How Arsenal bought a new defence and conceded more goals, but it’s ok

By Tony Attwood

In the summer of 2021 Arsenal spent £156.8m on a new defence, more than any other Premier League club spent overall.  And given the general point of view that spending money on new players is the only way to progress in the league, one might expect two things.  First, that Arsenal would, as a result of this record spending, rise up the league, and second we would have a better defence this season than last, in terms of goals conceded.

In fact, that has happened in only one of the two predictions.  Yes we are better off in the league after 21 games than we were a year ago.  We’re five points better off after 21 games and we’ve scored seven more goals.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
9 Arsenal 2021 21 9 4 8 26 20 6 31
6 Arsenal 2022 21 11 3 7 33 25 8 36

Unfortunately despite buying a new defence we’ve let in five more goals this season after 21 games than we did last season after 21 games.

So did we waste all that money?

One reason to think we did is that in the last two-thirds of last season we had the second-best defence in the league.  Arteta had clearly worked hard in the first third of the season to get them to play as he wanted, but then surprisingly having had such success in the last two-thirds of the season, changed the entire defensive line up.  And so our defence is not as good as it was.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts PPG
9 Arsenal 2021 21 9 4 8 26 20 6 31 1.48
2 Arsenal last two thirds 20/21 24 14 5 5 43 21 22 47 1.96
6 Arsenal 2022 21 11 3 7 33 25 8 36 1.71

So that superb run in the last two-thirds of last season has been lost, although to be fair if we win the next three games by good margins we could be close to the figure we achieved in the last 24 games of last season.

The goal-scoring is interesting too.   This season in the league our top scorers are Smith Rowe with eight goals in 14 starts and Saka with six goals in 19 starts

Starts Goals Goals per start
Emile Smith Rowe 14 8 0.57
Bukayo Saka 19 6 0.31

Last season our top scorers were

Player Starts Goals Goals per start
Alexandre Lacazette 22 13 0.59
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 26 10 0.38
Nicolas Pépé 16 10 0.62

What we haven’t done is got anyone scoring at the level that Nicolas Pépé achieved last season, although to his great credit Smith Rowe is scoring very close to Lacazette’s level of last season.

Spats between manager and players

Of course what has really been a key factor is Arsenal’s situation are the spats between the manager and our two most expensive players: Ozil and Aubameyang.   Although we’ll probably never know the ins and outs of the situation, we didn’t normally see such things under Mr Wenger, who had the great ability of selling our players to Barcelona for a profit just as they were starting to lose their form.

Did we get it right in buying that defence?

As we showed the other day, although we have only got two points more out of our spending that is still more than other clubs.

Club Last summer spending Last season final position Position today Change
Arsenal £125.5m 8 6 +2
Manchester United £107m 2 4 -2
Manchester City £69.1m 1 1 0
Crystal Palace £60.9m 14 13 +1
Leeds United £49.5m Promoted 15
West Ham United £48.5m 6 5 +1
Leicester City £45.6m 5 10 -5

Indeed spare a thought (or at least a laugh) for fans of Manchester United who spent £107m in order to be two places worse off than a year ago.

But what is really not right is that our attack is running at around half the level of goals that it got last season.   

So, in conclusion, we’ve spent £125m net last summer in order to go up two places in the league to date, but we are still lagging behind on the form that we showed in the last two-thirds of last season.

So are there any benefits?

We have bought in a new young defence, who with a bit of luck will be even better in the remains of this season and for the next few years.  The trouble is they are only the seventh-best defence in the league this season, and in the last two-thirds of last season only Manchester City had a better defence in the league than Arsenal.  So clearly not yet up to the standard of the last two thirds of the last campaign.

Also, we can say that we got more out of our money in terms of a rise up the league than anyone else and we can argue that the club bought young players, and their value is improving.  But I would have expected that form of the last two-thirds of last season to have been a base we built upon, and that hasn’t happened.

The key data tables for last season are here

3 Replies to “How Arsenal bought a new defence and conceded more goals, but it’s ok”

  1. Statistics seldom lies, but do not explain everything. From my point of view Arsenal is playing slightly different than last season. With more risk and often high press, which means we are defending inside opposition’s half.

    To do that you need better defenders with pace and individual skills. In many ways we have taken one step backwards to make two steps forward when our young squad reach their potential. Last season we needed to have enough players behind the ball and a balanced team to to get our impressing defensive results. This season we can rely on our players individual qualities, be more risky and achieve more points. We have a very young and exciting squad lacking resilience which is normal, but they have a great potential to develop and get better in the coming years.

    Tony, do you have statistics about chances created last season compared to this season? Although our striking force isn’t optimal and have declined we are creating lots of chances. We have potential to get better in the last third as well, no doubt.

  2. To be fair Tony, I think u need to remove the first 3 games of this season from the games played by the new defence. Those 3 games were not played by the new defence. I do not feel we have “wasted” money. A solid defence will win u league titles… We are on the right path. Most teams will give anything to have our current first IX in their team. If we tried to assemble this squad from scratch in their current form we will definitely spend more than half a billion pounds… That for me speaks volumes as not so many teams can boast of similar value of their playing squad.

  3. Morale I accept that and it’s a good point about the opening games. And I totally take my hat off to Arteta for what he did tactically, but I guess overall I was surprised he decided to work on the defence first when he’d worked so hard to get them sorted in the season before.

    But of course I’m just a writer, not a manager!

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