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Evolution Or Revolution – Arsenal


Evolution or Revolution is a new series from Stats Perform looking at which teams need only a few tweaks ahead of the 2020/21 season and which require a fundamental reboot. Resident Arsenal expert @Orbinho looks at what should be the key focus areas for the Gunners.  

By: Rob Bateman

Problems In Defence

Arsenal conceded 48 goals in the 2019/20 Premier League season, an improvement on the face of it from the previous two seasons where the Gunners shipped 51 goals in each campaign. However, Expected Goals suggest that Arsenal should have conceded more last season than in the previous two. This poses the question: has Arsenal’s defence improved under Mikel Arteta? 

Arsenal Expected Goals Against

SeasonGoals ConcededExpected Goals Against
Season 2018/20195154.5
Season 2017/20185148.1
Season 2019/20204856.3

On the surface, Arsenal seemed to improve defensively after Arteta’s appointment, conceding 27 goals in 18 games before he arrived and just 21 in 20 matches under his guidance. But Expected Goals showed the Gunners would have expected to ship around 25 under Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg, but 31 under their new boss.

And only two teams in the Premier League allowed their opponents more shots on target in 2019/20 than Arsenal.

Arsenal Shots on Target conceded 2019/20 premier league

Arsenal’s goalkeepers actually made more saves than any other team’s shot-stoppers, and in the process made more saves than any other combination of Gunners’ ‘keepers in Premier League history. They also saved a higher percentage of shots on target faced than any other team (76%).

Arsenal have some way to go. The average goals conceded by a title-winning side in the Premier League over the last 10 years is 33. With an average of 50 per season over the last three campaigns and 44 over the last 10, it’s clear that defensive improvement has to be a priority to challenge for a Champions League place.

Stats Perform Verdict: Revolution Required

Defending Set Pieces

One way Mikel Arteta could address his team’s defensive woes is to focus on set pieces. The first thing he can do is to tell his players to stop conceding penalties. Only Leicester (10) and Watford (9) conceded more spot-kicks than the Gunners (8) in 2019/20 and David Luiz set a Premier League record for most penalties given away by a player in a single campaign, with five.

This propensity for giving away penalties is exacerbated by the fact teams tend to convert against the Gunners. While the average penalty conversion over the last seven seasons is 78%, Arsenal have conceded from 38 of the last 41 they have faced – 93% – and two of the saved ones were scored on the rebound!

But the Gunners struggle in general from set pieces. They conceded a higher proportion of goals from dead ball situations than any other team:

Arsenal Set Piece Goals Conceded

Of course, penalties added significantly to that tally, but when excluded, only Manchester United shipped a higher percentage than the Gunners. Both teams were susceptible from corners with only Norwich (12) and Aston Villa (10) conceding more than the nine these two teams shipped during the campaign.

Arsenal Set Piece Goals Conceded 2019/20

TeamSet Piece Goals Conceded (excl. penalties)
Manchester United33.3%
Newcastle United25.9%

The Gunners already seem on the case as Andreas Georgson, a set piece coaching specialist, will be joining from Brentford.

Stats Perform Verdict: Revolution Required

Chance Creation

Arsenal scored 56 goals this season, their lowest tally since 1995/96. Most of those were netted by Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, who finished runner up to Jamie Vardy in the race for the Golden Boot.

When they do create chances, Arsenal are good at taking them. Only Liverpool converted a higher percentage of shots into goals than Arsenal in last season’s Premier League. And under Unai Emery in 2018/19, the Gunners set a Premier League record for the highest conversion rate of any team in the history of the competition.

The problem seems not one of quality, but quantity. Only five teams mustered fewer shots than the Gunners over the course of the campaign.

Arsenal Total Shots Premier League 2019/20

Arsenal’s most creative player was Nicolas Pépé, with six assists and 40 chances created over the course of the season. Bukayo Saka ended the season with five assists, mostly from left back in a breakout season, but Arsenal fans spent much of the season complaining about a lack of guile and creativity and frustration that one of the best playmakers of the last decade in Mesut Özil managed to fall out with three separate coaches and contribute very little to the cause.

Arsenal - Assists Premier League 2019/20


Adding creativity to the team has to be a priority for Arteta. As the table below shows, despite spending much of the season banished from the first team, Mesut Özil was only just pipped to the top of their chance creators by Pépé. Willian has joined, but after working wonders to help Arsenal win the FA Cup and defeat Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea in the last few weeks of the campaign, perhaps Arteta’s greatest achievement might be to revitalise his German playmaker.

Arsenal Chances Created - Premier League 2019/20

PlayerChances Created
Stats Perform Verdict: Evolution Required

Review our other pieces in this series:
Manchester United
Manchester City
Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City
Leeds United
West Brom

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