Discover more from Cannon Stats
Arsenal are over performing expected points, is trouble brewing?
Arsenal have 50 points but only 41.5 expected points, are they due for a correction?
Yesterday, while I was devouring ALL THE CONTENT about Arsenal beating Manchester United I was listening to the Totally Football Show from The Ahtletic.
They, had some interesting things to say about the inversion of Zinchenko and tidbits about the match, but what really piqued my interest was when they (It might have been Jon Mackenzie but I will be honest I wasn’t making that much of a note on who was talking there) brought up the fact that according to Understat, Arsenal are behind Manchester City on expected points.
I got a bit defensive when they said that Arsenal were massively overperforming! I wanted to get all pedantic with is this actually massive? But in reality, they are overperforming and depending on your feelings on what massive means, they are the team overperforming by the most this season.
Cannon Stats is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
So I think this leads to the question of what it all means.
I think the first thing to get out of the way is that just because Arsenal are overperforming their expected points doesn’t take away from them still being a very good team.
Arsenal have scored the second-most goals, from the second-best expected goals. They have allowed the second-fewest goals, from the second-fewest expected goals. They have the second-best goal difference from the second-best expected goals difference.
This is a team that is very good and is going toe to toe with Manchester City who have been one of the best teams in the world since Pep Guardiola took over the team.
The team is overperforming on expected goals vs actual goals but not to a worrying level:
On the defensive side the story is the same but maybe a bit more fortunate than in the attack.
Overall Arsenal have had good outcomes on both sides of the ball with regard to what might have been expected. The defense has been the one more uncommon and the one that might not be expected to keep going at to the same level.
What the expected points show is that this is a team that IS performing really well but perhaps has been on the good side of luck.
Part of that could be down to the sequencing of goals. Arsenal have spent the second-fewest minutes losing, with just 93 (Newcastle has the fewest at 77, Manchester City have been losing for 140 minutes). The other part of this that explains why is that at an even game state Arsenal have been the best team in the Premier League.
When you are dominating teams when the game is tied, you are going to see that team go ahead a lot more often than they go behind. When you hear that Arsenal play the type of style that minimizes variance and is built for point accumulation this is exactly what this means.
In the time when the game is tied, Arsenal have taken 150 shots compared to just 52 by opponents. They have scored 22 goals (from 21.5 xG so really not overperforming here) and allowed 5 goals (from 5.9 xG).
When a team goes ahead they generally take fewer risks, looking to protect the lead a bit more and looking to maximize high-quality chances to add on. Arsenal aren’t really different, they are not nearly as dominant at +1 as they are even gamestate. They have clamped down on defense but also have pulled back on some the attack some as well. With the team having spent the most time of any Premier League team in this state, this will have the largest pull on the overall numbers.
I would love to see the team try to replicate what they do with the game tied all the time but that isn’t realistic. Often times that is when they have the most heavy medal press, looking to blitz teams with a burst of energy that would be impossible to sustain for 90 minutes (let alone even much more than 20). What we have seen is that Arsenal have gotten the goals that they deserve from that time, and then have been a very good team seeing things out.
What we have seen is that Arsenal have been very consistent at getting ahead and then keeping teams from getting back into matches. Arsenal have had a +1 xG difference in their matches 12 of 19 times this season, with just one match where their opponents beat them by that margin.
Manchester City’s graphic isn’t that different than Arsenal's. They have beaten their opponent by 1 xG in 14 of 20 matches but have also been beaten by more than 1 xG twice. They have more +2 matches (and that is why they are ahead on expected points) but really these are two of the best teams right now.
The final takeaway from this exercise should be Arsenal are very good. Arsenal have been fortunate, partly with their style paying dividends and partly because that is what you need to win 50 points over 19 matches.
This is also something that really justifies Arsenal pushing their chips in this season trying to win the title. This team is very good, but they have combined that with some good fortune in finishing, goal sequencing, and injury luck. Arsenal could be a better team over the next 2-3 seasons and not come close to this potential of points total.
It is almost impossible to push this kind of point accumulation without good luck. Title winners have basically always won more points than expected, this isn’t unexpected, winning a title in as competitive of a league as the Premier League takes a good team and some good fortune. The last title winners have over performed by anywhere from 1.2 points (City last year) to 24.7 points (Liverpool’s win), with an average over performance of 10.7 points.
Arsenal ahead of expected points is okay and even if Arsenal fall back towards a more “true” points accumulation they are in a good spot to potentially have the best-ever point total in the team’s long and storied history.