Mar 3, 2017 14:31:27
Opta stats show that Arsenal have underachieved under Arsene Wenger for many of the seasons since their big-money move to Emirates Stadium in 2006
Speak to most Arsenal fans about their views on the past decade under Arsene Wenger and you’ll likely gauge a mixed response. The Frenchman divides opinion due to his lack of a major trophy since 2003-04, but Opta’s Expected Goals (xG) model reveals just how much the Gunners have underperformed over the last 10 years.
Wenger’s much-discussed future at Arsenal could be coming to an end this summer with his contract set to expire in June. Many fans feel it is time for the man who brought such glittering success to the club in the first half of his reign to finally depart. The criticisms levelled at Wenger are vast but many believe the team have struggled since the move to Emirates Stadium in 2006, a claim which is reinforced when you look at their league finishes over the past decade.
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Others argue that Arsenal have been a little unlucky not to have won a Premier League title during this period, but Opta’s xG model – which is used by most top clubs in European football, including Arsenal – helps give us a better indication as to whether that’s true or not.
Opta's Expected Goals (xG) model measures how likely a particular shot is to be scored. It's based on distance to the goal, angle to the goal, assist type, whether or not it was headed and a variety of other factors. This assigns an xG value between 0 and 1 that reflects how likely the shot is to be scored. So, for example, 0.3 xG means a shot will typically be scored 30% of the time.
Using the xG value as a weight, Opta can simulate each shot hundreds of times and find the most common outcome to each game and by extension each season. This allows Opta to create an Expected Goal Difference for the season (xGD) and projected finishing position for each team.
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According to the xGD data, Arsenal have generally underperformed over the last 10 years. In five of the 10 seasons, their xGD position has been better than their actual finishing position. Only twice was their actual finish better than their xGD position – in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
In the former campaign, Champions League qualification was secured despite an xGD of fifth and projected finish of sixth. This was the campaign where the Gunners were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn Rovers and secured an astonishing comeback from four goals down to beat Reading 7-5 in the League Cup. Arsenal's first team squad included the likes of Sebastien Squillaci, Andrey Arshavin, Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh, players whose contributions to the cause won’t be remembered by many supporters in a few years.
Wenger kept a tight grip on the purse strings during this period and even when Arsenal’s xGD was outside the top four they still managed to qualify for European football. Indeed, the campaign which many Arsenal fans will remember as being a missed opportunity to win the league title was the 2007-08 season. Five points clear at the top of the table going into what was expected to be a relatively simple task of beating Birmingham ended up being remembered as the game where Eduardo da Silva had his leg broken and William Gallas threw a tantrum at full-time.
The closest Arsenal have come to winning the league came last season as Leicester City pulled off the greatest underdog story of all time. Wenger’s side were first in the xGD table and had a projected finish which suggested they would end a run of 12 years without a title. However, the 10-point gap between the Foxes and an Arsenal team who clearly underperformed is likely to be one of the biggest regrets Wenger will have during his managerial career.
This season Arsenal are currently sixth in the xGD table, which would tie their lowest finish in this regard since they moved to the Emirates. There is plenty of time for that to change until the end of the campaign. Surprisingly Chelsea are only fourth in the xGD table this term, although it’s worth noting that their lower ranking is probably down to game state. The Blues have taken lots of early leads and aren’t often chasing games, thus produce less high quality chances.
Wenger himself is a fan of Opta’s xG statistics and has previously admitted that it helps him dictate team selection ahead of a game. However, the Frenchman can’t hide from the xG conclusion that, bar a couple of exceptions, he has underachieved in the league since moving to the Emirates in 2006.