Tactical Snapshot: Arsenal Optimism, Chelsea Dominance and Unleashing Adama Traoré
Our data analysts dive into Stats Perform’s advanced metrics to pull out the key tactical snapshots from the latest Premier League action. Data visualizations, AI models and the occasional Arsenal bias can all be guaranteed, as Jonny Whitmore and the team dive into the numbers each week.
As the dust settles on the opening weekend in the Premier League, we can reflect on some key tactical snapshots using Stats Perform’s advanced metrics. Whilst we know that working with single-game samples does not paint the full picture of a player or a team, we can still extract some valuable insights into how they played in their first games of the campaign.
There wasn’t much to get excited about in Arsenal’s first game of the season. In a Gunners’ team lacking creativity at the end of last season, one glimmer of hope was a fully-fit Kieran Tierney providing a big boost down the left-hand side.
The Arsenal system is designed to provide cover for him playing in an advanced role. When they are in possession, either the left-sided central midfielder (Granit Xhaka) or the right back (Calum Chambers) can provide cover as a third centre back. With this freedom on Friday night, Tierney was able to create six chances for his teammates. No Arsenal player created more chances than this in a single Premier League game last season.
In fact, Kieran Tierney was involved in 14 open play sequences that ended in shots, more than any other player in the Premier League at the weekend. In the graphic below you can see the breakdown of these involvements (three where he took the shot, six where he created the chance and five where his only involvement was in the build-up before the assist and shot itself). This means that 70% of Arsenal’s open-play shots involved Tierney, more than any other player for Arsenal and a percentage bettered by only five players at the weekend (most of whom were shot-happy strikers).
Ultimately though, it was the quality of shots that was the issue for Arsenal. Despite registering the most shots in the Premier League on the opening weekend (22), the average quality of these shots was the worst (0.05 xG per shot). If Arsenal’s offensive output is to improve this season, they will need their ill-timed absentees Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to return and get into more dangerous scoring positions.
It is far too early in the season to judge a team on their style, but Chelsea’s dominance was clear to see on Saturday. This may not be too surprising for the Champions League 2020-21 winners but the way in which they dominated the ball as a team was far above their league rivals.
Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea recorded 25 sequences containing 10 or more passes (or 10+ passing sequences). For context, the next closest to them at the weekend were Brighton and Hove Albion with 16.
Possession alone is not overly impressive and doesn’t necessarily correlate to success (see Leicester in their 2015-16 title-winning season). However, the ability of Chelsea to turn these sequences into goalscoring opportunities was notable. Of these 10+ passing sequences, eight of these ended in a shot or had at least one touch in the box (known as build-up attacks).
Since Tuchel took charge in January 2021, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are the only team to register more 10+ passing sequences and build-up attacks than Chelsea. It is certainly too early to tell, but it may be a sign of things to come.
Unleashing Adama Traoré
There has never been any doubt about the raw talent of Adama Traoré. He remains one of the most exciting and unpredictable players to watch in the Premier League with extraordinary bursts of speed getting him out of seemingly impossible situations.
We’ve previously highlighted in a blog using Stats Perform’s Shape Analysis model how the Wolves forwards rotated during their games last season under Nuno Espírito Santo. However, Traoré’s role was still primarily on the right-hand side of the pitch, registering 56% of his total minutes here in the Premier League.
In his first game under new Wolves manager, Bruno Lage, Adama Traoré was deployed on the left wing. Lage spoke about his game plan to “find space between the lines” by pulling out the opposition midfielders.
This worked with great effect in the transition, allowing Traoré to find the space to carry the ball inside. He made five carries that ended in him creating a chance or taking a shot against Leicester, more than any other player this weekend.
Tactically this enabled Wolves to register five direct attacks, where a direct attack is an open play sequence starting from inside their own half with at least 50% of movement towards the opposition’s goal and ending with a shot or touch in the opposition box. It’s a bit of a mouthful but direct attacks are useful as a proxy for counter attacks by measuring attacking sequences with rapid movement towards the opposition goal. In fact, the only other team to have as many direct attacks this weekend were Nuno’s Tottenham Hotspur, including the sequence leading to Son Heung-Min’s goal.
With Raúl Jiménez returning up front for Wolves and registering his first minutes in the Premier League since November 2020, the 2020-21 season may be a great opportunity to reignite their productive partnership during the Premier League 2019-20 season when they combined for 10 goals.
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