Where has Arsenal’s improvement come from? Actually, its very simple.




By Tony Attwood

Football pundits talk of goals, passes, and expected goals, but not much else.  It is as if those three sets of numbers tell you all you need to know – so it is all they tell you.

But a few years ago we started to realise that tackles, fouls and yellow card numbers told us a lot more about refereeing the PL and how different clubs were refereed in different ways. 

So while the media is still transfixed by transfers we’ve decided to move on and have started to look at passing and given that the Premier League site doesn’t contain data on this we are using FBRef who have been analysing passing for years.  Let’s start with the basics of this season.  How does the number of passes link to the league position?


No of players used Completed passes Lge pos Ratio (passes to league pos)
1 Manchester City 24 23263 1 100%
2 Liverpool 28 20043 4 86%
3 Brighton &HA 29 19210 5 83%
4 Chelsea 32 19147 12 82%
5 Arsenal 26 18281 2 78%
6 Manchester Utd 26 16603 3 71%
7 Tottenham Ho 29 15972 8 69%
8 Leicester City 28 14887 18 64%
20 Nottingham Forest 33 9543 16 41%


So all five of the top clubs by league position are in the top six for completed passes – an obvious link.  But in the top eight for completed passes we have Leicester who were relegated and Chelsea who came 12th, meaning that successful passing alone is not a guarantee of success.

But we must also look at the ratio.   Taking Manchester City as 100% in terms of passing we can see that by the time we get down to Leicester, we see a club that has only two-thirds of the successful passes of Manchester City.  Nottingham Forest who came 16th in the League completed four successful passes for every 10 Manchester City completed.

Thus as a simple measure, completing passes is good.  But “completing” in that phrase isn’t the prime issue because through the league there is a very close link between the number of attempted passes and the number of completed passes.

Put another way, clubs that attempt more passes, complete more passes and move the ball further.  Arsenal are only fifth in the league when it comes to passing, and this suggests in turn that Arsenal needs to improve its passing.

Except it looks as if Arteta has, as with his insistence on cutting down on tackling, has found another way forward.   For this is not just a case of passing, but it is passes into the 18 yard box which are “completed” meaning that they do reach and are controlled by the intended player.   

Note 3) And to be clear for this statistic set pieces are not included.


Passes into penalty area Crosses into penalty area +10 yard passes (3)
Arsenal 459 62 2049
Liverpool 452 85 1992
Manchester City 445 75 2073
Newcastle Utd 403 64 1618
Manchester Utd 398 57 1595
Brighton 391 78 1849
Chelsea 370 68 1737
Tottenham 323 104 1449


And to be precise passes into the penalty area are completed passes into the box excluding free kicks  while crosses into the penalty area not including set pieces

10+ yard passes move the ball 10+ yards towards the opponents’ goal line plus all passes into the penalty area.  This statistic however excludes mere booting the ball up the pitch in the old “kick and rush” style.

Now what we can clearly see here is that just as Arsenal under Arteta decided to cut tackles in order to retain the ball by being called up for fouls far less often.  This change has also moved Arsenal to being top for passes into the 18 yard box, and second behind Manchester City for 10+ yard passes.

Let us compare this with 2019/20.  For while in 2019/20 Arsenal were top of the passes into the penalty area they were sixth in 2019/20 achieving just 58% of the passes into the area that Manchester City achieved.  A remarkable revolution.

And while this season Arsenal achieved 99% of the number of “progressive passes” by Manchester City, in 2019/20 Arsenal achieved just 67% of the number of progressive passes that Manchester City had.  Another dramatic switch.

And Tottenham?    In 2019/20 Tottenham were ninth in the “Progressive passes” chart, making over 1000 fewer passes than Manchester City that season.  This past season they have moved up to eighth in that table.  True they are now only 624 such passes behind Manchester City so they have made progress, but so as everyone.  (We are not the only people who read these stats).

But Tottenham have been hindered by changing managers over and over again.  From 2019 onward they have had Mourinho, Mason, Espirito Santo, Conte, Stellini and Mason, each with his own ideas. So just as, during the period of 2019/20 to 2022/23 Arsenal have cut their yellow card total by 40% during that time Tottenham cut their yellow card total by just nine percent.

It shows the value of having a manager you stick with and who has a plan, rather than a new manager every few months who never has time to develop his plan.  A simple point is, bring in a manager with a theory, not one who just says “we need more players”.

2 Replies to “Where has Arsenal’s improvement come from? Actually, its very simple.”

  1. Great analysis as always.
    It would be nice if you could do a comparative analysis of yellow card between Wenger era vs Arteta just to see if there is a link if there was any prejudice against Wenger?

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