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Which Title Challenger has the Best Defensive Record? A Statistical Analysis of Arsenal, City, Liverpool

How does Arsenal’s defensive sustainability compare to Man City and Liverpool’s? Let’s look at the data

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Arsenal defender William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes
Image Credit: Getty Images

Last weekend’s Premier League action saw Arsenal ascend to the top of the league table for the first time this season. A late winner from Kai Havertz threw Arsenal to top spot and another clean sheet saw the Gunners maintain the best defensive record in the league. Arteta’s men have conceded just 10 goals after their first 13 games.

It is this defensive record which I want to examine in this post. Specifically, I want to look at the Gunners defensive record in comparison to their title challengers. While Arsenal are getting plaudits for their current defensive solidity, both Liverpool (11 conceded) and City (13 conceded) are no lightweights in this department either.

So, how do the Arsenal stack up to the other title challengers in terms of the sustainability of their defensive record?

Well, if we look at the number of goals the Gunners concede (GA) relative to expected goals they concede (xGA) we can see that for the past few seasons they have consistently conceded fewer goals than their xGA tally would suggest.

So far this season Arsenal have conceded 12.71 xGA and only 10 goals (-2.71 less goals than expected). This is considerably better than Manchester City who have conceded 13 goals from an xGA of just 12.04 (+0.96 more goals than expected).

While this is a positive, it should be noted that Liverpool have conceded just 11 goals from an xGA of 17.38 (-6.38 less goals than expected). What’s interesting about this is that Liverpool seem to concede more xGA than both Arsenal and City, but they have conceded 2 goals fewer than City and only 1 goal more than Arsenal.

Liverpool’s impressive defensive record is most likely testament to how good Allison is. Liverpool have the second best defence in the league despite not having a clear CDM and having a right back who is, let’s say, not keen on defending.

This trend for the Reds is not new. In fact, over the last few seasons Liverpool have consistently had a better net difference between their xGA and GA stats – meaning they consistently concede fewer goals than they should. This is visualised below.

The problem this creates for Arsenal is that despite them appearing better able to control games and concede fewer chances than Liverpool, Liverpool appear better able to cope with chances in general.

Currently, Liverpool are conceding a goal for every 1.58 xGA they concede while Arsenal are conceding a goal for every 1.27 xGA they concede. The sustainability of Arsenal’s defensive record seems to hinge on their ability to continue controlling games while Liverpool’s is more so dependent on Allison.

This analysis punctuates the importance of the recent hamstring injury which the Liverpool keeper picked up in their match against Man City. The current rumour is Allisson will be missing between the sticks for 5 weeks. A huge amount of responsibility now falls on Caoimhín Kelleher to sustain Liverpool’s defensive record.

If this proves too much of a challenge for the Irishman then Arsenal may be able to build on this comparative advantage over the next few weeks and put some distance between them and their fellow title challengers.

After this, the Gunners just need to focus on bringing some more goals into the team in January to help improve their chances of securing the Premier League title.

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