Click to embiggen

Amazing comeback II: defense defense defense

I wanted to back up yesterday’s prose about Arsenal’s Premier League comeback with some data. So I took a look at my database, split the season into two halves, and drew up the following table:

Click to embiggen

First, you might want to click on the table to get it big enough to see the data. Second, to explain the shorthand GFA = Goals for Arsenal, GAA = Goals against Arsenal, SPG = Shots per game, SOG = Shots on goal, GPSOG = Goals per shot on goal, and CONV = Conversion rate (Goals per shot as a percentage, e.g. Arsenal convert 12% of their shots into goals). Anything with an “O” in front of it indicates our opponent’s averages when playing against us.



To give you some context to the numbers above, Arsenal’s defensive averages for the whole 2011-2012 season are at a six year high. For example, the previous high for Arsenal’s defensive conversion was just below 11% last year. Meaning that Arsenal only allowed 11% of their opponent’s total shots to be converted into goals. Similarly with stats like goals allowed per game, 1.13 was the high water mark during this rebuilding project and that also happened last season.

Meanwhile, Arsenal’s “keep-ball” defense is actually doing well and limiting the opposition’s shots on goal and shots per game to below 4 and 11 respectively. Those two numbers are in line with the last three years’ averages.

When you look at the fact that Arsenal do very well at limiting their opposition’s looks on goal and yet the conversion rate is at an all time high this gives some evidence to the common sense notion that Arsenal are a team who allow goals on the opponent’s first or second shot.

With the rates of conversion being so close (12% for Arsenal and a whopping 13% for the opponents) this would indicate close margins of victory (or loss) but you have to consider that Arsenal create on average 6 more chances than they allow the opposition to create per game.

Thus, we have a numerical model of the Arsenal system: keep possession, create chances, limit the opponent’s chances, and (hopefully) win the game. I’m not sure how uniquely “Arsenal” that is, but there you have it.

What is truly amazing, however, is how big the Arsenal turnaround has been in the second half of the season. I intentionally chose to split the season directly in half rather than use a biased split after, say, the Blackburn debacle. Because I felt that would be too easy to pick on in terms of trying to debunk the numbers. So I split the season arbitrarily in half and figured that what we would see is a slight uptick in Arsenal’s defense.

What we see, however, is that the Arsenal are half a goal per game better (defensively) in the second half of the season than they were in the first. Arsenal’s offense has dipped slightly but the team’s defense has gotten dramatically better: shaving nearly an entire shot per game and nearly a half shot on goal per game off the opposition’s offense. This drop in opposition shots is a big deal when you play a possession based scheme.

But what’s really amazing is the change in opposition conversion rate. In the first half of the season Arsenal were allowing 15% of all shots in as goals. That means for every 10 shots allowed (Arsenal’s season average) the opposition were scoring 1.5 goals.* So, to bring that number down four points is a big deal and could mean that Arsenal’s opponents are not getting anywhere near the same quality shots they got early in the season.

With just ten games left in the Premier League season and with Arsenal getting great news that Andre Santos is back playing in the reserves and Jack Wilshere is kicking a ball again, the Gunners could see an uptick in the one number that we didn’t want to see go down over the second half: goals scored per game.

It wasn’t a huge drop but when you see that Arsenal’s attack is mostly generated from the right side this season and you see how Newcastle was able to change Arsenal’s approach by bringing on Perch (who led the Geordies with 5/5 tackles in just 45 minutes and forced Arsenal to spread the ball around the park in the second half) you have to wonder if teams haven’t figured out that Arsenal’s Theo-van Persie combination is a real threat and are playing defense accordingly. Thus, bringing back a real left-sided attacking threat in Andre Santos (who already has as many goals for Arsenal as Gael Clichy had in 230 games) will help open things up for Arsenal and hopefully generate more chances, which Arsenal will (hopefully!) convert.

Regardless how the last ten matches stack up offensively, I for one, am keen to see Arsenal’s defensive prowess grow and hopefully kick that opposition conversion rate below 10%.

Ten clean sheets ought to do the trick.


*Obviously, this means that sometimes the opponents wouldn’t score, would score one, score three, or score 8 goals on 20 shots. It’s an average. I’m not suggesting that there were scorelines of Arsenal 1.63 v. Newcastle 2.12

51 thoughts on “Amazing comeback II: defense defense defense

  1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1NorCalArsenal

    Thanks Tim for the info.
    I was actually a little surprised to see our goals scored for arsenal dip in second half. When you have a 7-1 Blackburn game in there and a 5-2 against spuds. But as they say the numbers don’t lie.
    Appreciate the info. Hope we do get a more balanced attack and improving defense the last 10 matches.

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1alan warner

    In the first half it was almost predictable. The player in acres of space in the first half was chamberlin, if he had had half the ball time theo did, we may have see more potent goal threat from the left and stretched the ‘casle defence he was having to come into middfield to get a touch on the ball. Arsenal missed a trick there, as chamberlin has the ability to go inside as well as outside the full back they doubled up on him.

  3. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1Vellawolf

    In addition to 1st half 2nd half table.. you can also a with fullbacks, without fullbacks table..
    Should be interesting.. Altough the with fullback performances will be better, it might interesting to see how much the lack of fullbacks affected Arsenal stats wise..

    Always enjoy your posts Tim.. esp. the ones with stats and analysis..

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      Why do you think of own goals as different from any other goal? It’s a defensive error (or series of errors) either way.

      Just curious, because I get questions like this all the time. “How many times did Arsenal hit the post?” “How many penalties?” Etc.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Yank Gooner MD

        @Tim, Own goals should count both for us and against us. Think how many goals LK6 would have to his credit!

  4. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Nikki

    I forgot what stats but i remember by that stats we should be in the 7th position. Are we have a better chance to finish 3rd or fourth now..?

  5. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Btw, does anybody know when Wilshere is due back from his embiggened bone?

    Not that it matters, I suppose. I think “next season” is probably the realistic target, and let’s be perfectly honest, I was just looking for an excuse to use “embiggen.”

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

      @Bunburyist, He’ll be back when his boyfriend Gazza Cahazza tells him it’s ok to come back.

      I mean, did you notice how Wilshere swaddled himself in the flag of England while rooting for those scum, Chelsea? It happened on twitter, which is the single most powerful communication device on the planet.

      And one last thing: when Chelazza tap Wilshazza up by offering him billions of Euros and the chance to be reunited with his true love, Gazza, will the two of them be known as Gazza Jazza or Jazza Gazza?

      Oh wait, I know… Gack.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author



        “Just jumped up when Lamps scored! I want chelsea through….English and proud! Come on you blues!”

        Followed by this:

        “Great result for Chelsea, flying the English flag high in this years champions league! Shame we couldn’t join them, was so close!”

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Tim Post author

        @Tino, Don’t forget he’s also eligible to play for the Olympic team.

        Clearly he loves country over club so if he’s invited I expect he’ll go.

      2. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1nycgunner

        @Tim, I was upset at his comments yesterday too but then I thought I was reading too much into it. As far as he is concerned, he is cheering on his England team mate rather than his league rival so from his perspective there is nothing wrong with that. Lampard is one of the guys who helped Wilshere when he first got on the England squad, so it’s not too surprising. Fans tend to look at every other team as Us vs. Them but that’s usually less so with players. I don’t think that necessarily means he picks club over country – just that the boundaries are less definitive for them than it is for us fans.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1T-Town

        Nothing the players are doing is inappropriate.
        What’s inappropriate is the fan going for a hand job in the penalty area. That’s a penalty.

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Yank Gooner MD

      I was gonna make this point anyways, but since you asked…

      It has been nice to see Gibbs back in action and relatively staying healthy *everyone knock on wood* but I can’t help but think of the production we were seeing from Santos and sort of missing with Gibbs. I know his # of games played was not that much, so maybe this small sample size is distorting his effect on the team as it was possibly just taken during a good run; however, he seemed to adjust rather quickly to the English game and was just scorching that left side all the way up in the attacking 3rd and back.
      I hope he can find his form quickly; however with only 10 left, I won’t be expecting miracles. It would also be nice for him to get some games with Gervinho… (based on the NUFC match) Theo and Sagna are unstoppable on the right if they continue in that form and hopefully Santos can kick start Gervinho when he returns for a little of the same, but on the left.
      If he comes back next year playing the way he was before the injury, he is top quality and sits above Gibbs in the depth chart for my money.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

        @Yank Gooner MD, I like Gibbs a lot offensively actually, although my sense is probably distorted from having to watch Clichy all these years.
        Santos is clearly the more tricky individual and comes infield a bit more to get into goalscoring positions.
        Gibbs seems to give us more width, and he can put in some really good crosses, and I think having him on the field would really benefit someone like Chamakh. Santos doesn’t overlap much and prefers short passes. When we consider that The Ox and particular Gervinho are right-footed and thus have a more limited ability to cross from that side, Gibbs’ crossing is a real asset.
        If Gibbs could add good defending to his skill set, he’d be fantastic. Provided he stayed healthy of course.

  6. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Carolina Gooner

    Brilliant analysis again – and we get this for free….really. Keep up the great work.

    It will be interesting to see whether Gibbs or Santos gets the nod when both fit. Gibbs is fitter/more athletic but I think his distribution can be iffy. Santos is more of a goal scoring threat, but lacks some of the defensive work that Gibbs puts in.

  7. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

    Way off topic. Llorente just ‘RVPed’ Man U to put Atletico Bilbao up 4-2 on Man U. Unless Man U can come up with 3 goals, another English club will bite the dust in Europe.

    1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1NorCalArsenal

      I don’t twit or is it tweet. Anyway , is Jack the lad going mental over Manure?
      I would guess not.
      It’s always a difficult situation. You want to support your league but not support a rival.
      Anyway, I don’t think it’s a huge deal but in the past week Jack has been seen in a Liverpool jersey and now openly cheering for Chel$ki. Maybe with maturity he will realize he might temper his enthusiasm. Or maybe not.

      1. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1ctpa

        @NorCalArsenal, Jack and Szczesny have got to a professional and realize that it is all about Arsenal 24/7 and the other teams should be left to their own fans to stew over. I support UConn but I don’t get into the whole does the Big East have 7-8-9-10 teams going to the big dance discussion.

      2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1NorCalArsenal

        I hear ya. I went to Texas and UNC for various parts of my education. Would never cheer for anything Oklahoma or Dook did.

      3. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1NorCalArsenal

        @Tim, I like cheddar gack on my tacos.
        Looks like both Manchesters are out of Europe now.
        Do you think Santos will play over Gibbs? Wenger seems to prefer Gibbs.

  8. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Bunburyist

    Interesting point about all / most of our attacks currently going down the right flank, and how having Santos available will allow us to mix it up a little. Santos is an outstanding attacking left-back (or was, just as he was finding his Prem legs before the injury), and I wonder if maybe Gervinho’s loss of impact / form can be put down to the absence of Santos, just as Walcott’s was during Dec – Feb while Sagna was out. Certainly, the way we play, our full-backs are integral to our attack, and it seems more than a coincidence that our wide forwards lose form when our first-choice full-backs are out.

    Anyway, sad fact: Santos is 29. I really think he’s a top player, and I wish we had bought him sooner (like years ago, instead of putting up with Clichy’s ineptitude in the final third). As it is, he’s got another 2 or 3 years max, and likely his best will soon be behind him.

    I suppose the optimists might argue that Santos’ age is perfect, since in 2 or 3 years, Gibbs will be more than capable of making the LB berth his own. Depends what you think of Gibbs’ potential.

    1. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Eurazian

      Has Gervinho lost form? I dunno, I think it has a lot more to do with The Ox suddenly appearing on the team while Gerv was away, so we are just seeing less of the Ivoirien.

      I think Santos’ age was definitely a consideration when Arsene brought him in, since the expectation has been that Gibbs will eventually be the next Ashley Cole (in game, not personality). I think Gibbs’ potential is almost beyond question, but potential doesn’t always mature into the real thing.

  9. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1joakal

    Is it fair to draw the conclusion that Arsenal only give up “good” chances? I was actually wondering if there was a stat that showed which team gives up the most goals with the oppositions first attack/first shot?

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ssinderias

    Let’s hope Chelski wins through to the next stage in the CL. No I’m not echoing Jack Wilshere. The two legs of the CL SEMIS fall on either side of our HOME match against them. How’s that for timing?

    1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Craig

      @Ssinderias, Wow, that’s a good point. Still will be hard to hope for Chelsea to win. I’ve tried before, and I just never can. I hate them as individuals and I hate them as a team. Truly a disgusting collection of humans.

  11. Vote -1 Vote +1Jeff Smith

    Hopefully the balance between attack and defence is finally being corrected. It was kami kaze attack in the games between Mu and Chelsea.Ronaldo and Drogba could have easily scored a hattrick given the time and space to score.Don’t forget the second rate gk deployed.

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