Arsenal: knocking down walls or getting back to where we used to be

By Tony Attwood

There is an interesting comment in The Athletic within an interview with Unai Emery (behind a paywall) in which he says,  “With Arsenal, you first had to knock down the walls, which is hard work, then start to build again.”

As the article points out, in 18 seasons as manager he has worked for eight clubs and won 11 trophies including four Europa League finals.

So what was this about first having to knock down walls, then start to build again?  It certainly makes Arsenal sound as a dysfunctional club which this otherwise successful manager couldn’t work within.  And the media will love that, because that is exactly how they like to describe Arsenal.

Emery joined in 2018 and in his first season took Arsenal to fifth, missing the Champions League by two points.   He lost the first two league matches with the club, but escaped the outrage and horror thrown at Arteta who took the opening negativity to previously unexplored levels with three opening defeats in the league.

Emery then got 11 consecutive league and cup wins.   But he was sacked on 29 November 2019 after a run of…

Date Match Res Score Competition
27 Oct 2019 Arsenal v Crystal Palace D 2-2 Premier League
30 Oct 2019 Liverpool v Arsenal L 5-4 pen League Cup
2 Nov 2019 Arsenal v Wolverhampton W D 1-1 Premier League
6 Nov 2019 Vitória Guimarães v Arsenal D 1-1 Europa League
9 Nov 2019 Leicester City v Arsenal L 2-0 Premier League
23 Nov 2019 Arsenal v Southampton D 2-2 Premier League
28 Nov 2019 Arsenal v Eintracht Frankfurt L 1-2 Europa League

Arsenal at this point were 8th in the league, and you will recall, this is where Arsenal finished the season.

The table below shows where Arsenal were at various key moments across this period, and so that the points can be compared we can see the points per game (PPG) at each moment in this recent history.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts PPG
5 End of 18/19 38 21 7 10 73 51 22 70 1.84
8 Emery sacked 13 4 6 3 18 19 -1 18 1.38
8 End of 19/20 38 14 14 10 56 48 8 56 1.47
8 End of 20/21 38 18 7 13 55 39 16 61 1.61
5 5 April 22 29 17 3 9 44 34 10 54 1.86

Certainly, the trajectory is moving in the right direction from the moment Emery was sacked – at each point, we are showing more points per game than before.  And in fact, we have now have Arsenal operating at just a slightly better level than at the end of Emery’s first season in charge (2018/19).  But it has taken us almost three seasons to get back to where we were at the end of 2018/19.

However, in many ways, the figures are encouraging, although it would be good to see them moving a little faster.

But just how many points per game does a club need to get into the Champions League?

Last season Chelsea did it with 1.76 points per game.  The season before it was 1.74 again for Chelsea in fourth.  In 2018/19 it was 1.87, so fractionally above what we are achieving at this moment – but we are close.

So we have been operating at a level that was above that required to get into the Champions League in the last two seasons, and we are operating above the level Emery achieved in his one complete season.

In Mr Wenger’s last season we got 1.66 – so we are working above that too, and not at all far off the level of regular fourth-place finishes or above – the sort of season that Mr Wenger was so heavily criticised for.

My point is that despite all the opprobrium being chucked at Arsenal at the moment, (such as Chris Sutton points finger at “pathetic” Arsenal after embarrassing Crystal Palace loss) the club is still making progress.  

We are scoring more goals per game than last season when we had Aubameyang in the squad all season, and the only part of the squad performing worse than before is the defence, upon which so much money was spent last season.  And yet over the last 20 games we have the fourth best defence in the league which is an improvement.

So what next?

If Arsenal do buy another striker for next season to replace Lacazette that could help, but above all else we need to avoid having games like yesterday’s.   As Odegaard said of that match at Palace, “We lacked the sharpness and aggressiveness we always have. We should have done much better. We played a really bad game, from the start to the end. It’s a hard one to take and really disappointing. It’s a tough night for us. It’s tough to go to Selhurst Park, and we knew that. But we didn’t play on the level we normally do.”

And admitting that is, to my mind, the first big step forward.


One Reply to “Arsenal: knocking down walls or getting back to where we used to be”

  1. as for Emery comments, isn’t that what Arteta is doing right now, (rebuilding) the club as a whole. this notion that Arsenal is a perfect club that makes them above criticism and every criticism is somehow a slander is what makes the club soft and weak. after Wenger is hastily let go, (whether that was the right call or not, the decision was made by the club) Arsenal as a club has to learn the trades of DOF that was new and alien to them and yes, the club make a mistake here and there before they find stability under Mikel and Edu (some credit to Josh as well). so yes, people has every right to criticize the club and not every criticism or opinion has a hidden agenda or something. again, let’s focus on remaining 9 games of the season before we start to think about next season. right now Arsenal is relying on the players that they have on the squad. Brighton is another tricky match but Arsenal playing at Emirates is confident booster

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