The Arteta Defence: Do xGA numbers prove it’s worse? (long read)

by .

There are cries of hypocrisy from the comments section of Le Grove.

‘Pedro, you were spaffing xGA numbers all over the internet when you were anti-Emery, now you are SHOCKINGLY not. You sir, are a dirty muffin fancier’

It’s true, I have not performed a deep dive into any xG numbers for Arteta, but mostly because of my religious respect for data.

7 games is a tiny sample to start drawing conclusions from with xG data. The variables are so vast, no true Data Scientist would risk their rep by making appalling apples to dog biscuits comparisons between Unai and Arteta.

I’ve left the explanation to Champagne Charlie of the comments to point out why people looking to use xGA as a hangman’s noose are embarrassingly early to the party. This particular post starts because Emery’s last 7 games saw xGA of 1.42, versus Mikel’s 1.5… the argument is complemented by inane supporting commentary like, ‘both work with the same talent, so the situations are basically the same, and the data can be compared.’

Champagne Charlie: Why xGA comparisons of Emery and Arteta are very silly

The usual frontline warriors with the usual scrap gathering in yet another attempt to dismiss Arteta and instead drive a narrative they’ve long held. I’ll make a quick remark about the sample size of 7 games, it’s painfully low for any hard data to be exorcised from as it’s wide open to anomalous inputs. That should be pretty clear to all, alas.

Stats can paint several pictures, wield your brushes how you see fit:

Emery played 13 games this season in the PL, his average xGA was 1.62
– His highest xGA was Watford away at 2.83
– His lowest xGA was 0.38 against Newcastle opening day
– Number of games xGA was more than 1.5 was nine (9/13).

Arteta has played 7 games this season in the PL, his average xGA is 1.5
– His highest xGA came against Chelsea away at 3.27
– His lowest xGA is 0.31 against Palace
– Number of games xGA is more than 1.5 is three (3/7).

*The Chelsea game we played with 10-men for 70 minutes is the league-high xGA this season, without that match our xGA under Arteta stands at a 1.2 average for 6 games. So a 0.3 jump aka not a sample size to take seriously.*

+What none of the above tells you is one manager was 12 months into a job, and had two summers to nip and tuck the staff he had at his disposal. Whilst the other manager arrived a couple of days before Christmas Day and had to pick up the pieces and work on the fly.

+What the above also doesn’t account for is that Arteta took over and had 3 games in 5 days to contend with as an opener, followed by 4 games that have seen us reduced to 10-men in half of those.

But irrespective of that context we still have a manager that’s taken the basic average xGA number from 1.62 to 1.5 for the season. Yet I’m to establish there’s been no measurable improvement to support the visual evidence on display these past 6 weeks.

This comment on whether Arteta having an advantage as a native (kind of) was also very good (same poster).

Having any of the knowledge you’re talking about matters not one iota when it comes to implementing your own views on how YOUR side is going to play.

Arteta is doing this on the fly and trying to teach and cajole players between rest days and injury maintenance. The game is won and lost at the very elite by minor actions done on autopilot, yet there’s been nowhere near enough time for Arteta to ingrain his methods on any meaningful level.

I’m talking to the point each player knows his role and has a picture of the side in front/behind/to the side of him as he’s receiving the ball. This is huge, Liverpool are the example of this level of work that’s embedded now after years of constant training.

Every game we play early on inevitably throws up situations that are being met in our new approach for the very first time. A clanger at Chelsea, a red card in the early stages, a physical game of high balls, facing sides who press, those who sit deep, losing players to injury and having to rework it etc.

These things all upset the applecart until you’ve dealt with a few situations and learned what to do and what not to do in the respective moments. All the while you’re trying to establish a level of mastery over your new role in the side on a basic level all things being equal.

You simply don’t achieve that without logging hours in practice, the kind of hours we’ve not had the benefit of spending – hence the value of a preseason where it’s all about learning and perfecting. Idk what to tell you if that doesn’t register.

< End >

Context is king in all situations.

Having two full preseasons, £200m to spend, and 18 months working daily with players is a lot of time to make a measurable impact. It’s also a lot of time to do horrendous damage to an already broken culture – as well as the confidence of the players.

Arteta is fighting on many fronts. He’s trying to build a high-performance culture, he’s building the players fitness and confidence, he’s implementing radical ideas and he’s doing it all in the middle of the season.

Confidence is a precious commodity. One of the most valuable in sport (and life). When it goes for you as an individual, it’s terrible. When it goes for a whole squad, it’s very hard to reboot and it takes time. We experience it in our own boring lives, watch a junior staffer deal with being reamed out in a client meeting. We’ve all had it, doesn’t matter how brash you are to the outside world, it impacts your performance. Arsenal fans are the client and we’ve been slaughtering the players for a year. We broke Unai Emery, he went from touchline crazy guy to hiding in his jacket twitching out like a recovering meth addict. He couldn’t make a coherent decision, his English declined, and he reeked of a deadman. Confidence.

This is going to take time. No coach can click their fingers and make magic happen immediately. Jurgen Klopp had a similar set of criticisms when he took over at Liverpool. Worth noting he took over a team in distress far earlier (October 8th) and took them to 8th position in the first year. He had a better squad of players to work with. Firmino, Coutinho, Sturridge, Henderson, Can, Lallana, Milner, Origi, Gomez, Lovren. He also had the same troubles Arteta is suffering right now. Liverpool fans on Twitter rolled hard with #KloppOut after his side were beasted by newly-promoted Watford. Fans spread this below graphic to make the point that Klopp wasn’t a good coach.

The problems look quite similar to those we’re facing now. Tired players and some noisy fans making demands that will embarrass them in a years time. This is Klopp after losing to Palace.

“It is not a problem to lose a game. It happens in football but we have to learn,”

“If we learn, we decide how strong we are, how good we are, how awake we are and how tired we are. Nobody else. We played on Thursday [at Rubin Kazan in the Europa League] but I decide if I am tired, nobody else. Today we needed a few minutes to come into the game. It was not enough. If everyone thinks we gave everything, then it is wrong.

“After the goal on 82 minutes, with 12 minutes to go, I saw many people leaving the stadium. I felt pretty alone at this moment. We decide when it is over. Between 82 and 94 [minutes] you can make eight goals if you like.

It’s a huge trigger for people when you mention Klopp because Arteta is not Klopp, but again, let’s give some context… no manager of Klopp’s standing was going to come to Arsenal in December. We took a chance on the future. If a manager of Klopp’s level needs more than 7 games to shape things up, you’d think some of our fans might go a little lighter on someone with a lesser squad with deeper problems.

If a manager like Klopp can bring in Grujic and Stephen Caulker as his first signings, we can maybe forgive the odd signings we’re attracting (we’ll talk about where Ornstein is unsubtly pointing you on the Soares story tomorrow). He took Liverpool to 8th in his first season. The next season, he narrowly beat us to 4th… by 1 point. They made it happen on the last day of the season. The mighty Klopp only just pipped Wenger on the decline.

Anyway, just a bit of context for the folk that are polluting the airwaves with shoddy takes on data and overblown expectations without the nuance of MAJOR CONTEXT.

See you in the comments. x

326 Responses to “The Arteta Defence: Do xGA numbers prove it’s worse? (long read)”

Jump to comment form ↓

  1. Graham62


    Irrespective of Emery’s credentials, overall, he was a poor manager at Arsenal.

    A reality check is needed here. Under Emery we became a punchbag. Shots reigning in on us no matter who the opponents were( remember that second half at Watford?)

    Arteta has rectified this problem. The other parts to the jigsaw need more time.

    Going back to Emery. I felt he never really got to understand the demands of the EPL. His failings in the final weeks of last season confirmed this. He may have been a success in Spain and France but if you don’t truly understand the rigours of the English game and have poor communication skills in the process, then it was definitely going to be an accident waiting to happen.

  2. Chika

    Emery was a complete failure for us, a pile of shit. Things were getting worse with him and he was clearly clueless. The team appeared soulless, shapeless and lacked any form of identity. It was a hopeless situation! He left a wreckage for the next coach.

  3. Chika

    So Emery confirmed the merits of Arteta working with Pep, haha his goons will be so disappointed to hear such admittance from him.

  4. Goobergooner

    All I can say is I really hoped Wenger leaving would reunite the fans.

    I wasn’t in favour of either the Emery or Arteta signings, but arsenal was (whether we have the right people in charge of those decisions is up for debate) and even if they aren’t who I want, I wish them the very best. I want them to succeed regardless of their past. A new team and a new environment (and a new job in artetas case) can work wonders for a coach (or not in Emery’s case) and only time can reveal the outcome of that.

    The fact that the same people who wouldn’t give Emery a fair go are now looking down their noses at people who are questioning Arteta are the real hypocrites here.

    Whether or not Arteta was the right hire is irrelevant now. He is our manager. He is also one of us. He has also learnt and grown under pep. He is showing improvements on Emery. The fact we are drawing a lot is not down to Arteta solely. This piss poor team (in top 4 standards) had many draws this season under Emery, and also more losses.

    Give the man a god damn break and ride this season out how we all know it is. A complete write off. Give arteta a real transfer window, a pre season and also the respect that he has taken over at one of Arsenal’s lowest moments in quite some time.

    Our team really isn’t the quality some on here think it is (aka the right manager will take us to the top).
    We need a whole new midfield and proper cbs before we move up the table in a serious manner. In reality we also need a new forward line within a season or two as well.

    Arteta has quite the hole to climb out of. I wish him all the best.

  5. Graham62

    Those that say we would be doing better under Emery are clueless, as are those who said we would have done better had Wenger stayed.

    Er, ………no we wouldn’t.

  6. Bojangles

    Someone should do a BC check here for proof of age. I’ve never seen so many childlike comments on a supposedly adult blog as has been posted since the Burnley game.

  7. Goobergooner

    Also I don’t think Arteta has got his in game management or line-ups correct yet. But this is probably a better time than any to throw him in the deep end. When we were already fucked for the season.
    This will also be Improved when he has a squad of his own rather than Wenger and Emery dross.

  8. Valentin


    I blame Emery for his lack of rotation and over reliance on the same core group of players who like under Wenger would be over-used and then break down. Most muscle injuries or joint injuries don’t occur in a vacuum. Players get fatigued, their vision is not as sharp, their reaction time increase, and then they don’t react to innocuous challenge as quickly as they normally would.

    In the Athletic article “Why Koscielny left Arsenal” published in November, it is mentioned that after seven months out, he played four games in just 13 days. Then in January the coaching staff suspected that he faked a back injury as an act of self preservation during the warm up to the FA Cup against Blackpool 4 days after playing against Fulham.
    That should tell you how Emery over-used some players. Another example is that between April 11 and April 24, Koscielny started five games in just two weeks. This was ridiculous.

    That is not hindsight, because I mentioned that point months before. He made exactly the same mistake at PSG. He over-use a small core of players who then break down. Because the replacements have not had any previous time, they are not up to the standard of the one they replace nor are they used to play with their teammates. So he rushes the injured players back into the team causing even more injuries when they return.

    Wenger used to do the same. At ManUtd OGS is now doing exactly the same. Rashford’s injury is the direct result of over-using the player.

    That’s not agenda driven, that is just fact.

  9. Receding Hairline

    Graham62 no one is asking for Emery back, he was sacked for poor performance and rightly so, so don’t know what you are on about.

    “A reality check is needed here. Under Emery we became a punchbag. Shots reigning in on us no matter who the opponents were( remember that second half at Watford?)”

    It has been reduced by 9 shots …a grand total of one per game, for that we have given up 25% of our chances created. I don’t also get this enjoyable football bit, we had a lot of games last season where we thoroughly enjoyed the football on show and actually won the games. The reality check needed here is for those who like to rewrite last season as some sought of catastrophe….

    -we outscored everyone in the league bar Liverpool and City
    -we reached the Europa league final
    -we won 21 league games

    It’s particularly funny when some try to attribute everything good last season to the players still having Wenger’s DNA, that’s when you know it has all turned silly and petty.

    You guys always find a way to make it about Emery when it’s anything but, he is gone and wasn’t here long enough to be memorable but he did his job, did his best, the remit was challenge for the top four he did that, try to win the Europa league he tried to do that, failed, started the season badly, got sacked. Every other team moves on but not Arsenal, we blame every thing bad that comes after on the man sacked and any perceived positives on the new man in shinning armor. Happened when Wenger left, happening now after Emery.

  10. Goobergooner


    “We (as fans) do no favours with that kind of approach, and it cannot be washed away under pretence of ‘holding so and so accountable’ or ‘having high standards’, or whatever rehashed statement you’re looking to erroneously turn in its head.”

    I agree with the first sentence.
    But it isn’t washed away with having high standards. Actually quite the contrary.
    People who wouldn’t accept that Wenger was past it and dragging this club down with him now have higher standards than they did with Wenger.
    As arsenal fans of a modern era, I think we all have high standards. But there is 20 other teams all trying to do the same thing. We spent own top 4 (Wenger does though 😂).
    At the moment people are just arguing for the pure fact we are shit. At this point in time, you can only blame the squad. 3 managers (Freddy I won’t be too harsh on) and we are still shit. Who would have thought? (anyone who isn’t blinded by a manager bias is the answer).

    “There’s no fair comparison between Emery and Arteta, none. It’s a tale of if’s and but’s, and nothing more. Emery oversaw a period of time that was enough to show change, and the change we saw dragged us lower. Now Arteta has an opportunity to show his influence over the next months (in some capacity), but more so from next season onward. But in a 3 year contract, the opening 6 weeks is as close to academic as it gets. Arsenal are finally playing the longer game, and the club will be better for it in due time – the thing many have suddenly disregarded from the equation in quite a spectacular fashion.”

    I very much agree with this though, well said.

  11. Pierre

    “From ARSENAL TRUTHIf you compare Emery’s last 9 games to Arteta’s first 9, Arsenal have given up 6% possession and had 26% less shots on target. This has been traded for a reduction of 9 shots on target (1 per game) from the opposition.”

    Get it right Joe , This is Arsenal truth actual comment …

    “Basically, if you compare Emery’s last 11 games to Arteta’s first 11, Arsenal have given up 6% possession and 34% less shots on target for a reduction of six shots on target from the opposition (50 under Emery to 44 under Arteta).”

    The fact the Arteta has only been in charge for 9 games shows what a poor article it is .

    Lost ..1
    Drawn ..5

    Emery’s last 9 games


    Taking into consideration that out of Emery’s last 9 games
    3 were europa(guimaraes home and away, frankfurt home)
    1 was a league cup tie( liverpool reserves)
    5 were league ( including city , wolves home, Leicester away)

    Compared to Arteta’s 9 games ,
    8 games against premier league sides.(including Chelsea home and away , united home)

    So Rich ( who is of course ,joe) thanks for wanting to highlight the difference between the 2 managers .

    The improvement in results against far harder opposition is there for all to see .

  12. Goobergooner

    Receding I’m pretty much with you on all that.

    I’d say the worst thing this club has done, especially for the fanbase, is to keep Wenger on so long.

    We wouldn’t have a split in the fans, we would have at least been seen to have moved to make improvements as a club, and we wouldn’t have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on the shit we have now in the squad if we had just acted earlier as a club.

    First and foremost on gazidis at the time, but Kroenke is just a cunt.

  13. Freddie Ljungberg

    Seems like Arseblog agrees with me and all sane Arsenal fans about the usefulness of Laca and Ozil atm. Shocker.

    We can’t have a midfield consisting of a dm that breaks up play and does his job and then a CM and Cam that are only capable of recycling the ball, same for CF.

    If that was all we needed we could just bring back Elneny, clone him and have him play 3 positions. That’s pretty much what we have now anyway, the wage bill would be a lot lower though.

    Hope we start seeing some selection improvements after the break so we stand a chance of winning some matches, would be a nice change of pace.

  14. DigitalBob

    “Seniority only goes so far. At some point form and end-product has to play a part in the manager’s team selection” – From the Arseblog link above.

    Spot on, Arteta needs to drop Laca and Ozil for the remainder of the season. Play Auba up front centrally and give Pepe and Nelson more game time on the right.

    IMO, the Qatar offer will be there again for Ozil this summer as well as the US and possibly China so I suspect he’s playing in his last season at the club.

  15. Stan_The_Asset_Stripper


    I am not so sure why Wenger not being sacked earlier then he did has a bearings on our current form on and off the pitch.

    Lets look at things this way, about half of what Emery spent in his first summer was money generated by Wenger before he was sacked.

    What the problem is simply, is that the money spent since Wenger left has added minute value to the quality of the squad.

    It all stems from the fact that the so called new guys at the club have no prior knowledge of the English football system. If the right recruitment had been made we wouldnt still be relying on Xhaka and Ozil and even Mustafi.

    Saying that since Arteta arrived Xhaka and Ozil have been more than decent and Luiz has been a stalwart at the back.

    Could we have done better than Leno and even Matteo by buying from this league? I think we could have.

    Yes, the Ozil wages is weighing the club down but there must have been a marketing reason behind raise that possibly due to his association with puma and his image.

    Also Ozil’s shirt according to Adidas still outsells his team mates.

  16. Freddie Ljungberg


    He’s up there with the corona virus in popularity in China so that’s off the table for sure.
    Hopefully one of the others though. His wages can cover all new signings we have to make this summer. CB CM and Cam, probably with change left over if we go for young and potential.

  17. Goobergooner


    What I meant by that is this; imagine if while still in top 4, before Wenger spent millions, we got in a top draw coach and actually pushed on, rather than continue down the table until we reach this point in time.

    You don’t think we wouldn’t have assembled a better squad with CL football and a new exciting chapter in AFC history? Rather than a downward trajectory, no money and shit all going for us?

    Not guaranteed I’ll give you that. But definitely a better platform to build from than what Emery got, and now Arteta.

  18. Goobergooner

    Also the fact that Xhaka and Ozil have been decent since Arteta and we still haven’t won just shows how shit our squad really is.

  19. RockyRoe

    My gripe with Arteta is not that we are not winning enough, it’s too early to make that call, my gripe is with him making bad team selection decisions and showing next to no in-game management or plan b.

    Funnily enough pedro, you chose to ignore as to why it was such a genius decision to play Ozil in a game arteta knew would be physical, when was the last time Ozil had a impact in a physical away game? What could be the reason behind choosing laca? When he hasn’t scored away in a year?

    Playing laca in the middle puts auba on the left taking him away from his natural position and also shifts martenelli to the right, when he seems to be more effective on the left and ofcourse we end up not using pepe who is a natural right wingers. So 1 decision of playing laca through the middle means none of our attacking players are playing in their right positions. This should be simple logic basis form, and doesn’t require either a transfer kitty or prolonged training sessions.

    Now the in-game management, so you see Ozil not having an effect post 20 mins, what do you do till 70 minutes? Absolutely nothing? You see laca having a poor game, what do you do till 80 mins? Nothing? This is like Wenger and his 75th minute subs. Again such decisions are not dependent on a transfer kitty or the players buying into the idea or any other metric, it’s just critical thinking.

    The squad might well be poor, lazy and ieffevtive, needing a clear out but the decision Arteta is making is compounding those problems. Is he afraid to drop Ozil/laca? Does he have the balls? Does he have a plan b? Does he need to be sent to a critical and creative thinking workshop?

  20. Aussie Gooner


    “We *don’t* own top 4”

    We did for the past 30 years – only missing out on top 4 five times in that period (and 3 of them have been the last 3 years). I think you can say we did own top 4!

  21. RodneyKing

    At this point, the only thing Arteta and Klopp have in common is that they both manage in the English Premier League. Other than that, they’re in entirely different leagues. Liverpool knew exactly who and what they were getting when they hired Klopp.

    As a manager, he had won a league and cup double in Germany and reached the finals of the CL with a distinct style of playing the game to boot.

    The man Klopp is a complete nutter and obsessive who pays very little attention to his appearance (at least compared to most other managers). He doesn’t even use social media!

    There’s definitely more to managing a team than being able to coach the basics. And Klopp has proven that he ticks all the boxes.

    As fans we can only hope that with Arteta, Arsenal’s future will mirror Liverpool’s situation post- Rogers rather than pre-Klopp.