Arsenal currently find themselves in an excellent position, sitting top of the Premier League and are rightly considered genuine title contenders. In fact, some now even consider them favourites to be crowned champions come May; but what, if anything, are they doing differently?
I’ve decided to compare various statistics from this season with both the 2013/14 and 2014/15 campaigns to evaluate why they’ve gone in many eyes from pretenders to contenders.
As the old saying goes: “goals win games”; traditionally the Premier League winners end up in the top 2 of the goal scoring charts and in recent seasons, Arsenal have finished third or fourth top scorers in the division, currently they sit fifth. Their goals per game ratio is not far off the previous two years, with shots per game and shots on target per game consistent too. In truth, the only possible cause for concern for Arsene Wenger in these stats could be the season on season downward trend of their conversion rate percentage. All in all, despite injuries to Sanchez and Welbeck, Arsenal continue to be regular goal scorers, with a good number of shots per game average and around a third of them on target.
It’s often said that the cornerstone of any title winner is a mean defence, something Arsenal have not been associated with since the days of Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira in front of a solid and celebrated back-four. Like their attacking statistics, there’s very little variance here with the average number of tackles per game very consistent. The average number of goals conceded per game has stayed the same despite a minor increase in the shots conceded per game, perhaps an indication of the improvement made in goalkeeper position with the summer signing of Petr Cech, but there’s nothing significantly different.
Passing and possession football is a quality Arsenal are renowned for under Arsene Wenger and have even been criticised for in some quarters by onlookers who believe they over-indulge in it; whatever your preference, average possession has barely altered over the focus period. Interestingly, the number of passes per game that dropped off last season is back to the level of 2013/14; however, the difference in the numbers is not high enough to have a significant impact on results. Of those passes, the percentage of passing accuracy has fluctuated very little as Arsenal consistently look after the ball when they have it.
This is the ‘bottom line’ stat for any team, because as much as goals win games, points win league titles. The difference in points per game is not a significant one, but interesting to note that 2013/14 brought the highest points per game but a lower final league position. The 2013/14 campaign saw Arsenal in a strong position mid-way, but tail off in the second half of the season, whereas 2014/15 was the opposite. This season’s points tally is somewhere between the two and if current form is maintained, would only give a final points total of 76. Even replicating the form from the second half of last season, it would mean a final tally of 80 points, still short of the totals required the previous two seasons. Although 80 points has been enough to win the Premier League before, on average over the past 5 years, the Champions have 86.
So, in terms of what are Arsenal doing differently this season, the answer statistically is very little. That is in no way a criticism, quite the opposite in fact, because Arsenal are sustaining a high performance level. The fact they are in such a position of strength without significantly improving suggests that quality at the top of the league has regressed from recent standards and rather than the title opportunity that currently being about what Arsenal are doing differently, perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask what can they do differently. Can Arsenal make the step up in order to ensure that this opportunity does not pass them by.