Newcastle have the best defense in the League? I don’t think so.

I was listening to some podcast the other day and they said “Newcastle have the best defense in the League”. It was a record scratch moment in my head because I swear that I’ve been looking at the stats lately and while they did have the fewest goals conceded when that pod was recorded saying that they “have the best defense in the League” was hyperbole as far as I was concerned.

The obvious way to settle this is to just look at goals conceded. Both Arsenal and Nuke have the same number of goals conceded this season, with 11. They have played one more game than Arsenal and so therefore they have fewer goals conceded per game and have the better defense. If that’s all that you’re interested in as far as this topic is concerned well then you can go ahead and just close your laptop, smile smugly to yourself, and sip your tea while basking in the light of your rightness.

However, there are other ways to look at this question. And if you’re so inclined, read on.

There’s obviously expected goals against as a measurement. Man City have the fewest expected goals against, with 9.9 or an incredibly stingy 0.76 per contest. Arsenal have the second best xGA in the League with 0.86 per game and Nuke are a bit further down the list with 1.01 xGA/90.

ClubGoals allowedxGABig Chances AllowedBig chances conceded
Man City0.920.761.460.46

When I look into a little more detail and examine how many big chances (xG >= 0.14) each team’s defense has allowed (shots) and conceded (goals), you get a little better understanding of how each team is actually performing.

Man City have conceded the fewest big chances in the League this season with just about 0.46 big chance goals conceded per game. This is happening because they only allow 1.46 big chances per game. And in a little further detail I noticed that they “shut out” teams from creating even a single big chance this season on 4 occasions.

Arsenal have a slightly worse record in that they concede 0.54 big chance goals per contest and 1.54 big chance shots per game. While Newcastle has 0.71 and 1.79 each. But importantly, Newcastle have only “shut out” their opponents twice this season and Arsenal have the most shut outs with 5. That includes the Arsenal match against Chelsea where their biggest chance was 0.13 by Thiago.

The other stat I examined is opponents’ shot creating actions per 90 (SCA90). Man City have allowed the fewest SCA90 with 12.54 and Arsenal are 2nd with 12.69. Newcastle actually allow 20.43 SCA90 which is 5th in the League. And they have allowed the 2nd most SCA off a dribble with 21 (Leeds is 1st with 27). Arsenal and Man City are 3rd and 2nd in the League in that category allowing just 8 and 7 respectively.

Look, I wouldn’t dare to suggest that Newcastle don’t have a good defense because they do. And some folks might think I’m splitting hairs here, which is fine. But my opinion is that Man City have the best defense in the League, that Arsenal’s is 2nd, and that Newcastle is probably third.

That’s one hell of an upgrade from where they were last year, by the way. So credit to them and their oil covered money. They have really done a great job.



  1. Sweet enjoyable morsel of an article Tim. This defense is the best we’ve had in the last 16 years. We’ve the most versatile defender in Tomiyasu, most solid defender in White, defender with highest potential in Saliba, defender with great physicality in Gabriel, most technical in Zinchenko, and a closer in Holding. Behind them is Ramsdale, a goalie that fits us like a glove, and an able deputy in Turner. This defense, I think, is the defining character of this team.

  2. Conclusion, a close-run thing. And let’s not get snippy about Newcastle’s money, because we haven’t exactly been restrained spenders either.

    All that said, I love our back unit.

    We have by almost universal, neutral acclaim the best CB in the league in Saliba. White has taken well to RB and is utterly superb in the role, but (on the eye test) Newcastle’s Kieran Trippier remains the best RB in England. It says something for White’s embrace of the role that he may be the only player ahead of him there in the EPL. White’s forward play and overlap is now very good; and the right sided defence understanding with Saliba is almost telepathic.

    Tomi’s two-footedness is a wonderful asset, and when the excellent Zinch isn’t playing, Tomi is keeping out a very good player in Tierney. I wish new-faced gooners would lay off on the criticism of Tierney because he doesnt invert into the midfield. He’s still damn good at the normal interpretation of his job, and it speaks to our depth in defence.

    Our defence starts at the front with Jesus, continues through Odegaard to the excellent Thomas Partey. I can see why Mikel likes Partey. Though he is a different player to what Arteta was, what they both excel at is reading the play, and protecting the ball from danger with minimum fuss. Your main DM does not have to be a tough-tackling beast… he has to be, as Josh (I think) has said, the smartest fella on the field. Partey’s use of space, going short, long or driving to fill is next level in its decision-making.

    Rio Ferdinanand said this: “[Arsenal’s] most important player is Gabriel Jesus or William Saliba. If those players come out the team, the drop-off from that level is massive.”

    Partey belongs on that list. And he’s a key reason why our defence is as good as it is. Defence is far more than about the back line.

    1. I agree with what you are saying. I cannot believe I left out Tierney in my previous statement. He is definitely a top defender and the fact that he is not seeing enough Premier League minutes is testament to the depth of our defense that gives Arteta a lot of flexibility.

  3. This is a great team, assembled from not an inconsiderable sum, but still not near the top spenders.

    Transfermarkt has us as 7th for overall net spend for the 2022/2023 season, as of September 7th.

    Chelsea £204.47m
    Man United £203.87m
    West Ham £147.78m
    Notts Forest £139.46m
    Newcastle £122.40m
    Tottenham £118.04m
    Arsenal £97.44m
    Wolves £71.55m
    Southampton £59.76m
    Brentford £42.21m

    1. Wow, slow clap for West Ham and Nottingham for least valuable transfer spend of the season… yikes! Chelsea aren’t looking too good value for their spend either. Fofana has been injured and he is a long term investment, but I’m not sure even his ceiling is commensurate with that price. He’s neither physically dominant or technically elite, though he is pretty good at just about everything. I do rate Cucurella as a technician and offensive creator, but I’m not sure he’s elite in the final third and definitely not solid enough of a defender for the price they paid. The Kulibaly one looks bad now and will look even worse with time. Aubameyang was just desperation to cover up the cracks left by transfer mistakes of yesteryear. Long live the South London Dodgers!

  4. Picture caption from today’s Guardian article on Benjamin:
    “Ben White is doing a great job for the best defence in the Premier League”

  5. I tend to think of rankings as misleading. For example, it’s nice to be 3rd in the table but if you are 20 points behind the top two, you’re not really close and you don’t belong in the same conversation. I think tiers are a more useful way to stratify teams and performances and there is no doubt that Arsenal belong in the top tier right now both defensively and offensively. I’m not sure Newcastle are there yet. They are vastly improved and horrible to pay against at home but I don’t think they are on our level yet. Tim’s outstanding stats also paint a picture of a team who are the best of the rest but not in the top tier.

    I was thinking about the Bruno Guimares transfer after the Brazil WC squad was announced because the squad looks like a who’s who of Arsenal transfer rumors in the past two years. Why did he choose Newcastle? Maybe they offered a better salary but I suspect it was because he didn’t want to be second fiddle to TP and we couldn’t promise that he would start when fit. They also probably sold him on their future transfer outlay and how he would be a key piece of a rising contender, and that he wasn’t likely to win the league with Arsenal given the financial disparity. A pretty compelling case! Lucas Paqueta, also in the Brazil squad, might have been sold a similar story except without any prospect of competing at the top of the table with West Ham. On that one it seems more like our interest was a bit tepid. But Bruno does feel like a missed opportunity. I think he really elevates that midfield and with it the whole squad.

  6. Money should not be covered in oil under any circumstances. Chocolate is way better.

  7. To first caveat, I’ve a soft sort for Newcastle since the OG Georgie legend Alan Shearer lit the EPL a few eons back. The Toon Army really looks like a real deal now & how quickly they’ve organised themselves into playing the football they are playing, with several 2nd tier top rack stars, ie Trippier, Botman, Pope, Wilson … peppered with the vast improvement of your typical average EPL stars like Joelinton, Almiron & even our very own cup of Joe… & with the icing of a scaffold Bruno to hold the entire cake! This Newcastle team led with the shrewd Howie seems to be making good progress (at quite a frightening speed).

    Make no mistake, London is Red and we are making a bid to paint the whole of England Red too. As long as the toons don’t make a looney of us when they play us, I’m more than happy for them to wreck havoc and destroy the living daylight out of all our other hated rivals.


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