Why an Inefficient Arsenal Could be Key in Big Games Moving Forwards

Saturday’s victory over Spurs has helped re-instill optimism in many Arsenal fans. The meaningful commitment to width, the dominance by our wingbacks on the flanks, and coordinated team pressing were a few of the many areas we were proficient in. For me however, it was the direct nature of our play and the variety in which we did it which was most refreshing to see.

Direct Long Balls From CB’s

The nature of these passes were incredibly simplistic yet effective against what we knew would be a high Tottenham back line. They helped Arsenal bypass the midfield and isolate our quality attacking options on their back 3. Below are a few examples from early in the game. Koscielny and Mustafi both play quality balls from different areas of the pitch:


Another from the second half when we were predominately playing on the counter. This ball, even though it was offside, kept the game stretched and forced Spurs to stay honest.


Direct Balls from MF’s

Here is the passage of play leading to our first goal. Debate the foul by Sanchez all you want, the way we transition from defense to attack and the ball played by Ramsey is incredibly effective:

Here is a clip from the 2nd half as we look to counter after getting a ball recovery and maintaining possession:


Diagonal Balls

There were countless instances of long diagonal balls, oftentimes from Cech and our CB’s in an attempt to bypass the Spurs midfield. Kolasinac was often the one we aimed at to win these aerial’s so our creative types could be set free in the final third.

The example below is different however. Look how compact the Spurs midfield is as Sanchez cuts inside and switches play to Bellerin:

With a direct, forward-oriented style of play comes an apparent statistical inefficiency. It’s common sense really, higher risk leads to a larger potential rewards but also the increased likelihood of failure. As Arsenal fans, we are not used to seeing this. We are accustomed to a high-touch, possession-oriented style of play rooted in efficiency.

On Saturday we saw a deviation from the norm in so many statistical areas. The table below highlights notable discrepancies in 3 areas Arsenal normally look to dominate: possession %, pass success %, and total completed passes:


Statistical Area vs. Spurs PL Season Average Deviation
Possession % 42.1% 57.2% -15.1%
Team Pass Success %

























Completed Passes 281 467 -186

*stats courtesy

In short, we sacrificed on the ball statistics to win the game off the ball. When we did have possession we moved the ball directly with purpose in order to play in advanced areas without the need to build play. In doing so, Spurs and their high defensive line were continuously stretched and forced to run backwards instead of push high. This left space in the middle of the pitch for Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, and Sanchez to create.

This tactical approach can help us massively in the big fixtures ahead, especially against high pressing teams. This Sunday against Burnley will be an entirely different proposition however. They will sit back and challenge us to break them down while attempting to show superiority in aerial duels and second balls. Arsene will need a whole new game plan entirely at Turf Moor.


Follow me on Twitter @dfresh10  

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