After 22 years of Arsene Wenger, Arsenal parted ways with one of the most successful managers in their history ahead of the 18/19 season.
Using Expected Goals (xG), we assess how Unai Emery got on in his first season, before predicting what Arsenal can expect ahead of his second campaign in charge.
After two defeats from their opening Premier League games, Arsenal then won seven league matches in a row, and things were looking up, but ultimately the season ended in disappointment, as they finished fifth in the table and were beaten by Chelsea in the Europa League final.
According to xG, fifth flattered the Gunners, and based on their underlying process, it’s hard to envisage much improvement ahead of the new campaign.
Expected Goals is a metric, just like shots or shots on target, that provides a percentage chance of a goal being scored from any given scoring chance. xG quantifies the quality of any given scoring opportunity, giving each chance a probability of being scored. The higher the probability, the better the chance. xG provides a descriptive look back at individual games or over a longer period, helping to give an insight into future performance.
Though they finished in fifth place, based on the chances they created and conceded in matches, there were eight teams better than Arsenal last season.
The Gunners were languished down in 9th place in Infogol’s xG table, behind the likes of Wolves, Leicester and Everton, with their defence again the main issue.
Despite Emery being viewed as a more pragmatic manager than Wenger, Arsenal were worse defensively under Emery in 18/19 (58.2 xGA) than under Wenger in 17/18 (51.6 xGA).
That extends to the attacking side of things also, as Wenger’s Arsenal were a much better attacking unit in 17/18 (73.1 xGF) than Emery’s side last season (63.2 xGF).
It appears as if Emery has taken Arsenal backwards then, but it is worth bearing in mind last season was his first in England, and the Spaniard will be much better prepared this time around, so an improvement in process, at the very least, is expected.
There were signs of promise last season, but only in flashes around the middle part of the season, and Arsenal need to ensure they are more consistent with their performances this time around.
Bernd Leno was an astute signing ahead of the 18/19 season, and he performed well all campaign, with Infogol calculating using our xG2 model (for goalkeepers) that there would be only a 25% chance that an average keeper would concede fewer than Leno did, based on the shots he faced.
In attack, Arsenal possess two top talents in Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Aubameyang finished the season as the joint-top Premier League goalscorer after notching 22 times, a fair reflection of the chances he got on the end of (21.6 xG), while Lacazette scored a modest 13 in comparison.
Friends off the pitch, the pair have forged a top partnership on it as well, and they were the two shining lights for Arsenal last season. They should continue to play and score at a similar level in 19/20, given that they averaged 0.69 xG/90 (Auba) and 0.39 xG/90 (Laca).
Arsenal’s 18/19 non-pen xGI leaders
Hector Bellerin was having a good season before he suffered a bad injury, as was Rob Holding, and so when they return, Arsenal will be stronger.
Mesut Özil was poor last season, as he managed just five goals and two assists, so must step his game up in 19/20 if he is to hold down a place in Emery’s team, and in comparison, Henrikh Mkhitaryan was underrated last season, as he was Arsenal’s third-highest xG contributor behind the two strikers.
There has been plenty of summer speculation surrounding Arsenal’s transfer targets and the budget they have available, but so far, they have only signed young forward Gabriel Martinelli for a modest price and Dani Ceballos on a season-long loan.
William Saliba has joined as well, but won’t be available this season, as he’s returned to St. Etienne on loan.
Wilfried Zaha continues to be linked with a move across London, and though his ability in wide areas would add another dimension to the side, you’d be excused for thinking the money would be better invested elsewhere.
Arsenal’s defensive process has remained average for some time now, with xGA aligning with the perceived vulnerability of the backline. Saliba looks a fine prospect, but the Gunners will have to be patient to see him play.
Kieran Tierney would add industry at left-back, though the signing looks unlikely to get over the line at this stage. Despite the above transfer targets improving the overall squad, there doesn’t seem to be the calibre of playing coming in to make a big impact on defensive numbers, and for this reason, it’s hard to see any improvement in this area ahead of the new campaign.
Infogol 2019/20 prediction – 6th
Arsenal are unsurprisingly a long way behind Manchester City and Liverpool in terms of underlying performances. Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United are favoured above them based on what we saw last season from an xG perspective.