How appropriate that this ludicrous 2020/21 season should begin with Arsenal the most disciplined and unyielding of the ‘Big Six’. No-one else among the coterie at the top of the Premier League has faced this competition’s two toughest trips – to Anfield and the Etihad Stadium – and no-one else from the sextet has conceded fewer goals than the Gunners’ six.
Indeed only one team has a more insubstantial goals against column, an Aston Villa side whose defence is anchored by former Arsenal shot-stopper Emiliano Martinez.
Arsenal defenders and goalkeepers have gone from the running gag of the Premier League to a rare bastion of sanity. It was once a comedy of errors, now under Mikel Arteta this team is, well, a little bit boring at times.
Their defensive prowess the more impressive considering Arteta has not radically overhauled his options in that area of the pitch. He has benefitted from the more consistent availability of Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney whilst Gabriel Magalhaes looks as astute a use of £25million as could be hoped for.
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However this is still a backline that has found consistent minutes for David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac since its manager got ahold of it. Their presence last season gave Arsenal’s new found solidity the sense of a statistical quirk, that Arteta’s side were simply getting lucky and would inevitably regress to the mean.
The first 20 Premier League games under his management brought 21 goals against but this side were not stopping opponents from getting shots away. According to Understat’s expected goals model the shots Arsenal faced between Boxing Day and the end of the season ought to have brought their opponents 31.16 goals.
Bernd Leno and latterly Martinez were among the star men of Arsenal’s season but relying on the player between the sticks to keep you in games is not a…