Arsenal’s season is over, so it’s time for all of the end of year review stuff. This time, we’ll take a look at a relatively new metric in xG and try to use it to analyze Arsenal’s season. The Arsenal xG review will include some talk of formations, situations, timing and a few other fun things. Hopefully, this will yield some interesting finds for us.
Numbers courtesy of Understat.com
Arsenal xG Review 2017-2018
Wenger began the season as he ended the last, by using a fairly unorthodox back three. While the change in formation paid dividends in 2016-2017, this season saw a step back in the ‘Christmas tree’ formation.
The Gunners played 1,615 minutes in a back three formation which yielded 14 goals against compared to 31 goals for. The expected goals scored stat (xG) comes in at 34.74, while the expected goals against (xGA) comes in at 16.08. So, Arsenal scored fewer goals than expected but kept out more than expected using the back three.
Meanwhile, using a back three, Arsenal scored on average every 52.1 minutes and conceded every 115.36 minutes.
Our man Arsène got wise to the fact that the back three just doesn’t work for his team eventually. That prompted a shift back to his preferred back four system, either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3.
The team spent 1,824 minutes between the two formations, scoring 40 goals while shipping 30. Arsenal’s xG this time came out to 34.46 and xGA tallied 27.88.
With the back four, the Gunners scored on average every 45.6 minutes and shipped a goal every 60.8 minutes.
As you can see, Arsenal played better attacking football with a back four but shipped at a much faster rate.
The Arsenal xG review yields some surprising stats about when the goals came this season. For example, the Gunners were better at set pieces than their reputation would have you believe.
While the majority of Arsenal’s goals came from open play, 54, they performed above average from dead ball scenarios. The team scored ten goals from corners, yet only scored a 6.93 xG in these scenarios. Arsenal also netted five times from all other set pieces, compared to an xG of just 3.27.
The team’s defense against corners was weak, however, as they gave up six goals at an xGA value of just 4.63. From all other dead ball scenarios, the defense got better, with just one goal allowed compared to 2.47 xGA.
Open play, as you may imagine, is where most goals came from. The team’s xG from open play was 57.27, but they only scored 54 goals. Arsenal’s xGA was 36.84, and they allowed 39 goals. So, the club scored fewer times than expected, but managed to allow more than their fair share.
Arsenal both scored more and allowed more goals in the second half compared to the first.
They scored 45 goals, at an xG of 40.99, and allowed 30 goals, at an xG of 27.97, from minute 46 onwards. In the first half, Arsenal scored 28 times, at an xG of 32.35, and allowed 21 goals, at an xG of 16.31.
We can see that the Gunners had a tough time of keeping the goals out regardless of which phase of the match they found themselves. The numbers also show that the north Londoners found scoring difficult in the first 45, falling short of their xG by more than four goals.
Where Arsenal took shots from also affords us some insight. For example, just how many of Granit Xhaka’s 30-yard screamers found the back of the net? The answer there is not many, sadly.
Arsenal scored six goals from outside the opponent’s penalty area, from an xG of 7.45. Within the penalty box, but outside the six-yard box, the team netted 53 goals from an xG of 46.85. Inside the six-yard box, the Gunners again lost their clinical edge, scoring 14 goals from an xG of 19.03.
So, the team got most of their goals from a sort of medium range; outside the six-yard box but within the penalty area. Their opponents shared this trait on the balance of the season.
Arsenal shipped two goals from outside the penalty area, from an xGA of 4.35. From inside the six-yard box, opponents scored 11 goals from an xGA of 11.72. From outside the six-yard box but inside the penalty area, they netted 38 goals from an xGA of 33.21.
We see a few patterns in the Arsenal xG review, but not all of them give us a real insight into how to fix this team. For example, the fact that they allowed fewer goals using the back three system probably isn’t surprising to anyone. After all, they had an extra man to help out in defense.
However, these stats do give some food for thought. For example, would the team have done so poorly away from home using the back three system? After all, they averaged just one goal allowed every 115 minutes or so. Even with a sub-par attack, holding opponents to less than one goal per 90 gives the team a chance to win every match.
Let’s not forget exactly when those road difficulties began; in January, after Wenger reverted back to his familiar back four.
The fact that the team had such a hard time scoring early may tell us something as well. Outgoing manager Arsène Wenger is often criticized for not properly preparing his teams, so perhaps we will see a shift under Unai Emery. If the Spaniard can get his players up for the match from the first minute, they may have a greater chance of taking three points consistently.
The Arsenal xG review also emphasizes something we already knew. That is, don’t take shots from outside the box. From 372 shots taken by Arsenal and their opponents this season, only eight of them found the back of the net.
The next time you see Xhaka winding up from thirty-five yards out, please don’t encourage him.
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