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Arsenal’s defense under Unai Emery was even worse than you think

His sacking is about as deserved as sackings come.

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Unai Emery looks sad as Arsenal play against Eintracht Frankfurt. Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Arsenal finally fired manager Unai Emery on Friday, and despite months of extreme fan disillusionment, his exit was hardly a foregone conclusion. Just 19 days ago, David Ornstein reported Arsenal’s board was “100 percent” behind Emery, and the man himself said he felt backed by his bosses on Wednesday.

But the Gunners’ recent run of form was too bad for the board to ignore. Arsenal is winless in its last seven matches, with Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt apparently the final nail in his coffin. Players had reportedly started mocking Emery behind his back, and he gave a team talk where he got the kitman’s name wrong, calling him Steve instead of Paul.

Arsenal now needs a result away to Standard Liege on the final day of the Europa League group stage to guarantee progression, and currently sits eighth in the Premier League on a negative-1 goal differential.

Fans haven’t been pleased with the team’s style of play and lack of goals, but attacking hasn’t exactly been Arsenal’s problem. The Gunners are respectable in most attacking metrics, including Expected Goals, where they’re doing better than rivals and fellow strugglers Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. Arsenal’s big problems are with its defense, where it is appalling in several aspects.

Arsenal’s defense has the rare combination of pressing aggressively, but conceding a high number of counter-attacking shots, as well as allowing opponents to complete a high percentage of their passes. Here’s the Gunners’ defensive radar, from StatsBomb:

A team pressing aggressively, but failing to stop opponents from completing a lot of passes or getting good shots on the counter, is indicative of poor organization. Arsenal’s attackers and midfielders have the fitness and desire to put in a lot of defensive work, but they’re doing so aimlessly, and with no defensive structure behind them.

The best example of this problem is probably James Maddison’s goal in Leicester’s win over the Gunners on on Nov. 9. Arsenal tries to put pressure on Wilfried Ndidi, but does nothing to actually stop him. Once the first line of resistance is broken, Arsenal is extremely easy to play against, and doesn’t impede Leicester’s progress towards a quality shot in any way.

Arsenal is also awful at breaking the presses of other teams. The Gunners have 48 combined errors, mis-controls and dispossessions in their own defensive third, which is fourth-worst in the Premier League. This is a big part of the reason Arsenal is third-worst in clear shots — attempts where there’s no defender between the shooter and the goalkeeper — conceded

Emery has rotated his back four and defensive midfielders heavily, but no matter who’s played, Arsenal has had the same problem: it gives the ball directly to opponents in dangerous positions. Here’s a particularly egregious one from Dani Ceballos against Liverpool, which luckily did not result in a goal.

Here’s an even worse one against Watford, with Sokratis committing a turnover that leads directly to a Tom Cleverley goal.

The Arsenal directors haven’t done a good job of building their squad, especially on the defensive end, but Emery is even more at fault for its defensive woes. His defense has looked poorly coached to the point of being unprofessional for most of the season. Sackings don’t get more deserved than this one.