With Just 1.5 Goals Per Game The PALs are Desperate for the Key Pass King’s Return

What is the point of having the PALs Firepower without the King of the Key Pass Silver-serving them?

Auba and Mesut

It is still early in the season which makes it hard to pull conclusions. But still, for the sake of having something to talk about during the inter-lull, let’s have a look at our attacking and defending stats until now.

Arsenal played four games and despite our awesome attacking options with the power of PAL, we managed to score just 1.5 goals per game. The whole team scored as many goals as MC’s Aguero, and one more than Sterling and Finland’s finest and surprise of the start of the season, Pukki, until now. We have some heavy hammers in the team but who is providing them with the nails to bang them in? For this we need assist-providers and, as we all know, it’s key passes that lead to assists.

At Arsenal the key passes providers until now are:

  1. The underappreciated Xhaka (1.7 per game);
  2. The explosive Nicolas Pepe (1.5);
  3. The currently dumped Nelson (1.5);
  4. The fastly growing in status Ainsley MN (1.3);
  5. New boy Ceballos (1.3).

Liverpool and Man City have each two players in the top ten of PL key passes providers, with Kevin de Bruine producing a dizzying four per game at the moment (and leading all in the PL). He sent Ozil, this decennium’s PL King of the Key Pass, a message the other day saying ‘hey it is lonely at the top!’ 😉

I bang on about this, but it really is no point to have a great attack without having a great midfield as well. And the same goes for the defence…

We conceded six already: 1.5 goals per game. Okay that includes the Pool away game and if we take that one out of the equation, we are conceding a goal per game. Emery wants to play attacking football and outscore our opponents, so conceding a goal per game on average is not the end of the world, but then we really have to step up the goal production.

What is interesting is that according to Whoscored there is not a single Liverpool or Man City player in the top-10 for the categories of ‘Tackles’, ‘Interceptions’, ‘Blocks’ and ‘Clearances’. Yet they both conceded only half the number of goals Arsenal conceded: 0.5 goals per game.

Their best defence is of course their focus on attacking and keeping the opponent hemmed in their own half. City have the highest ball possession and pass accuracy stats of all the teams, which will come as no surprise. But it is also their ability to defend as a team and control space that makes them so solid at the back; they don’t really need to make a great deal of tackles and blocks but simply force opponents to make mistakes by crowding them out/denying them space. Arsenal, as was so painfully obvious again during the first half v the Spuds at the weekend, just don’t know how they deal with turnovers and counter-attacks AS A TEAM, leading to kamikaze defending and individual mistakes. We are a world away from Pool’s and MC’s approach to team-defending.

Our next game is at Vicarage Road against relegation-zone placed Watford: how many of you feel comfortable that we will get a win there?

For me it will be the biggest test until now. I was happy with the opening win against Newcastle and the hard-fought victory over Burnley, and the Pool loss and Spuds draw were predictable and somehow acceptable. Our top-four finish competitors (excluding Pool and MC) have done worse than us, which is of course welcome.

But it is games like our next one that will show what we are worth. Arsenal need to leak less  goals and score more and for that we need to get the midfield right. It’s time for no more nonsense re Mesut Ozil and the likes of Nelson and Ceballos also need to get more chances. We are desperate for better and more key passes and thus providing the PALs with much better service.

Emery has a fantastic squad of players to work with and now it is time to get the balance in midfield, and with that in the whole team, right.

By TotalArsenal.

16 thoughts on “With Just 1.5 Goals Per Game The PALs are Desperate for the Key Pass King’s Return

  • Fine bit of opining TA.
    A true-10 is the necessary tool– to make the scoring jump about a goal per game. Ozil, preferably.

    Won’t criticize Granit Xhaka for his first half woes vs Spurs. But it does seem that Emery is (with good reason IMO) going to pencil-in Matteo Guendouzi on his team sheet most weekends. Then, think we do agree that Matteo & Granit just aren’t a good paired set. Also state Lucas Torreira must be on the pitch starting at Watford.

    By defining the MF trio (in a 4-2-1-3)–
    –the rest of the team names itself.

    Thinking that between Torreira and Guendouzi– there’s enough athleticism in front of the back-4 to allow Ozil the freedom to be the ‘Key Pass King’.

    For Emery to toss the criticism-monkey off his back– it’s going to take a breakout game scoring-wise. One where there is little room to second guess tactics. Watford is coming into view at just the right time.

    So yes! (raises hand) Me! I do.
    Think that Arsenal are going to go to Watford and take the 3pts. 🙂
    (That’s– what optimists do.)


  • Good analysis.
    Can’t help but wonder (i’m not a betting man – seems a mugs game, to me), but, perhaps (just perhaps) Mikel Arteta would be with a punt as next Arsenal manager?!

  • Cheers JW, good to see you so positive and although Emery (and I) would not leave out you know who, there is merit in your approach. I don’t think we should start all of the PALs v Watford, though.

  • Philly, Arteta will be an option if and when Emery were to go – there is no doubt about it. Not my first choice back then nor now, but it would be interesting to see how he would go about getting the best out of our quality squad.

  • T, I agree about the importance of the next match. We are in a good position with 2 tough fixtures done already.
    I am becoming less of a fan of the key pass as a stat, though I think we need to use our assist king sometimes, or someone like Ceballos that way. If you have 2 incredible finishers + Pepe, it’s just stupid not to have that kind of specialist in the team.
    I can’t say enough how annoyed I am, with the way I feel Emery has killed Torreira’s game. Foolishly turning an incredible defensive hustler into a box to box. This week he was up in the spurs box early and often, while they were killing us on counters.
    Before Emery started changing his game, he was having a great effect doing what he does for Uruguay. What have we gained, a couple of goals from him?
    He was good during our best stretch, and I believe Holdings discipline played a part too. Now I just feel so disorganized.
    Many will say to wait for Hector and Tierney, but the heart of the defense is still suicidal even with them. A correctly used Lucas could mitigate much of the problem. Our game is crying out for that. I don’t mind him venturing a bit more forward, because I’ve seen him win the ball back high up the pitch, but he’s not the same player the way we’re using him.

    I really like jw’s thoughts on how we can work in Ozil. Quicker, energetic Guendo and Lucas to balance his game. But against better teams, I’d prefer Ceballos instead of Ozil, for added workrate.

  • TA, good interlull post.

    Everything revolves around the word “balance”. When Buddha talked about the “Noble Middle Path” he was talking about balance.

    Against Spurs, Emery fielded the PALs and tried to balance the offensive trio with a more defensive minded midfield trio. It gave fire power that lacked a creative support.

    Emery brought on an attacking MF Ceballos for Torreira that gave the firepower up front the needed creative support. Spurs started carving up our MF with greater ease. Getting the balance right is such a delicate enterprise.

    Maybe, just maybe playing only 2 of the PALs at a time so as to get all the mix in the MF is what would give the best balance.

  • Liv on paper plays with a front 3 (Mane, Firmino and Salah). In reality they play split strikers of Mane and Salah as Firmino plays very deep. Firmino builds play and links up the split strikers. Ozil or Ceballos would fit into that Firmino role.

    We can quite easily afford to play 2 of the PALs most of the time. With nearly 50 1st team games in the season, 2 of the PALs at a time would still give each of them an average of nearly 33 matches plus substitute appearances plus a few Team B cup fixtures plus a few times all three would be on the field and we are talking of potentially 40 appearances for the season for each.

  • Hi J, I fully agree re Torreira. It is all to do with the fact that Torreira and Xhaka are made for playing deeper and compacter, but this is not the way Emery wants to play. He wants us to be an attacking team, and with that, the midfield to focus on attacking and not being allowed to play close together, shield the defence better and build up attacks from the back. But neither Torreira or Guendouzi have many key passes in them although this may change over time. So our midfield is not protecting the defence neither feeding the attackers appropriately. For me it is first choice midfield: Xhaka-Tor-Mesut and back up: Guendouzi, AMN/Willock, ESR/Ceballos. I would play with two of the PALs to start with and add Nelson or Saka to the team or one of my back-up midfielders (with Mesut on a wing).

  • Hey PE, good comments and all agreed. There is space in the team for Xhaka, Torreira, Guendouzi and Ozil with two of the PALs on the pitch…. We sorted it! 😀

  • Well, it seems I will still read about Arsenal in the inter-lull, if you keep posting such articles. 🙂

    I agree with your 2 main points, albeit I have to admit, I am not a professional coach, therefore it’s beyond my competency to assess if the gain in creativity and key passes Ozil surely brings would offset the reduced defensive capacity if he occupies a midfield space. Of course he was majestic playing with Sanchez and Giroud in 2016, but he was part of the front 3 back then. (I wish he was playing with Sanchez and Auba, what an attacking force thy would have been.) So having the OPAL attacking diamond would have been a joy to see against inferior opponents, but could have been a liability against top teams.

    Regarding the midfield partnerships – especially if we assume that one of them would be either Ozil or Ceballos to support our attack – I think Guendouzi and Xhaka have negative synergies together. I rate both of them highly, but their profile is way too similar. They facilitate the transition from back to attack by (re)distributing the ball from deep. So I would definitely play Torreira. Not just for his powerful defensive contribution, but because Guendouzi and Xhaka shouldn’t play together. The 2 of them worth only 1.5 player, which is too much of a sacrifice. So based on the lessons learned from last season I would go with the Xhaka-Torreira tandem, adding Ozil or Ceballos in the mix based of we need more dribbles or key passes.

  • O/T but succinct from Amy Lawrence/The Athletic (sub req’d):

    “Exactly two years ago, at this point of the season, four games into what would be Wenger’s last campaign, an 18-man squad eased past Bournemouth 3-0. It contained a lot of experienced names, mostly internationals with abundant know-how.

    The following 12 have all since departed the dressing room: Petr Cech (plus back-up David Ospina), Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Nacho Monreal, Alex Iwobi, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin, Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Walcott and Danny Welbeck.

    Admittedly put together like this it’s a slightly vulnerable looking 3-4-3 with only Coquelin specialising in ball-winning ahead of the back three, but this lot would win plenty of Premier League games. The churn, over two years, has been radical.”

    The gist of the piece is– that for whatever reason, what Raul (et al) had been doing over the past year– didn’t look as if planned. The off-ramping example given above– shows what has been effected was certainly planned, if not obvious. Hoping this is the template of a M.O. for the club going forward.

    * * *

    Don’t want to overuse Lawrence’s writing or exclusive quotes– though one other snippet from Raul templates a new normalcy with common transfer philosophy (that’s been too long absent at AFC):

    “I do believe that a player’s contract should never go to the last year, as a policy,” Sanllehi says. “But I don’t think I am inventing the wheel. Anybody could agree on that. Normally the contracts of the players are for five years. You need to have a clear idea of what you want to do with that player when he is in the third year, at the latest.”

    The slate has been cleaned.
    Here’s to Emery determining normalcy on the pitch.


  • And yes, OPAL is ideal against the ‘lesser’ teams but not so much the top teams. My preference is to play with POL or OPA v the top teams and leave either Auba or Laca out of the attacking three, but play with Ozil. I would always play him when he is fit and I hope we will always have a player like him in the first eleven; they add another dimension to our football… Dennis, Cesc, Mesut, ….?

  • Cheers JW1 – I like the way you regularly treat us to some different titbits! 🙂

    Holland v Germany in a bit. Orange v White – a battle once again no doubt.

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