The 7amkickoff Index: Arsenal have been here before and failed to act

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The end of the 2016/17 season was the worst under Arsene Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal. As uncertainty mounted over whether Arsene would sign a new deal the Gunners suffered a series of humiliating defeats to small clubs like Watford, West Brom, Palace, and Tottenham. Arsenal finished 5th for the first time in Wenger’s career, outside of the Champions League places, fan unrest mounted a bi-plane and flew banners over the stadium, and yet the club retained his services. Little did we all know that things could get worse, much worse.

Arsenal’s tenure under Wenger was marked by an odd consistency, rarely challenging for the title in his final ten years, and yet also rarely looking like they would drop out of the top four. But the end of that 2016/17 season should have been a warning to the club. A warning that things were going to take a much more sour turn for the Alsacian.

The web site understat.com has Arsenal’s expected goals data all the way back to 2014/15. I might quibble with some of the values that they assign to shots sometimes but their data tends to match up with my own personal formula and since it is publicly available (and my database isn’t) I like to use their data whenever possible. That way you all can check my work.

I looked at every one of their expected goals numbers for every Premier League match Arsenal played in back to August 2014. That’s 202 Premier League matches for Arsenal.

I then took a simple five-game moving average of the expected goals difference in each match and produced this graph:

Arsenal five game moving average graph showing the decline in expected goals difference from 2014 to 2019

Wenger’s Arsenal peaked in matchday 13 of the 2015/16 season. At that point they had an expected goals difference average of 2.04, per game. Yes, per game, folks.

Cazorla’s injury devastated both the player and the team. With Cazorla out and no one able to make up the slack, Arsenal hit rock bottom on matchday 29, when their expected goals difference over the previous five matches was just 0.10.

There was a slight uptick toward the end of the season and continuing on into the next season but once again Arsenal hit a post Christmas snag. This time, however, the results were much much more problematic and Arsenal hit a Wenger career low -1 expected goals difference per game average.

At that point, the club should have acted. Wenger was out of contract that summer and it was clear that the club couldn’t move forward with him at the helm. And I say that without the slightest disrespect to the things he had done for Arsenal. It’s just that everyone’s time comes to an end.

Arsenal finished the season with a very strong expected goals difference thanks to some massive wins over Burnley, West Ham, and Southampton – which is why you see such a big spike right after – but missed out on 4th place because of a loss to Newcastle.

Perhaps that end-of-season push explains why he got another deal? Either way, it was a false dawn and eventually the reality would catch up.

Another way to look at this expected goals data is to just tally up the number of games in which Arsenal had more expected goals for than they had expected goals against.

In 2014/15 Arsenal had a superior expected goals in 30/38 matches. In 2015/16 that number went up to 33/38 matches and I bet you can even name the five bad matches from that season (Chelsea x2, Southampton, Tottenham, and believe it or not, Swansea).

But the next season, Arsenal struggled to find even expected goals superiority and the number of games where Arsenal had a superior xGD was just 23/38.

Season Matches with +1 or more xGD Matches with -1 or more xGD % of Matches with Positive xGD
2014/15 17 2 79%
2015/16 18 3 87%
2016/17 14 5 61%

 

I also marked the number of times that Arsenal had a +1 or greater xGD and the number of times we had a -1 or greater (lesser) xGD. For example, matchday 25 of 2016/17, Arsenal played Hull and had an expected goals of 3.12 and an expected goals against of 0.47. That counts as one of the +1 or more. And on matchday 33 against Tottenham, Arsenal had an expected goals of 0.59 and an expected goals against of 3.46 so that goes in the -1 column. Got it?

As you can see from the numbers above, once again, the 2016/17 season is one which Wenger was clearly slipping, though, you could make an argument that the results weren’t so terrible. After all, Arsenal were only dominated five times in the League that season.

Wenger’s final season is widely considered to be Wenger’s worst and from a defensive perspective it was: 49 expected goals conceded, 51 actual goals conceded. And as we see from the 5 match moving average line, Arsenal were in a real mess with Wenger.

Here’s the expected goals for and against averages from the same period, the red line represents the defense:

This graph shows that the defense at Arsenal has grown progressively worse over time, and also that the last two years, the offense has dried up. That data is also reflected in the xGD chart at the top of this post. There I have marked when the Emery era began and the chart shows, along with the graphic directly above, that Emery’s version of Arsenal are not only not hitting the offensive highs that Wenger achieved, they are also not defensively solid.

And the end of the 2018/19 season should have been all the data that the club needed in order to see that Emery wasn’t right for the job. Under Emery, Arsenal’s five match expected goals difference average dropped to a 188 match low of -1.10. Emery was able to bring that back a bit with a big win over Burnley on the last day of the season but still ended the season on a negative expected goals difference per game average.

But what I think is truly aggravating for Arsenal supporters is the sheer number of matches that Arsenal have been bossed by the opposition. If I use that same metric above with the number of games that Arsenal have a +1 or more xGD and a -1 or more xGD, Emery’s Arsenal had a lot of games in which his team were simply hanging on for dear life: 10 of them last season and already 2 of them this season.

Season Matches with +1 or more xGD Matches with -1 or more xGD % of Matches with Positive xGD
2014/15 17 2 79%
2015/16 18 3 87%
2016/17 14 5 61%
2017/18 17 4 63%
2018/19 12 10 61%
2019/20 0 2 42%

 

And the worst bit is that he’s not improving the offense. So far this season, Arsenal have zero matches with a +1 xGD and only 42% (5/12) matches even have a positive xGD at all!

In fact, since matchday 24 (15 matches last season plus 12 matches this season) of last season Emery has only had 13 positive matches and 14 negative matches. In that time he’s also only had 6 matches with a +1 or more and six matches with a -1 or more. That includes Arsenal’s largest ever negative expected goal difference in a match when Emery’s Arsenal conceded 3.68 expected goals and only created 0.60 expected goals to Rodgers’ Leicester in matchday 36.

That run of terrible form coincides with Bellerin’s injury. But even if we return to Emery’s “glory days” of the first 22 League matches of his Arsenal career, he only had a positive expected goal difference in 64% of those games and he had 5 games which Arsenal had a +1 or more expected goals difference but 6 matches in which we had a -1 or more expected goals difference.

For me there’s no question at this point. The best we can expect is that Unai Emery will go back to being as bad as Wenger was at his worst. And at worst things will get much much worse.

The board was faced with a similar choice in 2016/17 and not only failed to act but took the wrong decision. Let’s hope they have learned their lesson.

Qq

Source: understat.com

 

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Bob's Mexican Cousin

Seems they didn’t. Focus is on them now. The coward is as useful as a pimple, but we all know that.

Badaab

Cheers Tim- but what about the Statdna stats? Surely the club wouldn’t be as insular as to use their own company’s metrics to determine their own effectiveness? Perhaps I’m being cynical.

Futsboller

That’s so disappointing to read …..

SB Still

Argh! While I was reading this analysis, I was wondering what the Board will think if they came across this, if they will give it the due credibility, particularly given the stats, they should be able to verify it for themselves. Damn, if they have seen from their own, which ofcourse they should as part of checks and balances, they should be using the stats team not just on targets but their own performance as well, to validate what the manager is saying. Surely Emery will be getting these reports as well (I’m imagining a post match report to the… Read more »

Thierrys_Tears

My brain hurts. This is bad, right? Kind of lines up with the shite I see each weekend.

Futsboller

At least you know your eyes work, very well in fact.

BigArse

There is just no logical argument to keep Emery. None. I’ve tried to be as cool headed as possible and look for one. There’s nothing to find. At the end with Arsene there was the loyalty argument. He as loyal to us, he had a glorious past with great achievements at Arsenal. You may have felt it wasn’t enough, and fair enough, but at least it was a cogent point of view.

Keeping Emery is just madness.

Benriz

100%

NMArsenal

That’s it really. I don’t have any ill will against Emery and I think he can be a good coach for a upper mid-tier team. Also he seems to struggle in foreign countries (Spartak Moscow, PSG and now Arsenal). But he is not the manager for Arsenal FC at any stage. Arsenal FC has certain philosophy and ambition that permeates from directors, recruitment and academy. To really play the Emery way everything in the club needs to be changed: players, training stuff, academy etc and that’s not possible. The board needs to see that and cut losses. The monetary loss… Read more »

Naked Cygan

Emery will give you this logic; Good ebening BigArse, I understand that in this moment with the balance of results some fans may not be happy. We have to look at the positives for the balance we try to creat, and with each momentum try to get better results with our success. Each match we try harder for the next and make sure to give positive results for the fans most important. For now we try to analyze and improve more balance between defence and attack and with players we have and players who come back we try for new… Read more »

jw1

Meet the new board,
(Not the) Same as the old board…

There’s no cross-generational memory between this existing group of decision-makers and the ones that did not act to oust Wenger earlier. Raul hadn’t left Barca, Vinai was the CCO. There’s no lesson to be taken by anyone except Josh Kroenke.

And it occurs he’s getting plenty of smoke up his skirt right now.

tanned arse

Delivered like an eerie prophecy. I feel a chill in the air!

charvakan

Thank you. This is so depressing. The squad is technically gifted offensively and really should be scoring more. Poor team selection and tactics contributes to defensive woes. It’s all on Emery. The whole world can see this. Does Stan Kroenke like losing money? Because that’s what Emery guarantees if he’s allowed to keep dragging this team and club down with his ineptitude. Please don’t think I’m calling for a return of Wenger; he had to go and needs to stay away. But Wenger would have done considerably better with this group of players. At this point, I’m looking enviously at… Read more »

gee

Hey 7amkickoff.

You said that Wenger should have been sacked the season that Carzola got injured? but would things have planned out a bit different if we had managed to sign Kante instead of Chelsea? They went on to win the league that season and Kante was a key player. We got Xhaka.

The mistake the board made was not having a good back up plan to replace Wenger. I think they were even less prepared the season Carzola got injured so getting rid of him then would have been suicidal.

Martin Dufosse

He was offered Kante and Thomas Lamar for a combined fee of £14 Million at the end of the 2014 season. Turned it down and bought Xhaka . You couldn’t make it up.!!!!

Caligunner

Hmmm interesting

Since xhaka only came in 2016.

Guess what? I’ve heard he was offered griezmann before he became griezmann for £13 plus whatever club had griezmann offered to get any other player wenger needed by using a time machine as a bonus

Luther

Yes you could make it up, and you have made it up. Xhaka was signed in 2016; not 2014. And we tried to sign Kante, but he was looking for a path towards one of the higher paying clubs. It’s because of lies like yours that we have this divide between club and fanbase.

Arsepedant

It’s Cazorla. Not Carzola, Cazorla. CA-ZOR-LA. It’s not that hard.

Rich

Cazorla is our greatest player of the Emirates era. He had real ability at both ends of the pitch, but we were at our best with him dictating play from deep, his reception of the ball, and ability to get us out of our own half against the press was poetry in motion. Our midfield hasn’t worked for a long time, hopefully we can get £50 – £60mill for Mustafi + Xhaka + Elneny in January, then go all out for Isco. As much as we could do with natural cover for Bellerin, and an upgrade at centre half, signing… Read more »

thw14

Truly, truly wonderful player. You think that if he could come into the league and get 12 goals AND 11 assists in his first season, what prevents Ozil from diversifying his game a bit? And if he could follow that season up with a reinvention in central/deep-lying midfield, what prevents Xhaka from improving his defensive positioning and decision-making? I’m sorry to use his name to beat other players up (Ozil, particularly, is a pretty decent player, all considered) but the annoying idea is gaining steam that Arsenal fans are a bit of a baying mob. Give over, we’ve witnessed footballing… Read more »

Caligunner

I guess Isco is an older version of ceballos?

Riku

The midfield issue / too few assists David Luiz most successful at through balls stat. Martin Known said footbsll a simple game . I get the ball I pass vieria – who passes bergkamp who pass Henry =goal K- vieria – bergkamp – Henry =goal Other examples Sagna – fabagas- nasri – Rvp=goal Bfg- santi -ozil – Sanchez These days – Luiz – (goundouzi / torrenta /Xhaka ) – ( who!) – alex.l or pea.= goal Pepe no assists open play – ozil no assists premier league , same saka- willock – no assists Matteo- torreira- Xhaka- A midfield who… Read more »

xjert02

Exactly! E.g. Douzi has got too many touches almost everytime. There is literally none player in current squad with Santi-esque perfect ball protection, who was able to hold up pressure and dribble past opponents, and still we are repeatedly trying to play out of the back and dribble out through the middle, while these players aren’t capable of this. The team is commiting suicide weak in weak out. There is another simple football rule. “Ball is quicker than player.” Football is getting quicker and we are not quick enough in transition. In fact, our midfield looks like a snail family… Read more »

xjert02

correction, sorrz …we’ve got a bunch…

para

One thing i have noticed over the last 10 – 15 years. Every time Arsenal starts to look good and seriously threaten, their best player gets (seriously or long term) injured.

PaulS

Based on what you’ve said here you would have sacked Pochettino after his first year at Spurs (worse than Emery’s first year), might have sacked Klopp after his first year (finishing 8th) at Liverpool. Would sack Pochettino now (big reduction in xG), and would have sacked Klopp (if he hadn’t jumped) after his final season at Dortmund. Is that right? I agree things are at a point where we can be pretty confident that things would not end up being all rosy under Emery, and we should certainly be looking for alternatives, but jumping the gun early, or sacking due… Read more »

charvakan

This is not “a short dip in form.” It’s a major slide over months, and lest we forget, we strengthened in several areas and our academy has come good. Now look at how Emery is man-managing: it’s shit. He’s wasted Ozil and ruined Xhaka, his goat and his favorite. He’s misusing Torreira and Chambers egregiously. The players are trying to be good soldiers but you can see in their demeanor and performances that they have no confidence in what Emery is doing. Auba basically carried us on his back for stretches, but there’s a limit to that. What has gotten… Read more »

SaintSanti

I do not have the exact numbers on their XG in their first seasons, but at least Sp*rs and Liverpool played some exciting football. Can’t say that about Emery.

loose_cannon

You have to consider where those clubs were when those managers first arrived. You also have to consider that this isn’t Emery’s first season anymore! It’s also not a short dip in form, it’s a continuation of the disastrous run of results last season and our performances in general. I’d hate to sack a manager so early as well, but it is what it is!

DB's first touch

The key difference is that Klopp was clearly taking Liverpool in a positive direction by implementing a style of play that was identifiable and likely to bring success (i.e., it was part of the process of implementing of a medium term strategy, and thus warranted patience). Emery is NOT following some grand master plan that we can recognize as needing time to come to fruition. In fact, it is clear that he is improvising as he goes, hoping to stumble onto something that will work, all the while repressing the team’s natural attacking instincts. For example: Emery stated when he… Read more »

Oregoon

After 18 months what have we got? Not to reiterate, but he has tried all different kinds of formations and tactics, and never really settled on anything including a distinct first 10. If we played a recognizable style and were well trained at it, and having a hard go, I think we would still have some faith that things would improve. If anyone has seen that happening over the past 12 league games, please help me out. This guy is just a tinkerer, and they get exposed very quickly in this league.

meletios

You make a good point, but no two (or three in this case) situations are same. In the examples you gave above(Klopp and Poch), 1. You could identify a system which their team were trying to play and perfect. Granted it did not come off often in the beginning for them (or now for Spurs but thats a different reason all together) but you could see what they were trying to do. In our case 95% of the fans dont know what our system is. 2. The team morale is at the floor (or the basement if their is one),… Read more »

kaius

This column neatly sums up one of the major problems we have as a club. When you’ve only hired two coaches in nearly 25 years, you’re not gonna have much experience of when to fire and who to hire.

The mistake wasn’t letting Wenger go, it was waiting so long to retire him and appoint a successor that the best candidates went to our rivals, leaving us with Emery.

We have to take advantage of the position we’re in now – out of all the major clubs we’re probably only competing with Bayern for a top class head coach.

Homer

Rubbish.
Raul and Edu have plenty of experience hiring/firing. He was at barcaloan-us! for years prior to AFC.

Runnings

We need a coach that can actually coach a system of play. The squad of players is good enough. *’ bad workman fuss with tools*…

Shitbird

Oh Santi where art thou?

(Great analysis.)

Luther

You’ve got so many of your facts wrong – for example, Newcastle were not in the Premier League in the season you claim we lost to them in – that one must presume your data is bullshit too. It is only your opinion that Arsenal should have got rid of Wenger, so don’t say it as if it’s a fact. Us “AKBs” told you all to be careful what you wish for.

Frank

2015/16 Newcastle finished 18th in the Premier League. What are you on???

Luther

Yes but he’s referring to 2016/17, when they were in the Championship due to finishing 18th in 2015/16. In any case, they never beat us in 2015/16 – we did the double over them then.

MikeSA

You “careful what you wish for” BS completely eradicates any semblance of value or credibility in your comment.

It’s absolute [email protected]

The club took way too long before acting on Wenger, that’s why we’re where we are.

Luther

But we’re worse now than we were under Wenger. I’m sure you’ve seen the comparison between Emery’s 50 games and Wenger’s last 50. Even at his worst, Wenger was better than Emery has been in his entirety so far.
Wenger did the best that could be done in the circumstances we were in against the financially doped clubs. Had we “acted on Wenger” earlier, we’d be in this predicament earlier.

Aaron

Yeah, financially doped clubs such as Liverpool and Leicester and to an increasing extent, Sp*rs.

Emery is bad but that doesn’t mean Arsene was doing well. It was long overdue that Arsene had to go and it’s clear as day for all to see that Emery has to as well.

Fat Frank Lampard is doing better than most with a defense that includes Zouma, Fikori and Emerson for God’s sake.

Luther

Those three clubs have so far won one Premier League title between them – talk about focusing on the exception rather than the rule. If teams outside Chelsea and the Manchesters were regularly winning the league, then one couldn’t have made that defence of Wenger. But he would have defied even that disadvantage and won the league, at least in 2016, if it weren’t for the toxic atmosphere in the stadium, and the treacherous “supporters” who did their best to sabotage the team so that they could be proven right.

joe

“Had we ‘acted on Wenger’ earlier, we’d be in this predicament earlier.”

only assuming we got an emery-level manager. perhaps we could have gotten someone better (e.g. pep or klopp or tuschl or allegri or ancelotti or bielsa, depending on when we acted).

Ricky

Love the tidbit at the beginning highlighting Tottenham as a small club with the likes of Watford/West Brom

Not Emery

Spoiler. The board haven’t learnt.

Ozenal

During Wengers last couple of years, the net spend wasn’t that large compared to Emery.

I think we should be drawing a line under the directors, not the managers. As they are clearly chalk and cheese.

Whisht

Great analysis as always Tim. Last season, when asked in an interview whether Emery (and by implication Raul/Vinai) had been ‘successful’, rather than say “we hit our targets” or “we missed this one, but got this target” Vinai said (something along the lines of) ‘knowing what we knew then, if we had to make the same decision again, we would”. That’s a classic ‘don’t blame us!’ type of statement but one I smiled at as I had also thought of Emery “EL Cup winner” as a safe choice to get us the target of CL. But its not an excuse… Read more »

Homer

Many comments below about waiting too long before sacking Wenger. Perhaps, but the man won 3 FA cups in 4 years – on top of everything else he’s done — and that is A LOT. We all saw the slow decline, but was it really that bad?…I say yes & no. The club is struggling with a new manager the way nearly all clubs struggle when they change managers. (And I’m no fan of Emery, make no mistake. But he’s what we got now and it looks like for a while longer yet, so we all might consider the club… Read more »

Rectum Spectrum

it was like cazorla getting injured was the final breaking of Wenger. he had tried to rebuild and just as you thought the team might bear fruit it got picked apart. nasri, fab, van perise, the leg breaks on ramsey and particularly eduardo ending faint promise.

it was like after cazorla he gave up, and was running on auto-pilot, no more motivation to reconstruct.

emery deosnt look like he has half the capability of arsene to build something beautiful from lesser parts.

shaka

the last trio was Sanchez – Ozil – Cazorla …. Sanchez agitated for a move and Cazorla got injured while Ozil’s back started to play up. Our last three world class players.

Cool Papa Bellerin

Aubameyang is world class. He won the Golden Boot in a dysfunctional team while playing half the season out of position, and he’s scored 50 goals for Arsenal in fewer games than Thierry Henry. He’s better than Alexis ever was.

Ausdrexler

The question I ask is this:
Would other ambitious clubs tolerate these performances? The answer is no, and the manager would be sacked.
If we still claim to be ambitious, then Emery has to go. Simple as that. Holding onto him just confirms what supporters have been saying for years, the club is not ambitious and just wants to be a top 6 club. Which is in jeopardy now really.

Rectum Spectrum

while I agree, I think the problem is a lack of an obvious replacement. otherwise united and spurs would be parting with their managers too.

Riku

The midfield issue Martin Known said footbsll a simple game . I get the ball I pass vieria – who passes bergkamp who pass Henry =goal K- vieria – bergkamp – Henry =goal Sagan – fabagas- nasri – Rvp= goal Cliches – song- arshsvin- -theo=goal Bfg- santi -ozil – Sanchez These days – Luiz – (goundouzi / torrenta /Xhaka ) – ( who!) – alex.l or pea.= goal Pepe no assists open play – ozil no assists premier league , same saka- willock – no assists Matteo- torreira- Xhaka- A midfield who have no assisted in them . Take three… Read more »

Jim

This article, and the news reel on this site today just sums up arsenal for me. Bad statistics, a youngster improving, players using media speak to cover poor performances. I love Arseblog, certainly not a criticism, I love this club, but things are very very stale right now

Martinellis belly

Great stuff.
Please cc this to Raul, Edu, and the Kroenke family marked “URGENT”

Ozenal

You could also look at when Arsene signed the new contract he also had to give up his hand in transfers to Gazidis and we ended up with some one dimensional players straight out of a basic championship manager search.

Or selling one striker for another and not having anything left for a defender

I hope Arsenes book tells us why we didn’t spend 12m for Jonny Evans.

Public Elneny

Our problems would not have been sold by signing Jonny Fucking Evans