Arsenal Squad Analysis 2019/20: What do we have and what do we need?
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst) and Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
With the 2019/20 season finally coming to a close, we thought we’d do an in depth analysis on the squad. Analysing the squad as a whole is a tough task when the club has gone through so much turbulence and chaos in a single season but we make an attempt at analysing player performances in each position.
One of the busiest seasons for our last line of defence and the team owes a lot to both of our men between the sticks, with regards to even getting points from a few games as well as preventing the goal difference from reaching large negative values. Both Bernd Leno and Emi Martinez registered impressive positive Post-Shot xG minus Goals Allowed, demonstrating how good their respective shot-stopping has been.
Martinez’s fairy-tale finish to the season has put a lot of doubt over the future of the number 1 spot. His stature allows him to gather high balls and crosses into the box with ease, which is an area where Leno hasn’t always convinced, although it must be said that he’s made improvements from his debut season. In terms of patrolling the area, Leno’s speed gives him an edge and he has certainly made quite a few last-ditch clearances to save the team.
Passing and distribution is a very tricky one to analyse while comparing the two keepers. Playing out from the back under Emery was a shambles because of the lack of structure and positioning of the players which caused a lot of stress among the fans, and opposition players used this anxiety to press high up the pitch and build pressure. Under Arteta, things have gotten much better with the midfielders dropping much deeper to support the defenders and it must be said that the lack of fans post restart has helped enormously. Martinez deserves a lot of credit for improving his passing and calmness on the ball but our improvement in playing out over the last two months was less to do with goalkeeper involvement and more to do with the structure put in place by Arteta. One of Leno’s strengths when we bought him from the Bundesliga was his passing range and playing out from the back could evolve further with him in the side next season.
It seems very tempting to cash in on one of the keepers now but one more season with both should be the target. Consider the short turnaround for next season, injury risk would be considerably higher due to a large number of games (league, cups, Europa) in a shortened period as compared to normal so keeping both of them will be good for the team. Inaki Cana (GK coach) seems to have done a lot of work behind the scenes with both goalkeepers and we could see them improve even more after a few more months.
This is clearly a problematic area for us. Despite the significant quantity of centre-backs at the club, the requisite quality is lacking, and this should definitely be an area we target this summer.
David Luiz has produced a season exactly what we’d expect from David Luiz. He’s become a key component to our build-up play under Arteta, with his excellent distribution seeing him excel in possession. Defensively he looks much better in a rigid, well drilled system with a lot of mobile protection around him. However, high profile errors are always the risk with him, and he produced his fair share this season, conceding 5 penalties and being sent off twice. The club has opted to trigger the one-year extension in his contract, so he’ll definitely be here next campaign.
Sokratis looks to be on his way out following an underwhelming second season in English football. His lack of ball playing ability his downfall in the eyes of Arteta, and since the Spaniard’s arrival he’s been limited to very little. Pablo Mari’s stature and left-footedness makes him an interesting option in there, and we await to see what he does next season.
Shkodran Mustafi is an interesting one as well. After his redemption under Arteta, in which we saw his distribution and immaculate aerial abilities thrive, he may well be kept now. It would’ve been a good time to sell had he not sustained an injury, but that may well have complicated things. The English pair of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers could well see themselves in the firing line for different reasons. Chambers had been excellent under Emery and then Ljungberg, but his injury has put his future in doubt. Holding was shaky following his return, and fitness was clearly an issue. He may have put in a good display in the Cup Final, but he lacks mobility and pace, with this exposed in his limited outings this season, so he may be sacrificed for a player who can offer that extra athleticism.
One of the more complete and settled areas in the squad.
Kieran Tierney was excellent in almost every area in almost every game he featured in under all three head coaches. His superb positioning, perfect one on one defending, and relentless ability to provide an effective attacking outlet make him the perfect modern day full-back with an old-school attitude. Meanwhile, Sead Kolasinac’s future is in doubt. He looked comfortable in the early part of the season when driving forward, but defensively and in possession in a back three his limitations were exemplified. The Bosnian’s wages are an issue.
Hector Bellerin experienced a tricky season on the whole, with the psychological and physical effects of his ruptured ACL very evident. However, his explosive pace began to return towards the end of the season, and his attacking prowess looks a threat once again. If he can gain consistency there, we could see him put up much better output numbers next season. Defensively he remains good but not elite.
We wait to see what Cedric will provide, but my guess is that it’ll be somewhat mediocre. Maitland-Niles seems to finally have accepted a wide defensive role may well be his best position, and he continues to confirm he’s an excellent defender who can be used to do certain roles in big games. His athleticism and ball retention skills don’t go unnoticed.
Emery experimented with so many midfield combinations and formations that all of their flaws have been exposed too many times this season. Arteta has given them specific roles and zones to operate in after coming and this has gotten solid performances out of them. Under Arteta, the team’s record when Xhaka plays versus when he doesn’t is clear as day for everyone to see and when one goes through his stats, it gets even more puzzling. There isn’t any particular part of the pitch where he excels in (other than ball progression) or anything that stands out but whatever skillset he has, it benefits the team enormously.
Ceballos, post winter break, has been one of the most consistent performers in the team. He was brought in to be an attacking midfielder but his adaptation to playing in the double pivot has been really good to watch. He’s embraced the warrior side of his game, showcased by his strong numbers in interceptions, tackles and pressure regains to complement his quality on the ball.
There is still a lot of deficiencies in our midfield that need to be addressed because the current squad lacks athleticism, versatility or creativity. The aggressive ball winner is crucial for us to evolve into a possession-based style as well as the need for an attacking midfielder. Ceballos excelled in the creator role at Real Betis and even the Spanish National team/U21s, so with a quality defensive midfielder he could be played there but the deep-playmaker role that he’s excelled in since the restart seems to more suited to his strengths and would complement a creator in a 4-3-3 (similar to Tielemans to Maddison or Modric to Kroos).
We’ve only really seen glimpses of the real Pepe this season but the talent is unquestionable. The fact that he didn’t have a pre-season, played under three coaches but still produced a decent output is testament to this. How he improves further is dependent on how much he can develop his weaker foot and he doesn’t need to look further than Mahrez to make that change. Proficiency in the weaker foot will not only force full-backs to guard differently but also open up other passing options. Getting into better shooting positions will certainly help his xG/90 higher and make him an even bigger goal threat.
Aubameyang essentially operates as a second striker rather than a winger/forward, which gives the team more bodies in the box but also brings his poaching abilities into play. And obviously there are the two young stars in Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, the former being an out and out creator and the other more of a goal threat. Reiss Nelson should continue to develop next season, although it does feel a little alarming that it’s not quite obvious what he’s good at yet.
As the man himself has admitted, niggles and fitness issues have been a big setback but Lacazette’s inability to compete for 90 mins at full tilt is still very baffling. He’s supposed to be at his peak considering he’s 29 but his poor fitness coupled with not so great finishing means that a decision has to be taken this summer regarding his future. Post the restart, he’s certainly been more effective in a withdrawn role, especially against the top sides, as he provides a link between the midfield and the wide forwards.
Nketiah, meanwhile, is a different type of player in that role as he doesn’t have the physicality but instead has the pace to run in behind the defence or press high up the pitch. There’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of his first touch and passing but he’s been effective in away games when we’ve not always had control of the ball and does a lot of off-the-ball work.
In short, we’ve got a lot to do.