Soccer-Clinical in attack, meaner in defence, data shows Arsenal's upward curve

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Premier League - Brentford v Arsenal - Brentford Community Stadium, London, Britain - September 18, 2022 Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta applauds fans after the match REUTERS/David Klein

LONDON (Reuters) - Whether Arsenal's flying start to the Premier League season heralds the beginning of a successful new chapter or another false dawn remains to be seen but evidence suggests manager Mikel Arteta has discovered a winning formula.

Arsenal top the table heading into Saturday's derby against also impressive Tottenham Hotspur -- the outcome of which might offer more of a clue as to which of the two sides are best-equipped to challenge champions Manchester City.

Arteta's side have won six out of seven games -- their best start since 2007-08 -- although the fixture computer offered them a relatively gentle opening to the campaign.

A loss against Manchester United offered a reality check but while some will say Arsenal are flattered by their position, the statistics offer grounds for optimism.

While it has not been the most demanding of starts, Arsenal's efficiency to churn out points against the lesser lights of the top flight has been impressive.

Their last match before the international break was a clinical 3-0 win at Brentford having been heavily criticised after a 2-0 loss there last season.

Data compiled by analysts Nielsen Gracenote identifies some key areas where Arsenal have improved, from a more penetrative attack, less complicated build-up play and a meaner defence.

Based on the equivalent fixtures last season (with Fulham and Bournemouth replacing Burnley and Watford) Arsenal's chance creation rate should have resulted in a 47% increase in goals scored, but that figure has actually gone up by 70%, despite an 11% decline in goal attempts.

According to Gracenote's data Arsenal's big chances have nearly tripled in the equivalent fixtures from 12 last season to 31 this term, with 17 goals hitting the net.

The impact of Gabriel Jesus has been key.

The Brazilian has hit the ground running at Arsenal with four goals so far and he is second only behind Manchester City's Erling Haaland in terms of expected goals (xG) per game.

"Jesus is slightly underperforming the chances he has had by scoring only four goals but Arsenal players were not represented at all in last season's top-20 xG ranking," Gracenote said.

"Bukayo Saka was 21st in that list but he is up to 10th this season and Gabriel Martinelli is 13th."

While Arsenal's dribbles are up by 44%, they have actually completed fewer passes per game than in the equivalent fixtures last season, down from 547 to 514.

It suggests that Arteta's possession-based style has been given some added attacking impetus, with Granit Xhaka playing a more advanced role to link midfield to an attack which is more mobile thanks to the work-rate of Jesus.

Arsenal's defending looks more effective and is backed by data compared to the equivalent games last term.

They have allowed opponents 7.6 chances per match compared to 9.6 last season while opposition shots on target have been reduced by 36% from 4.7 to 3.0 per match.

Arsenal are tackling more too, pointing to a more aggressive mindset when not in possession.

Arteta has also shown a flexibility in his formation with Arsenal playing a 4-1-4-1 system rather than the 4-2-3-1 seen in the equivalent seven games last season with Xhaka further forward and Thomas Partey the sole holding midfielder.

Arsenal's upward trend will be severely tested in the weeks ahead with Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea all to play in a hectic period before the World Cup.

But ahead of the north London derby there is real optimism that Arteta can return Arsenal to the top four where they were once a fixture under Arsene Wenger.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)

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