Despite the opening day capitulation against Liverpool, with 10 games played already this season Arsenal are in a very strong position for a title challenge and progression through the various Cup competitions.
We knew before the season even kicked off that Arsenal would play at least 46 matches this season. 38 in the league, at least six in the Champions League and at least one in each of the domestic cups. Given that we are in a strong position in our Champions League group after two matches and that we have already secured another match in the EFL Cup, it’s very likely that we will end our season with 50 or more games played.
Allarsenal have taken a look at how our progress so far compares to our performances last season.
Key stats (compared with 2015-16 after seven matches) via Squawka.com
Games played: 7 (7)
Games won: 5 (4)
Games drawn: 1 (1)
Games lost: 1 (2)
Goals scored: 16 (10)
Goals conceded: 7 (7)
Chances created: 77 (115)
Penalties for: 4 (0)
Penalties against: 1 (1)
After seven league matches and performances that might have produced mixed feelings, we have made a significant statistical improvement. Whilst it looks like our defensive record hasn’t changed at all (a goal conceded per game, three clean sheets in seven games), it’s worth noting we conceded four out of our seven goals in the season opener against Liverpool when we were without central defenders Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel de Abreu. All thre would have been ahead of yongsters Calum Chambers and Rob Holding in the pecking order while Shkodran Mustafi was still a Valencia player.
Mustafi’s purchase looks like an excellent piece of business as the German has averaged 6.5 clearances and 3.25 interceptions per game with Arsenal conceding just two goals in four games since his debut. Laurent Koscielny looks like he enjoys playing next to the German and so far we haven’t had problems with their lack of height. If there is a reason to be concerned about our defence, it’s Nacho Monreal’s form as the Spaniard is yet to find his form from the last season. It may have something with the fact Alexis Sánchez – who had been Monreal’s partner on the left flank for 18 months – is now our centre forward and Alex Iwobi doesn’t offer the same level of defensive support.
At this stage last season, we had 13 points from seven games. Now we have 16 points thanks to our winning streak that currently stands at five games which means we have already matched our longest winning streak from last season. Our purple patch last season started with a 5:2 demolition of the eventual champions Leicester City on their ground in September and went on through the whole of October. Given that we are yet to play in October this season with a rather straight-forward schedule ahead of us, it’s reasonable to expect that our streak should continue for a while.
The one bit of statistics that stands out is related to our conversion rate. At this stage last season, we created 115 chances and scored just ten goals with half of those coming in the aforementioned victory over Leicester City (or just 8.69%). This season, we have created just 77 chances and scored 16 goals or almost a goal per game more than we did last season. It’s difficult to offer an explanation for our improved conversion rate (20.8%) compared to last season. Even if we take into account that we have already had four penalties so far (compared to zero at this point last season), our conversion rate remains impressive. We have needed just 4.81 shots for a goal so far which beats Leicester City’s exceptional conversion rate from last season (5.68).
To put it simply: if we had the same conversion rate last season, we would have scored 96 goals or 31 more than we actually did! It seems that Arsene Wenger made the right choice to play three mobile forwards of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sánchez and Alex Iwobi instead of one big forward (Olivier Giroud) supported with two pacy wingers/inside forwards. We have ceded possession a bit (57 percent last season to 55 this season) but it hasn’t been a problem so far.
Also, a huge part of this renneisance of our attack is reflected on our score-sheets. Five players including Alexis, Walcott, Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil have already scored two goals or more while Calum Chambers, Granit Xhaka and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have added one each. Last season Arsenal had just three goal-scorers (Giroud 3, Alexis 3, Walcott 2) with two own goals.
Speaking of penalties given, it seems that the referees have finally thrown away they anti-Arsenal glasses and started pointing to the spot when our attackers are fouled in the box. In 2015-16, Arsenal were awarded just two penalties in 38 matches compared to four in seven games this season with an unchanged conversion rate (50%).
Given our improved goalscoring conversion rate, it sounds almost bizarre that Özil is yet to make an assist. The German maestro has done well in the final third though as he has already scored two fantastic goals, both created by Alexis. He does create less chances than he did last season (just 13 comparing to 29 last season) but that can be a good thing – an indicator that Arsenal don’t depend on Özil’s creativity as much as last season. Also, it might mean we will benefit from this more economical reliance on Özil.
Last season the whole world and his dog knew our attacks would end up with Özil’s pass. Now, they don’t know from which part of the pitch they are going to receive a fatal pass. After all, Alex Iwobi has grabbed three assists so far which equals Özil’s tally at this stage last season.
Finally, we can’t deny Lady Luck has played her part in our winning streak but I guess that’s part of the game as well. It would be a risky thing to rely solely on Lady Luck so making more chances and taking more shots might help our cause.
Games played: 2 (2)
Games won: 1 (0)
Games drawn: 1 (0)
Games lost: 0 (2)
Goals scored: 3 (3)
Goals conceded: 1 (5)
Chances created: 23 (21)
Penalties for: 0 (0)
Penalties against: 0 (0)
Stating the obvious won’t win me a Nobel Prize in mathematics, not just because there is no Nobel Prize in that category, but I will do it anyway: we have made a significant improvement in the Champions League. At this stage last season, we were rock bottom in our Champions League group ahead of back-to-back matches against the group favourites Bayern München. In 2015-16, we opened our European campaign with two shocking defeats against Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos respectively. This season we snatched a point against the group favourites PSG in a game that could have easily been our biggest defeat ever if Edinson Cavani had brought his shooting boots. Thanks to Alexis’ equalizer we got one of the least deserved Champions League points in our history and if Alex Iwobi had put away his chance, it would have been arguably the least deserved Arsenal victory in the history of Champions League. Of course, there are always two angles of watching. From the pessimistic one, it’s correct to say we allowed too many chances to PSG. From the optimistic angle, it’s correct to praise the resilient Arsenal that fought until the end to get a point from Paris.
In our second match, when Arsenal had to turn to a flat-track bully against Basel, we did it. Two goals from Walcott after two Alexis assists settled the game early and Ospina denied Basel a chance to do an Olympiacos and take anything from London. If Alexis had his shooting boots on, Basel would have been nostalgic about their 7:0 defeat to Bayern München in 2011-12.
If we take a look at the attacking part of our game, it seems that literally nothing has changed. After two matches last season, we scored three goals with two goals from Walcott and one from Alexis… There is a slight difference in terms of chances created (23 this season to 21 last term) but nothing spectacular.
Which leads us to the biggest difference to last season: our defence. We have conceded a single goal so far while Ospina capitulated five times in the two opening matches last season. Whilst the Colombian keeper was largely at fault for at least one of our defeats last season, he has been superb this campaign.
With six points in back-to-back games against the Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad, Arsenal would come close to winning their Champions League group for the first time since 2011-12 which, in theory at least, should give us an easier draw for Round of 16.
Games played: 1 (1)
Games won: 1 (1)
Games drawn: 0 (0)
Games lost: 0 (0)
Goals scored: 4 (2)
Goals conceded: 0 (1)
Penalties for: 1 (0)
Penalties against: 0 (0)
Now, it’s a bit logical that all our statistical parameters have improved in the EFL Cup (last season known as the Capital One Cup) given the strength of our opponents. Last season our first match was at our bitter rivals the Spuds who couldn’t escape their faith and lost 2:1 to the one and only Mathieu Flamini. This season we had to deal with Nottingham Forest and cruised to 4:0 victory with our new signing Lucas Perez scoring twice and creating Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal. Three different players have already scored goals in this competition compared to one last season. It seems that Arsenal’s squad depth might allow Wenger to field a stronger eleven in the least important competition of all.
Conclusion: Arsenal have been doing better this season even if there have been fewer chances created compared to last season. With Mustafi, Xhaka and Perez coming in all lines of our team have been improved and Wenger’s decision to play Alexis down the middle has worked both for Alexis and Arsenal. We haven’t had a 20-goal striker in the league since Robin van Persie in 2011-12 and Alexis might be the answer to that problem.
Note: Arsenal played one more competitive game last season – a Community Shield against Chelsea – that wasn’t included in the comparison.