Football Features

Arsenal’s stingy away defence sends them top of the Premier League

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:49, 20 April 2024

Arsenal moved one point clear at the top of the Premier League table thanks to yet another away defensive show.

The games have been coming thick and thin for Arsenal, and it was only a few days ago that the Gunners were facing heartbreak in the Champions League in Munich.

And it appears that may be catching up with them. Arsenal went into the game at Molineux without a win in three games, their worst such run since going four in a row without victory at the end of 2023 and first game of the new year. It was at this stage last season that Arsenal’s title campaign started to fall apart, drawing three and losing one in a run in April.

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But there’s something slightly different about this Arsenal team. Even when the legs looked gone, the Gunners managed to see out a professional 2-0 win over Wolves.

Leandro Trossard and Martin Odegaard scored the goals, one at the end of either half, to do the damage. But it was a win built off their defence.

Arsenal have now kept a clean sheet in each of their last six away league games, the longest such run in their history. They’re the first team to keep a clean sheet in six consecutive Premier League away games since Liverpool did so between December and March 2014/15.

The run of defensive solidity started with a trip to the London Stadium to face West Ham, who had beaten Arsenal at the Emirates at the end of 2023. There, the Gunners conceded just five shots with only one on target for an Expected Goals Against of 0.22. Arsenal themselves scored six.

Then they went to Turf Moor and Bramall Lane, scoring 11 goals and conceded 12 shots, but none on target. Burnley had an xG of 0.31, while Sheffield United’s was 0.24.

The biggest test, and the performance that perhaps deserves the biggest praise, came as Arsenal travelled to the Etihad. A key title battle against Manchester City, this was expected to be the match that ended Arsenal’s challenge for a second season running. The Gunners had an xGA of 1.02 but faced just one shot on target (12 shots in total). They rode the storm at the Etihad and made a real statement.

At the start of April Arsenal travelled to the Amex to face Brighton, another potential banana skin. But Arsenal have enjoyed their trips to the seaside of late, and this was no different. Brighton had 10 shots but were restricted to just two on target, with an xG of 0.53.

And, finally, Molineux. With all that had gone before it, Arsenal could have been forgiven for letting their defensive guard down. Surely the legs wouldn’t hold out. Wolves did have the most shots of target against Arsenal during this six-game run, but none of them tested David Raya. Wolves had an xG of just 0.14, the lowest during the six-game run, with five shots in total.

Arsenal got through it, thanks to the mentality of some of the players Mikel Arteta has promoted to senior roles. And former Gunners midfielder Santi Cazorla believes this has Arsenal as genuine title challengers.

“I love [Martin] Ødegaard and see myself in him,” Cazorla told the Guardian recently.

“Like him, I found a coach [Arsene Wenger] who gave me confidence. He made me captain before I could say ‘hola’ in English.

“Declan Rice reminds me of Aaron Ramsey, appearing everywhere, a brutal player. Arsenal are clear candidates for the league.”