Analysis: Are Arsenal Really Suffering from Bad Luck?

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta arrived at his pre-match press conference ahead of the Carabao Cup semi-final against Man City prepared. After 7 matches without a Premier League win, he knew more tough questions would be coming his way. Therefore, in an attempt to defend himself, he provided some interesting statistics.

The stats he referred to, one would assume, link to xG. Arteta claimed that “last year we won against Everton with a 25% of winning” yet in our 2-1 defeat to the Toffees at the weekend there was a “67% chance of winning.” xG suggests Arteta’s notions are accurate. The February 3-2 win ended Arsenal 1.34-2.66 Everton and Saturday’s 2-1 loss finished Everton 0.8-1.4 Arsenal.

Arteta then went on to point towards our 1-0 defeat against Burnley which he believes resulted in just 3% chance of loss. The Spaniard also claimed there was just a 7% chance of defeat against Spurs. So, what exactly is Arteta trying to reveal through these facts and figures?

Well, the under-fire Arsenal manager was likely attempting to support his Saturday post-match revelation that “the luck is not with us.” In fairness to him, xG suggests his Arsenal side may well be getting unlucky.

In our last 4 matches, according to xG, we’ve deserved to win 3 and lose just one. That xG loss, funnily enough, being the 1-1 draw with Southampton last Wednesday. This reveals that we haven’t let our respective opponents create many high-quality chances and offensively we’re creating enough to score goals. On the surface, this insinuates we’re suffering with bad luck both defensively and offensively.

In consequence, despite what his critics may say, Arteta’s claims are credible. Nevertheless, concerning xG, one must consider the circumstances of our last few fixtures.

Firstly, the way teams approach fixtures against Arsenal must be considered. The common themes of our recent games have not been coincidental. Teams are sitting in after grabbing a lead against us because they don’t think we’re capable of breaking them down. All three of the vastly experienced Nuno Espirito Santo, José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti have deployed such a tactic.

Inevitably, when a team plays this way, their xG will be low. Why? For the reason that they stop attacking. This means their xG doesn’t grow. Considering so many teams do this against us, our latest xG statistics must be taken with a pinch of salt.

The same can be said for our offensive numbers concerning xG. The fact our opponents let us attack against them means that we can create numerous low-quality chances which result in the xG increasing. It’s not because we’re providing relentless pressure.

In relation to Arteta’s comments on the Everton game, the impact of the penalty on the xG must also be recognised. Penalties are of high xG value and therefore skew the figures as evidenced by the fact that without the penalty on Saturday we notched an xG of just 0.6 from our total of 1.4.

So, while Arteta isn’t nonsensical to suggest Arsenal are getting unlucky, such an idea mustn’t be exaggerated. xG is a useful tool but an inherently flawed one. We may be getting unlucky, but we’re also straightforwardly playing poorly. For a club of Arsenal’s stature, bad luck just isn’t a sufficient excuse.

All stats courtesy of Fbref.

I’ve supported Arsenal for as long as I can remember. The Emirates is about an hour’s train ride from my house so I go to the games regularly. Especially lately, writing about Arsenal has become a passion of mine so I hope it’s something I can do professionally in the future.

One Response

  1. Olufemi Odusola December 23, 2020