Positivity is as high as it has been in years at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal have won six straight in the Premier League and are two from two in the Europa League.
After a difficult introduction to the job, Unai Emery has the Gunners flying high. Arsenal are a mere two points off the top of the table and currently occupy a top four spot – albeit on goal difference – ahead of their north London rivals.
The results only tell part of the story. Arsenal have not been playing like a title-contending side. Defensively, they have been vulnerable. Going forward they have got goals, but it’s not been the fluent, chance creating feasts we see from Liverpool or Manchester City.
While shot quantity stats are far from perfect, Arsenal’s still tell us something. Only Burnley, Brighton – who had a difficult start to the season – and Fulham, who have been awful defensively, have conceded more shots than Arsenal this term. Arsenal have allowed their opponents to have 88 shots so far. Liverpool and Manchester City combined have allowed 85.
Quantity of shots at that scale is a concern. Even if that was 88 shots from outside the box it would be a slight issue. In Arsenal’s case, though, they are giving up goal scoring opportunities, too.
Their non-penalty expected goals against is lower than Brighton, Burnley and Fulham. That’s a relative positive. Their 10.95 NPxGA is still not good. It’s a concerning number for a top six team over an eight match span. Only 3.88 of that came against Manchester City and Chelsea in their defeats at the start of the season.
This is clearly a fundamental problem. Arsenal’s midfield has been tinkered with by Emery thus far, but it has not changed a great deal. Watford managed 2.38 xG at the Emirates, despite having a distinctly average attack. Teams are getting into Arsenal’s third with relative ease and are seldom stopped from getting a shot – of varying quality – off.
Emery has been fortunate with the goal scoring output from his side. While overperformance of xG across a season is not impossible, doing it at the rate Arsenal have would be unheard of. The Gunners have 19 league goals on 10.41 xG. To give some content, Manchester United’s expected goals is 12.83, and they have scored 12 total. The narrative surrounding the two teams over the last few weeks could not be more different.
The attack is perhaps a greater concern than the defence. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are both scoring goals, but the current rate of creating chances suggests this will not last much longer. Arsenal managed just 1.14 xG against Fulham last weekend and had only 0.93 xG in their 2-0 home win against Everton.
Simply having better attacking players than their opponents has been a factor in this, of course. Arsenal’s attackers should get more goals from a similar set of chances than most non-top six Premier League players, but this current rate is unsustainable.
Aubameyang and Lacazette (small sample, granted) have a combined 4.49 NPxG. They have scored eight league goals. Last season, Aubameyang overperformed by 1.35 goals in his half-season with the Gunners, and Lacazette actually marginally underperformed.
Arsenal are creating chances like a mid-table side. Their pair of elite forwards have bought Emery some time, but they are in a false position right now. The results are good, and it could prove key come May, yet this brilliant September and October might just be papering over the cracks.
Emery does not have a clear set of footballing beliefs like Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp. Whether that is good or bad is a debate for a different time, but it gives him flexibility. What Emery does from here could determine his first season with the club. He needs to be proactive rather than reactive and make alterations before the underwhelming performances impact results.
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