Why Arsenal score more goals than anyone expects and why facts outdo speculation



As you will know Arsenal have scored more goals this season in the Premier League than anyone else despite Brighton, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City all have higher expected levels of goals than Arsenal.

And I guess in some circles where numbers are bandied around that list of six clubs with more expected goals than Arsenal but fewer actual goals (by which I mean the ball entering the net and the referee pointing back to the centre circle) there might be a bit of a debate as to whether the whole expected goals thing is really worth debating.

But no, in football the debate continues – perhaps because journalists are lazy or perhaps because it makes sure there is no room to debate the oddities of refereeing.

But also I suppose the reason why so many journalists lay off the issue of comparing  expected goals with actual goals scored is that this comparison shows Arsenal’s extraordinary efficiency with goal-taking, compared with the wastefulness of others.   Likewise, Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City all have more shots on target and indeed more shots in total than Arsenal, but still Arsenal are there at the top, scoring more goals.

As the Football Observatory research reveals Arsenal, have the most positive gap between expected goals and actual goals (excluding penalties) – meaning they score more than expected, which they say reflects, “judicious shooting decisions, as well as particularly effective finishing.”

That fact is not celebrated much in England of course, but then, it never is.   Instead the Telegraph today runs “Mikel Arteta accused of insulting Porto manager Sergio Conceicao’s family in Spanish.”  It’s a shame they give so much space to the accusations of the defeated, rather than looking at the methodology of the victors, but ’twas ever thus.

The Athletic haven’t mentioned the numbers, but instead have the much more negative, “Arsenal’s toil to overcome Porto’s stubborn defensive block,” headline which makes last night seem pretty awful, which it wasn’t.   The Mail was more inclined to consider mysticism, speaking of the “curse that had turned them [Arsenal] into the kings of second-round exits in the Champions League.

But I must come back to the Guardian which really has found a new way to look at football, suggesting that where we have all gone wrong is to accept “that much of sport is chaos that can’t really be explained.”

OK that is a possible view although not one I hear expressed at all. But then I wonder why the Guardian currently has 24 main football stories on its website plus another 18 in the “more news and stories” section.   If much of sports is chaos that cannot be explained then what are they doing employing all these journalists who are creating all these tales that apparently explain nothing at all?

My argument with the Guardian and indeed the other media is not that they publish articles about football, but rather that they explain football events through their own existing theories which are themselves never explained.   What we try to do here (and you might well argue that we don’t do it very well, but that would be a different matter) is look at what is happening and then try to look behind the facts.

Hence our review of Arsenal’s move from most to least yellow-carded team, which has coincided with the club’s move from mid-table to top of the league seeks to link the two events, one explaining the other.  That seems to me to be a good use of statistics.

Of course not all the football stuff in the media is pointless or biased.  To give credit where due the Atheletic had a most interesting piece on “Rest defence” – a “term referring to the principles, positioning and structuring of defenders while their team are attacking.”

Of course some of this invents new terms of old concepts just to make the conversation seem more up to date as, for example, with “field tilt”.  It is what most of us would call “possession in the final third of the pitch.”   And yes most would agree that keeping possession in the final third of the pitch invariably leads to a goal attempt and so is a jolly good idea… but by itself is not a guarantee of success, although some journalists like to suggest it is synonymous with success.

Field Tilt is also roughly related to success – here is last season’s Field Tilt table…


Team Possession % Field Tilt % Lge position
Man City 65.04 71.26 1
Arsenal 59.36 66.31 2
Brighton 60.25 63.03 6
Liverpool 60.80 62.73 5


So we can see, yes these top four teams by field tilt were in the top six positions in the league, but like so many recently added concepts they maybe don’t tell us much that we didn’t know.

And that is really the point.  Do the articles tell us something we didn’t know, or prove something that previously we merely believed to be true?  If yes, all we and good.  If not, then it’s just speculation.  Which may be interesting, but facts generally are more helpful..



10 Replies to “Why Arsenal score more goals than anyone expects and why facts outdo speculation”

  1. @Nitram,

    and in doing so, the best invention they’ve got is an angry opposition coach whinning that Mr Arteta sand something bad.
    Now if you look at the guy’s record, it is interesting to note that he has done so with Tuchel (supposedly he told him to f..k off) and Guardiola, everytime after having lost a game.

    And this then becomes a serious story criticising Mr Arteta.

    Really they are incompetent and biased

  2. As far as I know it from friends , they do enjoy watching our games . Many are hoping that their clubs are as attack minded as our club.
    We are evolving as a team , taking on problems head on , and on the pitch. And becoming shrewd , and a bit harder , and street wise !

  3. I always find these expected goals and whatnot nonsense.

    There is no talk about how Arsenal are more clinical etc.

    It just creates talking points with mates.

  4. I don’yt know if the link works but this are images of Conceicao as a player in het Belgium career at Standard. Spat at an opponent, “gave” his shirt to the ref after being excluded for spitting. The assisant referee who saw the incident and who informed the ref is a good friend of mine (Peter De Bast) who has been an assistent in the top division for a long time. So he was a nasty piece of sh*t in his playing days and is still the same.


  5. The only thing that surprises me with the ‘expected goals’ v actual goals scored thing is that I haven’t seen or heard anybody (yet) use those figures to try and suggest that it is proof we are luckier than everybody else because we shouldn’t have scored as many as we have!! I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before some dummy at the Toppled Bollard tries to run with that one 🙂

  6. Please correct me, if I am wrong but the total match XG is the sum of all the individual shot XGs. So, a club could run around and take 6 shots, each with an XG of 0.1 and we could take 2 shots, each with an XG of 0.25. They would have a higher XG…who would have a higher chance of scoring, though?

  7. Who determines the xG figures? I hope it’s not a subjective “measurement”, but I suspect it is, especially when you consider that there are different xG models.

    The media love xG because it enables them to dig themselves out of holes after results don’t go the way they wanted/predicted.

  8. According to ITV Sport today, missed shots are affecting xG stats, even if the shot should have been ruled out for offside, and would have been if a goal had resulted.

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