Arsenal’s Most Improved Players This Season

Arsenal's most improved players
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 01: Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal celebrates his goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Newcastle United at Emirates Stadium on April 01, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by VisionhausGetty Images)

Arsenal are on 63 points with seven matches yet to play as of the time of writing, equal to their total from last season. While the summer signings have really helped, not to mention a new manager, a few of the players from last season have really improved.

Arsenal’s Five Most Improved Players

Sead Kolasinac

The former Schalke man is in his second season at the Emirates following his free transfer. Kolasinac found it difficult to break into the first team last season with Nacho Monreal the club’s undisputed first choice left-back.

Aside from the Spaniard’s excellent form, the main reason Sead Kolasinac could not find his way into the Arsenal starting XI was the fact he struggles in a traditional fullback role, instead excelling as a wing-back.

With Unai Emery favouring a back three for large parts of this season, Kolasinac now finds himself as an integral part of the team. This is observable in his statistics.

The table above shows that Kolasinac has made a far greater offensive contribution so far this season than in the whole of last, even with eight fewer matches to his name. Additionally, he has also been far more disciplined, giving away fouls at a lesser rate than a year ago.

He may have been out of favour at the start of the season, but Sead Kolasinac is now one of the first names on the team sheet.

Alex Iwobi

Alex Iwobi is an Arsenal academy graduate, meaning that he has a special place in the fan’s hearts. However, with his greatly improved play this season, supporters have a few other reasons to cheer his name.

While Iwobi has one fewer assist to his name this season, his overall numbers have climbed under Unai Emery. He has also featured more heavily under Emery than with Arsene Wenger as manager, already making two more appearances this campaign than in the entirety of last season.

He is also much more confident. While last season fans watched in horror as he made a mess of shots, key passes or sometimes even just simple passes, this season has seen few such errors.

Iwobi’s contributions are especially clear when looking at the expected assist (xA) statistic. The Nigerian international already has an xA of 5.78 this season, easily beating his previous career-high of 3.49. This shows that Iwobi is completing the dangerous passes which lead to good scoring chances which he simply has not completed to this point in his career.

While he doesn’t always appear on the score sheet, Alex Iwobi has cemented his place in this team.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the youngest player who makes this list. However, he is probably the one who has made the biggest impact recently, deputising for the injured Hector Bellerin.

While Maitland-Niles grew up playing central midfield, since breaking into the first team he has played mainly out wide. Unai Emery has deployed the Arsenal academy product as a fullback, wing-back and winger so far this season.

While his offensive improvements are mild, his defence has gotten much better compared to last season. In fewer appearances, he has already equalled his tackles total, exceeded his interceptions total and has committed fewer fouls on average.

This speaks to a growing maturity in the player and improved confidence. The player credits Emery for his improvement this season:

“Him expecting more from me makes me work 10 times harder every day. I know that he’s watching me, and I know he wants more than what I’m producing. For me, it’s never enough, I need to do more constantly. I’ll just become a workhorse from doing that.”

Maitland-Niles may not retain his place next season when Bellerin returns but for now, he is a valuable squad player.

Alexandre Lacazette

Lacazette was already an established star in France before coming to England. However, he was somewhat underwhelming when he first arrived at Arsenal. Wenger would hardly let him finish a full 90 minutes, often subbing the striker at or around the 70th minute.

The low point of Lacazette’s Arsenal tenure came that first season when he required surgery on his left knee. The procedure kept the French striker out of action for about six weeks and he looked like a man reborn after. In fact, he has kept up that fine form throughout this season as well.

Lacazette’s strike rate has remained consistent, but the other work he does has been phenomenal this season. He already has almost double as many assists as last season, plus nine more crosses, in two fewer appearances.

His defensive statistics are truly incredible as well. Alexandre Lacazette is working his rear end off without the ball to create turnovers offensively and thwart the opposition defensively. While Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gets the majority of plaudits, Lacazette is no doubt one of the key pieces of this Arsenal team.

Laurent Koscielny

33-year-old Laurent Koscielny is probably the most surprising entrant on this list. However, he makes the list not because of any statistical achievement, but rather because he revived his career this season.

Before he suffered a ruptured achilles cruciate ligament (ACL) against Atletico Madrid last May, Koscielny could hardly play back to back matches. This is because he suffered from a chronic achilles injury beforehand which required daily treatment. Even with this regime, the former French international could hardly play twice a week.

To illustrate that point, consider his 33 appearances across all competitions last season, the fewest in his Arsenal career to that point. The Gunners played 57 matches across all competitions through the Europa League semifinal, when Koscielny went down injured. That means Koscielny only played in 58% of Arsenal matches last season before the ACL injury.

This season, the defender has 19 appearances across all competitions to his name. Since his 13 December return from injury, Arsenal have played 23 matches. So, since his return, Koscielny has played in 83% of his club’s games.

It takes a special player just to have the mental strength to come back from such a horrible injury so late in their career. But, that’s just what Koscielny has done, and he is even playing some terrific football to boot. He is certainly one of Arsenal’s most improved players.

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