Arsenal's return to the Premier League couldn't have been more predictable if they tried, losing 3-0 to Manchester City on Wednesday night. For anyone playing Gunners Bingo the below tweet (and it's replies) had you covered:
But the talking point of Wednesday night's performance was David Luiz, Man of the Match for all the wrong reasons. Coming on in the 24th minute after an injury to Pablo Mari, he committed an error leading to an opposition goal and also conceded a penalty which he was subsequently sent off for, after 25 minutes on the pitch. He is the only player to do this in the league since Carl Jenkinson in 2015 in a game for West Ham v Bournemouth.
Post-match this led to the usual chatter about problems in Arsenal's defence. Luiz was the sole reason why we conceded two our of the three goals against Manchester City and he has a rep of doing this. He's given away penalties in our games away at Liverpool and Chelsea too, as well being sent off in another one of those matches. But in Wednesday's game, before him coming on, the visitors had a solid start in the first 20 minutes, even though their main anchor of midfield in Granit Xhaka, had to be subbed off after seven minutes through injury. That dented one of Mikel Arteta's main tactics. Still, the Gunners managed to register around 0.18 xG in that opening third, not great, but away to defending champions, it looked like we could settle to do something, or well, at least play the game out differently than the way it did.
The commentators were surprised when Luiz didn't start and despite being a calamity, he has been one of the favoured Arsenal players in games against weaker opposition but also a leader to the youth players that have come into the team. However, based on Arteta's pre-match press conference, he had planned this, there were several reasons that he didn't start and they became obvious in his (lack of) defensive play.
As I said, this has thrown in the usual chatter of Arsenal needing a strong CB partnership to improve, but I don't believe this is where the biggest improvement can be made, or is the most efficient improvement. We have conceded as many goals as Chelsea, eight more than Man City and 9 more than Man Utd, for example.
In Wednesday's game, we were semi-decent until we had to make changes to our defence and midfield. However, a longer lasting problem for the Gunners is that they are still not creating chances and are still allowing way too many chances onto their own goal. This is a problem that needs to be address in midfield.
Now people will disagree with me, but despite scoring a higher number of goals than Chelsea and Tottenham last season, our xG (Expected goals) had fallen off a cliff. It has continued to decline after the Arsene Wenger era.
Premier League Goals
2015/16 Season: 65 (1.71 per game)
2016/17 Season: 77 (2.03 per game)
2017/18 Season: 74 (1.95 per game) / xG: 63.3 / xG90 1.66 (Wenger's last season)
2018/19 Season: 73 (1.92 per game) / xG: 56.5 / xG90 1.49 (Emery's first season)
2019/20 Season: 40 (1.38 per game) / xG 36.4 / xG90 1.25
Expected goals measures the quality of a shot based on aspects e.g. distance from goal, type of shot etc. Now, as you can see from Unai's Emery's first season, the difference between our actual goals scored and the xG is big. It means two things: firstly, that we were lucky, but also, the players on the end of those chances (cough, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang) had their clinical boots on. To put it frankly, the fact that we scored so many in that first season made management ignore the fact we weren't actually great in attack, which bit us in the latter half of the 18/19 season and up until Emery's departure.
It is nothing short of a travesty that despite having Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil in mid, Alexander Lacazette and Aubameyang upfront that we created less chances. Now that Arteta has been left with what, I believe, is one of the worst midfield's in the league (no replacements for our most creative players with Aaron Ramsey leaving, Mesut Ozil drama). I do believe Xhaka (well under Arteta) and Dani Ceballos can do a job in just in-front of the back four/three, but that leaves doubts on what exactly Lucas Torreira and Guendouzi (after his horror show against Man City) can do. It's this sort of disjointedness which is damaging Arsenal the most, not only against big teams but smaller teams too, our 1-0 against West Ham a prime example. This is where it would be the most effective to fix
Right now if you take us in a Premier League table based on expected goals, it would have us in 10th. If you take our xGdiff into account(so Expected Goals vs Expected Goals Against) would have us even lower at 13th.
2015/16 Season: 36 (0.95 per game)
2016/17 Season: 44 (1.16 per game)
2017/18 Season: 51 (1.34 per game) / xGA 51.3 (Wenger's last season)
2018/19 Season: 51 (1.34 per game) / xGA 55.7 (Emery's first season)
2019/20 Season: 39 (1.34 per game) / xGA 44.3
*Stats taken from FBref.com
So not only is this disjointedness affecting our chances created, but it's also allowing teams to attack our midfield more and as such, we are conceding additional chances and Expected Goals Against, this is because the balance of midfield haven't been able to play it forward and then we have to rely on someone like Aubameyang to lay deep (you see the issue with that!). We don't have good enough players that are suited to challenge an effective counter attack bar the likes of Buyako Saka.
When the opposition then have more chances, this consequentially means a higher number of goals but also pressure invited onto our defence, there is a greater chance for errors among our hot-headed defenders.
Arsenal will have limited resources, it is important that we don't overlook the lack of creativity in our team - especially when we'll have William Saliba join our ranks next season - as there is a greater need to it right now.