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xGunners: Arsenal vs Manchester United Stats Preview

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Arsenal host Manchester United Sunday in a top four “Six Pointer.” United have been flying high, but just how good are they? The stats will help explain.

Arsenal v Manchester United - FA Cup Fourth Round Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Manchester United have been flying high since Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over for José Mourinho.

They have collected 32 points, winning 10 and drawing 2 matches. That is a 101 point pace for a full season. They have scored 29 goals, leading the league and conceded just 9 second fewest behind Liverpool’s 10.

By these standard measures, Solskjær has come in and taken a struggling team and turned them into a team that would be among the best ever in the Premier League. So are Manchester United really on par with some of the best teams ever?

Given that as the bar to clear, I don’t think that you can realistically say that. They have improved, especially in attack, but the overall results have flattered the performances that they have put in.

In attack since Solskjær took over, Manchester United have the following stats compared to under Mourinho:

Man U under Solskjær vs Mourinho - Attack

Manager Shots Per Game Rank Big Chances Per Game Rank xG Per Game Rank
Manager Shots Per Game Rank Big Chances Per Game Rank xG Per Game Rank
Solskjær 14.9 4 2.3 5 2.2 3
Mourinho 12.9 7 1.9 6 1.7 6

They have gone from the 6th best attack to the 3rd best attack.

Looking at their xG broken down into five match chunks the biggest improvement for Manchester United was when Solskjær initially took over the team and faced the easy schedule of Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle United, Tottenham, Brighton, Burnley and Leicester. Of those teams, on Tottenham are in the top half of the table currently and that was a match where it took David De Gea heroics to get them all three points.

On defense since Solskjær took over, Manchester United have the following stats compared to under Mourinho:

Man U under Solskjær vs Mourinho - Defense

Manager Shots Per Game Rank Big Chances Per Game Rank xG Per Game Rank
Manager Shots Per Game Rank Big Chances Per Game Rank xG Per Game Rank
Solskjær 11.8 7 1.5 5 1.2 3
Mourinho 13.8 14 1.8 11 1.5 11

The results have been similar but not quite as dramatic as it has been in attack. What really stands out to me is that while the underlying numbers have improved, what has taken a dramatic leap is that De Gea is back to his levels that he had from last season with his save rate.

Under Mourinho De Gea saved 68.1% of the shots on target that he faced, which essentially matched league average of 68.4%. Since Solskjær took over, his save rate has gone through the roof, improving to 80.5%

Based on the shot placement of the shots on target that he has faced De Gea has saved 5.4 goals for Manchester United.

So the TL;DR story is that Manchester United have played better under Solskjær, but the underlying and advanced statistics suggest that they have not improved nearly as much as their point tally suggests.

Match Simulation

My simulation model has this as a very even match. Arsenal are slight favorites because they have the home field advantage but they are certainly not overwhelming favorites. I still think that Arsenal will win this match, primarily because when Arsenal play at the the Emirates they are a significantly better team than their away matches.