Arsenal haven’t kept a clean sheet since the 2-0 win over Spurs (January 15th) and have just two clean sheets out of the 9 matches since the World Cup restart. And before you say it’s because Arsenal’s #5 has been injured, he’s played in 7 of those 9 matches (he missed City, xGA 1.7 and Villa, xGA 0.5). It looks to me like there’s either a structural problem with Arsenal’s defense, one which I think teams are figuring out and have learned how to exploit. Or that there’s some kind of mental blip happening at Arsenal.
What it is, exactly, I’m not sure.
Here’s a chart of Arsenal’s 3-match rolling average xGA for this season (Premier League matches only).
Arsenal had a great start to the season, followed by a small dip in form when we faced Man U, Spurs, and Liverpool over a 4 match span. That poor run was exacerbated in the chart here by the 1.8 xGA in the Leeds United match. And just to make the point again, Arsenal’s supposedly great defensive wall (#5) played in all of those matches.
I rewatched the last four games over the last two days and I can see one theme in common but it’s not one I was expecting and not one that I think is for certain the main cause. Everton played midblock, Brentford played deep block, City played high block, and Aston Villa played Emeryball (sort of, I think he’s stopped running the overlapping fullbacks with the dragback to the center). All four of those teams (yes, City especially) played longball tactics, so that’s one thing they had in common.
I also got the sense from watching the games that it was pressure which helped them quite a bit. Not a full on 60 tackles a game or anything, but selective pressure applied to the defenders and midfielders which is forcing turnovers. Most notable the last few matches are Zinchenko, Tomiyasu, Benjamin White, and Gabriel. Saliba has had a few mistakes as well but I’m hesitant to call him out on them because he’s also been playing very well and recovering from his mistakes, whereas Zinchenko and the others really didn’t.
Weirdly, Ramsdale’s psxG (post shot xG) over this period of four matches is very poor. He’s allowed 9 goals on a psxG of 4.8. I say “weirdly” because watching him play it feels like he’s made some absolutely critical saves (for example Bailey in the Villa match and a few clawed away shots against Man City). The saves, though spectacular, must have had low xG. I’m fine if you just want to ignore this part because I don’t really blame him. It’s almost certainly more of a team problem.
There’s no question that Arsenal’s defense is ailing. Arsenal still have the 2nd best goals against record with 23 which is amazing since 9 of those goals against were scored in the last 5 games. I hope this is just a mental blip and isn’t indicative of a larger structural problem which teams have figured out how to exploit. If the former, then all we need to do is get our heads on right. If the latter then Arteta has a huge problem he needs to solve.