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Did Arsenal really have defensive frailties last season as some suggest ?

by Bulldog Drummond

“Spending big on Benjamin White last summer, Arsenal made it clear they were determined to address their defensive frailties, and it’s worked.”

That is from Sport Witness.  Everything I know about the history and performance of Arsenal over the last two years tells me that is one of the biggest load of cobblers I’ve yet read, but I wanted to check.

In fact what Sport Witness was doing was copying a dominant media theme.  See for example “Arsenal have been renowned for their defensive frailties in recent years – but Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes have started to fix things at the Emirates” from Planet Football.  There are hundreds of other examples.

Indeed Arsenal’s alleged defensive frailties from last season now being fixed is a common theme in the media and a lack of any backup statistics should always make us suspicious.  So let’s see.

Last season, Arsenal had the third-best defence in the league, which doesn’t really sound like “defensive frailties” to me.  Here is the league table in order of goals conceded (as good a measure of defense as any, I would have thought.)

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 38 27 5 6 83 32 51 86
4 Chelsea 38 19 10 9 58 36 22 67
8 Arsenal 38 18 7 13 55 39 16 61
3 Liverpool 38 20 9 9 68 42 26 69
2 Manchester United 38 21 11 6 73 44 29 74
7 Tottenham Hotspur 38 18 8 12 68 45 23 62

And this season so far

Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 29 22 4 3 68 18 50 70
3 Chelsea 28 17 8 3 57 19 38 59
2 Liverpool 29 21 6 2 75 20 55 69
8 Wolverhampton Wa 30 14 4 12 31 26 5 46
4 Arsenal 28 17 3 8 44 31 13 54
5 Tottenham Hotspur 29 16 3 10 47 36 11 51

Last season, goals conceded per game: 1.03

This season, goals conceded per game: 1.11

So “Arsenal made it clear they were determined to address their defensive frailties, and it’s worked,” is arrant nonsense.  Our defence has been worse this season, and clearly it is mindless twaddle to speak of the club with the third-best defence in the league last season as having defensive frailties.

First, off there were no defensive frailties last season, in that we had the third-best defence in the league.  Second, this season we have slipped to having the fifth-best defence in the league.  Third, the goals conceded per game is worse last season than this.

And those figures don’t tell the whole story, because the reformation of the defence last season with its new tactical approach was completed by Christmas last season, which was why Untold Arsenal spent a lot of time analysing not just the results for the whole season, but also the results for the last two thirds of the season (ie post-Christmas).

This is what we found…

P Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 24 20 0 4 62 20 42 60
2 Arsenal 24 14 5 5 43 21 22 47
3 Manchester United 24 13 8 3 43 21 22 47
4 West Ham United 24 13 5 6 41 28 13 44
5 Chelsea 24 12 6 6 29 22 7 42
6 Leicester City 24 11 6 7 42 33 9 39
7 Liverpool 24 11 5 8 32 23 38
8 Tottenham Hots 24 11 4 9 43 31 12 37

Now that table is in the order of number of points not the number of goals conceded, but if we arrange it by goals conceded we still have Arsenal in second place – conceding 0.87 goals per game during the last two thirds of last season.

So what on earth would make a website like Sport Witness write that “Arsenal made it clear they were determined to address their defensive frailties, and it’s worked” when this season’s defence is worse than last season’s and a lot worse than the last two-thirds of last season?

Arsenal’s defence was suffering from two problems: one was an insane level of yellow cards, and the other was conceding too many goals.  Both were addressed in the first third of last season.  

So the statement “Spending big on Benjamin White last summer, Arsenal made it clear they were determined to address their defensive frailties, and it’s worked,” is gibberish.   Arsenal had already addressed their defensive frailties last season, before the window open, and created the second-best defence in the league.

But then the manager decided to rip it apart and bring in another defence in its place.  So let us compare last season with the last 24 games of the season, and this season, the last 24 games played this season.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
3 Arsenal 2021/2; 24 games up to today 24  16 3 5 43 22 23 51
2 Arsenal 2020/1; last 24 games of season 24 14 5 5 43 21 22 47

So this season, across the last 24 games played we have collected 51 points and conceded 22 goals.  Last season across the final 24 games of the season we conceded 21 goals and gained 47 points.

As a result of the record spending last summer we have gained four points and a marginally worse defence.  Remarkably the number of goals scored is the same – remarkably because last season we had Aubameyang all the way through, and this season he only played 13 games.

Now the Sport Witness doesn’t mention the attack, but of course a lot of media do, saying that we desperately need a centre forward to replace Aubameyang.   And yet our goalscoring is the same this season, largely without Aubameyang as it was last season with Aubameyang.

There is a point here, and it is a major one.   On two key issues in football at Arsenal (goals scored and goals conceded) Arsenal have made no progress, despite spending more than any other team last summer.

Is that a failure?  I suspect not.  For in terms of both I suspect the benefit of the radical changes made in defence and attack will be seen next season.

But there is a broader point here.  If Sport Witness had done any research at all they would have realised that what they were saying was factually incorrect – and yet they were repeating a view that is quite widespread in football reporting.

We are being fed a fantasy story being repeated from one publication to another.  And because it happens day after day no one notices anymore.  But it can be dangerous – as we can see by the way the crowd that go to England games has turned on Harry Maguire.   We should never think that media lies don’t have an impact.  Indeed the whole reporting of Arsenal in particular is riddled with falsehoods, and with that comes a danger.

2 comments to Did Arsenal really have defensive frailties last season as some suggest ?

  • Charles Veritie

    –Indeed the whole reporting of Arsenal in particular is riddled with falsehoods, and with that comes a danger.–
    In this aspect Arsenal are not the only club to be the casualty of false reporting and false claims by those who claim to publish news that can be trusted as truth.

  • Maina

    Maina
    Arsenal score more goals without Aubameyang and now arsenal have a better defence than last season.

    My Question if you could is what are the weakness that arsenal should address

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