If you look at the table Arsenal look to be in a good position. They are currently in fifth place, tied on points with Tottenham who are just above them on goal difference. They are just two points behind Chelsea in third and just four points off the top of the table. They have currently scored the fourth most goals, and allowed the eighth fewest.
All of that is really good, especially considering that they have a new coach running things.
However, if you look at things just below the surface, there are a number of red flags that should worry supporters.
Looking at the expected points table, which is based on the expected goals that each team produces in each match Arsenal would typically be in 10th place, based on the shots that they have created and allowed, and not 5th. A team with their shot profile would expect to have six points less than what they have currently. That is not good.
Arsenal have also been out shot in four of their seven matches, including three of their four home matches (vs Everton, Manchester City and Watford). For a team of Arsenal’s quality and ambition that is shocking.
Looking at the same fixtures from last year (or the comparable one for Cardiff City) Arsenal have created 3.1 less expected goals and 12 less shots. On defense Arsenal have somehow even gotten worse against the same teams, conceding 1.4 more expected goals and 23 more shots.
Last season was the worst season that Arsenal have had in twenty years and with the change to Unai Emery the results have gotten better but the performances have gotten worse. I want to trust the process, but this makes me very worried.
Round pegs in square holes
This segues into my next worry, and that is how Emery has fielded incredibly unbalanced teams. Emery really wants to play in a 4-2-3-1, but the talent that Arsenal have to fill out the attack doesn’t really fit that system.
Arsenal have two really good strikers in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette but only one spot for them in their preferred position.
Arsenal have one of the best pure number 10 playmakers in the world in Mesut Özil, but Emery wants a player that can initiate and lead the press from that spot.
Arsenal have a dynamic central midfielder in Aaron Ramsey who is excellent at making late runs into the box with amazing stamina, but who becomes isolated when played further forward. He would be best playing in a 4-3-3 with two other midfielders, to cover for his adventurous runs forward.
When Arsenal try to squeeze all of these players into the pitch at the same time he has to make a number of tradeoffs, and the results have seen Arsenal look like less than the sum of their parts.
To get the best out of the team, Emery may have to stop shoehorning players into positions that they don’t fit into, and be ruthless and not give the biggest names a starting role. The hardest part will be deciding which of the players should make way for players that will better fit the system that Emery wants to use.