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The Gunners are flying high in the Premier League, but have faced just one top-10 side, their possession has dropped and they have struggled against deep, organised defences

ANALYSIS
By Ewan Roberts

Galvanised by the signing of Mesut Ozil, Arsenal have marched to the top of the Premier League in quite sensational style, playing a scintillating, flowing, tiki-taka-esque brand of football that has even opposition fans doffing their caps. Once, the north Londoners might have been accused of over-playing, trying to score an impossibly perfect goal – until they did just that against Norwich.

Arsene Wenger's men could be five points clear come Saturday night, yet, despite the avalanche of positives that have come Arsenal's way since signing their £42 million German – and, looking further back, since beating German champions Bayern Munich – there is a sense that their position in the league paints something of a false picture.

FALSE POSITION?

HOW ARSENAL'S STATS STACK UP COMPARED TO LAST SEASON
  2012-13 2013-14
POINTS V SAME OPPO
AVERAGE POSSESSION
MOST POSSESSION
SHOTS AGAINST P/GAME
PENALTIES CONCEDED
CLEAN SHEETS
GOALS AGAINST P/GAME
24
58.2%
81.5%
10.6
6
10
0.97
19
54.3%
62.5%
12.8
3
1
1.13
While the old adage that you can only play what is in front of you rings true, Arsenal have faced just one side in the top half of the Premier League table this season. They won that game, against local rivals Tottenham, though Andre Villas-Boas' side are the team most in a state of transition of those chasing Champions League qualification. Spurs have seven new signings, Chelsea and the Manchester clubs have new managers, while Arsenal have faced little change since last season.

The Gunners have benefited from stability, yet they have actually picked up fewer points this term than from the corresponding fixtures last season. They beat both Aston Villa at home and West Brom away in the previous campaign, a feat they could not match this time around. In fact, the last time a league leader had fewer than Arsenal's 19 points after eight games was in the 2001-02 season – then table-toppers Leeds United would eventually finish fifth.

Though it may be approaching a decade since Arsenal last won the league, they can usually be relied on to top the division in one respect: possession. In the last three years they have had the highest average possession in the division, peaking at 60.3 per cent in 2010-11.

This season, however, the Gunners are closer to Stoke than possession leaders Manchester City, ranked only eighth in the Premier League with 54.3%. On three occasions they have struggled to have the lion's share of the ball, with the 41% they managed against Swansea the second-lowest in the last two years - 84 games.

ATTACKING TROUBLES?
ARSENAL SHOOTING STATS
  vs. SHOTS FROM RANGE SHOTS ON TARGET SHOT ACC
WEST BROM 71% 5 35%
BVB 67% 2 22%
More worrying, though, is that they failed to exert their usual dominance against Stoke at the Emirates Stadium. Possession was split 50/50 on that day, but Mark Hughes' Potters enjoyed a staggering 65% of the ball in the second half.

Arsenal have generally created a good number of clear-cut goalscoring opportunities this season, even if their conversion rate is down 9%, though the recent games against West Brom and Borussia Dortmund produced some worrying statistics. An astonishing 71% of the Gunners shots at the Hawthorns were from outside the box, while that figure was at 67% against die Schwarzgelben on Tuesday night.

At no point in the last four seasons, since the start of the 2009-10 campaign, have Arsenal posted a higher percentage of shots from long range than against the Baggies. The next highest long-range reliance came in January 2010, when the Gunners posted 67% against Everton in a 2-2 draw. For some context, Manchester City have, on average, taken just 34% of their shots from outside the box, and that figured dipped to 6% in their last league outing against West Ham.

ARSENAL'S UPCOMING FIXTURES
OCTOBER 29
ARSENAL v CHELSEA
NOVEMBER 2
ARSENAL v LIVERPOOL
NOVEMBER 6
DORTMUND v ARSENAL
NOVEMBER 10
MAN UTD v ARSENAL
If we assume that shots from long range directly relate to an inability to break a team down, then those are indeed worrying signs for Arsenal. Against West Brom, the Gunners needed a deflected effort from Jack Wilshere, and were fortunate to benefit from the charitable profligacy of Nicolas Anelka. Were matches decided on the fabled “balance of play”, West Brom would have won.

Against Dortmund, Wenger's charges dominated possession yet mustered just two shots on target; one was a goal, the other saw Mats Hummels clear the ball off the line. Roman Weidenfeller was not forced to make a save. In fact, it took Arsenal 28 minutes after scoring the equaliser to have another shot on goal; Santi Cazorla's effort skimming off the woodwork.

Arsenal have faced few teams prepared to sit deep and dig in, partly because they have taken the lead so early. They have scored within the first 23 minutes in six of their eight league games, forcing opposition sides to abandon any plans of containment, creating more space for the Gunners. What happens when they do not score first? Well, in the case of West Brom and Dortmund, they drop points.

Defensively, Arsenal have also looked a little susceptible – despite having yet to face an attack of any real ferocity in the league. They have conceded 102 shots this season (12.8 per game, which ranks them 10th) – only nine shots fewer than struggling Crystal Palace.

In addition to that, they have kept just one clean sheet in the Premier League this season, while Tottenham and Southampton lead the way with five apiece. The backline are still prone to making errors too, and the Gunners are tied with Palace for conceding the most penalties – their three spot-kicks is more than the rest of the top eight put together, with Laurent Koscielny the prime culprit.

So, how good are Arsenal really? Probably somewhere between the back-to-earth shuddering tone of this piece and the unadulterated praise lavished on the Gunners to this point. But we will soon find out for definite. Wenger's men have a particularly tricky run of fixtures on the horizon and, as the Emirates groans on Tuesday night will attest, it does not take much to burst the bubble of optimism in football.

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