The players who make Arsenal tick: Player | Goal Differential data analysis


(Photo by FRANK AUGSTEIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Here we go! I’m back at it this time, from the midst of the sunny Coromandel on the East Coast of NZ! Great place for a summer holiday. The camping equipment is out, BBQ is shimmering, the beaches are full, however, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, given our injury crisis) The Arsenal haven’t played in a few days. Let’s hope we have enough players recover from Covid and injury in the next few days in order to face Liverpool.

It’s the ideal time to strike. After the backs-to-the-wall performance in the first leg, we need to carry that hunger, desire and form ASAP or risk it getting pushed away from the forefront of the world’s minds. Confidence and form is everything in football. There will always be highs and lows in a season, so it’s absolutely essential to ensure we ride for as long as we can on these high tides.

In the lull I thought I’d take a look at a few of the stats regarding this season and see what conclusions I could make.

We all know who our important players are. The eye test in my opinion is much more important than the stats will ever be. Ramsdale’s infectious attitude, commanding presence, and saves. Lacazette’s link up play. Smith-Rowe, Martinelli and Saka’s goals and assists. We can go on.

But what I thought would be really interesting is to see how our players feature in terms of plus or minus whilst on the pitch. Which players have the most effect on the scoreline once they cross that white line. Does the eye test match up with the statistics of our on field performances?

See the table below and then let’s get into analysing it.

Player NameGoal Differential
Sambi Lokonga+1
Note that this is for Premier League matches only.

As a note, I didn’t include Ramsdale and Leno as what’s the point. Ramsdale has kept 12 clean sheets for Arsenal across all competitions whilst Bernd Leno unfortunately had to deal with the pointed end of our calamitous start to the season. Leno certainly didn’t get any help from his defenders in those first 2 weeks.

Alright, alright, alright.

Let’s start up top.

Lacazette vs Aubameyang. It really is chalk and cheese. Lacazette showing a huge superiority in this regard. Only scoring 5 goals so far this season, which is actually less than Auba’s 7 goals, it is his link up and team play that has allowed others to shine. It was clear to see that Arsenal gained a whole lot of fluidity when Laca came into the starting line up but we can really see the benefit from these stats. His ability to receive the ball and circulate allowing better control of games and a focal point is the key here. Sustained pressure on an opponent can lead to increased chances on goal.

Interestingly Lacazette has always had a hugely positive + or – goal differential throughout his career. This is his career + or – in order from 2014-15 for Lyon (when the stats were first recorded) to last season: +38, +22, +20, (all Lyon); +23, +20, +11, +11 (Arsenal). Perhaps this showcases that he has been a criminally underrated player in not just our system, but Lyon as well. Striking play is not just about goals scored. Let’s not forget that football is a team game and that if a player can help a team be hugely successful in terms of their side’s output then they are ultimately of significant value. Could these stats lead to a slightly longer contract extension for our main man at the moment?

Next up let’s look at our Centre Back pairing. How good have they been? Strong both in and out of possession, they have provided solidity after a tough start. Both with individual qualities that have seen them excel. Amongst the many positives to their partnership; 2 things have stood out as vast improvement on Arsenal sides of the past decade.

Firstly we have been excellent at defending set pieces. How times change. We used to be the team that everyone knew they could bully at corner time. I remember John Terry and Drogba consistently giving us problems. The likes of Stoke City and Burnley always used to fancy their chances. Not the case anymore. Let’s also bring Tomiyasu into the conversation here because he has been nothing short of phenomenal in the air. No one beats him. The timing on his jump is what does it here. Technique rather than just physical power.

Secondly, we now have pace at the back. If the ball goes over the top 90% of the time we are safe and secure in the fact that one of Ben White or Gabriel will win the race. That security means we can be more confident when midfielders and fullbacks push forward to help engage in the attack. Defensive stability is the crucial first stage of any successful sustained attacking period.

The stats here show our 2 CBs in the top 3 of our goal differential this season. Exciting times for The Arsenal, particularly with another monster in William Saliba coming back in next season. If you want to read an analysis on his season for Marseille check out the piece I wrote a few weeks ago here.


Alrighty, the controversial figure of Granit Xhaka and the rest of our central midfield up next. First and foremost, the stats here showcase Thomas Partey’s value. When he is fit and available we have better stability to keep clean sheets and progress the ball forward and score. Even with some below par performances this season, his importance has been paramount. If he can perform every week like he did against City we will have the defensive nous, mobility and physicality to form a deep block plus defend counter attacks; and more importantly win the ball back high up the pitch quickly to ensure we stay on the attack for sustained periods. Let’s not forget his ability to pass through the lines also.

Let’s quickly move on to Xhaka. The man who lets us down so often yet every manager continuously picks him. Let’s face it. With the current state of our midfield options he is the best available. Sambi is clearly one for the future; and certainly a player I have a lot of hope for. But Granit provides the balance, leadership, control and ball retention skills to ensure stability. He will never get over his tendencies for rash tackles, diving in or lack of pace that makes defending the transition difficult. However Mikel Arteta has changed his game slightly pushing him further forward so that he doesn’t have to defend in open transitions but can instead press up onto the opposition when they are facing their own goal, thus making it easier for a slower player to manage.

I wrote a big piece on this transition for Xhaka also and you can check that out here.

Aside from the above mentioned traits which Xhaka is so often picked for, his goal differential over the years has always been top notch. For Arsenal it is as follows: +27, +22, +17, +16, +18. Simply put we score far more than we concede when Xhaka is on the pitch. This is the normal.

Now I can already hear the critics getting ready to get their keyboards popping, so let me make it clear that I agree Xhaka can certainly be improved upon, will be improved upon and can be an absolute liability. That much will not change. But what also won’t change is the positives that he does bring to the side at this point in Arteta’s project. Let’s hope he has used up all his brain explosions for the season and he can bring more positivity before we possibly upgrade in the summer.

Next up we have Arteta’s young attacking quartet of Smith Rowe, Saka, Martinelli and Odegaard. All playing well and hugely positive for our season so far. What is surprising however is Smith Rowe’s goal differential of 0. Possibly bearing the fruits of our poor start to the season and his injuries over the past few weeks. What does bode well for Smith Rowe is that last season he had a massive +22. Let’s hope this balances out over the coming weeks. For sure we will need all four of our young gunners firing.

Now obviously there are a few players sitting at the bottom of the pile with the likes of Chambers, Cedric and Holding. Let’s also quickly note I excluded the likes of Pablo Mari, Kolasinac etc as they are well past their used by date and are already on the ship that’s heading away from London. When we think about the players above, their numbers again are hindered by our disastrous start to the season. A reflection of their level I’d say. Not good enough to compete with the best. Manageable against the rest of the league but just not quite there. Stylistically they don’t mirror the first team enough so it looks like they will be shown the door this summer too with the possible exception of Rob Holding. If he can transform that hairline, could he possibly transform his game play too?


Early change

Let’s finish with a positive comparison. The season started with a really good battle between Kieran Tierney and Nuno Tavares. Brought about because of another minor KT injury, Nuno got his chance. He really caught the eye, and I loved what I saw. At least until the cup game recently where he was dragged off after 30 mins. Not good enough and sloppy. However he bounced back to have a good last 10 against Liverpool which really shows character. Now that is what tells me he will continue to develop. The kid wants to play for Arsenal and he wants to start. When he played he was very good. Ran all day, very good 1 v 1 defensively, gets himself into the game, and more importantly always affects the game positively. Due to his age and experience there was plenty of rashness however.

KT coming back into the team we firstly saw more consistency throughout the 90 mins. Something for Tavares to work on. As Tierney got back into his rhythm the old attacking play came out again. You feel the competition for his spot gave our Scottish man his mojo back and pushed him to work harder than ever. I love that. He rises to the challenge. No moaning about being stuck on the bench for 4 or 5 games. KT got stuck in, waited his dues and now we are absolutely cashing in. That has captaincy written all over it.

The stats back all this up. KT’s positive goal differential of +8 vs Tavares at 0. The consistency is the important factor. At the highest level you simply cannot afford to make multiple mistakes every game. Especially not at the back. Granit Xhaka is crucified for it. Tavares is young so will be granted leeway and rightly so. But he will need to improve his concentration. You feel if he does he could well turn into one of the league’s best LBs, and then the question will become do we try to fit them both in, or do we just have the best LB rotation in the league. Most likely the latter. What a great problem to have.

Just on Tierney’s goal differential also. If we take away the first 3 games of the Premier League season (as these were an absolute shit show, and not very reflective on KT in my opinion), Tierney would be sitting on +17. That’s massive and shows just how important he has been since coming back into the side. In my opinion he has been overlooked a little because other players have been shining of late; but let’s make no mistake Tierney has been absolutely unbelievable for the past couple of months. Let’s see that continue.

There you have it.

The data and the naked eye matching up nicely, but also showcasing a few little ideas and points on topics of controversy. As I finish writing this I’m seeing Kolasinac is getting his contract ripped up. Two things here. Love the balls from Edu to do this amidst the postponement saga, although I can’t see the league being too fond of this and granting us much more compassion if we need further postponements. Secondly surely we are bringing a couple players in, right?

Week or so to go in the transfer window. Valhovic and Tielemans anyone? That would be an absolute dream signing combination. Love these players. Extremely unlikely but come on let’s dream, right?

If you got this far, thanks very much for reading – much appreciated. Give me a follow on twitter @kiwigooner1 and lets continue the debate. Drop your opinions into the comments and let’s get the chat going on the mutual love of our great team The Arsenal. I also created a big Arsenal quiz! Give it a go here and let me know how you get on.

Kia Kaha!!

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