Arsenal has been in decline for four years. Mikel Arteta was brought in to stop the downturn and turn the club around. To this point, not only has he failed to improve them, they are arguably worse than they were before.
Arsene Wenger’s final season felt like rock bottom for Arsenal. The atmosphere around the club was toxic and the results matched that. They finished with 63 points, their lowest total since 1995-1996.
Their first season under Unai Emery looked like an improvement on the surface, with 70 points. However, closer examination through expected goals, a metric that estimates chance quality based on historic data, reveals it was merely more decline.
Arsenal’s expected goal difference in 2017/2018 was +12, according to fbref.com, good for sixth in the league. It plummeted to +0.8 in 2018/2019, according to fbref.com, putting them 10th. Positive variance covered up the continued downward spiral in Emery’s first season.
It continued in 2019. The Gunners expected goal difference was -2.7 in the 17 games under Emery and Freddie Ljungberg, according to fbref.com. That equates to -6.1 across 38 games, good for 10th in 17/18 and 12th in 18/19.
Since Arteta came in things have actually been worse. Their expected goal difference is -6 through 13 games, according to fbref.com Extrapolate that across 38 games and it comes out to -17.5.
Now, some context needs to be applied to all these numbers. First off, 13 games is a pretty small sample size. Outlier matches, such as the recent hammering away to Manchester City, can have outsized effects. Secondly, inheriting a team during the winter break, playing 11 matches then having a three-month pandemic stoppage are pretty much the worst circumstances a coach can possibly have to start a job. Finally, he is yet to have a pre-season with the club and, despite that, he has made some clear positive stylistic changes.
None of this is to say Arteta cannot be a success at Arsenal. It’s still early in his tenure and there are a lot of mitigating circumstances to take into account. However, it is important to recognize that it has been a slow start. He has not been an immediate savior. It’s clear that this turnaround will be a long process for Arsenal, whether it’s with Arteta or someone else.