Tag Archives: Stats

Wenger on FIRE

11 matches in: what do the underlying stats tell us about the top seven teams?

This morning I’m going to take a look at the teams who we presume will be fighting for the top six places this season.

In case you’re new to 7amkickoff here’s a thumbnail sketch of the stats that I like to use. First, we have “shots in Prime” or SiP. This is a stat which says there are great areas to shoot from (prime) not so great areas (in the box) and speculative areas (outside the box). Based on my research I’ve come up with a conversion rate of 25% in prime areas, 8% in the box, and 2% from distance. This is used to create a very simple “expected goals” for and against model.

I’m not interested in creating an expected goals model which could be used to predict anything. In fact, I don’t think that the models can do that. They are historical models. What they tell us is how a team has played so far and how much that team is deviating from the norm. You won’t be surprised at all to learn that the League winners tend to outperform the model and teams that are relegated tend to underperform.

The other stat I like is “big chances”. This is an Opta stat. It’s defined as a shot where the viewer would reasonably expect the player to score. I like this stat, not because it’s the most accurate stat that ever statted, but because of it’s inherent lack of objectivity. What this stat really counts are the moments in a game where the fans think their team is going to score or where they think their team is going to get scored on.

I love “big chances” as a goalkeeper stat and as a way to measure whether a striker is a “clinical finisher”. Fans assume that great goalkeepers stop big chances and clinical finishers score big chances. So, by using this stat we can measure our perception of these players.

So, Big Chances and Shots in Prime. Those are the two stats that I like to use when measuring a team’s performance on the season. If a team allows a lot of big chances or shots in prime, they are probably going to allow a lot of goals. If a team created a lot of those types of shots, they are probably going to score a lot of goals.


Arsenal are still the best team in the League in terms of big chance creation and shots in prime. The Gunners have created 34 big chances and 68 shots in prime (there is often overlap for these stats). Even better, Arsenal are also the stingiest defense in the League, allowing the opposition just 10 big chances and 21 shots in prime.

Where Arsenal are struggling a bit is in terms of putting away the big chances they create. Giroud is doing well at 50% and Alexis is fine with 44% but Walcott’s 22% on 9 attempts along with Özil and Ramsey missing all four of their combined efforts is dragging Arsenal’s finishing numbers down.

Defensively, though, Arsenal have the best keeper in the League. Cech has saved 75% of the big chances he’s faced and 78% of the shots in prime that have been on target. Only Hugo Lloris comes close to Cech with his 70% SiP saves.

Club BC saves % SiP Save
Arsenal 75.00% 77.78%
Chelsea 57.14% 50.00%
Man City 33.33% 60.00%
Man United 50.00% 61.54%
Leicester 15.38% 44.00%
Tottenham 50.00% 70.00%
Lollerpool 36.36% 35.71%


Chelsea’s problem is simple: they suck at defense and offense. It’s killing Mourinho but his defense is a shambles and it’s a shambles in every position. As a team, Chelsea have allowed 21 big chances this season. That’s more than any of the top seven teams. That’s more than Arsenal and Man City combined! They have also only created 11 big chances for themselves.

In terms of shots in prime they are basically break even: they created 41 and allowed 40. And as you can see from the chart above, their keeper (Begovic) isn’t keeping them in games.

Mourinho likes to have a moan about the referees not giving him calls on his offense but the reality is that it’s not Chelsea’s offensive production that is the problem. It’s that his team is leaking shots in good areas like an old dog with poor bladder control.

And I will point out that two of the goals they scored and one of their only clean sheets this season was entirely down to the abject refereeing of apparent Tottenham supporter, Mike Dean. A match in which Dean was rebuked by the FA and two of his major calls were overturned post match.

Man City

You won’t be surprised to learn that City is neck-and-neck with Arsenal.

Club Big Chances Created Shots in Prime Big Chances Conceded SiP Conceded
Arsenal 34 68 10 21
Chelsea 11 41 21 40
Man City 32 65 9 26
Man United 19 28 11 32
Leicester 26 50 15 56
Tottenham 22 35 11 30
Liverpool 11 28 12 32

Even without Aguero, Man City are still pumping out the goals and shots in prime areas. City’s one weakness seems to be Joe Hart. His big chance saves rate is the lowest of the top teams and his SiP saves is low as well. But I will caution here, we are only talking about 7 big chances and 12 SiP faced. That percentage could go up pretty quickly if he starts making a few saves.

Man U

Yep, they are as boring as everyone thinks. They don’t create and they don’t concede. What they rely on is a super high 63% conversion of the very few big chances they create. To put that in context: Arsenal and Man City convert 35% of their big chances. 63% is huge. Unsustainably huge?


Leicester plays wide open football. They created 50 shots in prime and allowed 56. They scored 17 goals in prime areas and allowed 14. They are a run and gun team. And the problem with teams who play like that is that the goals eventually dry up, but the defense doesn’t get any better. In other words, they are going to get into some games where they need to be solid at the back and they won’t be able to do it.

Or Chelsea will buy Vardy and Mahrez in January and the team will collapse.


Spurs are a more dangerous team than you might think. They have created a decent number of big chances for themselves with 22 (and converted 50% of them) and they have limited the opposition to just 11, which they have saved at a 50% rate. Those numbers are pretty good. But what’s amazing is that they concede a lot of shots in prime and, unlike Arsenal and City who haave low numbers there, Hugo Lloris is saving a lot of shots. 70% saves from shots in prime is keeping them afloat at the moment.


Liverpool have been dreadful. They are like Man U in that they don’t create or concede but unlike any of the top teams they have a goal keeper who can’t save (look at those save rates!) and they have forwards who can’t convert (they have only converted 7% of their shots in prime).

Their underlying stats are so bad that any manager worth anything who walks into that situation has to be a success.


The buzzword here has to be sustainability. Can Arsenal and Man City continue their early season dominance? Will Chelsea learn how to play defense? Surely Leicester can’t play end-to-end football for another 27 games, right? When will the bottom fall out of Man U’s finishing? Will Lloris continue to save Tottenham? And will herr Klopp be König der Kop and turn around their dreadful start to the season?

It should be fun to find out!

Post Script

I want to thank my readers who have been sending me books. I now have almost every book off my wish list and I guess I’ll have to start adding some more historical choices. But I’m holding off until I finish my back catalog of SEVEN books I have to read. It’s kinda nuts, actually. I’m a slow reader and I haven’t dedicated enough of my time to reading every day so as a result I’m still reading Inverting the Pyramid. It’s a book of uncommon genius and if you haven’t read it, do yourself the favor of getting it. I’ll do a book review when I’m done (two chapters left) but it’s an important book because it basically teaches you the history of football.

For example, once you read Inverting the Pyramid you realize that there is nothing special about Jose Mourinho. He’s actually a lot like several managers who came before him, managers who revolutionized the game. Jose hasn’t revolutionized anything. He just took basic ideas about football and did them with a lot more money. There’s a reason why the players at Real Madrid and now Chelsea don’t want to play for him.

I also want to give a shout out to my friends at SoccerPro.com. They have an amazing deal on last year’s away shirt. Just $60. I contacted my friend there and I’m trying to get Bellerin’s name added to the list of players available for the back of the shirt. I’ll let you know if we get that set up. I know a lot of folks want a Bellerin strip and since last year was his breakout year (he started nearly every game after January) it seems appropriate to get one from last season.


Arsenal 3-0 Manchester United box score

  • 0-6 Minutes: Arsenal — 43/47 passing, 1 chance created, 1 corner won. Manchester United — 2/6 passing, 3 clearances (5 clearances total in 90 minutes)
  • 6th minute: goal Alexis Sanchez, 6 yard box (big chance), assisted by Mesut Özil
  • 7th minute: goal Mesut Özil (shot in prime), assisted by Theo Walcott
  • 8-19 minutes: Arsenal — 64/76 passing. Manchester United — 42/53 passing
  • 20th minute: goal Alexis Sanchez (dribble), assisted by Theo Walcott
  • 21-45 minutes:Arsenal — 96/116 passing, 3 chances created (1 big chance, missed), 10/13 tackles, 6/9 clearances, 7/10 dribbling, 4 fouls committed. Manchester United — 180/204 passing, 2 chances created (1 big chance, saved), 9/16 tackles, 0 clearances, 4 fouls committed, 2 yellow cards.
  • 45-90 minutes: Arsenal — 98/132 passing, 5 shots taken (2 shots outside the 18 yard box), 3 chances created (1 big chance, missed), 16/24 tackles, 11 interceptions, 13/17 clearances, 5/10 dribbling, 3 fouls committed, 1 yellow card. Manchester United — 300/341 passing, 7 shots (6 shots outside the 18 yard box), 6 chances created (1 big chance, saved),  10/15 tackles, 1 interception, 1 clearance, 12 fouls committed, 1 yellow card

Some things I like: this captures almost the entire match in 126 words, it tells a fairly accurate story of the match, and it gives us some insights.

Things I don’t like: I nearly threw the computer into my fireplace reading the last 45 minutes. Maybe I should break that up? But the impact of that last paragraph is in the fact that United had all of the ball for 45 minutes and created just 1 chance with it.



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.