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Expectation Management: Arsenal’s Biggest Challenge to Secure a Top 4 Finish at the End of the Season

Arsenal Top 4, year 2022, fans, youngsters

Arsenal are guaranteed to celebrate Christmas sitting in the Top 4 of the Premier League. After losing the first 3 league games, the Gunners have shown great resilience to string together 10 wins, 2 draws and 3 losses in the next 15 games. The Gunners currently sit 4 points clear of West Ham, and five clear of Manchester United.

Arsenal, January winter transfer window, Top 4
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However, Moyes’ side have a game in hand while the Red Devils have 2 unplayed games. Let us analyze just how much Arsenal do merit a place in the Top 4 and whether it would be fair to expect them to sustain this form for another 20 games.

Unexpected Performance On Expected Goals? 

Arsenal have recorded 27 goals from an xG of 26.4 and conceded 23 from an xGC of 26.5. While the forwards have remained more or less consistent in front of the goal, Ramsdale’s stunning form plays a key part in improving their defensive numbers. The English shot-stopper has an impressive save % of 81.3, and psxG-G of +1.1.

While these numbers self-contained seem all right, they hint at certain issues when put into context with the other 19 Premier League teams. Arsenal have the fourth highest xG in the league, behind Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea. However, they stand 16th for xG Conceded. Their xG difference suggests that the Gunners should be at 8th position, four places below their actual ranking.

Aaron Ramsdale
Image obtained via Goal

This could be tracked down to how Arteta’s side approach games. After taking the lead, the Gunners often sit deep to defend their advantage. They concede 12.94 shots per 90 minutes, the 9th best in the league. They take the fourth-most shots at 14.67. Each shot conceded by Arsenal has an average value of 0.11 xG.

Better teams are not only conceding fewer shots, but also shots of less value. Arsenal’s failure to close down optimal shooting positions for the opposition hurts their underlying numbers. Such performance has rarely proven to be fruitful in the long run. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid are, perhaps, the only team in the Top 5 leagues in Europe that have sustained good performances with poor underlying numbers for so long. The Rojiblancos also have a similar approach of sitting deep and defending an early lead.

Performance Against Quality Oppositions

Against other teams that comprise the Big 6, Arsenal have 1 win and 4 losses. They have scored 5 goals in 5 games while conceding 15. The xG does not run in their favour either. The Gunners have accumulated a mere 3.1 xG across the 5 games. On the other hand, they’ve conceded chances worth a total of 13.9.

Arsenal will have to offer a much better fight against stronger opponents if they aspire to finish in the Top 4. They will be facing Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea in a span of 2 months from the New Year. The Gunners cannot afford to take another 3 points from the 4 games once again. Arteta will need to plan more opposition-specific against better teams. Currently, his approach revolves solely around the strengths of his players and not necessarily looking to exploit the weaknesses of opponents.

Home And Away Form

Arsenal have been excellent in home games this season. The loss to Chelsea remains the sole blemish, as the Gunners have been unbeaten in the other 9 home games. They have collected 22 points from a possible 27 at home.

Away from home, Mikel Arteta’s men have just 3 wins and a draw in 9 games. 5 of their 6 losses have come away. Arsenal are scheduled to play 11 of their remaining 20 games away from home, and this is an issue that needs fixing desperately to secure a Top 4 finish.

Squad Depth

Arsenal have used 27 different players in the Premier League, second only to Everton who have used 28. The absence of European football has proven to be a blessing in disguise. Mikel Arteta has been able to utilise the same XI consistently as his players get a better rest period. This has allowed the players to develop better chemistry and get a better understanding of the tactics Arteta wishes to implement.

Looking Ahead

Arsenal have reasons to be optimistic. They have a settled starting XI and a solid base for a future plan. Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tierney, Tavares, Lokonga, Partey, Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Martinelli and Saka are all players that Arsenal can rely on, for another good 5 years at least. Youngsters like Charlie Patino, Folarin Balogun and Miguel Azeez could also form a part of Arsenal’s long term project.

In the short term, however, the Gunners still need improvement. An immediate issue is sorting out the captaincy problem. Aubameyang could well be headed for the exit door after being stripped of the captaincy. Lacazette has worn the armband in his absence. However, the Frenchman himself has been linked with a move away after the expiry of his contract in June 2022. Kieran Tierney would be an excellent choice to don the armband, while Smith Rowe, Saka and Ramsdale have all been touted as possible candidates.

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A few signings in the winter window to beef up Arsenal’s midfield depth and quality would be welcome as well. A new number 9 and winger could also be required if Aubameyang, Pepe and Lacazette were to leave. However, for the short term at least, Arsenal have reasons to be content. Settled players and continuously encouraging performances have been aided effectively by slip-ups from the rival teams.

The Gunners are not of the same pedigree as Manchester City, Liverpool, or Chelsea just yet. However, they can look back and take pride in how the team have developed in the last 3 years. Arsenal can realistically aim to finish in the Top 6 at least, if not Top 4 and also compete for either the League Cup or FA Cup this season.

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Adithya Ravi
Football enthusiast. Stat enthusiast

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