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June 2021

Why are Arsenal so wasteful in front of goal, and really, does it matter?

By Tony Attwood

The theme is that Arsenal do everything wrong.   We buy our players far too late in the transfer window because Wenger can’t make up his mind and so dithers.   Except maybe Chelsea are dithering a bit more and Tottenham have dithered so much they haven’t bought anyone.

And here’s another: we are far too wasteful in front of goal – if only we were more clinical we would be top of the league.  I’ve already heard this one this season despite scoring four in the first match: we just need better strikers.

So I thought I would try and find a way of measuring this and to try and work out what is important.

To do this there are two measurements needed – goals per game and shots on target per game (the latter shortened to SOT).   So in what follows I’ve created a list comparing last season with this season’s first game for the clubs that came 1 to 7 last season.

The order of the clubs reflects the number of goals scored per game last season – Tottenham were the top scorers so they are top of the list.

So the first question – which club had the most shots on target (data for last season from Footcharts).   The answer is Tottenham, with Chelsea second.  The shots on target positioning is very similar to the final position in the league.  Interesting to note though that in the penultimate column (shorts on target this week) Arsenal are way out in the front – we were having great fun not just shooting but shooting on target.

Team Goals per game 16/17 SOT per game 16/17 SOT per goal 16/17 Goals this week SOT This week SOT per goal
Tottenham 2.26 6.76 2.99 2 6 3.0
Chelsea 2.24 5.37 2.40 2 6 3.0
Man City 2.11 5,71 2.71 2 4 2.0
Liverpool 2.05 6.21 3.03 3 4 1.33
Arsenal 2.03 5.26 2.59 4 10 2.5
Everton 1.63 5.05 3.10 1 4 4.0
Man Utd 1.42 5.53 3.89 4 6 1.5

What is interesting is to see how close the shots on target measure is to the position in the league.  Here’s a table to compares the various positions for last season – and we can see that although Chelsea won the league they were only fifth if we measure shots on target.

So maybe shots on target don’t matter.

Pos Team Goals Goal per game Goals pos SOT per game SOT pos SOT per goal SOT/ goal pos
1 Chelsea (C) 85 2.24 2 5.37 5 2.40 1
2 Tottenham Hotspur 86 2.26 1 6.76 1 2.99 4
3 Manchester City 80 2.11 3 5.71 3 2.71 3
4 Liverpool 78 2.05 4 6.21 2 3.02 5
5 Arsenal 77 2.03 5 5.26 6 2.59 2
6 Manchester United 54 1.42 7 5.53 4 3.89 7
7 Everton 62 1.63 6 5.05 7 3.10 6

Of course the only column that counts is the first one – where the club came in the league.  But the point about the rest of the analysis is to ask this: is there a factor such as shots on target, or the number of shots on target per goal (or indeed anything else) which closely allies itself to the position in the league.

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For quite simply, if there were, one could say, “improve factor X and you are certain – or at least fairly nearly certain – to win the league.”

The most simple measure – the number of goals scored is a good measure.  It almost completely accords with the league position of the top seven clubs.  Score more goals and you are more likely to be in a higher position.

That might seem ludicrously obvious, but it has not always been the case, as in days gone by some clubs that scored huge numbers of goals also conceded huge numbers.  Now tactics are more unified.

But Chelsea were top of the league but fifth highest in terms of the number of shots on target.  So simply getting the shots on target up doesn’t look like the most effective way of getting up the league.

However what about the measure of the number of shots on target per goal?   If this is closely related to position in the league then one could say that if the club could be ever more efficient in its goal scoring, that is the way to win the league.

But sadly no – sadly because Arsenal were the second best team in terms of shots on target per goal last season.  They were clinical.  Although Chelsea won the league and were the most effective in terms of shots on target per goal – the most “clinical” team we might say – Arsenal’s position of being the second most clinical team shows there is no immediate link.  Chelsea took 2.4 shots on target to score, Arsenal 2.59.  Man U were woeful needing 3.89 shots on target to score a goal.  Half as many again as Arsenal and Chelsea.

However if you want a shorthand note about winning the league the answer is score more goals – and you could say it really doesn’t matter if you need more shots than another team to do it.  Except getting shots on target is not that easy – and it seems so wasteful if your strikers are good enough to get shots on target but not good enough to turn those shots into goals.

What these figures do suggest is that being a low scoring team with a rock solid defence – the George Graham approach in certain seasons – is not necessarily the best way to run the team.  I’ll come back and present those figures when you have had a chance to recover from this bunch of stats.

But for now if you want a single factor that will deliver the title, it remains goals.

There is of course a lot of logic in this.   If you have a dead tight defence and go all out to nick a single goal, that can of course work.  But one single slip means the opposition might get their 90th minute goal, and suddenly the points total for the game is reduced obviously from three to one.

But setting up a team which sets up lots of quality shots on target looks to be the single best way to get results.

How to make Arsenal champions

Have more shots on target.  We’re good at turning shots on target into goals (we were just behind Chelsea in that regard last season) – so lets have more of them.   Which means

1: Let’s keep our goal scorers who scored in double figures last season (Alexis, Giroud, Theo).  Yes there were three of them last year.  Done that.

2: Let’s add another top goal scorer to work with them.  Someone like Lacazette would be good.  Yep, done that too.

3: Let’s have a couple of brilliant providers of assists who might put in the occasional shot on target.  Ozil for example.  Ramsey is another.

4: Let’s have another couple of good backup player who can feed the front line from the wing, like Iwobi for example, and another who can play wing or centre forward (Welbeck).

5: Let’s play with wing backs so they can get the ball up quickly to the front line.  Maybe the Ox and Bellerin by way of example.  Yep getting there.

6: Let’s have a midfielder who can turn up at unexpected moments to score.   Someone like Ramsey. OK he’s counted twice, but I think it is easy to underestimate him.

That seems to be about right for me.

I’ll take a look at defensive issues and also at the number of disciplinary issues to see if aside from the obvious (keep the goals against down) there are any obvious findings.   But for now, there is a simple factor in winning the league: more shots on target.  Even if they are not all perfect curlers into the corner, they could well catch the defence out or hit a player en route and deceive the keeper.

Starting out with ten this past weekend is a pretty good way to begin.

Recent whatnot


From the Arsenal History Society

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18 comments to Why are Arsenal so wasteful in front of goal, and really, does it matter?

  • Josif


    I’ve already mentioned that we had weird statistics last season.

    Our created-chances-per-goal ratio improved (according to Squawka) as we didn’t need 7-8 created chances to score a goal (as seen in 2015-16). We scored 12 goals more than in 2015-16 but created much fewer chances, mostly because Santi missed 30 games and Özil was playing more attacking role in which he was expected to score rather than to assist.

    Defending, however, got worse as we averaged five defensive actions per game less comparing to 2015-16. Most notable deterioration was in the interception column where we averaged 3 interceptions less per game comparing to 2015-16. That’s three more accurate passes for the opponents and three more attacks from which they could score. Indeed, we conceded 44 goals or 8 more comparing to 2015-16. Again, it could be related with Coquelin’s decline in form/injuries and the fact his best football came in the partnership with Cazorla.

    So, solution is simple: find a way to make Santi fit for the whole season.

  • Max Kerr

    Useful figures, Tony: but I wonder if the ratio of shots on target against total shots might also be significant? You are considering ‘efficiency’ in front of goal, so I would suggest that if more of your attempts fly high and wide than trouble the goalkeeper, it is very inefficient. A propos, Lacazette’s debut fills me with hope, because he seems to have a clear direction-finder for the goalmouth.

    One further addition to your list of Arsenal ‘to-dos-already-done’: a deep playmaker capable of accurate long passes to make transition quicker. Xhaka will be a star this year.

  • Rosicky@Arsenal

    Josif fully agree we need Santis vision and experience to challenge for the league.
    Tough to find another technician like cazorla is quite difficult.

  • colario

    Match after match we try to drible and pass our way through the opposition crowded penalty area – their parked bus.
    We lose the ball. they paly the direct route to goal and sometimes catch our defence out.
    On Friday we sccored one goal that the dribble, dribble route and two from right wing to head and one from left wing to foot.
    This season am going to be keeping a note of how we score goals ‘dribble dribble’ or the alternative routes to goal.

  • Andy Mack

    A ‘Shot on target’ isn’t the same as ‘chances created’. Ox had a few shots on Friday where he wasn’t on target but they were chances (usually that he created himself).
    So in my opinion, unless someone records chances created, it’s impossible take anything worthwhile from the stats above.

  • luscious lisa

    maybe. On the other hand, in the absence of any other statistic, conversion rate per chance would seem to me a great indicator. Those stats are available I believe (as Lacazette has one of the highest ratios over the last 3 years). Measure chances converted plus minutes on pitch per goal, and you’ve probably got two great indicators.

  • Dom

    It would be interesting to know the number of goals we have conceded from errors made in our own half, compared to the number we have conceded from the talent of our opponents from their half…if that makes sense 🙂
    I do ‘feel’ (as I have no facts and figures to offer) that we are punished more than most for our occasional waywardness.

  • luscious lisa

    Good read. It’s reassuring that the relationship between goals scored and league position is so reliable. On the other hand, I believe Arsenal scored more goals last season but finished three places lower. Hence, possibly, the emphasis AW put last season on the need for more clean sheets.

  • Andy Mack

    lisa, if you remember back to the days of Adebarndoor then you’ll appreciate how irrelevant shots on target are in the overall scheme (although it’s better than nothing if the usefull data isn’t available).
    We had a teams that created loads of chances for him pretty much every game but he hardly converted any of them and didn’t even get that many saved. They went over the bar and outside both posts on a far too regular basis, but he still managed to get 30 goals in his best season.
    If Eduardo had been fit and on his game instead of Adebarndoor, then he’d have been vying for a 3 figure goals scored but instead he was still suffering from various injuries culminating in his being ‘Taylored’.

  • Pete

    BBC had an interesting article this morning on “Expected Goals”. They are now publishing this stat on Match of the Day. Seems a significantly more refined analysis:

    Directly relevant to this article – suggest a read…

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev were riding a train that was not moving. Stalin said, “I will get this train moving!” and had the entire crew shot…the train did not move. Khrushchev got up and said, “I will get this train moving!” and resurrected the entire crew…the train did not move. Finally Brezhnev got up, looked out the window, stood back, closed the window and the drapes and declared, “The train is moving”

    Obviously this is poking fun at the Soviet Union’s economic system but as it applies to a football fan I would say, sometimes we can’t do anything and it is better to close the curtains (on the transfer window or people’s crazy criticisms of the club, for example) and just go along for the ride.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    The negativistas amongst us will of course say that our train is not moving but again if that is the case it should be easy for them to step off.

  • para


    Fully agree here. We tend to make very silly mistakes many times that cost us games but rarely get to benefit from other team’s mistakes.

    This is why if we learn to cut out most of these mistakes we would be soaring higher.

    But transfers and critisims are part of the ride are they not? We may think that we would love it if Arsenal won with no problems every time, but i guess we qould soon get bored, after all is that not the reason we “came out of heaven to hell” to get some excitement? 😀

  • Menace

    One of the main reasons for lack of conversions of chances to goals is technique.

    In this professional era seeing a dead ball shot miss the target is unacceptable & diabolically expensive. Technique is not difficult to learn nor is it difficult to teach. Knowledge of technique seems to be missing. Every player should be able to bend a ball and make a ball dip. Kicking a ball correctly can add 50 goals a season across the team.

    The training required is to do it whilst running towards goal. There is also the need to be able to lob a ball with either foot in flight particularly useful when one on one with the keeper. Not the most difficult technique but must be practised to perfection.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Of course, the best strikers probably have better technique than the rest of the crowd but more importantly, they have the necessary ice water in their veins to pull it off. They are able to make the right decisions at the important times. This is not easy to teach. Clubs hire psychologists to help out but it really is a hit and miss thing.

  • Menace

    GGG – it’s not a matter of training the mind. it is getting confidence in the physical manipulation of the ball. Calmness comes with confidence in your ability.

  • Josif


    You do have a point but one of the most effective strikers ever Pippo Inzaghi had the poorest shooting technique. I mean, most of the time when he took the shot, it looked like he was brought from the stands as the lucky winner of some competition. Despite his serious technical limits, he was regularly on the score-sheet.

    I have a feeling there is a general trend of fewer goals scored from direct free-kicks everywhere (it’s just a feeling, I didn’t check the facts so I can’t claim if that is true). I think we scored one free-kick last season (Alexis’ deflected shot v Everton away).

  • Andy Mack

    Menace, Part of the issue is also that the top GKs and defenders really are very good.
    The GKs would stop the majority of shots in the lower and/or non-professional leagues and the defenders would block/distract most of the ‘shooters’ enough for them to miss the shot (which is why they’re paid the big bucks), so the PL guys are usually going for power over placement, and it’s very difficult to keep technique when you’re doing that…