How Arsenal changed their tactics against Leeds and thus secured the win.

By Tony Attwood

This is a completely new analysis – not just for Untold but I think for anyone.  It compares the statistics of two matches: Everton away, which we lost and Leeds away which we won.  The question is, do the stats tell us how this change came about?

Before the Leeds match the Guardian was in a sarcastic mood writing

Gary Byrne is already concerned about tonight’s episode of Match of the Day, having presumably worked out the running order. “If this game ends goalless, do Lineker & Co even bother turning up?” he wonders. You couldn’t blame them if they didn’t, and it would be nice if BBC1 had the brass neck to whack up an old interlude film for an hour in their place, everyone at the channel swinging their boots up on the desk. Of course, back in the day, when the Match of the Day cameras were sent to one predetermined ground and that was that, the likes of Jimmy Hill and Bob Wilson would have to vamp heroically if the BBC had selected a stinker. Even more heroically, viewers usually found themselves sitting through it regardless, with nowt else of interest on BBC2 or ITV. At least tonight you can switch over to the darts, the NFL or extended coverage of the week’s select committees on Parliament.”

It’s a typical piece of pointless sarcasm, not only pointless because sarcasm is rarely amusing, but also because it bears no relation to the facts.  Arsenal changed their approach for the Everton game and it didn’t work.  Since then, they’ve reverted to the more recently established tactics.

It would be nice if the Guardian subsequently admitted how pathetically out-of-touch that commentary was, but of course they have not. 

But we’ll do it for them, with a comparison between the Everton defeat and the Leeds victory.

The first point to note is that the team was the same in both games


Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney,

Saka, Partey, Xhaka,

Martinelli, Odegaard, Lacazette.

On 5 December prior to the Everton away game we stood eight points above Everton, and with a four-goal better goal difference

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
7 Arsenal 14 7 2 5 17 20 -3 23
16 Everton 14 4 3 7 17 24 -7 15

On 17 December again we faced a team in 16th, although this time we were 13 points ahead, and with a 16 goal superior goal difference.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
4 Arsenal 17 9 2 6 23 22 1 29
16 Leeds United 17 3 7 7 17 32 -15 16

On that basis, we might expect the Leeds game to be easier – but that alone can’t quite explain the difference between the defeat to Everton and the victory over Leeds.  So I’ve tried another approach, that of considering all the statistics that we have available for the two games.

Here are the stats, columns two and three obviously show the match Everton v Arsenal (in blue for ease of reading), and columns four and five show Leeds v Arsenal (in red).  The final column shows how figures grew or declined for Arsenal in the Leeds match compared with the Everton game.

 Statistic Everton Arsenal
Leeds United
AFC Difference
Possession %






Shots on target





+9 (400%)






+11 (210%)






-208 (73%)






-196 (66%)






-6 (68%)






-5 (61%)













Yellow cards






Fouls conceded





-5 (58%)

To reduce those figures to the simplest point, in the Leeds game we gave up possession but increased our shooting.  We reduced touches, passes and tackles, and as a result, gave away a much lower number of fouls – which of course has been Arsenal’s key performance tactic for the past year.

Put another way, against Everton we dominated on possession, touches, passes, tackles, and fouls – those last two points being exactly the opposite of the game we have been developing this season.  For the Leeds game, we returned to our more normal style and approach.  And we won easily.

Interestingly, only one of Arsenal’s last 18 goals in the Premier League has now been scored by a player over the age of 23 and we got our biggest away win in the Premier League since beating WBA last January

After Everton, the commentary in the media was that we had lost the most in the Premier League, equal with Aston Villa, Norwich City and Watford.

So, overall, we went back to our normal style of play against Leeds, and it worked.  Cut out the tackles, cut down on touches, passes and possession and the progress we have been making, resumes.

And the reason for that is obvious.   We have a very young, and thus very high energy team, who are willing to run and play quick football.  Tackling and fouling is not what we have been doing for the past year, so why start that against Everton?

And here’s a final thought: we are now the fifth highest-scoring team in the league although we have had one or two extra games compared with some of our rivals.  And we have got to that position not by having as our goalscorer in chief neither Aubameyang nor Lacazette but Smith Rowe.  Which is a thought.  Here is the list of multiple goalscorers.

Sqd Player Games Subs Goals Penalties Yellows Reds
10 Emile Smith Rowe 14 4 8
14 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 13 2 7 3
9 Alexandre Lacazette 9 7 4 1
35 Gabriel Martinelli 9 5 4 1
8 Martin Odegaard 13 4 4 2
7 Bukayo Saka 17 3 4 2
6 Gabriel 15 0 2 2

When will the media men apologise for getting Arsenal so wrong?

12 Replies to “How Arsenal changed their tactics against Leeds and thus secured the win.”

  1. (slightly off-topic – not 100% because it has something to do with one of our youngsters)
    just watched feyenoord-ajax, which ajax won 2-0
    “one of our youngsters” is reiss nelson of course, who was brought on at half-time
    feyenoord’s coach’s call was the right one, first because they had produced next to nothing offensively so far, and also because reiss did very well from the second half’s getgo, wreaking havoc on his left wing, so much so that ten hag had to take out the right-back (timber) reiss had been torturing
    timber’s substitute (rensch) had obviously been briefed before he came in, and handled reiss better, until the moment when he pushed forward and forced reiss to tackle him in feyenoord’s box
    reiss’s challenge wasn’t as reckless as white’s was yesterday, but was awkward enough (a forward’s tackle if ever there was one) for the ref to give ajax a penalty kick – and rightly so; tadic took it and made it 2-0
    this boy has no luck at all, he had been excellent so far against one of the best teams in europe – i sure hope his coach won’t throw his liver to the dogs for what he did wrong, but keep in mind what he did so well and give him other chances, he just has to figure out how to make reiss and sinisterra play together, it shouldn’t be too hard given the talent of the two lads
    as for us arsenal fans, let’s not give up on reiss – he has a part to play in arsenal’s future, of that i’m sure
    ps: agree 100% with your idea of a high-energy team” – what a joy to watch these boys are
    (i’m looking forward to the day when MA will have enough trust in the younsters sticking to defensive duties to do without partey, so as to play the four of martin/marti/emil/bukayo together behind laca)

  2. Harry Kane getting away with murder again. Terrible challenge.

    The ref shouldn’t of missed it but he did. It happens. But how on earth have VAR not dealt with it.

    Absolute nailed on red card. Absolutely a clear and obvious error.

    But it’s Harry Kane. Nuff said !

    And to add insult to injury a nailed on penalty against them not given.

  3. Nitram hate to say , on chances S####s created they should have won that game by at least 4 , Allison made some great saves then a howler for the equaliser , this is going to be a fun second half of the season the way results are going .

  4. Steve Vallins

    Liverpool just didn’t seem ‘at it’ today. As you say, on chances, good chances, Spurs should of won.

    More oddity’s from the media though.

    Regarding the Kane possible Red Card incident it was interesting to hear Jamie Redknapp say “Maybe it was because he plays for England. I’ve always thought that”

    So he knows it goes on. By that I mean he knows that referees referee Kane according to who he is and not the rules.

    I mean it is obvious, but for a SKY pundit to openly say that effectively Kane is treated different is something else.

  5. Imagine the outcry if Xhaka had done that (Kane) tackle, forget a red card the media would be calling for a lifetime ban.

  6. @ Nitram & Mick Shelley ,
    Just read Klopps comments on yesterdays game on the BBC’s sports page , there is a whole host of pundits ( Redknapp , Sutton , Savage , Shearer and Carragher ) ripping into the VAR decisions and how they are not accountable for the decisions they make , Harry Kane didn’t think it was a yellow card challenge .
    We have instances like this in most games , it can only be the quality of the referees and there governing body , not fit for purpose .
    I wonder with this little outcry by the media if we will see any comments from PIGMOL admitting mistakes were made and how they are going to review ( again ) how VAR is supposed to work , help the referee or back them up , both ways not working very well IMO .

  7. Steve Vallins & mick shelly

    The thing is Klopp in particular, and Liverpool in general, are viewed in a completely different way to most other managers and clubs, particularly Arsenal and their managers.

    Basically when Klopp speaks he is listened to. Whether he is right or wrong, has a point or not, his view is given respect.

    He isn’t ‘moaning’ or ‘whinging’ he is ‘making a point’, ‘looking after his players’ ‘being clever’, you know, just like when Ferguson was doing the same.

    But when an Arsenal manager dares to contest a decision, a tackle, or heaven forbid a referee, the media slaughtered him. This is how it worked back in the day with Fergie and this is how it is working today with Klopp.

    Don’t get me wrong I like Klopp and the points he is making are perfectly valid, as were some of Fergies. I made the very same points as Klopp during the match.

    It is bad enough the referees are not seeing these incidents for what they are, but the real issue in most of these cases is VAR.

    Why didn’t VAR send the referee to the monitor for Kanes assault?

    Why did they for the Liverpool challenge?

    That is what needs to be asked.

    But lets not forget during the match the SKY commentators, whilst accepting it was a poor challenge by Kane still tried to defend VAR by claiming it wasn’t a ‘clear and obvious error’.

    Of course all subsequent re evaluation of the challenge has suggested otherwise, but their instinct was to defend, who? VAR ? Kane ? Both ? I don’t know. But as mick pointed out, we all know what their reaction would of been had it been Xhaka.

    Earlier on in the season we were on the receiving end of some extremely poor challenges that the referee, for one reason or another, didn’t deal with properly, and VAR did nothing. Yet transgressions by certain members of our team that were deemed to of been under punished were immediately drawn to the referees attention by VAR. Why ?

    In conclusion we can all see referees are making big mistakes. They shouldn’t, but they do. At least they have the excuse of having to judge these incidents in ‘real time’ and often with restricted views or even no view at all if it’s ‘off the ball’, behind their back or extremely late. But that’s why VAR is there.

    But we can all see that VAR are making big mistakes as well, and they have NO excuse.

    So why are referees making such obvious errors and more importantly why is VAR, the factor that’s been put in place to eradicate these errors ?

    Well I know what I think, and it’s because I believe every decision they make they preempt by asking themselves ‘What would SKY (I just use them as an example as it was they who covered last nights match, but really it’s the media in general) want here’ ? Is getting Kane sent off what SKY would want ?

    I would suggest that normally that would be an emphatic no. But as we heard with Redknaps comment after the game, perhaps things are changing ?

    Did the medias love of Liverpool trump their love of Spurs?

    So lets re visit Redknaps comment for one moment because actually he’s only half right. He suggested that Kane is treated different on the basis he plays for England. Well that is true. But so did Whilshere and he never got an ounce of protection or sympathy, so it seems playing for England on it’s own isn’t enough. There has to be more to it.

    So what is that ‘more to it’ then?

    I think you know where we are going with this. My beloved ‘media’ again.

    Kane is, or at least was, the apple of the medias eye. No matter what he does he can do no wrong. He is Englands talisman and he has to be protected at all costs. We could see that. Everyone could see that. We now know even Redknap, and I presume the rest of the media if they were honest, could see that.

    Where as everything that happened to Whilshere on the other hand was all his own fault. I mean playing for Arsenal meant he was ‘weak’, ‘easily bullied’ and worst of all, despite evidence to the contrary and given how skillful he was, most probably French anyway.

    So in the end Kane was leniently dealt with by VAR, not simply because he is Englands talisman, but because that’s how VAR thought Redknap and the rest would of wanted him treated.

    Unfortunately for them it was Liverpool they were playing and it seems Redknap loves them even more. I mean if it was Arsenal they were playing I doubt we’d of heard another word about it.

  8. It seems to me that the ‘clear and obvious’ stipulation is a kind of get out clause which enables the VAR official to use it as an excuse to validate almost any decision they come to. Is it a penalty or not according to the rules of the game, yes or no. Is it serious foul play according to the laws of the game, yes or no. It should be easy enough surely, but all the PGMO have done is complicate what should be a straight forward process with their clear and obvious nonsense.
    I really do not get it. Does something have to be clear and obvious to the VAR official or is the VAR official saying it was not, in his opinion clear and obvious to the on the field official. How can it logically be remotely possible that the one VAR official, a fully trained experienced referee, sees the Kane incident differently than 99 other observers. If yesterdays VAR official Kavanagh does not see either of yesterdays contentious incidents as clear and obvious then he is obviously incompetent and should be sacked. It simply defies logic. Do away with the clear and obvious nonsense and concentrate on what we all want to see which is getting the correct decision.

  9. I find the setup of VAR extremely curious. The NFL and the NHL in North America both use video review, too. However, it is controlled by a central office in New York and Toronto, respectively. And, it involves a team of people…not one fellow and his personal biais. It would seem to be more expensive because it certainly is more comprehensive and, it would also, a more defensible system.

  10. There is a modicum of truth that is clear and obvious that every peon in the media has not seen. It is the colour of PGMOL officials when compared to society or even to the players on the football field.

    Clear and Obvious – a select group of …………….

  11. Nitram, re Wilshere:

    The other media cliché was that injuries were his own fault because he held on to the ball too long.

  12. “Clear and obvious” is the PGMOL get-out clause that allows them to do whatever they want.

    I ran a Twitter poll the other day asking the question “incompetence or corruption”. The responses came back over 75% in favour of the latter.

    It will be interesting to see whether the media keeps up the pressure.

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