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How to solve Arsenal’s away game problem

By Tony Attwood

As in many cases when I try and unravel a problem in a team, I am starting out by using history.  This may look boring but I think it does give us a real indication as to what is going on with our away form, and how we can make it better.

I’m particularly moved to do this now because of the utterly misleading comments made on Arsenal TV during the programme covering the Wolverhampton away game.   The piece contains some data, which I know tends to be a turn off to some people, but it is the data that provides the evidence as to where the solution will lie.  So having said that, here we go…

In 2010/11 Arsenal had the best away record in the Premier League – and by some margin.  Here is how the away table looked at the end of the season…

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Arsenal 19 8 7 4 39 28 11 31
2 Manchester City 19 8 4 7 26 21 5 28
3 Chelsea 19 7 5 7 30 20 10 26
4 Tottenham Hotspur 19 7 5 7 25 27 -2 26
5 Manchester United 19 5 10 4 29 25 4 25
6 Sunderland 19 5 6 8 20 29 -9 21

I’ve gone down to sixth in this table just to show how fast football can change.  As I write, Sunderland are hovering just outside the automatic promotion places to get out of League One – the third tier.  Just eight years ago they had the sixth best away record in the Premier League.

The following season, 2011/12 we had slipped to third in the away table overtaken by a massively improved Manchester United.   Man U, in 2010/11 had won five games away from home.  One fewer than Arsenal this season so far.  Then they shot up to 13 away wins.

So lesson one: change can come quickly – both in terms of going down (Sunderland) and up (Man U away).

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester United 19 13 3 3 37 14 23 42
2 Manchester City 19 10 4 5 38 17 21 34
3 Arsenal 19 9 3 7 35 32 3 30

In the following season, 2012/13 Man U were again rampant away from home but Arsenal were hanging on

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester United 19 12 5 2 41 24 17 41
2 Arsenal 19 10 5 4 25 14 11 35

Staying with the away form, we move on one season to 2013/14.  Arsenal and Man U were still up there but Liverpool were strutting around..

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Liverpool 19 10 5 4 48 32 16 35
2 Arsenal 19 11 2 6 32 30 2 35
3 Manchester City 19 10 4 5 39 24 15 34
4 Manchester United 19 10 4 5 35 22 13 34

What is interesting is that Arsenal’s goal tally of 25 got them second place in the away table in 2012/13 but now 32 away goals took them up to second.

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And let us look at Arsenal’s away goal difference across the four seasons in the tables above: 11, 3, 11, 2.  There’s no real rationale here – no consistent logic to say, “play like this and you’ll achieve this away from home.”

By 2014/15 however the all dominating Manchester United away team of two seasons before was now in danger of dropping out of the charts…  Arsenal held on to third spot away from home, Man U were 7th.  Three of the top seven away teams had negative goal differences.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Chelsea 19 11 5 3 37 23 14 38
2 Manchester City 19 10 4 5 39 24 15 34
3 Arsenal 19 10 4 5 30 22 8 34
4 Tottenham Hotspur 19 9 4 6 27 29 -2 31
5 Crystal Palace 19 7 6 6 26 24 2 27
6 Liverpool 19 8 3 8 22 28 -6 27
7 Manchester United 19 6 8 5 21 22 -1 26

2015/16 was Leicester’s year while Man U’s away form was even worse than before.  Arsenal however were still holding on as the third best away team.  After being the top away team in 2013/14 Liverpool were now in sixth for the second year running.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Leicester City 19 11 6 2 33 18 15 39
2 Tottenham Hotspur 19 9 7 3 34 20 14 34
3 Arsenal 19 8 7 4 34 25 9 31
4 West Ham United 19 7 7 5 31 25 6 28
5 Manchester City 19 7 7 5 24 20 4 28
6 Liverpool 19 8 4 7 30 28 2 28
7 Southampton 19 7 6 6 20 19 1 27
8 Chelsea 19 7 5 7 27 23 4 26
9 Manchester United 19 7 4 8 22 26 -4 25

And then 2016/17 was Arsenal’s time to slip down the away table

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Chelsea 19 13 3 3 30 16 14 42
2 Manchester City 19 12 2 5 43 22 21 38
3 Manchester United 19 10 5 4 28 17 11 35
4 Liverpool 19 10 5 4 33 24 9 35
5 Tottenham Hotspur 19 9 6 4 39 17 22 33
6 Arsenal 19 9 3 7 38 28 10 30

Yet in this 2016/17 season Arsenal gained only one fewer away point than in 2010/11 when Arsenal were the best performing away team in the league!

Moving on to 2017/18 we did out collapse, but there is something else to notice here.  Man City came in with 50 points away from home – completely unprecedented.  However the second and third place total of 34 points was normal for that position.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 16 2 1 45 13 32 50
2 Tottenham Hotspur 19 10 4 5 34 20 14 34
3 Manchester United 19 10 4 5 30 19 11 34
4 Chelsea 19 10 3 6 32 22 10 33
5 Liverpool 19 9 5 5 39 28 11 32
6 Burnley 19 7 7 5 20 22 -2 28
7 Leicester City 19 5 5 9 31 38 -7 20
8 AFC Bournemouth 19 4 6 9 19 31 -12 18
9 Crystal Palace 19 4 6 9 16 28 -12 18
10 Southampton 19 3 8 8 17 30 -13 17
11 Arsenal 19 4 4 11 20 31 -11 16

And so this season thus far…

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Liverpool 18 12 5 1 31 10 21 41
2 Manchester City 17 12 2 3 33 10 23 38
3 Tottenham Hotspur 18 11 0 7 33 22 11 33
4 Manchester United 18 9 2 7 31 28 3 29
5 Chelsea 17 9 1 7 23 26 -3 28
6 Crystal Palace 18 8 2 8 29 28 1 26
7 Leicester City 18 7 4 7 27 27 0 25
8 Watford 18 6 5 7 26 28 -2 23
9 Arsenal 17 6 4 7 28 31 -3 22

22 points with two games to go.  Certainly better than the 16 of last season, but still not that good.  But… 28 away goals has in some season been sufficient to see a team in third or fourth place in the away table.  And in one season above 31 goals against was within a goal of both the first and second team in the away league.

Thus there are no rules, only generalities, but two factors do stand out.  First the teams near the top are tending to keep the away defeats down to around four games a season.  Second the goal difference away from home is, for the best teams, normally in the top teens or lower 20s.   The other factors are immensely variable, so it is best to focus on those two as a target.

We need to reduce the number of defeats and move to a positive goal difference away from home.   That second objective could be achieved by improving the attack but is more likely to be achieved by improving the away defence.  That in turn seems to suggest having a different line-up for away games which will keep out the goals.

This season we are quite likely to score close to the number goals away from home than we did in the unbeaten season.  We’re on 28 with two games to go – in the unbeaten season we scored 33 away from home.  The difference was we only conceded 12 away from home in the unbeaten era – so again it is the defence that needs work, not the attack.

So the answer appears to be, we need a much stronger away from home defence, which in turn could mean having players who, while not exclusively used away from home, might be predominantly used in that role.  And as I said at the start, change can come quickly – we can see it in those tables above.  A couple of players could do it or even one player and a new formation away from home.

Which leads me to my final point.  This season we have lost Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal and Holding for long spells – four players who would normally be regular choices in the line up.   We can’t blame injuries for all our woes, but with the emergence of Maitland-Niles, fewer injuries, and one more purchase with the away defence in mind, and we could be well on the way to solving this problem.

18 comments to How to solve Arsenal’s away game problem

  • Charlie

    I think the new manager and his staff are still learning about the premier league. They know it’s different but like overseas players they still have to come to grips with its overall competiveness. Especially away games. With anticipated changes to the squad in the summer he will learn to adjust his game plan. Maybe that’s the reason why he is concentrating more on Europa where his expertise lies.

  • CorporateMan

    I’m not convinced this manager and his staff have the tactical and intellectual nuances to effect these changes you advocate. And it’s not even an issue of being new to the PL; our manager’s away record even in his previous stations has been atrocious.

  • hari nair

    No justification for the poor performance, No tactics, no strategy no planning no guts were seen in the last 4 matches of arsenal. We lost our heart and gutted.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I like to think that the management team have had enough time to assess the many problems, and will make the required changes in the close season.
    I just hope that the three central defenders not go up for freekicks , corners or become too gung ho , in joining the attack.

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    Would Unai Emery guiding of Sevilla to 3 successive Europa League Cup wins in the past guarantee he will in his first season at Arsenal guide the club to win the Europa League Cup this season?

    I think Arsenal winning of Europa League Cup this season should not be taken for granted because Unai Emery, the current Arsenal head coach had thrice on the run led Sevilla to win the Cup when he was at the helm of the team there. To think such will automatically happens to Arsenal will be a mistake. For, Arsenal will win the Europa League Cup this season but if the Gunners play the winning games in the remaining 3 matches to win and win them all.

    True, the season end injuries suffered to Bellerin and Holding must have impacted negatively on Arsenal defending at away matches this season in the PL. This is so because the duo of Bellerin and Holding at the right side of Arsenal defense-line in a back four defence have formed a strong defensive partnership formation to give the desired defensive balance to the Arsenal defence in the PL matches. I think both Bellerin and Holding are specialist defenders for Arsenal at home and away but not just at home as we are seeing some defenders at Arsenal besides these duo, Koscielny and Monreal exhibiting poor defending for Arsenal at away matches in the PL. An unwelcome trend that has suddenly appeared to incurs to an Arsenal home match in the PL with their recent home lose to C Palace. This unwelcome situation must be arrested from prevailing in the remaining Arsenal last home match of the season against Brighton as Arsenal could still make it to a top four finish this season but if they beat Leicester and Burnley at Away.

    I think during the expected minor rebuilding of the Arsenal first team squad during the coming summer window, I believe the club will take into cognizant that the first team needs some new players with the right balance of playing very well in attack and defence at home and away matches in the PL and Ucl and sign them on.

  • Anthony Smith

    Sirs,

    Is Steve Bould still around? I thought he would have enough knowledge of away matches and how to defend….There are a few reserve defenders on Arsenal books who need trying before any speculative buying. I agree with the notion that Emery is learning about the EFl.

  • Ando

    Anthony Smith –
    Yes Steve Bould is still around, saw him on the bench on tv for the CPFC game, looking bereft of clues as to what is wrong with the defence…as usual

  • Scott

    Tony this article is really unnecessary. It goes without saying that to improve our points away we need to either score more, concede less or do both(that’s how points are gotten). It’s not new information that of these 3, the one arsenal has been accused of most(by those people you label AAA, media etc) has been the poor defence, this has been so since the later Wenger years, but your loyalty to wenger wouldn’t allow you accept it. So welcome to the AAA.
    Is it true that this is a better season than recent years? Depends on your perspective. You’ve selected the stats that say NO. Well let me put up the stats that support that view. Position on the table 15/16 2nd 10pts behind “Leicester”. Might be OK for you, but certainly not for ambitious fans. That season all the other big teams except Tottenham & arsenal did away with their managers, I believe that suggests they were not happy to have been beaten by ordinary Leicester. The AAA definitely didn’t think that was a good season either. 2016/17 5th. 18pts behind the champs, 1behind 4th placed Liverpool. Of course a bad season for some of us. 2017/18 6th, 63pts, 37 behind the champs.closer to relegation than the title. 12pts behind 4th place. A disaster of a season. This season 66pts with 3games to go. Already 3pts more than the total for last season. 4th place is possible. 23behind the champs. These stats suggest to me that for a while our seasons have been bad, last season being a disaster. Is this season better generally? Its up for debate at the least. Definitely better than last season. Room for improvement? More like fields for improvement, cutting down 37points to the champs and 12points behind 4th is key

  • Tony Ikpo

    I like your use of statistical data to highlight problems and proffer solutions. ‘ Having a stronger away from home defence ‘ as you suggest, could mean playing an ultra defensive formation aka Mourhino pack d bus! You think our fans will stand for that?
    I come to feel, reading through comments in various sites, that arsenal fans expect expansive free flowing football as against park busloads to avoid concerning goals.

  • Tony Ikpo

    Why are my comments NEVER published? Are they only good for moderation?
    Perhaps am not invited here.
    Have a good day sir.

  • Thanks Tony,the questions everyone would ask does our coach have a first eleven? If you answer that then you will see where the ploblem is.
    Secondly Unai Is a specialist in Europa he might hope Im wrong be very much intrested in Europa rather than the Champions League. Afterall the winner plays with the winner in Champions League.

  • NuttnTiddy

    I think it would help if we cut out a lot of stupid fouls causing excess cards and free kicks around the penalty area. Our main central defender has ten yellows but is not really a dirty player although he does tend to push, pull and tug. After a while it becomes a mind set that spreads through the team. Also this season some of our players are looking to dive every time they are touched, go to ground , sit there, and wave arms in the air and claim a foul. Yes, I know the standard of premier referees is very poor but trying to con them seems to make matters worse. and gets the crowds against the team. Just get up, get on with the game.
    We also need to sort out our corners so we do not get caught on the break by having most of the team in the opposing penalty area. Short corners can be a good tactic but we have a system where the two central defenders go up for the corner( as do most teams)a midfielder takes the corner by passing the ball a couple of yards to another of our midfielders who crosses the ball into the area where usually the opposing team heads clear to one of their players cutting out four or five of our players and causing an almighty panic rush to our own half.

  • KampalaGun I would not ask that, because I think that the only way we can compete with the teams with billions to spend is by having a squad and varying it depending onthe match and the venue.

  • Issues on what comments are published or not are shown in the Comments page. Comments held in moderation may take a while to clear if I am working on other matters.

  • “Position on the table 15/16 2nd 10pts behind “Leicester”. Might be OK for you, but certainly not for ambitious fans.” We came second that year and yes it was ok for me, because I hoped it was a stepping stone forward. It turned out not to be, but yes I was hopeful at the time

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Off topic but our U23s are halfway through their final match of the season at the Emirates against Leicester and have a three nil advantage.

    Min 3 Charlie Gilmore with a Penalty after Bukayo Saka fouled in the box
    Min 5 Tyrece John-Jules with a simple finish following aCross from Gilmore
    Min 9 Bukayo Saka from a John- Jules assist

    Well done lads

    Gilmore and Saka are both 17, JohnJules is 18. Keep an eye open for them in the next couple of years

  • Scott

    @Tony, fair enough. But most of us expected the other teams to react, which they in fact did. So, what I expected was that we would also prepare for this reaction instead of patting ourselves on the back and expecting the stars to align miraculously.

  • Grimbo

    Old thread I know,but looking at these stats, one thing occurred to me – the loss of Santi Cazorla. Our away form starts to fall away after his long term injury in Oct 2016. Obviously he didn’t play in every single game prior to that, but the overall trend seems to be there. He was particularly good at keeping possession under pressure and providing an outlet from our defence, something important in away matches when the team is
    likely to come under periods of sustained pressure from the home side We haven’t had a player who could do this consistently until the arrival of Torreira, although after his bright start he seems to have been getting knocked off the ball a lot since December, when our away form dipped again.