Arsenal’s match against Crystal Palace was nothing short of toxic. The reaction to the substitution of club captain Granit Xhaka put many big-picture issues in the spotlight. Xhaka’s future, Unai Emery’s handling on the captaincy and Emery’s future, in general, were all put in doubt.
With all that going on it is important to remember the result of the match. The Gunners dropped two more points and continue their descent down the table. Emery’s issues stretch beyond politics. Winning cures all ills but Arsenal will not win much playing this way.
Some at Arsenal may bemoan VAR overturning their late winning goal, but it never should have got to that stage. The Gunners took an early two-goal lead, scoring off two corners in the first 10 minutes. Instead of building on the two-goal lead and putting the game out of sight, they bunkered in and allowed Palace back into the match.
This conservatism comes less than a week after and overly defensive approach in a 1-0 loss away to Sheffield United. This hardly a new issue for Arsenal. Examination of Emery’s tenure at the club indicates that this is not a bug in his system but a feature.
Arsenal have conceded the 4th most shots in the league, but have conceded the 8th most expected goals, according to fbref.com. This indicates that the Gunners are conceding a lot of low percentage shots, a hallmark of a team that defends deep.
A team defending deep and defending poorly is not a good combination, but it can be made up for by a stellar attack. Arsenal’s attack has not been that this season though, currently posting the 6th most expected goals in the league, according to fbref.com.
Ominously, these issues go further back than the beginning of this season. The Gunners were 5th in expected goals for and 13th in expected goals against last season. This resulted in them finishing 10th in expected goal difference last season. That is a worrying sign for a team with top-four aspirations. Equally concerning, Arsenal’s currently sit 9th in expected goal difference.
Arsenal’s underlying numbers over the course of Emery’s tenure look like those of a midtable team. The only way for Emery to survive the big-picture issues he’s mired in is to make them look like a top four one. He’ll have to find a gear he has yet to hit in his Arsenal tenure to do so.