Arsenal have averaged 17 shots per game over the last four years. And when you see that Arsenal jumped from 14 shots per game in 2008 to 17 per game in each season since, you would be justified in thinking that 17 is a healthy number of shots per game. Yet the reality is that in order to compete with the top clubs, Arsenal may need to take more shots. Which is probably why Arsene Wenger has spent this summer capturing strikers like Giroud and Podolski rather than a defensive midfielder like Yann M’Vila.
Another fact that you may not know is that despite the perception that Wenger’s Arsenal play attacking football, last season the club finished 6th in overall shots per game with 16.8 — two places behind a Liverpool team that was widely derided as being “too defensive”. This is a bit of a departure from the previous two seasons where Arsenal finished in the top three in that category consistently. So, it seems that Arsenal may actually be playing catch-up a bit in this stat.
The thing about shots is that they are basically a numbers game – the more shots you get, over the longer period of time, the better your team is generally going to fare in terms of winning games. And winning games is the only stat that really counts. Of course a team could win a game without a single shot, via an own goal or something, but that’s not a strategy you would really want to rely on unless your name rhymes with Pam Dollarlice. And of course, you need only look at the inefficiency of Tottenham who took the second most shots per game at 18.4 (the League winners were tops with 19.4) and yet only placed the fourth highest in total goals to see that it’s not just shots that count but scoring the goals off the shots. City ended up taking just 37 more shots on the season than Tottenham (738 v. 701) and yet scored a whopping 27 more goals proving that it’s not just quantity but quality. Think of shots not as the destination, but rather the engine of success.
Arsenal’s first signing this summer has a record that suggests he has a measure of that needed quality over quantity in his game. Leading a relegation bound FC Cologne, Podolski scored 18 goals off a stingy 2.9 shots per game — or one goal every 3.9 shots. Meanwhile, Robin van Persie led Arsenal with 30 goals, but did so taking 174 shots for an average of one goal every 5.8 shots. Next below him in shots per game at Arsenal was Theo Walcott with 2.2 shots per game and just 8 goals for an average of 9.5 shots per goal. Not to put too fine a point on this, but Podolski scored 18 goals on just 84 shots whilst Walcott scored 8 off 76 shots. Poldi, it seems, is significantly more efficient than Theo has been so far in his career.
Obviously, you can’t simply extrapolate out those numbers but if Podolski keeps anywhere near the same form for Arsenal as his did in der Bundesliga and he gets the same number of shots as Theo Walcott, you have to think he will be looking at somewhere north of 12 goals next season — 19 goals would be bang on his average for 76 shots. Still, as we know, it’s a different league and he’s no longer the number one option so I would go so far as to say that if Podolski scores 12 goals off 75 shots next year, it will have been a successful first season in the Premier League.
Arsenal’s second big signing of the season was announced today as Olivier Giroud stood around looking tall and musclary for the cameras. As I wrote in my By The Numbers column on Arseblog News, Giroud is a somewhat less efficient striker than Robin van Persie.*
Giroud took 4.5 shots per game playing for Montpellier last season which put him 7th overall for players in the top 5 leagues in terms of shots per game. But, whereas RvP has a similar shots per game record (4.6) the Dutchman scored a goal every 5.8 shots, and Giroud scored a goal every 7.6 shots, which is about as efficient as Chamakh was when he was at the top of his game (7.43 shots per goal). Thus with Giroud you see the power less with efficiency and more with just bulk shots. His aerial ability also adds an extra dimension to Arsenal’s attack and I can see a lot of practice on crosses in the near future between him and Arsenal’s fullbacks. Whether this will translate to more shots per game for the team is unknown but I have a good feeling he will get his chances. Just like Podolski, 12 goals from 75 shots would be a great first season in the Premier League and would be his best ever return on shots per goal.
The good news is that from what I have seen of both Podolski and Giroud they are not afraid to shoot, and if Arsenal keep Robin van Persie, and the team continue to play the type of football that gets them in among the top teams in shots per game then I don’t see any reason why we might not see a jump of 1.5 to 2 shots per game . That’s a really ballsy prediction mind you, two shots per game is an additional 76 shots over the 38 game season and brings the club in line with multi-billion dollar Manchester City in terms of offensive output.
The question here though is how? How does Arsene get an additional 76 shots? The simplistic answer (and one I have offered before) is “just play Giroud up front with Podolski on the left, Robin in the hole, and Theo on the right” but that’s kind of crazy isn’t it? To play four strikers? All demanding service with just one legitimate provider in Robin van Persie?
So, not only does a four striker attack have a problem getting service, you also have just two spots for a crowded midfield roster of Song, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Frimpong, Coquelin, and even Diaby is still on the books. Even if you were to just ignore half of those players (which I could see many doing) you still have a problem with just having a two-man midfield and the fact that the opposition now almost ubiquitously play a 5 man midfield against Arsenal. Arsenal often countered that tactic by bringing on midfield support from the fullbacks last season, but this left Arsenal exposed defensively.
Arsenal now have three players in Podolski, van Persie, and Giroud, who all lead their respective teams in offensive output. Managing their playing time, while fitting in others like Theo, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain is a good problem to have. Figuring out how to coax the service needed for three to four legitimate forwards, while balancing defensive duties in Arsenal’s midfield is the question which now must be answered**.
*There is no shame in being less efficient than Robin van Persie.
*Yeah yeah yeah “Z played X position when he was playing for Y team” but calling van Persie, Podolski, Giroud, and Walcott midfielders is a lie and we all know it.