Arsenal and the crazy numbers that suggest they can last the pace in the title race


Arsenal delivering a live autopsy of the Sheffield United defence on Monday night was always a possibility.

Mikel Arteta’s side travelled to Bramall Lane having become the first Premier League team to score two or more goals in seven consecutive Premier League halves. Sheffield United, meanwhile, had just let in five at home to Aston Villa and Brighton in their most recent home games to make it 66 goals conceded in 26 games.

Yet the sheer force of Arsenal’s 6-0 victory was still shocking.

It was 3-0 after 15 minutes, and it could have been six. That was enough for some home fans to head home, and for Chris Wilder to sacrifice Ollie Norwood and switch to a back five, giving Auston Trusty some belated support against his former team-mate Bukayo Saka.

By 39 minutes, Arsenal were five goals ahead, which is the earliest an away side has had a five-goal margin in Premier League history.

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Arsenal fans celebrate as their side run amok at Sheffield United (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

It is becoming an almost weekly occurrence but Arsenal produced some remarkable numbers once more.

They became the first top-flight side since Burnley in September 1961 to score five or more goals in three successive away league games, while they are the first side in the top four tiers of the English league football to ever win three successive away games by five or more goals.

In 2024, they have an aggregate score of 31-3 in their seven Premier League games. Their goal difference is now six better than Liverpool’s and 10 better than Manchester City, their balance of +45 already level with last season’s total despite having 11 games to play.

Top of the Premier League

Pos Team P W D L GD Pts

1

Liverpool

27

19

6

2

39

63

2

Man City

27

19

5

3

35

62

3

Arsenal

27

19

4

4

45

61

It is difficult to measure momentum in football but it is built into the algorithm of all title races.

Liverpool and City are both locked into their familiar parallel lanes, reeling off win after win as they first did in the 2018-2019 campaign. Arsenal are there with them but they are beating teams more emphatically.

The trajectory of their season is also worth noting. Last season, Arsenal made a break for the line straight out the blocks, only to burn out in the final two months. This time, they seem to have timed their charge more astutely; the equivalent of a runner ‘kicking’ for home at the end of an endurance race.

To change gears so spectacularly has been a sight to behold, particularly when games in the first half of the season were often attritional. It is conceivable that Arsenal would have found breaking down this Sheffield United a test in those early months of the season when packed defences were proving to be like brick walls at times.

Then came December and early January, when Arsenal started ramping up their creativity but suffered the footballing equivalent of the yips in front of goal.

There appears to be no sign of a mental block now. Arsenal are breaking down teams in every conceivable way — from combination play into the penalty area, balls over the top, cutbacks, long-distance strikes and set pieces.

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Gabriel Martinelli scores Arsenal’s third goal (Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images)

The variety of goals and the variety of goalscorers is the biggest piece of evidence that Arsenal have the lungs to keep going until the end.

No signing epitomises Arsenal’s pacing better than Kai Havertz. A signing mocked in the early months of the season, the German has both scored and assisted in each of his last two league games, becoming the first Arsenal player to do so in successive matches since Henrikh Mkhitaryan in February 2019.

He spearheaded the attack on Monday but once again it was Arsenal’s sheer territorial dominance that was the foundation of their victory.

They completed 827 passes, the joint-10th-highest match total in the league since the arrival of Pep Guardiola in 2015-16. Only three teams other than Manchester City have recorded more in a match — and with the ball in play for just over 56 minutes, it meant that Arsenal averaged a pass around every four seconds.

William Saliba’s individual total of 169 completed passes was the most of any Arsenal player in a Premier League game.

It was more than the entire Sheffield United team combined and, as the pass map below shows, so many of these came in the opposition half.

william saliba sheffield utd 0 6 arsenal premier league 2023 24 passmap

Having two centre-backs comfortable at dictating the pace of the attacks lets Arsenal push their attackers further forward and it has also allowed Jorginho to take a higher position and act as the conduit to play into the attacking players.

Just when you think Arsenal cannot be any more dominant, they are finding ways to keep raising the bar.

It was almost cruel watching Sheffield United try to keep the ball in the first half with every Arsenal player based in the attacking third. It looked like a training exercise and the passing network produced from the game is another area in which Arsenal are asserting levels of control barely seen before.

arsenal sheff utd network 2024 03 04 1

Only three teams have ever had a longer winning run from the start of a calendar year in the Premier League with Manchester City in 2021 (13), Liverpool in 2020 (8) and Manchester United in 2009 (9).

Arsenal are now on seven successive league victories, which matches their best run last season. That was brought to a crashing halt when they drew 2-2 at Anfield in April but they are now in a different headspace.

There is no fear in this side at the moment, and things should get better in the weeks ahead. Thomas Partey and Gabriel Jesus made their comebacks from injury last night, while Takehiro Tomiyasu, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Jurrien Timber are all nearing a return.

Arsenal are continuing to gather pace — the numbers prove it.

(Top photo: Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images)





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