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Guardiola has grown his rival in the fight for the title.

In recent years, the Premier League has accustomed us to two scenarios: either the champion becomes unconditional (Liverpool in 2020, Manchester City in 2018 and 2021), or two teams arrange a furious race for the title (the same Liverpool and City in 2019 and 2022). This season, fortunately, the second scenario is still working, but there is one difference. If City traditionally claims the championship, then the place of Liverpool, unexpectedly for many, was taken by Arsenal, which until recently could only dream of getting into the Champions League.

Before the postponed match of the 12th round, which may turn out to be the championship, Arsenal is ahead of City by three points (in terms of lost ones - by six). And how do you explain the phenomenon of Mikel Arteta's team? Is his team better than Pep Guardiola's? Let's figure it out.

Arteta and Guardiola play the same way. But there is a difference

First, some context: Arteta worked as an assistant to Guardiola at City from 2016 to 2019 and was involved in building one of the best (if not the best) teams in the history of the Premier League. So Mikel can be considered a full-fledged student of Pep. Not surprisingly, the younger coach adopted the basic game settings from his mentor.
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Both Arsenal and City play in a 4-3-3 formation most of the time. But there is a caveat: Arteta's team in the Premier League this season used this arrangement for 1045 minutes, while Guardiola's players did it much longer - 1427 minutes. With this scheme, City acts more productively in the attack:

  • Arsenal has an average shot on goal every 5.53 minutes. It takes 47.5 minutes per goal;
  • City: 5.38 minutes per shot, 32.4 minutes per goal.

How else can teams play? Both Arsenal and City have a complete backup plan. Arteta often (872 minutes in the Premier League) uses a 4-2-3-1 formation similar to the basic one, and Guardiola switches to a 3-2-4-1 formation (275 minutes). With such data, the statistics are already closer:

  • Arsenal: 6.1 minutes per shot and 39.64 minutes per goal;
  • City: 6.55 minutes per shot and 39.29 minutes per goal.

But some difference is immediately evident - the situation with the top scorers. At City, it is pronounced: Erling Haaland has already shot 25 goals and left behind his partners. Phil Foden scored seven, and Riyad Mahrez scored five. Arsenal has fewer goals, but they are distributed much more evenly: Martin Odegaard scored eight, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli - seven each, and Gabriel Jesus - five.

It is symbolic that, in this regard, City used to be more like the current Arsenal. Last season, Kevin De Bruyne (15 goals), Raheem Sterling (13), and Riyad Mahrez (11) were the top 3 scorers in the Premier League. More than half of the season is behind us, but Haaland has already flown far from these numbers.

Does Arsenal have overperformance?

Overperformance (or overperforming) is when a team achieves a result that it does not play. As a rule, such luck does not last long, but sometimes real miracles happen. The canonical example is Leicester under Claudio Ranieri. During the entire 2015/2016 season, the rivals were waiting for the recent outsider of the Premier League to begin to crumble. In the end, they witnessed the most sensational championship in the modern history of English football.

Arsenal before the start of this season, few people considered a contender for the title. A year ago, Arteta's team fought for a ticket to the Champions League (and lost it due to their stupidity), but there seemed to be no prerequisites for the championship. The question arises: how objective are the achievements of Arsenal this season?

The main criterion for evaluating the deserved results is the difference between expected goals (xG) and goals scored, as well as between expected (xGA) and conceded. There is nothing criminal in the case of Arsenal, especially when compared with City:

  • Arsenal scored 46 goals at 42.2xGA and conceded 18 goals at 21xGA;
  • City: 56 scored at 49.3xGA and conceded 22 at 21.3xGA.

If we consider separately only goals from the game (without standards), then the general trend remains. Arsenal has a lower overage of goals scored (37 at 35.21 xG versus City's 43 at 38.42 xG) but a higher under-conceded rate (12 goals from opponents at 15.22 xGA versus 15 at 15.21 xGA for "City"). At the same time, Guardiola's team is more than twice as likely to be unlucky with hits in the goal frame - seven versus three for Arteta's players.
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Arsenal's progress is a phenomenon, but judging by the statistics, it is natural and translates into results as much as it should. The incredible story of this season instead rests on City. Guardiola switched to unfamiliar football with a striker, on whom the entire game is oriented in attack, and because of this, an inevitable subsidence in results appeared. In the last championship season, City scored 56 points in 22 rounds; in this one - 48. The team is still beautiful and strong, but not enough to give another run for 90+ points. Otherwise, Arsenal would have claimed a well-deserved, but still second place.