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The home and away issue – the player who can solve the problem

By Tony Attwood.

Of course this might not be the first time one of the national papers in England has taken up my theme, but it is the first one I have seen: the idea that Arsenal deliberately play a different line up at home and away.

The newspaper in question is the Daily Telegraph and it had on its website on 23 July the headline “What will Dani Ceballos bring to Arsenal and how will Unai Emeri use him?”

Their suggestion was that the line up might include Totteira and Ceballos behind Ozil in home games, with either Guendouzi or Xhaka or Willock coming in for Ozil for what they call “more rigorous tests” which (given they mentioned home games in the previous sentence), presumably means away games.

If you have been following my argument until now you’ll probably know the figures I will now present, off by heart, but in case you are new to the point, it is simply this.

Arsenal have been poorer away from home than at home these last couple of years.  This disparity has an interesting implication – that it is not the whole of the defence that needs sorting out – because the defence was very solid at home.  But rather something needs to be adjusted for the away games.

It is a simple point, but one not often (if ever) mentioned elsewhere – until now.

Here is the top six from last season for home games only in the league…

1 Manchester City 19 18 0 1 57 12 45 54
2 Liverpool 19 17 2 0 55 10 45 53
3 Arsenal 19 14 3 2 42 16 26 45
4 Chelsea 19 12 6 1 39 12 27 42
5 Tottenham Hotspur 19 12 2 5 34 16 18 38
6 Manchester United 19 10 6 3 33 25 8 36

As you can see the top six overall remained the top six for home matches only, but the order of the third, fourth and fifth teams changed.  Tottenham slumped to fifth, seven points and eight goals behind Arsenal.

In terms of the defence Arsenal conceded six more than Liverpool, four more than Chelsea, the same as Tottenham and nine fewer than Manchester United – again counting home matches only.   So not as good defence as we might like at Arsenal Stadium but only one goal in every five worse than the league champions.

But away from home it was a totally different matter…

1 Manchester City 19 14 2 3 38 11 27 44
2 Liverpool 19 13 5 1 34 12 22 44
3 Tottenham Hotspur 19 11 0 8 33 23 10 33
4 Manchester United 19 9 3 7 32 29 3 30
5 Chelsea 19 9 3 7 24 27 -3 30
6 Crystal Palace 19 9 2 8 32 30 2 29
7 Leicester City 19 7 4 8 27 28 -1 25
8 Arsenal 19 7 4 8 31 35 -4 25

Although Arsenal only scored three goals fewer than Liverpool away from home last season, Arsenal conceded 23 more goals away from home – over one per game more.   In this league table we ended up below Leicester and Crystal Palace.  In fact only Fulham, Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Burnley had a worse defensive record than Arsenal did away from home.

Thus the logic to me has been not one of sack the defence, but rather reconsider how the defence plays away from home, and this piece by the Telegraph is the first one that I have seen which joins in the debate.

Now the argument could be made that this change is certainly not enough to sort out the away defence problem we have had for a couple of seasons, but it will not be the only one.

Eventually Bellerin will come back into the side, and seemingly from the start of the season so will Holding.   There has been no sign of selling Chambers thus far so he might well be continuing in the squad – which effectively gives us three players who were not available for most of the season last time around.  That and the adjustment in midfield could be exactly what we need to give us a different line up away from home.

If you are interested in this topic you might also enjoy “Was the difference between Arsenal’s home and away form really that unusual?”

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