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xGunners: Arsenal and game state

Looking at how Arsenal do during different game states

Arsenal FC v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Visionhaus

This morning I was listening to the Double Pivot podcast, and they were talking about Liverpool and how perhaps one of the reasons that they have been better than their underlying statistics is that they have maximized how they have performed in different game states. The TL;DR is that, yes, that is a good hypothesis and it made me want to look at how Arsenal fared in these situations.

First, we should make sure everyone knows what I am referring to when I say game state. The game state is essentially the goal difference of the match, and it is usually broken into five different buckets, tied, +1, -1, greater than +1, and less than -1.

The reason to look at this is that most teams perform and deploy different tactics depending on the scoreline. In general, at a tied game state both teams are trying to take the lead but are not overly aggressive, and balance defending with attack. When behind, teams will tilt things more towards attacking, and when ahead they will in general look to be a bit more solid, but also will really look to have better quality shots at the expense of volume.

At the tied game state, teams take on average 11 shots per 90, with an xG per shot of 0.11. At +1, teams take 11.7 shots per 90 with an xG per shot of 0.14, and at -1 teams take 14.7 shots per 90 with an xG per shot of 0.1.

There are strong arguments that managers are probably too conservative in most situations where they gain a one goal advantage and at the tied game state, considering that winning is such a huge bonus with the points that you get versus a draw and loss, but that is a discussion for another day. For now, let’s take a look at how Arsenal fare in these situations.

At the tied game state, Arsenal are bad. I mean not just for a “top team” (speaking of dicussions for another day!), but in general.

Arsenal have allowed the most goals (15) when the score is tied, and have only taken the lead in these situations 9 times, which is tied for 11th in the league. From an expected goals perspective they rank slightly better, creating the 10th most xG and allowing just 14th most xG, but it still isn’t very good. In these situations Arsenal were also significantly outshot, conceding the joint most shots per 90 minutes at 15.8.

Hopefully this was just a symptom of Unai Emery’s conservative tactics, and not a sign that Arsenal are truly a lower mid-table talent team.

When Arsenal are winning is where I have even more concerns for how they have performed. Instead of having the ability to take a one goal lead and look to add on, Arsenal have been fairly content to concede the initiative to the other team almost completely. Arsenal have seen one goal leads equalized 4 times this season, which is tied for 9th fewest, but they have also only gone on to take a two goal lead 3 times, which is tied for 5th fewest. Arsenal also see the opponents take nearly 9 more shots them them per 90 minutes, this is in stark contrast to the teams that Arsenal should be compared to like Manchester United (-1), Leicester (+1.8), Chelsea (+3.4), Liverpool (+3.5) or Manchester City (+9.5).

When Arsenal fall behind, they finally look like a team that you would expect. They out shoot their opponents, they create equal quality chances (a very positive sign considering the game state!) and have equalized 10 times from a 1 goal defect, which is second only to Wolves this season.

I don’t think any of this analysis is ground breaking, but it does match with what we have seen from Arsenal this season and with the arrival of Mikel Arteta imminent, hopefully we can see some of these numbers start to improve.


Some other fun, unrelated-to-Arsenal nuggets I found doing this:

  • Liverpool and Leicester have not trailed by more than 1 goal at any point this season.
  • Liverpool have spent 51% of the minutes they have played this season ahead
  • Liverpool have spent more time ahead by 2 or more goals than 15 teams have spent with a single goal lead.
  • Norwich (a team Arsenal failed to beat and never led against) have been behind in 44% of their minutes this season.