Are Arsenal off to one of their worst starts in Premier League history? Well, yes, and no.
Arsenal have managed to reap the fourth lowest points total through 8 games in their Premier League history. In 1992-1993 the first 8 matches saw Arsenal score 10, allow 10 and get only 10 points. And of course, last season, well last season’s start was the worst ever as Arsenal only managed 10 points then as well, though with a frustrating -7 goal difference. Worse still Arsenal are 10 points off the pace of the League leaders, Chelsea, who have gone unbeaten so far this season and have only drawn once.
Since Arsenal have the best defense in the League in terms of goals allowed, the problem, then, must be the goal scoring. And as you’d expect Arsenal are off to a poor start in terms of offense with 6-year low in shots on goal. a 4-year low in total shots generated, third lowest record in terms of converted shots, and the second lowest goals tally in the last 7 seasons. Here’s a chart I made to illustrate that:
Reading this chart should be simple but I’ll explain it anyway: first, this is the record for the first 8 League games of each of the last 7 seasons. Shots = ummm, shots? Shots on goal = shots that are saved by the keeper or cleared off the line. Goals = all goals, including own goals by the opposition. Shots per goal = shots/goals. Convert shots = goals/shot or a percentage of shots that are scored as goals. Convert SOG = goals/shot on goal or a percentage of shots on goal that are converted.
A major reason why Arsenal are struggling offensively is that the club’s two leading shot takers are Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud, who have combined for 54 shots but only 3 goals. An average of 18 shots per goal. Last season’s two leading shot takers were far more efficient: Walcott and van Persie combined for 250 of Arsenal’s total shots and 38 goals, which comes down to a respectable 6 shots per goal.
Arsenal have two players who have combined for 6 shots a goal so far this season: Podolski and Gervinho. 30 shots and five goals between them makes them one of Arsenal’s most efficient pairs. And I dare say that those two deserve more shots. Arsenal’s most efficient goal scorer at the moment is Koscielny who has one shot and one goal. And Arsenal’s second most efficient goal scorer is Theo Walcott who is banging them in at one goal every 3.5 shots. On the other side of the coin, Arsenal’s most profligate shooter is Aaron Ramsey, who has failed to find the net in 10 tries in the League.
Six shots per goal is not just “respectable” because I say so, it’s about team efficiency. My preliminary work indicates that the number of shots per goal correlates well with League position: the lower your shots per goal, the more likely a higher League position at the end of the season.
The chart below shows the Premier League seasons 2009-2010 through 2012-2013 (using the same categories above) and sorted by teams in terms of shots per game (with Man City included despite not being in the top ten the first two seasons studied). Doing this we can compare efficiency among offensively minded teams over a larger sample size and a longer time period.
As you can see, Arsenal have consistently been in or near the top four in terms of conversion percentages, total shots, shots on goal, and goals. They are not this season and as a consequence you have an Arsenal team that looks slightly toothless. In fact, if you take away the biggest win of this season (6-1 Soton) and the biggest loss (1-2 Chelsea), Arsenal have only scored 5 goals and have conceded 3. That’s an average of less than a goal a game on offense which is half of what the club averaged last season.
It’s still very early doors and Arsenal have plenty of time to turn the offense on. First, I would encourage the team to look for Theo (when he returns from injury), Poldi and Gervinho who have been very sharp in front of goal so far this season. Second, the midfield should be encouraged to shoot more as well. Arsenal have been taking more long-range efforts than any season since I’ve been tracking that number and that should not be stifled. And third, Arteta is a real threat offensively. He has only taken five shots this season, two less than Thomas Vermaelen. No offense to the Arsenal captain but I’d much rather Arteta bomb forward and get shots than our most mobile center half.
Arsenal turned this around last season and scored 62 goals in the last 30 games. But to get from here to there, they need to take more shots. A lot more. Or they need to get much more efficient.