No, Swansea did not beat Arsenal at the possession game

After their 3-2 loss to Arsenal over the weekend, Swansea now have four points from eight games, surpassing only cellar dwellers Sunderland who have two points in eight games. The bright spots for Swansea were indeed their two goals from their second best 2.54 cQxG in a game this season (their best so far was 2.63 cQxG against Liverpool).

 

I cringed when I heard Brooks Peck of Dirty Tackle say on The Goalmouth that Bob Bradley, Swansea’s newly appointed coach, beat Arsène Wenger at his own game and cited Swansea’s 527 passes, 11 more than Arsenal.

 

 

Sure, it was for a laugh, but being fresh off of reading Ted Knutson railing on commentators, I was, as the internet says, SMH. Even Bradley recognized Swansea gave Arsenal too much of the ball.

 

Time of possession is not necessarily significant; simply having the ball does not translate to creating chances or winning games. It matters how a team manages their time on the ball. Because of this we specifically map possession ends, not possession in general, in our Game Center possession widgets, which are a much better indicator of the quality of possession in a team’s performance.

 

In the Game Center for Arsenal vs Swansea, note Arsenal’s possession rating (99) vs Swansea’s (62). Factors beyond time of possession and total number of passes are considered to come up with this rating, including successful final third passes, average possession start and how well a team is able to move the ball forward into dangerous areas. The difference between Arsenal and Swansea is telling.
Arsenal vs Swansea

 

Arsenal vs Swansea 2

 

Look at the swath of Swansea possessions ending in their own half, yes it was a Granit Xhaka defensive third giveaway that led to Swansea’s opening goal, but Arsenal rarely gave the ball away in the back while Swansea struggled to get it forward. Arsenal may have had 11 fewer passes than Swansea, but their pass completion rate was higher (83.3% to 79.6%). Arsenal had only one more forward pass than Swansea (181 vs 180), but the gap widens when looking at successful final third passes; Arsenal had 141 to Swansea’s 92.

 

Though not an exceptional performance overall, Swansea’s possession performance against Arsenal was their second best of the season, keep in mind, however, that Arsenal played with ten men after Xhaka was sent off in the 70th minute. The best Swansea have been on the ball was a home game against Hull, where in addition to their best forward pass count, The Swans had their highest successful final third passes (133) and their most touches in the opponent’s box (39).

 

Swansea, now winless since Week 1, have had what Bradley called a “very difficult” schedule. They’ve faced off against four of the top five teams in the League (and in our Power Rankings), Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. The Swans’ 1-1-6 record is their worst season start since 2012. The match against Arsenal was Bradley’s first in charge, and over the course of the season we will monitor Swansea’s performance to measure the impact of their new coach.