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Arsenal’s statistical progress under Unai Emery is muddled

Assessing Arsenal’s progress, or lack of, under Unai Emery

Burnley FC v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The end of the season has been rather lowkey at Arsenal. One suspects this is for a few reasons: the absence of a meaningful final day, and qualification for the Europa League final probably meant that much of the anger that had accompanied Arsenal’s collection of 4 points from 6 games had dissipated, or at least, held back for after the Europa League. Indeed, the presence of the Europa League final makes Arsenal’s campaign hard to judge, for much of one’s assessment boils down to, “did Unai Emery get Arsenal into the Champions League, satisfying one of the job requirements?”

To get a little self-referential, on the blog’s Slack, we were discussing the normal things we do at the end of the season: season in review, grades, etc. I asked the question about whether the end of season grades should wait until after the Europa League final, for I have two different grades in mind for Emery, dependent on what happens on the 29th of May. I won’t reveal my grades for Emery—that’d be scooping a later post—but it does show that we’re in a sort of in-between place with assessing Arsenal’s season.

We can, though, judge Arsenal in comparison to last season, at least in Premier League terms. In the Europa League, Arsenal had a tougher quarter-final opponent in Napoli than they had last season in CSKA Moscow, but in the semi-final, they had a tougher opponent in Atletico Madrid last year than Valencia this campaign. Such distinctions don’t really exist in the league.

The picture is mixed. Arsenal improved a place, and achieved 7 more points than last season. While 70 points is nothing to get too happy about (it is tied for the third lowest total in Arsenal’s last 10 seasons), Unai Emery can point to the point total and claim improvement. Yet, Arsenal conceded as many goals as they did last season; scored one fewer, and had a worse record at home. Let’s delve into some of the numbers:

Arsenal 17-18 v 18-19

Year W D L G A GD PTs (place) xG xGA XGDiff GD - xGD xPts (place) PTS-xPTS
Year W D L G A GD PTs (place) xG xGA XGDiff GD - xGD xPts (place) PTS-xPTS
17-18 19 6 13 74 51 23 63 (6) 72.27 48.75 23.52 -0.52 65.9 (5) -2.9
18-19 21 7 10 73 51 22 70 (5) 64.8 57.3 7.5 14.5 58.97 (7) 11.03
17-18 15 2 2 54 20 34 47 (2) 48.23 21.4 26.83 7.17 41.64 (3) 5.36
18-19 14 3 2 42 16 26 45 (3) 37.67 24.76 12.91 13.09 34.44 (4) 10.56
17-18 4 4 11 20 31 -11 16 (11) 24.04 27.34 -3.3 -7.7 24.26 (6) -8.26
18-19 7 4 8 31 35 -4 25 (8) 27.12 32.54 -5.42 1.42 24.53 (8) 0.47

The first number that pops up is that Arsenal overachieved their expected point total by about 11 points, while under-performing last season by nearly 3 points. That is alarming; it puts Arsenal 7th in the league, rather than 5th. And while it does not necessarily spell doom for Arsenal, it’s worth pointing out that Manchester United, by expected metrics, should’ve finished 6th last season, rather than 2nd. Jose Mourinho’s regression was predicted.

The change is predicated by poorer home form. While Arsenal notably beat Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and drew with Liverpool, they were also beaten by Crystal Palace, and held to draws by Wolves and Brighton. While Arsenal conceded four fewer goals this season, they scored eight fewer; an attacking deficiency sorely felt in home games towards the end of the season. And while Arsenal, by expected metrics, overachieved at home in 2017-18, they did so even more this year: 10.5 points, two places in the table. While this is based on some luck offensively, it is also based on luck defensively, with Arsenal conceding nearly 9 fewer goals than perhaps they should’ve. We can think back to matches against West Ham, Everton, Watford and Cardiff; Arsenal were outshot in three out of those four, and gave up very good chances that weren’t taken. Under Emery, Arsenal gave up 11.6 shots per game at home, and took 13.5—a difference of two—whereas in 2017-18, Arsenal gave up 9.7 shots per game and took 18.1 per game.

Another component of Emery’s job was to improve Arsenal defensively, and away from home. Overall, Arsenal gave up as many goals this season as last; more away from home, 35, setting a new record for the club in the Premier League, and more expected goals against than last season. That is reflected not only in conceded 2 more shots per game at home, but also conceding 13.1 shots per game as opposed to 11.1 in Wenger’s last season. And while Arsenal did get more points away from home, this could be seen as a repeat performance, by expected metrics.

While one could ask questions about the talent level of the players, there are also questions to ask about Emery: he took the squad from 2017-18, with a full season of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sokratis, Bernd Leno and Lucas Torreira, and had mixed results. He was, for various reasons, shorn of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil, as well as Héctor Bellerin and Rob Holding. But while there were some improvements on the surface, it looks very much like putting a new coat of paint on a rotting surface; the structure underneath points to collapse, rather than strength.