Arsenal crossing statistics analysed: Does Mikel Arteta have a point?

Mikel Arteta has bemoaned Arsenal's misfortune from crosses but what do the stats say about his team? Watch Tottenham vs Arsenal live on Sky Sports Main Event from 4.15pm this Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm

Mikel Arteta during Arsenal's defeat to Aston Villa
Image: Mikel Arteta has lots to think about as Arsenal's form continues to disappoint

"I think it is the first time in the Premier League that we put 33 crosses in. I am telling you that if we do that more consistently we are going to score more goals. If we put the bodies we had in certain moments in the box, it is maths, pure maths, and it will happen."

This was Mikel Arteta's response to his team's 2-1 home defeat to Wolves on Sunday evening. It was an alarming one for supporters hoping that their manager had a more sophisticated solution to the problems that leave Arsenal mired in the bottom half of the table.

Perhaps it was an attempt at plain speaking, but it came across as reductive. Not so much the heir to Pep Guardiola, the man he assisted at Manchester City, but rather David Moyes, his manager at Everton. Infamously, Moyes' Manchester United team once lobbed over 81 crosses in a 2-2 draw against Fulham - a game that came to sum up his attacking struggles.

Does Arteta have a point about Arsenal's crosses? The stats show that there were actually 35 of them at the weekend and that is a lot - the most by Arsenal in a Premier League game this season. The most since an away draw at Norwich just over a year ago. The most at the Emirates Stadium since a draw against Brighton during Unai Emery's first season in charge.

The fact that Arsenal have won none of these matches hints at an inconvenient truth about crossing - the correlation between that and success is far from clear. It can sometimes be seen as a sign of desperation instead, indicative of a team that has resorted to flinging balls into the box when unable to break down a defence by more efficient means.

The record for the most crosses in a game so far this Premier League season is 43 - jointly-held by Sheffield United and Fulham. The former lost 2-0 after falling behind in the second minute to Wolves. The latter lost 3-0 after falling behind in the fourth minute to Aston Villa.

That Arsenal ended up pursuing that tactic at Wolves was no triumph, at least not for the home team. Wolves' win over Sheffield United was one of two games in which they have faced more crosses than the 35 that Arsenal mustered. The other was a 1-0 win at Leeds. Forcing opponents wide is their plan. It seems more likely that Arteta fell into their trap.

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Of course, Arsenal's approach would have had a chance of being more effective had the crossing been better. Instead, the delivery was too often substandard and the choice of set-piece takers was questionable too. Some of the crosses were overhit. Many were cut out at the near post. No one player can be blamed. The responsibility must be shared.

Willian, Bukayo Saka, Kieran Tierney and substitute Reiss Nelson each put five crosses in from open play. Hector Bellerin managed four. No Arsenal player found a team-mate more than once. In total, only three of Arsenal's 35 crosses reached one of their own players.

Of the 104 occasions, this season and last, that a Premier League team has attempted 30 or more crosses in a match, none of them have had a lower crossing accuracy than this.

It was unusually bad and, in this sense, at least, Arteta can hope for better in future. Nevertheless, crossing is not a strength and it seems surprising that this is their strategy. There is no Olivier Giroud at Arsenal. Is this really the best route to goal for his team?

Arsenal shot-assists map for the 2020/21 Premier League season

The expectation was that Arteta's long-term vision was for his side to thread balls into the box like Manchester City, pulling the ball back only after working it in behind defences.

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Whatever the plan is for Arsenal it must - as Arteta suggests - involve bodies in the opposition penalty box and this is the recurring problem. For all the crosses on Sunday, Rui Patricio made only one save in the match. Only the three teams currently in the relegation zone and Newcastle have had fewer shots on target than Arsenal this season.

Touches in the opposition box is a better indicator of the ability to create than the number of crosses. But Arsenal's build-up play in the final third has been an issue for some time.

This is a team that topped that metric as recently as the 2015/16 season but there has been a decline since then that has only hastened since the arrival of Arteta last year.

Creativity is not a new issue. But the belief up until now was that Arteta understood the problem. What is new is that this response to the latest defeat calls that into question.

"We have been winning matches producing similar numbers," argued Arteta on Wednesday, referencing the fact that his Arsenal team had previously been very efficient in front of goal.

But that efficiency was never sustainable. It is true that Arsenal had the best conversion rate in the Premier League from Arteta's arrival until the end of last season. The task was to significantly increase the number of chances not rely on maintaining that conversion rate.

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Arteta's knack of delivering big results - most recently at Manchester United but more notably in their successful FA Cup run in the summer - bought him time for this rebuild. But his long-term prospects were always going to depend on how effectively he used that time.

Does he understand that the current plan is not working?

Arsenal's passing network shows the disconnect between midfield and attack
Image: Arsenal's passing network shows the disconnect between midfield and attack

"I am really worried about the results and the margins that we are losing games," says Arteta, "because when we analyse the games afterwards, 'Why are we losing these games when they are so tight?'"

Bemoaning the small margins that are going against his team is troubling because it seems to miss the point. In short, it is not so much that Arsenal are being unlucky now. It would be more accurate to suggest that fortune was with them before.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Wolves' win at Arsenal in the Premier League

According to Opta's expected-goals model, Wolves had the better chances on Sunday. That same model shows that Arsenal have had better chances than their opponents in only four of their matches this season - three of which they have won. They could count themselves slightly unlucky to lose to Leicester but were far more fortunate to win against West Ham.

The Premier League table shows Arsenal with a negative goal difference and the underlying numbers suggest this is a fair reflection of the performances. Creativity is a major concern.

Arsenal fans knew this. What they did not know until now is that their promising young manager appears to believe that more crosses are part of the solution. It will not inspire confidence that they are on the right path to resolving the problem.

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