Arsenal’s chances created and conceded statistics when falling behind are atrocious. They speak to the capitulation this team suffers when they start to lose and illustrate the job that Unai Emery has on his hands.
Arsenal are not the most mentally strong team. For the past decade and a little more, it has never really been their forte. And for a long time, it never will — that is the nature of mentalities and cultures, they take a whole lot to change. And this season, even with the change of manager, those same mental vulnerabilities came to the fore.
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James Yorke of Statsbomb put out a very interesting run of statistics regarding Arsenal’s performance when behind in matches, which you can find here.
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He states that the Gunners spent approximately 750 minutes down in matches last season, which is fifth in the Premier League and roughly in line with what would be expected. The problem lies with their performance during those 750 minutes.
They had the third-worst Expected Goal Differential when behind in the Premier League, -0.78 xG per 90 minutes. What that means is that for every 90 minutes they played when behind in matches, they would be expected to concede 0.78 goals more than they scored. Obviously, that is not good.
Yorke elaborates, comparing their record when winning and losing. Unai Emery’s side had an xG differential of 0.34 per 90 when winning and 0.20 when drawing, both substantially improved numbers from during periods when losing.
Those numbers may seem a little confusing and unrelated to some, but essentially, it all means a very simple fact: Arsenal did not play very well once they went behind, but they did play well when they were level or ahead. Yorke put out these numbers to try and dig down into the question of why this was. I, actually, believe the answer is as simple as the poor performances: their mentality.
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This team has a unique and painful ability to crumble. They do not thrive under pressure, they do not appreciate adversity, they struggle to stand up and challenge themselves when things are not running smoothly. Conversely, when the going is easy, the opposition’s resistance has been broken and the confidence is high, there are few more effective teams in the Premier League.
Notice how one of those situations — difficulty, adversity, pressure — reflects losing in matches and the other — confidence, smoothness, ease — reflecting winning in matches. It should not come as a surprise, then, that Arsenal do struggle once they go behind. And that they also flourish once they go ahead.
Is the mentality the only reason? No, of course not. There are plenty of tactical elements that go into this, despite the randomness/unexplainable nature of the statistics. But it plays a huge part, and it speaks to the job that Emery has on his hands to change the culture at the club.