The man who could save Arsenal millions

In recent weeks Bukayo Saka has put in some superb performances at left back that has left some calling for him to get an England call up.

The 18-year-old is exciting. And it will be even more exciting when he is played further forward on the left wing.

Saka is a winger. He is an attacker. A goal scorer. A creator. He is not a left back.

Whilst he can be commended for his performances at full back – and his time there will make him a  much more rounded players, anyone that thinks he will do an “Ashley Cole” and move from winger needs to remove those thoughts from their mind.

Arsenal lack wingers – the only senior natural winger in the squad is Nicolas Pepe. Saka and Reiss Nelson are both huge talents.

This lack of wide man has led Mikel Arteta to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out wide.

Whilst Aubameyang is a goal threat, he does not really create much. Playing on the left wing he is currently averaging less than 1 chance created per 90 minutes (0.7). That is not good enough.

Gabriel Martinelli has also played a little bit on the left wing. But like Aubameyang he does not really crate much – 0.3 chances created per 90 minutes.

Meanwhile Saka has 8 assists this season, which is more than Martinelli and Aubameyang combined.

Some have made the point that Arteta could keep Saka at left back and play either Martinelli or Aubameyang ahead of him, in an ultra attacking left hand side. But Saka at left back is not as effective going forward as Saka on the wing.

At left back, Saka creates 0.8 chances per 90 minutes. That nearly trebles to 2.3 chances created when he is played in a more forward position on the left hand side.

The statistics show that he is easily our most creative player on the left wing.

You then have Kieran Tierney.

Tierney is the best crosser of the ball at the club. He has shown in his few games this season that he is a threat going forward similar to that of Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool.

Tierney averages 1.1 chances created per 90minutes.

So in Tierney, we have a left back that creates more chances than Saka. And in Saka we have a winger who creates more chances than Aubameyang and Martinelli.

It is a simple equation. The more chances you create the more chances you have to score.

Saka and Tierney on the left will create 3+ chances a game between them. Any other combination does not even create 2 chances a game.

By pushing Saka forward on the wing, it also forces Aubamayang back into the middle. He is out best striker. He should play down the middle.

With Hector Bellerin and Nicolas Pepe beginning to build a relationship on the right hand side, it would make a lot of sense for Arteta to play Tierney / Saka on the left until the end of the season. Saka could save us millions!

It is clear that Saka and Tierney are our most creative duo. It will be exciting when they are together.

Keenos

Arsenal need to focus on creators in the transfer market

Arsenal’s biggest problem this season has been scoring goals.

32 goals in 25 Premier League games equals 1.28 goals a game. Only 3 times during 28 years of Premier League football have Arsenal averaged less goals per game – the peak years of George Graham’s “boring boring Arsenal” – 1992/93, 93/94 & 95/96.

Arsenal added £72million Nicolas Pepe to a strike force of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in the summer.

The trio cost Arsenal nearly £200million and last season scored 57 league goals between them – with Nicolas Pepe’s 22 coming in France. This season they have just 22 league goals; 14 of which were from Aubameyang. It is just not good enough.

Despite the 3 being below par this season, they are not actually underperforming as goal scorers.

To score goals, you need to get the opportunities, and the fact is this season Arsenal have not created enough changes.

For Arsenal to be 17th in “big chances created” according to the Premier League’s own statistics shows just how bad the problem has been this season.

If Mikel Arteta wants his side to challenge for top 4 next season, he needs to get the side creating more chances.

Mesut Ozil has been our chief creator this season, leading the way with 2.3 “key passes” per 90 minutes. But this output is his worst in an Arsenal shirt – and well below his Arsenal career high of 4.3 key passes per 90.

It is clear the Ozil’s influence is on the team is dwindling. He is no longer the consistent creator he was a couple of years ago. But this blog is not going to turn into an Ozil-bashing one.

In the past Ozil has been backed up by Santi Cazorla (avg 2.3) & Alex Sanchez (2.5) and even Alex Iwobi (2.8).

Last season Ozil was 4th when it came to key passes per 90 behind Iwobi, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Saed Kolasinac. All 4 averaged over 2 key passes per game. This season Ozil is the only man above 2, and his next nearest is Nicolas Pepe at just 1.9.

Arsenal need to try and get some creativity into the team.

Aubameyang on the wing might get a few goals, but he does not create much –  averaging less than 1 key pass per 90 minutes.

Arsenal need to add 2 creators to the squad – one to play wide left and one to potentially replace Ozil who is no longer reaching his high levels of 4 seasons.

So who is out there?

In an attempt to find a gem, I have gone all money-ball. Looking at players who actually create a lot of chances rather than those big names we think create a lot. It is also important to look at those players who create through “short passes” rather than both short and long.

Focusing on short passes ensures we exclude those who create chances through corners (James Maddison) and focuses our time on those who create chances in and around the box.

I have also added the criteria of being “under 27” so that we do not go big on a player who is at his peak, and will unlikely remain beyond the initial 4 year contract.

This is my findings:

We saw against Newcastle how having a more progressive midfield can transform the team.

Whilst Dani Ceballos might not be the long term answer, Arsenal do not to look at getting in central midfielder who is a better passer than Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira.

We used to have the likes of Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla playing from deep. We have missed someone who can contribute from a deeper position alongside our problems to create from up top,

In summary:

  • Aubameyang is not a winger
  • We need to buy (or promote) at least 2 players to provide competition and support for Mesut Ozil and Nicola Pepe (or in Ozil’s case potentially replace)
  • We need to sign a central mdifielder whose first thought is passing forward

Keenos

Note: This blog was written prior to Arsenal’s 4-0 win over Newcastle

A 4-0 win built of defensive solidity

When analysing a 4-0 win it is simplistic to say that it was due to Arsenal’s miss-firing forwards finally getting it together. But the truth is Arsenal’s biggest win of the season was built on weeks of defensive improvement.

Mikel Arteta’s first job at the club was to improve us defensively.

In Unai Emery’s last 10 games, Arsenal had conceded 18 goals. We were a mess defensively. Individual errors and no collective structure, it is impossible to expect to be able to win games if you are conceding at a rate of nearly 2 a game.

Arsenal improved defensively from the first game under Arteta – and the team have now conceded just 8 goals under his mangerialship. But these improved defensive performances came at a cost as the midfield and forward struggled to create enough chances to score.

A big problem for Arsenal was transitioning the ball from defence through midfield. A midfield of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira was solid, but also provided very little going forward. A lot of safe, sideways and backwards passes. It meant the forwards were starved of the ball.

But this set up was needed to stop Arsenal leaking goals. You can have the best forwards in the world on the pitch, but it is pointless if you are conceding 2 goals a game.

What we saw against Newcastle was Arteta make a change in midfield based on the confidence he now had in his defence.

Even though the back line contained the much criticised Shkodran Mustafi (who has been excellent under Arteta) and a teenage left winger in Bukayo Saka at left back, Arteta was able to play a less defensive midfield.

This saw Dani Ceballos come in for Torreira.

It slightly weakened us defensively in the middle of the park, but Arteta was confident his new defensive structure would be able to cope. What it did though was massively improve us moving the ball forward.

No player played more forward passes than Ceballos – 69. He went off after 82 minutes.

Ceballos also played more forward passes against Newcastle than any player in other game under Arteta – and more than any Arsenal player this year.

What is impressive is so often the player who plays the most forward passes is often a central defender, with the majority of those passes being short passes into the midfield. With Ceballos leading the way, it meant we were getting the ball forward to our forwards more. And in more advanced positions.

Without our improved defensive displays, Arteta would not have had the confidence to play the more progressive Ceballos, and we probably would not have won 4-0.

With Matteo Guendouzi, Xhaka and Torreira in the squad offering us a defensive option, maybe we need to be focusing more on a back to back midfielder rather than a defensive one this summer.

Someone who can do better at linking the defence to the forwards (think Santi Cazorla or Jack Wilshere) rather someone who can break up play.

Hopefully Arteta’s confidence in defence continues and we see more results like the 4-0 win over Newcastle.

Keenos