality in the middle, but the lack of progress this season is worrying.

Araj

Is it possible to compare these stats to previous seasons for Arsenal?
At least as someone watching the game it seems that the manager had deliberately asked players to be more direct in recent seasons. Maybe this is an over-correction for the common refrain of sideways passing that Arsenal get.
Then again, Xhaka’s numbers from a deeper position just show that there is a personnel problem too.

Ozenal

I think teams have a systematic way of dealing with us. Big data analytics!

Our weak points are so obvious.

For example Sanchez always always always comes inside to his right foot. So you double up on him, force him inside, then cut off passing lanes. Not rocket science.

Diarra

And to press Xhaka and Bellerin when they have the ball.

A Different George

If it were that easy to do, Alexis would never score or assist on a goal, Not to mention Arjen Robben.

BigArse

So, is Elneny the answer? Very tidy on the ball. 96% today. And almost always chooses the conservative pass. Does he provide the balance we need? He is also a tireless runner. I thought AMN would be our new DM if we didn’t bring someone in (N’Zonzi?) but perhaps Elneny in front of a back four is worth a sustained run? One game I know, but a good one.

PFo

On the one hand I think it’s a bit unfair to say he almost always chooses the conservative pass (even if you meant it as a compliment!), as he was very good today, e.g., at making the early line-breaking pass on the ground to “high midfield”.
On the other hand, the problem I always have with Elneny as a DM is that he’s just too darn lightweight in challenges. He’s disciplined, smart, very conscientious about getting back, and can run all day, but he always looks to me to be waaay too easily shrugged aside, both when receiving the ball in tight situations when high-pressed, and when he goes in to tackle/intercept the ball back. It’s a bit of a cliche, but I think the English style of football just doesn’t suit him very well.

PFo

But that we looked so much better with him passing it back there rather than Xhaka, is a damning indictment of the Swiss’s form this season.

Eddie McGoldrick

Players like Kante, Gilberto and Makelele played safe passes, circulating the ball. Even Arteta. It is an important role at the base of midfield.

Flashmob

Agreed, but…
Tackling and interception are also very important. Taking these two into account – Kante about 3 times! better than Elneny.

In last season Kante avareged 3.6 tackles and 2.4 interceptions per game. While Elneny’s numbers were 1.6 and 0.5 respectively.

Nunocentric

I like Elneny in a CMF 3 where he does not have as much responsibility for transitioning the ball as in a CMF 2. He is so safe with the ball and that’s defence through possession.

PeteyB

I also like the idea of a bit more Elneny, assuming no signing for that area. But I share reservations of others regarding strength. Perhaps preseason games at centre-back were designed to toughen him up a little.
Maybe he needs some weight gain 5000.

GraeB

Xhaka bad passes tend to be in our half and lead to killer counter attacks because our defenders have pushed up the field. Concern is that AMN seems to suffer the same lack of concentration; he had one of the worst passes ever last week and again yesterday made a pass straight to an opponent. In both cases we were fortunate not to concede a goal as a result.

Our players have to become more comfortable on the ball like Citeh (Stones aside!)

Chatwithhat

This is why I think someone like Elneny is a little underrated. He keeps the ball well and I think he was decent against Palace.

boogy loo

He is decent against lower table clubs. He recycles the ball and makes the passes that allow for us to manipulate the other team’s shape. But he is atrocious against the top teams, he gets bullied off the ball and his passes do nothing but put others into tough positions. You need some creative passing from his position against the top teams, and he just does not provide that.

He is indicative of our status as a club right now, and while I think he has quality, we must have a better player in his position if we are to be seen as a potential title winning side

Chatwithhat

I think Xhaka can take up the responsibility of the creative passes from deep. That said, we need runners who can cover the space for him and make up the defensive deficiencies. I honestly felt that Coq could have been that guy by sitting deep instead of pressing from the front like how AW wants him to. Ramsey could do it but he isn’t disciplined enough. Elneny is a good choice but you’re right about the lack of aggression.

The Limp Bar

Yet more proof of how inane and useless most football statistics are.. the game is just overrun with stats now, and they tend to be so lopsided and one eyed in their application as to be virtually useless in my eyes. What real conclusion can be garnered from this? We give the ball away too much – anyone watching Arsenal this season can see that surely. These stats show we’re the league worst away from home, yet we don’t have the worst away record in the league, and we all know we’ve been crap away from home generally this year and we need to improve. Not really sure what value these stats are meant to give.

Why Not

If elneny can perform like he did today and build on it. He could be that player. Even trained as a cb for a while. Is there thinking behind the madness.

I AM ARSENAL

Alexis, Bellerin and Xhaxa have been 3 of the worst players this season

Yankee Gooner

Closely followed by Everyone Else

Andy Mack

When the coach tells a player they’re the 2nd worst at giving the ball away then although they know they must improve, they also don’t worry too much as someone else is worse than they are. When it’s Alexis who’s pretty uncontrollable by the coaches, they knew his numbers wouldn’t reduce much, so not so much pressure on Xhaka and Hector.
Whereas now Xhaka is the worse, he will hopefully try that little bit harder to improve. When (IF?) he does then Bellerin will hopefully try a bit harder to improve, then whoever has the worse numbers will hopefully improve etc etc….
We hope 😀

Jack WilXhaka

Fuck off Sanchez. Our passing and movement was more fluid and confident yesterday in the absence of his endless twists and turns.

Gargoyle

Plenty of times this season we played without Sanchez and our passing was shite.

FREDDO

Moving Xhaka to central midfield isn’t going to improve things. It will just give him more chances to cough up the ball in congested spaces. The top teams will squeeze him like a lemon.

Ars

100%
He is very weak

sAMa

Maybe Sanchez leaving will reduce the rate at which Arsenal get dispossessed or give the ball away, Xhaka and Ramsey also has to improve on that note.

Average Joe

Xhaka is an average player, limited in almost all areas. Holding the ball, passing the ball, vision, bang average… As the game progresses over time he constantly looses focus, gets distracted easy. We need a powerhouse in his place, someone like Casorla and I don’t think Elneny is the key, though he might serve as temp.

Bellerin to me is not a wing back, poor ball control, average crossing, and to me it seems the speed is lacking this year (maybe I’m wrong). When he played strictly right back he was excellent and if he reverts to that position and the team revert to 4 at the back, he might have a chance of regaining the trust. Until then, bang average.

Mustafi, too slow, although one can argue that he is solid in tackles. Sometimes it seems he is not communicating well with others. Average in my opinion.

What has been done to AMN to me is criminal! Kid need to get out of this position he’s been put in. He is solid, but clearly limited, you could see that yesterday after Monreal was taken out. It’s baffling to me why Wenger does these experiments all year, it is hurting the team. Sort all these issues and I think we can be more consistent and do the fight for 5th, 4th to me is out of reach already…

Sorry, rant complete, these are just my opinions that may very well be average or complete bollocks. 🙂

Morbius

Can you explain the odd contrast betweeh having high possession stats and giving the ball away a lot?

It seems something else must be going on as well. Are we winning the ball back a lot? Giving away more shots (so we get more goal kicks)? Giving the ball away rather than doing something productive (like having a shot at goal)?

Devlin

This is coming from a guy who only watched the first half, but I saw enough in that half to appreciate the importance of a short pass in midfield. Elneny playing just behind Xhaka and Wilshere wasn’t something I ever thought I could see, but it seems to be the template that we should follow. Barcelona and Man City both have players not really renowned for their creativity as the holding player, but a short pass merchant, like Denilson. It might seem like I am overrating Elneny, but he is just the same as Fernandinho in practically all facets of play. Our midfield has lacked short passing for so long, with Xhaka (Long pass expert), Ramsey (Off the ball movement expert) and Wilshere (Running with the ball expert), we were short of any ball circulation in midfield and had to rely on the defence to circulate the ball. Most our ball possession in a game seems like it is played in our half and when the midfield gets involved, its usually too deep for them to do much with it but to play it back or sideways. Our attacking players have been dropping too deep for the ball and when it does get to midfield, it gets lost almost immediately because of or unbalanced midfield. With Elneny in there, the problem of every second ball falling to the opposition is reduced and the problem of Xhaka reacting too late when retreating into the box when defending a counter is also solved.

I take my hat off to Ozil and Iwobi for not sulking at the prospect of tracking back. If we play as dominantly as yesterday’s first half, our creative players will not have as much to do defensively as was the case for the past season and a half. I love this team when we are confident and forcing our style of play onto the opposition rather than falling into the same trap every 2 to 3 games.

ronaldo

well at the mo, we ARE like a mid table team

Pablo Pomreas

I’m interested in thoughts on elneny. Didn’t really know the best place to bring it up but thought here was good enough considering it’s about giving the ball away and he doesn’t do it very much at all.
We all talk about needing a DM, and I picture a real physical presence, strong in the air, strong tackling, very athletic etc. But there’s a real need to balance that with the kind of safe controlled passing that elneny offers. He constantly looked for ozil, wilshere, xhaka today and quickly moved it on to them more creative players. I think that’s what they need if they play this shape (especially what xhaka needs). If elneny isn’t good enough to do that job, who is? Who would be a realistic improvement that we could bring to Arsenal?

Lingards\' Milly Rock
Lingards\' Milly Rock

Danilo Pereira at Porto. His attributes would allow us get rid of both Xhaka and Elneny who simply are too limited to play for us.

karl

With Sanchez moving on we should experience a 13% improvement and now we should look at replacing Xhaka with someone more reliable in midfield.

Onenil

Only +13% if Mkhi never gives the ball away. Bit of an ask for the new boy!

Rectum+Spectrum

Elneny was fucking terrible at retaining possession. I’m have not been critical of him before, he puts a shift in and i turned a blind eye to his obvious one dimensional play and lack of quality. But lets move him on amd promote maitland-niles.

Richie

I was nodding my head right up to the last sentence. Considering the nature of the article, I wold suggest that Xhaka is one of the worst offenders and his poor touches, bad passes, have directly led to quite a few goals this season.

Rectum+Spectrum

Lacazette and most likely aubamayang. Two very exspensive buys for arsenal, both currently playing as strikers.

If you pass like shit….yet hoard possession….one silution could be to switch to a 4-4-2 and give up the ball and play counter.

You’d need two quality and complimentary strikers to do that…..hmm….

Coryzma

That stat should change for the better now that Sanchez is gone. That guy gives the ball away more than anybody else on the team. Always forcing passses in the final third that were impossible to make in the first place. I also believe with him gone that arsenal will become a more fluent passing team again.