The home and away issue – the player who can solve the problem

By Tony Attwood.

Of course this might not be the first time one of the national papers in England has taken up my theme, but it is the first one I have seen: the idea that Arsenal deliberately play a different line up at home and away.

The newspaper in question is the Daily Telegraph and it had on its website on 23 July the headline “What will Dani Ceballos bring to Arsenal and how will Unai Emeri use him?”

Their suggestion was that the line up might include Totteira and Ceballos behind Ozil in home games, with either Guendouzi or Xhaka or Willock coming in for Ozil for what they call “more rigorous tests” which (given they mentioned home games in the previous sentence), presumably means away games.

If you have been following my argument until now you’ll probably know the figures I will now present, off by heart, but in case you are new to the point, it is simply this.

Arsenal have been poorer away from home than at home these last couple of years.  This disparity has an interesting implication – that it is not the whole of the defence that needs sorting out – because the defence was very solid at home.  But rather something needs to be adjusted for the away games.

It is a simple point, but one not often (if ever) mentioned elsewhere – until now.

Here is the top six from last season for home games only in the league…

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 18 0 1 57 12 45 54
2 Liverpool 19 17 2 0 55 10 45 53
3 Arsenal 19 14 3 2 42 16 26 45
4 Chelsea 19 12 6 1 39 12 27 42
5 Tottenham Hotspur 19 12 2 5 34 16 18 38
6 Manchester United 19 10 6 3 33 25 8 36

As you can see the top six overall remained the top six for home matches only, but the order of the third, fourth and fifth teams changed.  Tottenham slumped to fifth, seven points and eight goals behind Arsenal.

In terms of the defence Arsenal conceded six more than Liverpool, four more than Chelsea, the same as Tottenham and nine fewer than Manchester United – again counting home matches only.   So not as good defence as we might like at Arsenal Stadium but only one goal in every five worse than the league champions.

But away from home it was a totally different matter…

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 14 2 3 38 11 27 44
2 Liverpool 19 13 5 1 34 12 22 44
3 Tottenham Hotspur 19 11 0 8 33 23 10 33
4 Manchester United 19 9 3 7 32 29 3 30
5 Chelsea 19 9 3 7 24 27 -3 30
6 Crystal Palace 19 9 2 8 32 30 2 29
7 Leicester City 19 7 4 8 27 28 -1 25
8 Arsenal 19 7 4 8 31 35 -4 25

Although Arsenal only scored three goals fewer than Liverpool away from home last season, Arsenal conceded 23 more goals away from home – over one per game more.   In this league table we ended up below Leicester and Crystal Palace.  In fact only Fulham, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Burnley had a worse defensive record than Arsenal did away from home.

Thus the logic to me has been not one of sack the defence, but rather reconsider how the defence plays away from home, and this piece by the Telegraph is the first one that I have seen which joins in the debate.

Now the argument could be made that this change is certainly not enough to sort out the away defence problem we have had for a couple of seasons, but it will not be the only one.

Eventually Bellerin will come back into the side, and seemingly from the start of the season so will Holding.   There has been no sign of selling Chambers thus far so he might well be continuing in the squad – which effectively gives us three players who were not available for most of the season last time around.  That and the adjustment in midfield could be exactly what we need to give us a different line up away from home.

If you are interested in this topic you might also enjoy “Was the difference between Arsenal’s home and away form really that unusual?”


3 Replies to “The home and away issue – the player who can solve the problem”

  1. The absence of Messrs Bellerin and Holding last season, must surely be the reason for our poor away form last season.
    Plus the certain adverse effect on morale of those wearing the away shirt.

  2. Arsenals away form is a conundrum that Emery must resolve this forthcoming season. New signings alone do not guarantee an improvement. This is a true test of his coaching abilities. Lets hope he gets it right.

  3. Tony……your point is a valid one but there are other factors completely out of Arsenal’s control that might also contribute to our poor away results:

    1) The officiating was often atrocious last season, particularly against some sketchy opponents. We cannot do anything about that as we have been victims of horrible injustices since the chief PIGMOB screwed us at old toilet.

    2) Apparently the pitches are very poor in many of the away grounds and, given the often difficult weather that makes playing AFC style Wengerball difficult at best, the team suffered. We cannot do much about that either as this has been an ongoing problem for AFC.

    3) Emery introduced a new system and a different philosophy last season. The players are still adapting to it and to the tactical substitutions needed to make it work. Emery will likely get it right this season as he has injured players returning, some fantastic options in the youth and reserves AND two formidable players in Saliba and Ceballos, who he knows well.

    4) The players developed a fear of playing away that dulled their sharpness seen at home. A few defeats and their fragile confidence away from home evaporated.

    5) The so-called lesser teams improved significantly in the 2018-19 season and this will be the case in this coming season. With all the factors in our favour at home, we were able to handle any of them and only had 2 defeats in 19 games. We lost 4 times as many away from home and turning just one of those defeats into a tie or one tie into a win would have given us 4th and the Champion’s League.

    6) I believe the team chemistry was disrupted last season with the continuous experimentation Emery had to do to find the right combination. The addition of Saliba,Ceballos , bellerin,Holding, Nkeitah etc. will offer far greater options in midfield and defence and allow Emery to play key players less often and at the same time blood the youth and reserve(academy) players in the Cup competitions.

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