Let fly Arsenal; why shooting more will turn the slump around

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.


13 thoughts on “Let fly Arsenal; why shooting more will turn the slump around

  1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1santori

    We have a couple of shooters now in Santi and Ramsey, (not to mention Arteta) all willing to let fly from distance.

    I think the issue is Santi.

    It has become quite apparent that without the extra verve of Diaby charging through the opponents ranks, Santi remains our most important creative outlet.

    Shut him down and shut us down. Simple.

    Perhaps a solution could be to pull him to RW when he is facing no joy through the middle.

    Put on another technical player with vision like Arsharvin to unlock the door in concert (and keep either of Podolski or Gervinho out left)

    This may entail keeping Coquelin next to Arteta with Arteta given slightly more license to support forward. Coquelin should be preferable to Ramsey in this instance as he seems to have more pace to recover when/if the ball is turned over (and considering Andrei is playing)

    Should be at least a Plan B IMO against stubborn opposition. It will also afford our rightbetter strength with Santi supporting Jenkinson and better crosses (from Santi ) into the big man Giroud.

  2. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1GunnerPete

    Whilst I admire whoever worked their way through all those stats to come up with the most obvious answer to AFC problems, Its a bit of a waste of time.

    After supporting the Arsenal for over 60 years, I can tell you now that 4/5 years ago my mates and I were watching the gradual deterioration in our team and all came to the same conclusion ie; if you dont shoot when you have half a chance you never get the goalie errors that our goalies give every other week. You never get deflections. You never get penalties for handball etc etc.

    If your stats should have told you anything it should have said ‘there is a reason every other team just parks the bus when playing us etc etc. They expect 25 passes front front to back and reverse. Only if a forward is clean through do they shoot.

    Every foreign star that has joined us in recent years has arrived with a bang and shot from everywhere..then it all stops…why? Its obvious…arsene coaches it out of them! I love him to bits but his methods are failing nowadays and his stubborness in not allowing defnding during training says it all.

    I cannot see anything but the usual ‘on /off’ season for us as we have had for 7 years.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Zeddington

      “Every foreign star that has joined us in recent years has arrived with a bang and shot from everywhere..then it all stops…why? Its obvious…arsene coaches it out of them! I love him to bits but his methods are failing nowadays and his stubborness in not allowing defnding during training says it all.”

      This is so, so true. Two perfect examples off the top of my head are Nasri and Arshavin. Both arrived, took a lot of shots, and scored some goals. Gradually they stopped, and because part of the ‘Arsenal system’. I can see this possibly happening to Poldi – maybe not Gervinho, but he doesn’t seem to shoot from outside so much anyway.

      Good observation.

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1Dick Swiveller

    That’s interesting, I’ve always been of the opinion we don’t shoot that much less than other teams, it’s just that it seems like we shoot less as we get more opportunities and our shooting is so poor that nothing comes of it.

    It also seemed like we were the same this season, I guess the lack of a Dutch strumpet up front has had a pretty bad effect. hopefully it’s remedied and we actually try to play tomorrow.

  4. Vote -1 Vote +1Jaymin

    Very illuminating stats. I am a bit surprised to learn that we exhibit such paucity in shooting. It really felt that we shoot much more this year, but i guess not.

  5. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

    Well, in the BPL, we were shut out a total of five games all last season compared to three in our first eight games this season. Given the talent of the attackers we have available, I think it’s a function of so many new players in combination with a shortened preseason because of the Asian tour. I mean trying to predict Gervinho’s next move has to be difficult, to say the least. Of our two leading goalscorers from last season, one has left and the other is being frozen out because he’s refusing to sign a new contract. Our two leading assisters have left the club and Theo was third in assists. Our center forward, left winger, and central attacking midfielder are new to the club this season while a forward in his second season has shifted between playing right and centrally instead of the left wing he played last season. Arsenal’s entire attacking philosophy is based on quick, one touch passing, sharply coordinated off the ball movement, and positional fluidity. At least initially, there’s bound to be stretches of loss of cohesion and lack of a cutting edge in the final third which hopefully will decrease as the players acclimate to each other.

    I do think that Poldi definitely needs to become more involved in the final third. The previous two years for Cologne in the Bundesliga, he converted 17.9% of his shots which compares favorably with RvP’s 17.2% conversion rate last season in the BPL. For the most part, his average position so far this season has been the deepest of the front three. Perhaps pushing him higher up the pitch, giving him slightly less defensive work and less responsibility to help in the build up would put him more dangerous positions more often. It would necessarily mean others would have to take up the slack but given his reputed finishing ability, we need him as close to goal as possible.

  6. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Yan

    Well here are my 2 cents (pence?): Given that we are a heavily possession based team, and we crowd the opposition half sometimes even with both fullbacks (the 2-4-4 that sometimes Tim refers to); we don’t have the luxury of taking half chances. Any deflection that doesn’t fall on one of our guys and we have more than half the team compromised in attack, giving a good chance for the break. Hence the search for the perfect shot (ok, we can call it over-elaborating).

    So maybe yes, new players are coached out of over shooting, but it is a byproduct of having too much time of the ball.

    That’s why I really liked the first matches of this season. We seemed like we dropped the possession game, in favor of a much direct old Arsene kind of fast break playing.

  7. Vote -1 Vote +1Davsta

    Theo’s absence Sat has cost dearly. I’m impressed with his recent professionalism and effectiveness, not to mention the quality of his finishing.
    As super-sub, he is the go to man to pressure tired defences and his purple patch form was a great asset whilst this team gel.
    Everything’s gone flat now because of some nutcase part- time goal keeper.
    It’ll be great to see Jack back in the team, but equally good to have Theo back on the bench.

  8. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Greg

    Good article, good comments. I agree with Yan: possession football can lead to caution and overelaboration and we’ve started to try to play possession again, when we just don’t quite have the personnel for that. It seems to be our default mode, especially against opposition we feel are inferior. There seems to be a gluey nugget of cognitive bias that we can’t shake loose, where the players feel that if they are keeping the ball away from the other team then that means they are winning.

  9. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1pat

    I agree and think that seems to be a big part of the problem – fear of being caught on the break after building up a careful attack in the final 3rd means we try to get that perfect goal scoring oportunity. Makes things too predictable especially if we are not getting the penetration through the standard 2 by 4 defences stacked against us. Like others I thought that we were starting to employ a more direct, faster attacking style, not allowing the oposition defences to settle.

    Is it lack of confidence in defending that causes this i.e. too afraid of losing the ball to just go for a shot on goal? Are we afraid we cant win the ball back? Surely if we have more of a shoot on sight of goal mentality we would force oposition defenders to try and close the ball down, at least try and break up that 2 by 4 defensive structure which seems to be the effective counter to our tactics (because we are too predictable?). Also if we need to defend once and a while, we would have oportunity to counter quickly… (that would suit players like Walcott and Podolski/Gerv to a lesser extent maybe) thats my 2c.

    For another 2c, I dont think we are exploiting the attributes of Giroud to the full extent – I would like to see more of the knock down type of assist that got Ramsey that goal a couple of weeks back

    Ok Im up to 6c now, running out of cash :-) Is it me or have we not scored or scored very few headed goals this season? I cant remember any…?… but I dont know if we have the quality of delivery to do that, and realising its a low percentage play Le Prof hasnt got us doing that….

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Yan

      That’s really weird. I mean, on the eye both of our starting fullbacks are excellent crossers, we should be getting more headed goals. But as Tim once pointed out the cross is a low % pass. Maybe problem is that they do the low cross thing (specially Corporal Jenkinson, damn he has a wicked low cross). Or maybe we could just cross more instead of shooting more? Or both?

      Let’s just win this game today!

    2. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Tee Song

      As far as crossing goes, it is a low percentage play but there are ways to make it more effective and therefore, add variety to the attack. Yesterday, Hernandez, not the biggest of strikers, scored ManUre’s go ahead goal on a simple cross. The difference is that the they had three players all attacking the cross, near post, middle, and far post. And they began their runs as the ball was struck. Braga, trying to track multiple attacker, lost Hernandez at the far post. Barca’s last gasp winner was a cross in which there two players were middle but Jordi Alba attacking the far post. Defending a single player, even as big as Giroud, is easy. Defending multiple players attacking a cross, more difficult. We need coordinated off the ball movement in the short passing game as well as the crossing game. I can’t help but feel this also has something to do with our ineffectiveness at set pieces, both attacking and defending.

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