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Assessing Arsenal Ten Matches In

Each Premier League campaign has its own dynamics. We can search for patterns, correlations, and precedents, but ultimately every series of 38 matches that begins in August and ends in May takes its own independent shape. That makes the 10-match milepost an arbitrary measuring point.

Even so, it is a point, a round number a little more than a quarter of the way through the season. Arsenal has played more than half the teams in the league, so it’s illustrative if not definitive to look at developments thus far.

The message from the overall numbers

A fair expectation at the start of any sporting campaign is for a team to make progress on its previous season. That was a reasonable objective for Arsenal as it set out on its 2014-15 Premier League effort, particularly because the FA Cup triumph, world-class summer signings, and a full season’s acclimatization for star playmaker Mesut Özil seemed to have the club on a positive trajectory. (See my preseason assessment, “The Arsenal: Forward, Upward, or on Some Generally Positive Trajectory.”)

In a broad-brush analysis, the first 10 matches don’t show movement upward. The 2013-14 squad produced 25 points in its first 10 matches, while the 2014-15 version has tallied just 17.

The opposition has been tougher this season, with the competition having averaged 12.7 points from the first 10 matches, compared with 10.9 points in 2013-14. The median figures, which discount the outliers, tell a slightly different story, 11 points vs. 10.5, indicating that the schedule has been only a bit more difficult.

The results from comparable fixtures between the two campaigns aren’t as promising, either. Only the draw at Everton marked an improvement on last season’s performances, while home draws against Tottenham and Hull City and the away draw against newly promoted Leicester City leave Arsenal five points off its returns from parallel matches in 2013-14.

As a result, over the remaining 28 matches, Arsenal will have to match its wins of 2013-14 and pick up points from draws or losses–such as West Bromwich Albion away, Stoke away, and Aston Villa at home–to reach at least 79 points again.

The positives from relative numbers

Because each season is distinctive, though, Arsenal may not have to amass 79 points to achieve a higher final position in the league table. It all depends on the competition.

At this point, the top of the league is not as congested as it was in 2013-14. Chelsea leads the way with 26 points, and four other clubs have 17 points or more. In 2013-14, Arsenal’s 25 points topped the table after 10 matches, while seven others had at least 17 points. That more tightly packed group of early leaders produced the most accomplished top four in points terms in Premier League history.

Let’s look at 2010-11, the last season to follow a World Cup, for a different example. That year, Manchester United won the league with 80 points; Arsenal finished fourth with just 68 points, two fewer than both Chelsea and Manchester City. Tottenham were fifth at 62.

The start of that season bears some similarity to the first 10 matches of the current campaign. At the same point, just four teams stood at 17 points or higher, Arsenal among them with 20, putting them in second place. (All standings from tables on

Telling statistics

In that competitive setting, one set of in-game statistical measures stands out.

According to, Arsenal has taken the second highest number of shots per game (17.3) through the first ten matches and the third highest shots on goal per game (5.6). However, it’s only sixth in goals scored, with 18.

That is, Arsenal has scored on just 10 percent of its shots. Meanwhile, its opponents have produced 11 goals from 74 shots, or 15 percent.

This discrepancy points toward the most prominent statistical difference in Arsenal’s offense between 2013-14 overall and this season so far, the number of shots it has taken outside the penalty area. That average figure increased from 5.0 last season to 8.4 in the first ten matches of 2014-15, the highest in the league by 13 percent. None of those shots has gone in.

Indeed, manager Arsène Wenger’s own assessment, shared on Arsenal Player before Arsenal faced Burnley in the 10th match of the season, emphasized the point. “On the efficiency front, we can do better,” he said, “because if you look at the chances we have created and we have given away, I think we have created many chances, and our finishing was not at the expected level. And we gave very few chances away, but the chances we have given away are of quality, and that’s what you want to do better.”

If the manager can convey his seriousness about better efficiency to the players, we may see fewer of the ineffective shots from distance going forward.

The qualitative story

Statistics can help us understand performance trends, but fans’ interest has more to do with qualitative judgments. In essence, we’re assessing if the club is producing entertainment value: Is the team performing attractively as a whole, and are players delivering individually?

The answer to the first question has to be “not yet.” With a few exceptions, such as the first 20 minutes against Manchester City and the last 20 against Burnley, the team’s performances have left something to be desired.

I’m not inclined to identify a cause or causes because that would produce simplistic and misleading analysis.

What can be said is that injuries to several important players, defenders Mathieu Debuchy and Laurent Koscielny, captain Mikel Arteta, center forward Oliver Giroud, as well as Özil, haven’t helped. Tactical shifting may have played a role, too, although I hesitate to conclude that an established approach would have improved the attractiveness or the results.

As for the second question, Alexis has been the standout performer, netting seven goals in his first 10 league matches. Other high-profile summer acquisitions, striker Danny Welbeck and defender Calum Chambers, have also had more solid performances than poor ones. The quality of the new boys overall has therefore been a plus.

Most returning players haven’t quite met the standards they set last season, but more telling is the sense that the whole is less than the sum of the parts at the moment.

All the components might add up eventually; that would boost the enjoyment and entertainment we supporters receive. It would also solidify a place closer to the top of the table, even if the raw numbers fall short of last season’s. That’s something to hold onto amidst legitimate current concerns.

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