Morning folks and happy Thursday to you and yours. I flicked on the Villa/Chelsea game last night and watched about 20 minutes of it as I was doing other stuff in the house. What a weird two teams those two are, eh? Chelsea, who looked absolutely ridiculous at the weekend at home to Wolves and before that pathetic to Liverpool, went up to Villa and gave them a kicking. Villa, who have been the surprise package for many this season and have some crazy good record under Emery since he joined, fell apart and got themselves knocked out of the FA Cup. I read somewhere that Merson had said he gave Chelsea no hope of getting anything away to Villa. As the late Jimmy Greaves famously said:

“Football is a funny ol’ game”

And when you look at us this season we’re a shining example of that. We are a team who have the joint best defensive record, we have allowed the fewest shots on our goal this season, as well as the least number of set pieces from other teams:

Last season what let us down in the end was our defensive mistakes and injuries to our defenders. Granted, we have been fortunate to have Saliba and Gabriel so far for the whole season (more-or-less) and they have been a primary reason for a lot of our success, but they both played at least two-thirds of our season last time around and we did not concede nearly as many goals and chances as we have done this time. We all know about our challenges in front of goal and I – as well as many others – have spoken about how we’re coming up against low block teams, which is impacting our ability to replicate last season. But a consequence of that is also that because teams are so deep, we’re also having so many few shots. But this is when I start to run through the ol’ chicken or egg causality dilemma:

Are we conceding less chances and therefore because of the low blocks we face, which invariably means teams are sat deeper and won’t get many chances on our goal?


Are we so much better defensively because these players have learned to play out from the back better, are a year older and more experienced in the system and therefore we are just a better defensive unit even if teams came at us a little more?

I don’t really know the answer to this one and I don’t know if anyone can really say with any hand on heart certainty that they do either. We’re still making the odd silly mistake like Saliba not clearing the ball on Sunday, or the goal scored against us for Nottingham Forest, etc. Yesterday I talked about whether we are one of the unluckiest teams in the league but if you look at it a slightly different way, we’re also still making those odd brain fart moments, we’re just not seeing as many as we did and we’re not conceding as much as last season because of the law of averages; i.e. we have had more shots against us last season on average per game than this season, so it stands to reason that we will have less defensive lapses. If you look at the number of times last season we made defensive errors it was eight in the whole season. Then you look at this season, which still has another 15 matches to go, we’re already on five. There’s two ways you can look at that stat:

  1. Four more defensive errors and it shows that we are making more costly errors and therefore the whole ‘probability of numbers’ thing means that we are the same as last year, it’s the low blocks of teams meaning that it isn’t showing up
  2. We’ve only conceded five in 23 games and teams will continue to low block us, so that stat could come in under this season, which shows that we are better defensively.

Like I say, I don’t really know the answer here and as with many things in life it’s probably a little of column A and a little of column B that is the real truth. Arsenal are better defensively, they have clearly worked on that, the system and Arteta and his players deserve more credit. Having a true defensive number six in front of the back four has also had a big impact in the shape of Declan Rice too. But equally the fact that teams aren’t coming at us as much as they did last season means that we’re allowed to be better defensively by the way that matches are playing out.

We all know how much we are needing the attack to ‘click’ this season, but as much as we can lament the fact that two of the key players in our team last season have been missing this season (Partey and Xhaka), I have often thought at times this season that I wonder whether that even if we had both of them fit and available for this season, would we have better outputs than last season? I don’t think so. We know that the attacking players’ metrics have reduced, but the more I think about it the more I think it is less about their form (maybe it is a little) and maybe more about the fact that they are playing totally different teams each week compared to those same teams last season. Saka has been doubled up all season, Martinelli hasn’t had the same space to run in behind, etc, etc.

Having said that, one of the things I’ve heard Saka mention a couple of times in interviews is how he is having to learn about how to adapt to the way that teams are playing against him and I think he’s an intelligent footballer enough to be able to find a way. Heck, we’ve scored 10 goals in our last three games since returning from Dubai, so perhaps the team is already finding ways to unlock those stubborn defences. I think you and I certainly both hope so. As the season reaches the final stages in the coming weeks, we will need to see more goals from our attacking players and, as long as that back line continues to put up the numbers it has been (with the help of the likes of Rice and Jorginho), then we will be in the mixer for the top prizes right at the end of the season.

Back tomorrow with some pre-press conference musings before Arteta talks at lunchtime.