Arsenal: Are Mikel Arteta’s side really that much better this season?

Arsenal’s standard starting line-up in the Premier League this season has seen new signings Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko feature alongside the returning loanee William Saliba, but there has also been a subtle change to their formation which has seen Granit Xhaka play further forward .

The Premier League returns this weekend with Arsenal at the top of the table after an impressive start to six wins from seven games.

Pundits such as Match of the Day’s Alan Shearer singled out Gabriel Jesus as a game-changer, as well as “a different mentality”, “hunger” and “desire” throughout the squad.

A look at the stats shows that Arsenal have already picked up eight more points this season than they did in the corresponding games last season (when comparing results against relegated Burnley and Watford with those achieved against promoted sides Fulham and Bournemouth). .

But with third-placed, unbeaten north London rivals Tottenham the visitors to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday lunchtime, skeptics (and some Arsenal fans) may well point out that the Gunners’ one game against its ‘top eight’ sides championship, Manchester United, ended in defeat.

So what is their good start and are they really that much better this season? BBC Sport looks at the numbers.

More quality and productivity in attacking areas

Arsenal's attacking performance compared between 2021-22 and 2022-23: Goals scored 10-17, Great chances created 12-31, Goals expected 10.99-16.20

Arsenal are currently the third top scorers in the league with 17, behind only Manchester City (23) and Tottenham (18), and have improved by seven goals in equivalent matches last season. teams that were relegated last season.

Mikel Arteta’s side are creating fewer chances – 116 shots compared to 131 at the same stage last year – but better quality chances.

Arsenal have created 31 ‘big’ chances, compared to just 12 last year in the corresponding games, and could expect to score 47% more goals than last season, according to Gracenote figures. They were clinical, even scoring 70% more in those games.

“Arsenal’s 17 goals this season are roughly in line with the 16.2 expected by Gracenote’s model. That’s more than five goals above expectations from the chances created in the corresponding matches in 2021-22.” , said Gracenote’s Simon Gleave. head of sports analysis.

The signing of former Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus has given them a consistent and ever-present threat up front, something they lacked during Arteta’s reign.

But one major change could be the slight change in formation that saw midfielder Granit Xhaka pushed further forward.

The 30-year-old already has a goal and three assists in the league, bettering his record with a goal and two assists in each of the last three games.

“Granit Xhaka is a player we’re finally seeing playing like he’s playing for Switzerland,” former Gunners striker Ian Wright told Match of the Day. 3-0 win at Brentford earlier this month.

“He’s playing in a position that suits him, he’s playing more aggressively. He’s playing with authority and confidence.”

The addition of Jesus and a change in tactics also allowed Arsenal to press more effectively, with three of their goals – one against Manchester United and two against Leicester – coming after winning possession in the opposition half.

Arsenal tight end have ‘different mindset’

Arsenal Defensive Performance Comparison Between 2021-22 and 2022-23: Goals Conceded 11-7, Great Chances 10-10, Goals Expected 7.30-5.49

Arsenal leaked goals last season, conceding 48, giving them the eighth-best defensive record despite finishing fifth, while their goal difference of 13 was 16 fewer than fourth-placed Tottenham.

They have conceded just seven goals this season, compared to 11 in the corresponding games last season, with only four teams having a better record at this stage, while restricting opponents to fewer attempts – 7.6 per game, compared to 9. 6 Shots on goal also decreased by 36%.

The Gunners make 14.4 tackles per game compared to 13, although their average time in possession has decreased.

This season sees the return of on-loan William Saliba, with the 21-year-old French centre-back proving to be one of his team’s leading players, while England’s Ben White has moved from central defense to right-back. They were also boosted by the signing of Oleksandr Zinchenko from Manchester City.

After the win at Brentford, where they lost 2-0 on the opening day of last season, Alan Shearer told Match of the Day that Arsenal “had a different attitude and a different mentality”.

“There’s a difference now in hunger and desire,” Shearer added.

“They’re a bigger team now. They’ve got characters who want to compete, don’t mind putting their head where it might hurt.”

Is Jesus the game-changer the key factor?

Gabriel Jesus in Premier League 2022-23: Matches 7, Goals 4, Assists 3

But is the key to success as simple as having a scoring Jesus by your side?

His header at Brentford means he is unbeaten in 50 Premier League games (47 wins and three draws) when he scores. It’s a streak bettered only by James Milner (54 games – 43 wins and 11 draws).

Jesus has the second best expected goals in the league behind his Manchester City replacement, Erling Haaland, but is slightly underperforming with four goals.

Last season Arsenal did not have any players in the top 20 of Gracenote’s expected goalscorers list, but Jesus is joined by Bukayo Saka (10th) and Gabriel Martinelli (13th).

“He [Jesus] it’s the way it changes the game,” Shearer said.

“He sets the tone up front. Defenders hate forwards who are ready to run back and make it difficult for them. He’s the one who initiates the shutdown.

“Everyone will look at him and see that he had that success at Manchester City and wants to take that attitude to the Arsenal team – it’s made a huge difference.”

Arsenal have taken 77 points from their last 38 Premier League games, taking into account the end of last season and the start of this one – a total that would see them finish in the top four in nine of the last 10 campaigns.

It’s a huge improvement with 59 points on the 38 before that and Arteta will be looking for his side to find the consistency to replicate that during this season.

Gunners fans will be hoping the early-season form of Jesus, Xhaka and Saliba continues as they look to finish in a coveted Champions League spot for the first time since 2016.

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