How Arsenal are evolving a new set of tactics to overtake Man City





By Tony Attwood

In the past ten years Manchester City have consistently put in more shots in the league than Arsenal – but last season the difference between the two clubs was the narrowest in the last decade – just seven more shots for Manchester City than Arsenal.   It is indeed only the second time in the last ten years Arsenal have been this close to Manchester City in terms of goals scored.

Another interesting development comes with shots per goal.   Arsenal’s shots-per-goal ratio has been lower than Manchester City’s for seven of the past ten years, but that difference has come right down and last season was almost negligible: Arsenal took just 0.36 more shots per goal than Manchester City.

Now as we all recall, Arteta arrived in December 2019 and clearly set about transforming the way the defence played, as his first task in order to reduce the insane number of yellow cards Arsenal had been suffering.

So transforming the attack has come second, and that was achieved last season with the unique approach of having four goalscorers in the team.   Equally unique was the notion of three of the top ten goalscorers in the league last season being from the same team: Arsenal.  (This copy of that list comes from World Football)


Player Club Goals (Penalties)
1. Erling Haaland Manchester City 36 (7)
2. Harry Kane Tottenham Hotspur 30 (5)
3. Ivan Toney Brentford 20 (6)
4. Mo Salah Liverpool 19 (2)
5. Callum Wilson Newcastle United 18 (3)
6. Marcus Rashford Manchester United 17 (0)
7. Gabriel Martinelli Arsenal 15 (0)
Martin Ødegaard Arsenal 15 (0)
Ollie Watkins Aston Villa 15 (1)
10. Aleksandar Mitrović Fulham 14 (4)
Bukayo Saka Arsenal 14 (2)


So Arsenal have not overtaken Manchester City on these key measurements of points and goals, but we can see the gap is closing and that Arteta has taken unique approaches to get matters sorted out: cutting down on tackling to reduce the yellow cards, having multiple goal scorers to cover for both the insanities of international “duty,” and the lack of protection given by referees.

But we should not in any way underestimate the size of the changes being implemented by Arsenal .  In 2021/22 Manchester City had 125 more shots than Arsenal.  Lsat season they had just seven more shots – meaning the difference between the clubs is now tiny in terms of goal attempts.

Better still, in 2021/22 Manchester City scored 38 more goals than Arsenal.  Last season it was just six.   In 2021/22  Arsenal needed 2.45 more shots than Manchester City for each goal scored.  This last season it was 0.36.

These changes are as dramatic as the change Arteta made initially, to which I have alluded above – taking back control of Arsenal’s defending from the referees with their wild yellow card waving.

Indeed it is possible to trace the whole journey of Arsenal in terms of the way attacking has changed through the table below.   Here we look at shots (columns 2 and 3) and then goals (columns 4 and 5) and finally the number of shots per goal (columns 6 and 7).

I present the table simply because we had to work all this out (no other publication seems interested in this massive change in Arsenal’s approach), and to show our workings rather than just present conclusions.  But the key information is in the last two columns.  Arsenal’s number of shots per goal has only once been lower than last season, across the last ten years. 

The drop in shots required for a goal to be scored has never been greater and that’s important as defences get more prone to chopping fast moving players down.  (Figures derived from WhoScored)


Season AFC shots Man C shots AFC goals Man C goals AFC Shots / goal Man C shots / goal
2013/14 524 673 68 102 7.71 6.59
2014/15 612 669 71 83 8.62 8.06
2015/16 574 615 65 71 8.83 8.66
2016/17 566 635 77 80 7.35 7.94
2017/18 593 665 74 106 8.01 6.27
2018/19 467 684 73 95 6.40 7.20
2019/20* 407 745 56 102 7.27 7.30
2020/21 460 600 55 83 8.36 7.23
2021/22 589 714 61 99 9.66 7.21
2022/23 593 600 88 94 6.74 6.38


But there is another measure of interest as well – the number of times each team is fouled.  Of course when a team is fouled, they get a free kick – but any free-flowing move that was going on is disrupted, which is often the whole point of the foul.

In the season before Arteta came into Arsenal as manager the difference between the number of times Arsenal were fouled as opposed to Manchester City being fouled was 4.1 fouls a game.  Yes Arsenal were being kicked all over the pitch, and at least some of the time the referees realised it, and gave fouls against the opposition.

That number of fouls against Arsenal went down a little in Arteta’s initial half-season, and then it went down and down again.  The only exception was 2022/23 – but then so did Manchester City’s “fouls against” total.  Referees seemed to get a bit tougher.

But if we look at both the general trend and the difference between the two clubs in terms of the number of fouls each suffered per game, the difference between Arsenal and Manchester City was 1.3 fouls a game.

In the season before Arteta arrived Arsenal were being fouled 12 times a game – 4.1 fouls a game more than Manchester City!

Season Arsenal fouled Man City fouled Difference
2018/19 12.0 7.9 4.1
2019/20* 11.5 7.8 3.7
2020/21 10.5 9.8 0.7
2021/22 9.4 8.7 0.7
2022/23 11.4 10.1 1.3


Being fouled means the club gets a free kick of course, but it does disrupt the flow of the attack and therefore avoiding being fouled is a good thing generally.   Arsenal have not quite got down to Manchester City’s level of being fouled by opposition cloggers just yet, but the last three years have shown a huge reduction in the difference between the two clubs in this regard.

Arsenal are, in short, becoming more and more Manchester City-like in terms of style of play, but with one difference.  Arsenal have gone for multiple goalscorers, while Man C have gone for one big-time scorer, rather like Tottenham, Brentford, Liverpool and Manchester United.

We are seeing a use of Manchester City techniques but with some very interesting twists.  And I don’t think these trends have finished.


3 Replies to “How Arsenal are evolving a new set of tactics to overtake Man City”

  1. Thank you for such an interesting read.
    I think this is also aided by the relationship that Arteta and Edu have. A relationship like Wenger and Dein in many ways and the opposite of Wenger and Gazidis, then later with Mislintat. They didn’t work with Wenger to get the team Wenger wanted and Arsenal wasted a lot of money due to that lack of teamwork.
    Arteta and Edu work together and get players that work for what Arteta wants to do. It wasn’t a perfect start in transfers for that partnership but they were given time to learn and they are a power pair now. Players with the mentality that fits the boss unlike what we have experienced since Wenger and Dein.

  2. If only we can we can get rid of the cheats in the PIGMOB , we will definitely do better than Man City !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *