3-1. 5-1. 4-0. 3-1. It is fair to say Liverpool have dominated Arsenal in their recent Premier League meetings at Anfield.
It is eight years since the Gunners won away at Liverpool in the top flight, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla scoring the goals that day when Jamie Carragher and Stewart Downing were in the home squad.
However, ahead of Monday’s visit to Merseyside, there is fresh optimism in unbeaten Arsenal’s ranks given the north London club have beaten Liverpool twice – once at Emirates Stadium and once at Wembley in the Community Shield – in the past two months.
Mikel Arteta has certainly improved Arsenal, but how? And how might that help them at Anfield? We take a look at the Opta data.
Possession isn’t everything
Some of Arteta’s formative years were spent at Barcelona and he earned his coaching stripes at Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, but his Arsenal are not the possession-obsessed unit like those at his former stops.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 1, 2020
Dating back to the start of the 2019-20 season, Arsenal’s possession figure in Arteta’s 22 games in charge (52.9 per cent) is lower than the 18 matches they played under Unai Emery and caretaker Freddie Ljungberg (55.4 per cent).
The Gunners had just 31.1 per cent of the ball in their 2-1 win over Liverpool in July – their lowest figure dating back to the start of last term – while they had 40.3 per cent of the ball in the Community Shield, and it could be a similar figure this time around given the Reds’ recent acquisition of midfield maestro Thiago Alcantara.
Moreover, under Arteta, Arsenal have a lower ratio of passes in the final third (17.0 per cent compared to 20.4) and a lower ratio of passes in their opponents’ half (55.6 per cent compared to 58.1).
A clinical side
So where have they improved? In front of goal.
Their shot conversion rate with Arteta in charge is 17.3, way up on the 11.3 figure of the combined Emery and Ljungberg games.
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) September 24, 2020
They have scored 13 more goals in four more fixtures, with their xG (expected goals) rising from 23.27 to 27.48. The difference between their goals and expected goals since Arteta took over is stark. Before it was just 0.73, now they are outperforming their xG by a whopping 9.52, in part because they are creating far better chances.
Could Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s changing role be a reason for that?
Aubameyang: Out of left field?
One of the most remarkable stats to emerge from Arsenal’s 5-1 thumping at Liverpool in December 2018 was how ineffectual Aubameyang was. The Gabon international had just 13 touches, six of which came from a kick-off, as the game completely bypassed him while he operated in a central-attacking berth.
He ended that season with the Premier League Golden Boot – and matched his tally of 22 goals in 2019-20, too – so making sure he is heavily involved at Anfield is obviously paramount.
13 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had just 13 touches in Arsenal’s defeat at Anfield; six of which came from kick-offs. Lonely. pic.twitter.com/d11LCpuOqL
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 29, 2018
Aubameyang’s role has changed since Arteta came in, with the Spaniard preferring to deploy his prized asset almost exclusively on the left.
In 2018-19, 18.07 per cent of Aubameyang’s touches came on the left third of the final third, while 19.15 per cent came in the middle third of the final third.
In 2019-20, the share of touches he has on the left third of the final third has risen to 28.53 per cent, while it has dropped to 13.1 per cent in the middle third.
Aubameyang can therefore be expected to stay out on the left side of Arsenal’s attack, which could cause Liverpool problems given it puts him in direct competition with the attack-minded Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Aubameyang will certainly hope to have more of an impact than he did two years ago, and the signs are good, both for him and Arteta’s Arsenal.