Why we really only need one new defender to get into the top four.

by Tony Attwood

As we know, last season the difference between Chelsea in third and Arsenal in fifth was just two points and two goals.  So in the simplest of terms we could argue that Arsenal just need a small adjustment to get back into the top four.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 38 32 2 4 95 23 72 98
2 Liverpool 38 30 7 1 89 22 67 97
3 Chelsea 38 21 9 8 63 39 24 72
4 Tottenham Hotspur 38 23 2 13 67 39 28 71
5 Arsenal 38 21 7 10 73 51 22 70

But of course things are never quite that simple since every other team will be endeavouring to improve as well.  So let’s see if we can take this a bit further…

If we look at the league in terms of goal scoring we can see that we were third in the league and it would take a sizeable leap to catch up Liverpool.

Table sorted by goals scored

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 38 32 2 4 95 23 72 98
2 Liverpool 38 30 7 1 89 22 67 97
3 Arsenal 38 21 7 10 73 51 22 70
4 Tottenham Hotspur 38 23 2 13 67 39 28 71
5 Manchester United 38 19 9 10 65 54 11 66

A look at the goalscorers in all competitions last season shows us how we might take ourselves further up this table towards Liverpool’s total of 89…

No Player Position Goals
14 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Forward 31
9 Alexandre Lacazette Forward 19
10 Mesut Özil Midfielder 6
7 Henrikh Mkhitaryan Midfielder 6
8 Aaron Ramsey Midfielder 6

We have two excellent front men as goal scorers, but no one in midfield to back them up.  If we had a midfielder who scored 16 rather than six that would still not take us to Liverpool’s total, but it would certainly help, and should bring in a few more points as well.  Two attacking midfielders who could knock in 14 each rather than six each would take us up to the Liverpool level.

That looks ludicrous, but if three midfielders had all got 12 each would do it.   But as we once showed in an article, having more than two players in double figures is rare, so five of such players seems an unlikely leap in one season, so we need to look elsewhere.

But unfortunately it is elsewhere, in terms of goals against, that there is a greater worry…

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Liverpool 38 30 7 1 89 22 67 97
2 Manchester City 38 32 2 4 95 23 72 98
3 Chelsea 38 21 9 8 63 39 24 72
4 Tottenham Hotspur 38 23 2 13 67 39 28 71
5 Wolverhampton Wanderers 38 16 9 13 47 46 1 57
6 Everton 38 15 9 14 54 46 8 54
7 Leicester City 38 15 7 16 51 48 3 52
8 Newcastle United 38 12 9 17 42 48 -6 45
9 Arsenal 38 21 7 10 73 51 22 70

We were only ninth in the defensive table, letting in 51 goals.  Of our top six rivals only Manchester United did worse conceding 54 goals.

And yet it we look at our home form only, and consider this in terms of goals conceded a different picture emerges…

Home Form only

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Liverpool 19 17 2 0 55 10 45 53
2 Manchester City 19 18 0 1 57 12 45 54
3 Chelsea 19 12 6 1 39 12 27 42
4 Arsenal 19 14 3 2 42 16 26 45
5 Tottenham Hotspur 19 12 2 5 34 16 18 38

At home we conceded the same number of goals as the much praised Tottenham, and only four more goals across the season than Manchester City who won the league.  That is roughly one more goal conceded at home than Manchester City, every four games.  On that basis there is nothing wrong with the defence!

Which of course points to our problem – it is not a question of an awful defence, it is a question of an awful defence away from home – which clearly suggests tactics, not players, are at fault.  That is not an argument the media likes, because it is just a little bit complex and they love utter simplicity, so you won’t hear it in many other places.  But it is the fact: it is not our defence that is the problem, it is our defence away from home.

Here is the league table in terms of goals conceded away from home.

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 19 14 2 3 38 11 27 44
2 Liverpool 19 13 5 1 34 12 22 44
3 Tottenham Hotspur 19 11 0 8 33 23 10 33
4 Newcastle United 19 4 8 7 18 23 -5 20
5 Wolverhampton Wanderers 19 6 5 8 19 25 -6 23
6 Everton 19 5 5 9 24 25 -1 20
7 Chelsea 19 9 3 7 24 27 -3 30
8 Leicester City 19 7 4 8 27 28 -1 25
9 West Ham United 19 6 3 10 20 28 -8 21
10 Manchester United 19 9 3 7 32 29 3 30
11 Crystal Palace 19 9 2 8 32 30 2 29
12 Watford 19 6 5 8 26 31 -5 23
13 Cardiff City 19 4 2 13 13 31 -18 14
14 Brighton and Hove Albion 19 3 4 12 16 32 -16 13
15 Arsenal 19 7 4 8 31 35 -4 25

Yes, away from home, we conceded more than Cardiff, who were relegated.

Now I have made this point before, but it can be reiterated – what we need is a new tactical approach away from home for our defence, not a completely new defence (although the return of our two injured defenders will help).  Put it simply: the tactics away from home did not work.

Of course it might be the view of the manager that he played the team as he did away from home because he didn’t have the right sort of players to cope with an away from home performance that could shore up the defence away.   But it does not mean that a major part of the team at the back needs to be changed.  They simply have to be trained to work in a different way away from home.

So let us look at our away defeats – remembering we only needed one of these to have been a victory for us to have been third in the league last season…

Date Match Score
18 Aug 2018 Chelsea v Arsenal 3-2
16 Dec 2018 Southampton v Arsenal 3-2
29 Dec 2018 Liverpool v Arsenal 5-1
12 Jan 2019 West Ham United v Arsenal 1-0
03 Feb 2019 Manchester City v Arsenal 3-1
07 Apr 2019 Everton v Arsenal 1-0
24 Apr 2019 Wolverhampton Wanderers v Arsenal 3-1
28 Apr 2019 Leicester City v Arsenal 3-0

Turning two of those games from defeats into draws would have given us the same points as Chelsea and a better goal difference, to take us to third.   One more goal scored, or one fewer goal conceded at Chelsea would have done it.  Or failing that in two out of the games at Southampton, West Ham or Everton would equally have done it.

Now it can be argued that had we not lost both Bellerin and Holding for much of the season, and Koscielny for some of it, that would have been secured.  We can also argue that Maitland Niles has been improving through the season, and that with him playing the whole season next time around, again things will improve.

Beyond them, we might hope for a fair number of games from Monreal, and the emergence of Pleguezolo or Mavropanos, or indeed Medley, or Bielik who will presumably return to us from Charlton.  Of course not every youngster comes through, just as not every defender avoids injury, but the fact is that we were particularly unlucky in terms of injuries to defenders this year.

This is not to say that we don’t need to buy, but when we consider that Sokratis was also in his first season in the Premier League, we should see quite an improvement in defence even without any purchases happening.

The final point to consider is that Arsenal needed 72 points to get into the top four this past season (71 would have left us behind Tottenham on goal difference).  In 2018, 76 points would have been needed – as was the case in 2017.

But in 2016 when we came second, 66 points would have secured fourth spot.   So 72 is a mid-point – we might need more, we might get away with fewer.  But we should aim for 76. Which I suspect means a much better run in terms of injuries to defenders, maybe buying one more defender, having Willock and Nelson playing a big part in the season, and having perhaps one other player come through from the under 23s or returning from loan, and having a different set of tactics for away games.

Put that lot together and that should do it.

17 Replies to “Why we really only need one new defender to get into the top four.”

  1. Would have to agree with this article a defender who is although a leader is need plus a box to box midfielder. Then we should us the vast talent of youngers we’ve got. Give them a chance instead of buying loads of players who come with big wages but aren’t so bothered about the club.

  2. How many replica shirts do we need to buy for us to get a defender to stick a swift size 12 boot up Giroud’s a***e?

  3. Tony

    Pleguezolo is no longer with us as he has left the club to join FC Twente.

  4. My view is that the system we play makes the difference home & away. Playing the ball from defence cost us a lot of goals initially. On our pitch the width makes a difference when playing the ball out of defence. Most pitches are narrower and allow our opponents a deeper press. Our use of the long ball has been limited even though Auba has pace and venom in front of goal. The hunger seems intermittent and that if harnessed will make the difference.

    Our season has not been poor but could have been so much better with a little more aggression.

  5. People say that Emery has improved us this year, but has he really? In my eyes the only difference was having Auba for an extra half season, as well as the entire EL campaign. And where would we have finished without that honeymoon phase 22 unbeaten streak?

    One of the biggest differences I see this season is that we now regularly get totally outplayed for large portions of games against teams who have no business doing so, a greater emphasis on defence (yet oddly we look even more fragile), and also our players noticeably lacking in energy for almost the entire last third of the season. I genuinely can’t think of a single positive improvement that Emery has made. What happened to giving kids a chance and preferring to win games 4-3 than 1-0? Clearly nothing but PR. And let’s just ignore when he tried freezing Ozil out of the team when we were in DIRE need of a creative player.

    When you hear about stuff like Emery making the players come into training just 7 hours after they arrived home from Napoli at 2/3am, then is our disastrous run of form at the end of the season really that much of a surprise?

  6. I’ve always said when analyzing a season, you must remember to take into consideration the performance of your rivals and their likely reactions. When untold was celebrating 2nd place finish in 2016, saying we’ve steadily climbed from 4th to 3rd to 2nd. I cautioned. It was obvious our rivals weren’t celebrating Leicester winning the league in their presence. What did they do? Liverpool changed managers Midway into the season, man city announced pellegrini’s sack Midway. Before the season ended, man utd announced LVG’s sacking. Chelsea, sacked mourinho midway in. Only teams who didn’t respond were Tottenham- the only team that gave Leicester a run for their money, and arsenal, who… How did the next season turn out? All the teams who reacted, all 4 of them made it to the champions league(man utd through the back door as Europa league winners) alongside Tottenham. Who’s left out? Arsenal.
    So Tony now you’re celebrating a good home performance, being 2points off champions league qualification, meanwhile Chelsea is lamenting a poor league performance, Tottenham is lamenting a characteristic slump at the end of the season. If I were on the board at arsenal, I wouldn’t be telling myself we were just 2points away, I would be saying to myself, Tottenham will try to avoid the slump, Chelsea will aim to be Much better next, thus we’re probably not looking for 2points improvement, maybe 12 instead to break into the top 4

  7. All 10 outfield players need to play defence not just the back 3 or 4. To put the number of goals conceded strictly on the defenders is unfair and naive.
    Also, regardless of formation the attitude on the pitch is different home and away for this bunch. If they ever came out on the front foot in an away match I must have missed it. They let the home side take the game to them regardless the level of opponent. And re the coach/manager, I seem to recall his saying when he arrived that he’d rather win 5-4 than 2-1. Did he ever set up and play that way? Again, I guess I missed it. Did he do it in Baku? Without Kante Chelsea’s midfield should have been overrun.
    To concede 51 goals (FFS) is just a travesty as Tony pointed out above. That’s ninth in the league. Unacceptable unless you’re winning those 5-4 games, not losing 5-1. If Emery set the team up and they came out and said ‘we’re scoring 5 today how many are you scoring’ I’d accept it. But that’s not how he set up or, they played, way from home. AFC are built as an attacking side. They’re not Stoke nor Newcastle but they play that way at times. Almost always in the away matches. Their home form is miles better in every respect which gives the supporters hope. Seems a false hope. I’d like to see Mr. Emery change this. If he plays a bunch of kids and finishes 5th or 6th I’ll say ‘well done’. But a repeat of 18/19 will be continued stagnation.
    But I forget myself, Mr. Kroenke doesn’t care.

  8. In terms of goals for, the difference between what we scored and the average of Man$ity and Liverpool!!! is just a bit over 2 standard deviations, so is possibly significant. So, looking to score more may help if those opponents are not trying to score more themselves.

    In terms of goals against (anywhere), our goals against is not statistically different from the teams (slightly) better than us (0.7 standard deviations). The difference is probably an accident of nature and not real.

    In terms of goals against away, our goals against is slightly worse at 1.05 standard deviations, but this difference is still more likely to be a statistical accident than a real difference.

    In both goals against situations, while we could act to reduce our goals against; there is little statistical imperative to do so. But, if those teams who seem to be slightly better than us move to improve their goals against; it would be prudent to do similar here.

    But all of the statistical handwaving requires that the differences between how Arsenal performs and how these “slightly better” teams perform is due to random factors. We know that at least some of this difference is not due to random chance, but rather it is due to 😈 Mike Riley and his PGMO pack of rats.

    So, the harder analysis is to pick the events instigated by the officials during the season that removed goals for or generated goals against. Hopefully there are similar events where the officials acted in the opposite way with the “slightly better” teams.

  9. “One more goal scored, or one fewer goal conceded at Chelsea would have done it.” I said after that opening loss that we were doomed, and people said I was crazy, or at least premature. And yet, when the dust settled, I was proven right.

    Emery had a golden opportunity to finish Top 4 with a team that was a lot better than the Wenger Outers said it was, and he blew it. Do we dare presume that he has learned his lesson? Or Do we have to cut bait now?

  10. Personally, I’d put our poor away form to the long argued “mentality” problem. We’re less confident away (probably cos the team knows we’re not that good anyway), the opposition has also more confidence to attack us, cos they know we’re not as good as we used to be. Teams when they play man city or Liverpool are more content to pack the bus and hope to keep the score respectable. But even Huddersfield at home believe they can attack arsenal or man utd and get a positive result. The only to change this is by strengthening the team and getting the results. A good part of winning is psychological

  11. It could be a mentality problem; the mentality of the officials.

    The officials all recognize that there is expected to be “forces” operating on the officials by the home crowd. If the officials let this force which is expected to be there influence them perhaps a little more easily than it normally would, the officials can easily explain away any measured bias as being a result of this “home field advantage”. And Arsenal are travelling to games knowing that the bias values will be stronger, and there is nothing that can be done to force the officials to be neutral. Or even less biased than they otherwise might be.

  12. A good part of winning is psychological

    A good part of winning a fairly officiated football game is due to random chance. The reason is because it is so hard to score in football with respect to other team sports.

  13. @Gord, are you saying the home team bias of the refs could then be the reason for our good home form? Just as I believe you’re saying it’s the reason for our poor away form?

  14. @Casmir

    I believe your desire to believe or do anything, is to be obnoxious.

    If you have a science background of any kind, ArchiV has lots of articles by physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists and others. You would find lots of things interesting to read. If you don’t have a science; there is no point suggesting you read any of it; as you don’t have the background to appreciate what is there.

    In terms of officating bias, what Walter and others have shown is that it doesn’t matter in the specific example of Arsenal; whether referees are biased against Arsenal.. The answer is yes; regardless of home or away. But almost all fans of other teams (and I am assuming you are not an Arsenal fan); dismiss bias claims regardless of how much information is provided.

    If an organization (doesn’t have to be PGMO) chooses officials based on how their bias has been in the past so as to enforce a bias desired by the organization choosing who officiates; those teams will see more “bad decisions” than they should. All the officials in the EPL (PGMO) are intelligent. They all know that a home bias is expected.

    If a referee who has an innate bias against Arsenal is chosen by PGMO to do a home game for Arsenal; there are certain things a person should see in the commentary of the game. If a referee who has an innate bias against Arsenal is chosen to do an away game for; it is easy for him to tilt the field against because he is expected to tilt the field against Arsenal (because they are the away team).

    How does one prove “excess bias” beyond the bias that is expected?

    But, I think your purpose at Untold is to just be annoying and not solve any problems.

  15. Lol, you made a comment which suggests the reason for our away form is refs home bias. And I ask a very simple question, that if the refs have home bias, does that mean our home form was aided by this? Instead of answering, you launch into this long, unnecessary sermon? Really???? Lol

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