Unai Emery has become the third managerial casualty of the Premier League season, following a run of seven matches without victory. Any manager would come under pressure after such results, but at a top-six club like Arsenal, it is unforgivable. Regular watchers of the Gunners will attest that this decision has been coming for a long time, with many supporters wanting a managerial change in the summer.
Last season was a nearly season for the Spanish manager, as he led Arsenal to 5th and the Europa League final. His brief would have been to return to the Champions League and he came close to qualifying in two different competitions. That was a sliding doors moment for Emery, but he was somewhat fortunate that he did get as close as he did according to underlying performance indicators.
According to Understat
, the expected goals (xG) of Arsenal last season was 64.80 and the xG conceded was 57.30. Over the course of the season, they scored 73 times and conceded only 51. If they hadn’t overachieved at both ends of the pitch, the Gunners could have finished in 7th according to the xG table produced on the site. This would have seen them finish below newly-promoted Wolves. If that had been the case, it is highly likely that Emery wouldn’t have been given a second season.
The end of the season was a particular worry for supporters, as they were well set to finish in the Champions League places, despite their perceived luck. They took only five points from a possible 15 available in the last five Premier League matches. Ultimately, they missed out on the top four by a single point and that failing has to be attributed to Emery. Their collapse in the Europa League final was another huge red flag that was ignored by the hierarchy.
There was hope that Emery would be more comfortable and effective in his second season, with a few key additions to the squad. However, the performances have been even worse as best evidenced by the recent winless run. Last weekend, Southampton had 21 shots to Arsenal’s 12 in the 2-2 at the Emirates Stadium. More damaging than that, the visitors created five big chances to the home side’s two. If Saints had been more clinical, it could have been an even more embarrassing result to a team in the relegation zone.
At the time of writing, Arsenal are conceding an average of 16.85 shots per game. Only four more teams have conceded a higher average across Europe’s top five leagues, which is a huge worry for a team expecting to compete for Champions League qualification. A further red flag is that they have an xG conceded of 21.04 this season. In Understat’s expected goals league table for the 2019/20 campaign, they have the Gunners in the bottom half, therefore, they are once again earning more points than the performance indicators suggest that they should.
It is rare for a managerial sacking to be met with wide approval, but there hasn’t been one notable figure to come out in support of Unai Emery. This is a managerial change that should have been made earlier, but supporters will be relieved that the club have now pulled the trigger.
The next decision will be a big one. Arsenal can’t afford to follow Manchester United and be a club that makes regular managerial changes. They need to find the right person to rebuild the club following the reign of Arsene Wenger. There is the basis of a good squad and money available to strengthen further. This season may be a write off, but the performances on the pitch should improve following this decision. They can hardly get worse.