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Last season vs This season: Where are we and where do we want to be?

It's no surprise that the Arsenal of last year had its issues. With a rocky start to the season, tallying three losses in a row against Brentford, Chelsea and Man City, it was important to show the club had the mental resilience to bounce back and get our campaign properly started. With COVID-19 running it's way through our squad, it took some time for new signings and our stars such as Aubameyang to find their way into the team and provide our strongest 11. Based off matches played last season, this was our most common line-up:

The Bad

Addressing the elephant in the room, the Arsenal striker over the 21/22 season was never consistent- Aubameyang did not want to be at the club after a poor run of form, only able to net 4 goals in 14 matches during the first half of the season, Lacazette was not a prolific goalscorer, only scoring 4 goals in the 30 matches he played and it took a while for Eddie Nketiah to gain form and confidence to secure himself a starting place in the squad but when he did, he scored 5 goals in the 683 minutes he played, or 0.66 goals per 90, outscoring his xG for this run. For reference, Salah and Vardy had thee best scoring rate in the league with a rate of 0.75 goals per 90, whilst Ronaldo and Mahrez both had 0.66 goals per 90. For the record goalscorer for the England under-21 team, it was clear that he had finally found his feet in the first team. However, with the departures of Lacazette and Aubameyang, it was important for Nketiah to have someone to compete against as a striker and someone he could continue to learn from.

The midfield pairing of Xhaka and Partey were imperative for Arsenal throughout the season, but the injury issues in defence and midfield disrupted the regularity of them being able to play together; the first league game they started together was in the North London Derby and over the course of the Premier League season, they only started together in 15 games. In those 15, Arsenal had a win rate of 73% but without that pairing, Arsenal had a pitiful win rate of 48%. Lakonga was not a good enough option for depth either due to his lack of experience in the top European League and Elneny is a good utility player to have, but is not the quality or style that Arsenal needed.

Defensively, Arsenal had the basis of a good backbone. Gabriel and White played well together, but still needed work to be consistent. Of the 28 matches in the league where they were our centre backs, we lost 9 matches, a loss rate of 32% and of the 10 games where they weren't a pairing, we had a loss rate of 40%. This shows that although there is an improvement, we still needed to cut down on our losses and the lack of really solid defensive cover or even competition for those places has been detrimental to our side. Over the season, we had a loss rate of ~34%. If we had won just one of those lost games, we would have finished above Tottenham. Additioonally, Tierney and. Tomiyasu also suffered from injuries that we did not have adequate cover for which caused Arsenal to have to play Ben White or Cedric at right back and various left-backs. The quality. Cedric offers is poor and this was evident when we lost to Man Utd at home, much of it due to Cedric's mistakes.

Part of the reason we were so inconsistent is our predictability. When we started a match, teams knew exactly how we would move the ball and the lack of a 'spark' in many games made it much easier for mid-lower table teams to compete with us. Of the 13 losses in the campaign, 4 of them came at home against Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Brighton. It was expected that the first 3 of those teams would be difficult games and most fans would have been comfortable with draws against Liverpool and Man City, but Brighton was a match that we had to win off the back of an away loss. This spell of three consecutive losses is where the season and the squads mental resilience crumbled and showed the maturity that is still to be gained.

The Good

Starting from the frontline, Nketiah displayed what he is capable of when he was fully solidified into the first team. Once he hit his stride, his goalscoring rate was in line with some of the best strikers in the league and it showed the payoff of trusting in the young players in the side. With more playing time and confidence, he will continue to improve over the coming season. On the left side, the options of Martinelli and Smith Rowe were essential to the side. Smith Rowe has a keen eye for goal, equalling Harry Kane's goal rate putting him in the top 15 players for goals per 90 minutes in the league. Martinelli, who was also a key player last season, was the most impactful player from the squad in terms of goal involvement. He had 0.58 goals or assists per game, putting him on par with Gundogan and above Sadio Mane. Due to their positional versatility, they are going to be very important for next season. On the right hand side, Bukayo Saka played in every Premier League match and was our top scorer in the league. There is not much to be said about him, he grows as a player every year and is already one of if not the most important Arsenal player currently.

Martin Ødegaard was extremely important for us last season. His link up play with Saka brought the best out of both of them and allowed a great relationship to develop between them. He had the highest. xA per 90 in the squad but the players he set up weren't able to put the chances away as frequently as expected, resulting in him only having 4 assists in the Premier League. When comparing him to other midfielders in the top 5 leagues, he falls into the top 1% of shot-creating actions per 90 minutes and the top 2% of expected assists. The Norwegian is imperative to keeping the team ticking and just needs players to put his created chances away or him to reach the assisting heights of Mesut Özil.

Granit Xhaka adapted his game since the arrival of Thomas Partey, playing much higher up than in previous seasons and operating in the half spaces to be an option for Smith Rowe or Martinelli when they would cut inside. His unusual positioning and tendency to drive forwards into space was a thorn in the side of defender who like to mark zonally on the pitch; his disruptive nature and physicality changed his game and made him a very important player in the team. Thomas Partey took the role Xhaka held previously, tackling and intercepting. through the middle. Per 90 minutes, Partey performed the most tackles of any player as well as tackles combined with interceptions of any non-defender in the team. Behind Gabriel, he had the second most successful pressure percentage, winning the ball back within 5 seconds of losing it 35.4% of the time. To put that into perspective, this. places him 5th against other central midfielders in the league with Thiago leading the pack with 36.6%. This statistic is important is it can be used as a measure of the teams intensity and. aggression to regain possession.

In defence, the pairing of Ben White and Gabriel worked fantastically. They gained an understanding together and play to each others strengths. Gabriel had the highest successful pressure percentage in the squad, and the highest of any defender from teams in the top half of the table. Where Gabriel offers a lot of defensive stability and aggression, Ben White. has a fantastic ability to read the game characterised by having the most interceptions per 90 in the Arsenal squad. His speed and versatility are extremely important too and allow him to be solid cover at right back.

At left back, Tierney offered a fantastic hard worker down the left hand side and provided great crosses into the box. He finished 9th last season out of all defenders for completed crosses into the 18 yard box. He also had the highest assists and expected assists of any Arsenal defender last season. On the other side, Takehiro Tomiyasu joined from Bologna as a relatively unheard of player among the fan base. Although he is not a standout player in any one metric, his versatility is evident as a two footed right back and he has been a reliable first choice right back. Interestingly, he falls into the top 1% of aerial battles won per 90 among his positional peers in Europe's top 5 leagues.

In goal, Aaron Ramsdale came into the team and had to compete with Bernd Leno for the starting spot and once he did, there was no doubt that he deserved it. With Arsenal looking to play more aggressively and higher up the pitch, it was important to have a comfortable sweeper keeper capable of performing his duties in this manner. When compared to the other goalkeepers in the league, Ramsdale performs his goalkeeping actions at an average distance of 43 centimetres from goal, the second highest out of goalkeeper in the top 6, behind Alisson with a distance of 46 centimetres. More evidence of his sweeping ability is how many defensive actions he performs outside the penalty area every 90 minutes- For this, he ranks 3rd out of the goalkeepers from the top half of the table with 1.03 actions compared to the first place Alisson on 1.75. He is also comfortable with the ball at his feet and a good distributer, measured by attempted passes, placing 2nd behind (you guessed it!) Alisson from teams in the top half.

Overall, the Arsenal squad of the 2021/22 season had a lot of positives and with the youngest squad in the league, it is likely that all of these players will continue to grow and improve.

Where do we want to be?

The transfers brought in as well as the return of loanee, Saliba, will provide a massive boost to Arsenal this season. Arsenal should be looking at securing Champions League football for the 2023/24 season and in order to do this there definitely needs to be improvement in certain areas.

Arteta has created a new mentality at Arsenal, one of pride and desire that has not appeared as present in recent year. This has been characterised by Edu's recruitment policy- He met with a player to convince him to sign and when the player started by discussing the money, Edu ended the discussions. We are building a culture of players who want to be at the club because they believe in the project and want to achieve success at Arsenal.

Additionally, Arteta's looking to improve the unpredictability of Arsenal through tactical styles but also player choice- with so many players capable of playing in multiple positions it seems as though this strategy is one we should be ready to implement.

Taking a look at the signings we've made (and return of Saliba), it can be seen how Arsenal are looking to achieve these goals:

Saliba- Saliba is one of the most highly rated French defenders- Young and physical, he is expected to provide a good rotation choice at centre back.

Zinchenko- Signed from Man City, he is a very capable inverted fullback with a similar play style to Andy Robertson. He is also very comfortable as a central midfielder and should be expected to provide additional cover there too.

Fabio Vieira- Touted as a future star, Vieira will hopefully live up to the heights of his namesake. He is a very creative midfielder and should be able to provide that extra element of unpredictability we are looking to add to our game this season. He will be able to cover for Ødegaard but can also play wide on the right as a winger.

Marquinhos- The young signing from Sao Paulo, if he does not go on loan this season, expect him to play anywhere across the front line. He is. young and unproven at this level but such was the case with Martinelli and we know how he has turned out so far.

Gabriel Jesus- Another signing from the Premier League champions, Jesus brings a winners mentality and experience to the front line that will benefit us greatly. He has already impressed in pre-season and we should expect that kind of quality from him.

For a more in depth analysis of the new signings, check out the articles written about them.

If these players perform as expected and offer what we are looking for, Arsenal should be in a very good position to challenge for a Champions League space and be a more difficult team to play against in general.

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