Buidling Dreams Together


Why Arsenal are in a far better place to win the league than this time a year ago

After 28 games of the 2022/23 Premier League season, Arsenal were top of the table. With 69 points, they were five clear of second place Manchester City. At the same point this season, Arsenal are on 64 points, level with second place Liverpool. On paper, last season presented a far better chance of winning the title.

Despite this, many commentators, analysts and fans, believe that the Arsenal of this season look like more formidable challengers than that of last season. Heading into the final 10 games of the campaign, they are playing their best football of Arteta’s reign.

In fact, since the start of 2024, Arsenal’s league record reads: Played 8, Won 8, Scored 33, Conceeded 4. Currently attacking ruthlessly and conceeding scarcely any chances, what are some of the differences between the Arsenal title charge of this seaon and last year’s effort?

Swapping Ramsdale for Raya

It was a brave decision from Arteta to bring in David Raya to replace Aaron Ramsdale in goal. The England international is a fan favourite and had just been named in the Premier League Team of the Season. Regardless, the club made the decision to reunite the Spanish stopper with Iñaki Caña, his former goalkeeper coach at Brentford, and instill him as number one.

Raya began unconvincingly, and some understandably questioned whether he was a significant upgrade on Ramsdale for the expenditure. However, three quarters of the way into the season, he has shown he was worth the risk.

Raya’s saving statistics are unremarkable, but it is in his shot prevention that he truly excels. Despite standing at only six feet tall, he is an elite cross claimer. On average he stops 14.9% of crosses into the box, far clear of second place Emiliano Martínez, who stops 11.2%. While Ramsdale was sometimes accused of occasionally being erratic, this skill of Raya significantly helps relieve pressure.

The propensity of Raya to claim crosses, preventing efforts on his goal, is also a contributing factor as to why Arsenal have conceeded only 19.4 expected goals against all season. This is far better than their closest rivals in this stat, Manchester City, who have conceeded 27.6 xGA.

Arteta celebrates with Raya following Tuesday’s Champions League win against Porto (Getty Images//Marc Atkins)

Aerial Dominance

Over 2023, it was clear that Arsenal’s recruitment was based around bringing in physically imposing players. Jakub Kiwior was brought in last January, allowing Arsenal to often play with a back four of players over 6’1. Declan Rice, standing at 6’1 and Kai Havertz, 6’4, were added over summer, creating an incredibly tall side.

The clearest example of this impacting their season can be seen in their most recent league game against Brentford. In the same fixture last season, the Bees travelled to the Emirates and dominated them in the air in a 1-1 draw. While Brentford’s goal should have been called offside by VAR, it came from a long ball into the box. Brentford then won three successive headers, Christian Nørgaard stretched to cut back a bouncing ball and Ivan Toney headed home. In that game, as Brentford won 32 of out 45 aerial duels, Arsenal could not get ahold of the game.

Last Sunday, the Gunners had no such issues. The West London side only won five more aerial duels than their opponents, and both Arsenal goals came from headed efforts from Rice and Havertz respectively.

This season Arsenal have scored 16 headed goals. Luton have the closest total to them with 13, then two other clubs have 10. Arsenal have always had the talent to play teams off the park, but have now added a true aerial threat.

Players returning from injury

In March 2023, during their last-16 Europa League tie against Sporting CP, both William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu suffered season ending injuries. Furthermore, forward Gabriel Jesus was forced to have surgery after World Cup, leaving him out of action for 3 months. For all the talk of Arsenal crumbling under the mental weight of leading the league last season, the injuries they suffered undoubtedly derailed their title aspirations dramatically.

Currently, they are leading the league, are the most inform team in the country, and have players returning from injury. In defence, Arteta has said that Tomiyasu is close to a return and likely to soon feature in a matchday squad. Summer signing Jurrien Timber suffered an ACL injury at the start of the season, but is recovering faster than expected. There is now a very real possibility of him being available for the run in.

Tomiyasu and Timber have both returned to training with the first team squad (Getty Images//Stuart MacFarlane)

Further forward, Thomas Partey is also working his way back to match fitness. The Ghanaian has not started since August, but has been substituted on in the last two league games.

Last season it felt like Arsenal were limping towards the finish line, while trying to hold off the Manchester City juggernaut. Currently, they have a squad full of inform players, and are still to welcome back further talented options.

So, while Arsenal have fewer points than they did at this point last campagin, fans have every reason to be positive. Able to score in mulitple ways, capable of going hours without conceeding shots, and the pool of available players only getting larger, they look in great shape to maintain a strong title push.

Share Post
Written by