Drawing conclusions when analysing statistics across different seasons can often be like comparing apples with oranges.
Numbers alone can tell a story but they can’t tell the whole story. The numbers can tell you how much the apples and oranges cost, for example, but they can’t tell you how they taste, how they smell, or if they’re ripe.
To get a better understanding, you need to understand the bigger picture. You need to get your hands on the fruit, you need to taste it.
I use this extended (and pretty strained) metaphor as a preface to looking at Arsenal’s performance across the first eight matches of the 2019/20 and 2020/21 campaigns – to see Mikel Arteta has fared relative to his compatriot, Unai Emery. While the pure numbers reveal a great deal, I won’t use them to make damning conclusions or to elevate one man over the other. They are merely an illustration from which you can make up your own minds or reserve your judgement.
The league table
The first thing to note is that, in terms of points on the board, Emery’s Arsenal managed 15 from their opening eight matches, compared with Arteta’s 12. You might argue that the latter could (and perhaps should) have another three or even six points on the board but the league table doesn’t account for should have or could have.
In the first eight matches of last season, the Gunners picked up wins over Newcastle, Burnley, Villa and Bournemouth, while taking a point each from Watford, Tottenham and Manchester United. Their solitary defeat came at the hands of Liverpool.
This season, Arteta’s Arsenal have beaten Sheffield United, West Ham, Fulham, and Manchester United, while slipping to defeat against Aston Villa, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Leicester.
The most obvious difference between the two seasons is that Arsenal have faced four of last season’s top six in their opening eight matches this year, compared to three the season before.
At the same point in last year’s fledgling league table, Arsenal found themselves in third place behind Manchester City and Liverpool, the latter of whom already had an eight-point lead at the summit.
For context, 12 points (our total so far in the current campaign) would have seen us in eighth place in the 2019/20 table, compared to our 11th place this time around. We find ourselves only six points from top spot in this current campaign.
In and of itself, that is interesting and suggests that the difference between the teams this season could be much less than at any point in the Premier League’s near 30 years of existence. It has long been wondered what impact, if any, fans have on football matches and it seems this season will show us a great deal (and, indeed, already has) on that front.
Goals for and against
After eight matches of the current campaign, Arsenal have scored nine goals and conceded 10.
Our goals scored tally is among the worst in the league, with only five teams having scored fewer. In fact, there are five teams who have scored double our number already (Villa, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester and Spurs).
At the same stage in 2019/20, Unai Emery’s side had scored 13 goals.
This season, the Gunners have conceded a relatively modest 10 goals – a number latterly boosted by a damaging 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa. That said, only five teams have a better record than our own at this stage. Arteta’s men have two clean sheets in the league so far.
At the same point last season, the team, already under fire for conceding a vast number of attempts on goal, had conceded 11 goals and also had two clean sheets.
With four wins apiece from the opening eight matches of the league campaign, both Arteta and Emery have a 50 per cent win rate.
What separates the managers at this stage is that Emery’s 2019/20 team had a tendency to draw lots of games, while Arteta’s side have failed to salvage points from any of the games they haven’t won.
Whether this plays into the creative struggles of Arteta’s side and particularly their inability to build pressure in the closing stage of matches they are chasing will be borne out in the weeks and months to come.
Unai Emery’s side really started to implode over the course of the next five games or so, ultimately leading to the Spaniard’s demise in December. In the league, the Gunners picked up just three points from their next five matches including defeats to Leicester and Sheffield United and draws with Crystal Palace, Wolves, and Southampton.
In order to better Emery’s record from 2019/20, Arteta will need to find seven points from his next five league fixtures, which include Leeds, Wolves, Tottenham, Burnley and Southampton.