Tag Archives: Stats

Toward a better box score: goals and assists

In building a better box score the first thing we need to concentrate on is goals.

Despite being known as a numbers guy, I try to use numbers  to tell a story. Specifically, to uncover untold stories. Like “metrics” such as “expected goals” my numbers are all almost exclusively storytelling: they have almost zero predictive value.

So, it’s not a surprise then that the first thing I look for in a box score is the story. How were the goals scored? Who scored them? When? Who assisted? And how did they assist?

This data is already available in numerous places but it needs to be uncovered, unearthed by “hovering” your mouse over the goal event on WhoScored.com or by opening the 442 Stats Zone app and collating the data yourself, through various visual interfaces.

This data should be simple, logical, and most important, should be easily read. So, here’s an example of how I would present just the goals and assists data in a box score format:

Arsenal Man U
Goals 3 0
Goal 1 6′ Sanchez, Backheel, Big Chance
Goal 2 7′ Özil
Goal 3 20′ Sanchez, Dribble
Assist 1 6′ Özil
Assist 2 7′ Walcott
Assist 3 20′ Walcott

And here’s another match, the 1-1 draw in the Merseyside derby

Everton Liverpool
Goals 1 1
Goal 1 41′ Ings, Header, Big Chance
Goal 2 45+1′ Lukaku, Big Chance
Assist 1 41′ Millner, Corner

And finally, the 2-2 draw between Swansea and Tottenham:

Swansea Tottenham
Goals 2 2
Goal 1 16′ Ayew
Goal 2 27′ Eriksen, direct free kick
Goal 3 31′ Kane (o.g.)
Goal 4 65′ Eriksen, direct free kick
Assist 1 16′ Montero

Remember, this is just dealing with goals and assists.

I am going to test this page with a screen reader to see how it handles the data and tweak it based on that feedback. I’m also open to feedback from my readers.

Let’s make a better box score.


Giroud looks releived, like a man who had been waiting for an hour to take a piss at an open air festival

Arsenal have taken the most shots of any team in top five leagues but just keep missing the target

Fact: with 61 shots, Arsenal have more shots, total, than any other team in the top five leagues. And the Gunners aren’t banging them in from distance either. They lead the top five leagues in shots inside the penalty area with 36. The problem is that despite getting 61 shots already this season, Arsenal have only scored 1 goal.

This is the point where you scream “sample size sample size sample size” like a kid trying to get his mom to buy him candy and there is a truth to that: 61 events is a pretty small sample of the entire season, especially since Arsenal will probably take over 600 shots (last season they took 611, in fact).

It’s also true that Arsenal have only played three games and that, because football is a low scoring sport, three game streaks with only one goal scored are not uncommon. So, what I’m not going to say is “Arsenal could only score 10 goals this season at the rate we are converting.”

But Arsenal have taken 61 shots and only 18 of them have been on target. That’s 30% on target which is pretty poor. Last season Arsenal were shooting at a 37% clip, which if they were doing this season would mean 4-5 more shots on goal than last season.

Last season, Arsenal scored 69 goals (minus own goals) on 611 shots. That’s a goal every 8.85 shots. If Arsenal were converting at that same clip, we would be looking at an Arsenal side that scored 7 goals already this season.

Arsenal aren’t the only team struggling with offense. Liverpool and Man U have also only scored two goals this season. And if you look at Liverpool’s goals, the referees have admitted that Benteke’s goal didn’t count. Meanwhile Man U have been the beneficiary of an own goal, like Arsenal, and so it’s fair to say that Man U and Liverpool have scored just one goal, like Arsenal.¹

The problem is that Arsenal’s players are taking shots but none of them are pure finishers. Alexis and Giroud have taken the most shots and of those two players, I’d say Alexis is the better finisher, even though Giroud has the one goal and it was pretty spectacular. But it’s not just Alexis’ missing, all the Arsenal midfielders and attackers are missing the mark:

Player Shots Outside 6 yards 18 yards Goals
Alexis 13 2 1 10 0
Giroud 13 1 2 10 1
Ramsey 9 5 1 3 0
Ox 7 3 - 4 0
Cazorla 6 4 - 2 0
Ozil 4 2 1 1 0
TOTAL 52 17 5 30 1

Those 6 players have taken 52 of Arsenal’s 61 shots this season and scored just the one goal. Some will point to this chart as proof that Arsenal need another forward but remember that this same cadre of players scored 69 goals last season. So, this is just a slump.

And there are encouraging signs in the numbers above. Last season, Sanchez took a lot of shots from distance, almost half of his shots were from outside the 18 yard box. So, to see that change to a player taking the majority of his shots in the box, where he will score more often than outside the box (about 5x more often) is hugely encouraging.

I’m not saying that Arsenal will go the rest of the season like this. In fact, a three goal outburst could happen at almost any minute and that drastically changes our maths above. Rather, the numbers show me an Arsenal team which is lacking sharpness and composure in front of goal. They are getting the shots, they are getting the shots in good areas, but they need to start getting the shots on target and past the keeper. And once they do that, the goals will flow like whine.


¹Replays show that Ramsey was onside for his goal against Liverpool yesterday and if we count that, Arsenal would have scored two goals on 62 shots.

The perception is that Sam Allardyce is actually a walrus

Arsenal v. West Ham Preview: who wants the ball?

First, a little housekeeping. I want to thank Naveen, Chary, Jonathan, and Les for all of their contributions to this site. Without them, 7amkickoff would be just another boring Arsenal blog. And more important than their contributions to my blog are their contributions to the discussion about Arsenal in general. Naveen’s tactical insight is yards ahead of everyone else and I’ve honestly learned more about football by editing his pieces than I did watching it, reading news reports, and listening to pundits for the last 15 years. Meanwhile, Les Crang’s history pieces are a wonderful reminder of who we are and where we came from, Jonathan’s monthly photo article is a great way to highlight fans from all over the globe, and I love Chary’s acerbic man at the match reports. There are other folks who contribute articles when they can but these four consistently give back to the Arsenal community through their writing and I am grateful for each of them.

As for the match, Arsenal host West Ham tomorrow for an 8am (PST) kickoff and Arsenal are at the time of the season where every point counts. At the start of the season points only count for half a point. Then, somewhere in the middle of the season, points start counting as 3/4 of a point. But now, every point counts as a whole point. I know, it’s complicated but just trust me, I’m the stats guy and I created the 7amkickoff relativity scale of points.

I also know a little bit about West Ham. West Ham is a team who concede possession (45% overall, 43% away). They not only concede possession but they also win a lot of aerial duels (almost 24 a game) and lead the League in Key Passes off long balls. 63 key passes off long balls or 2.5 per game — can I say that again? They average 2.5 shots per game, just off long balls. Arsenal, for contrast, average 1.3.

The Hammers also lead the League in shots per game off set plays, with 4.5. 34% of their shots are from set pieces. Arsenal only take 21% of their shots from set plays.

West Ham also lead the League in headed goals with 15. 15 of their 38 goals (40%!!!) are from headers. Arsenal have scored 9 headed goals, but that’s just 17% of their 52 goals.

West Ham also lead the League in (accurate) crosses per game with 6.1. They lead the League in crosses attempted. They lead the League in key passes (61) off crosses and in assists (12) off crosses.

West Ham are also second in the League in accurate corners and are second in the League in key passes off corners, though interestingly they have only managed 2 assists off corners.

So, to conclude, West Ham are a long ball team who concede possession but who still get the ball forward enough to get their wing players involved and put teams under pressure with aerial balls and wicked crosses from set pieces which they like to head home. And if you’ve been an Arsenal fan for more than five minutes, and watched Arsenal concede goals from crosses (this year) and corners (years past) while dominating possession against teams like West Ham then all of those stats will make you about as comfortable as a man wearing a wool sweater in summer. In the desert.¹

One last odd wrinkle. In the last meeting between these two teams Arsenal did something no one expected: they conceded possession. Arsenal have beaten West Ham in all of the previous 9 encounters and when looking at the data for those matches, Arsenal averaged over 60% of the possession. For example, in the last 6 encounters the possession numbers for Arsenal are 69%, 64%, 62%, 62%, 58%, 45%. I believe that there is a trend at Arsenal away from possession in general (which shows here as the numbers get lower over the years) and there is also a trend in the Premier League with teams like West Ham simply getting better but that drop from 58% possession to 45% possession isn’t in line with the trend, that is indicative of Arsène Wenger employing a tactical shift in that match.

More evidence that Wenger eschewed possession in that game comes in the fact that in the three previous encounters West Ham scored first and in many football matches the team who score first usually concede possession. And in the last encounter between Arsenal and West Ham, Arsenal scored first. You would think that was the reason for Arsenal conceding possession but when I look at the possession stats prior to the Arsenal goal (a penalty) the numbers are exactly the same as after the goal – 55% for West Ham, 45% for Arsenal.

I don’t think we will see this same tactic tomorrow. This was a one-time strategy dictated by injury. Wenger was forced to start with two destroyers, Flamini and Coquelin, in midfield. This time out, Wenger has all of his top midfielders available to him: Cazorla, Özil, Coquelin, Rosicky, and Ramsey. I expect to see a starting attack consisting of Giroud, Özil, Alexis, Cazorla, Coquelin, and Rosicky. In defense, I suspect we will see Bellerin², Mertesacker, Koscielny, and Gibbs.

The big question for me is who will start at keeper? Ospina is one of the smallest keepers in the League. He’s also not commanding in the penalty area and that is where West Ham will be lobbing in balls to head into goal. Do we start Szczesny? Against Man U, he was good in the air but there was that moment he decided to try to dribble around Rooney. He managed to beat Rooney but then had to play a forced pass to Koscielny, who kicked to Mertesacker, and then Mertesacker turned the ball over. Man U didn’t score off this mess but it was a moment of unprofessionalism from Szczesny.

It’s incredible to think that Szczesny has 179 games worth of experience and had literally just returned to first-team football after being benched for being unprofessional and he’s out there pulling stunts like dribbling around a forward in one of the biggest games of the season. But there you have it, that’s Szczesny. And I still think Arsenal have to start him.

This should be an easy match for Arsenal. West Ham are in terrible form and haven’t won a match since January 25th (P7 W0 D3 L4 F4 A13). Downing is the main crossing and set play threat and Song’s main two weapons are over the top balls and through balls. But without Enner Valencia (who cut his foot on glass) making runs behind the defense and Andy Carroll’s presence on headers, the Hammers shouldn’t be too much of a goal threat. Meanwhile, Arsenal will have an entire retinue of forwards they can throw at West Ham and a healthy midfield who are playing some of the best football of the season (P7 W6 D0 L1 F13 A7). If Arsenal can stay focused and professional, if Arsenal can keep their defensive shape, and if Arsenal can remember the lessons that Monaco taught them a few weeks ago, then all three points should go Arsenal’s way.


¹Defensively, West Ham are a bit of an odd team. They concede possession but they don’t tackle a lot (they are 15th) and they don’t try to intercept the ball either (they are 13th). This is odd because we would normally expect a team who doesn’t have the ball to try to actively win the ball back but here’s the thing about West Ham: they don’t want the ball.

I’m being a bit cheeky here but the truth is that Allardyce’s philosophy is that he wants his team to control space first, then worry about the ball. West Ham’s approach to the game is to jockey the opponent into spaces that they don’t mind you being in and allowing the opponent to do things that they don’t mind you doing. So, they will allow Arsenal to keep the ball, grant them spaces to put in crosses, and when they win the ball back they will try to get the ball up the field in a counter attack situation (down the wings) where they can get in a cross to a forward.

It’s simple football but effective, as you can tell by the fact that West Ham are 10th in the League and basically safe from relegation.

I actually take a similar approach to football when I play. Amateurs are not very good at crosses and not only that but when you crowd the target area it makes crossing very difficult. So, if you stay compact and allow them to get in crosses you have a great chance of cutting the cross out and moving the ball up the field in a counter attack situation. It’s ugly football but effective. Also, I sell it by saying “we are going to play like Chelsea” instead of saying “we are going to play like West Ham.”
²Congratulations on the new deal. He deserved it after the great shifts he’s put in.