By Bulldog Drummond
When looking to improve a team that is losing too many games, it is generally thought that the best approach is to tighten up the defence. Get the defence working as a solid unit, and then at least play for a 0-0 draw. The old George Graham approach.
The alternative is the Wenger approach: to stimulate the attack. Now of course in terms of results it doesn’t make any odds if you score one more or concede one fewer goal in each game the improvement in results will be the same.
However if a team is considered to be letting in too many goals the answer is normally given: improve the defence, and that has been the knee jerk reaction of journalists and bloggers this season, but actually that doesn’t always bring the best improvement.
What you have to do is look at the results. If, as with Arsenal, matches were mostly lost by one goal, then it might be thought that it doesn’t really matter if you improve the defence and let in one less goal per game, or improve the attack and score one more. Except with goalless draws. If you are getting goalless draws, improving the defence doesn’t help. So overall it is generally better to improve the attack.
But also there is the psychological effect. Home teams naturally attack, but if the away team has a very powerful forward line, their natural tendency is reduced, and they hold back. That gets the home fans restless. Then if the home team responds to the crowd and edges further forward, the away attack finally finds space to nick a goal.
This is relevant since when we look at Arsenal’s form we can see the main imperative is to improve the away form as we only drew three and lost two games at home, a major improvement in our form to give us a perfect home record would only garner another 12 points. And no one gets a perfect home record so that is not a very good plan. Better to improve the away form where we were only the 8th best team in the league.
And within this area there is another even more frightening figure. If we look at goals conceded away from home we were the fifth worst team in the league.
Yes only four teams conceded more goals than Arsenal away from home, and two of those were relegated. That is what made home teams attack us in a gung-ho manner.
So again the logical thing to do would be to bolster the away form defence. But appearances can be deceptive because when we look at Arsenal’s away results we find that in most cases the games were close. In almost every game scoring one more goal per away game, or conceding one fewer goal per away game has the same effect on results. And it would be a profound result.
And that latter point is true, since although our away form was poor we were still the sixth best team in scoring goals away from home last season…
Away games only
Last season we only scored seven goals fewer than Manchester City away from home and just three fewer than Liverpool!
This is where it gets strange and dramatic. Here are all our away games last season, with the final columns showing what would have happened if we had scored just one more goal per game…
|Date||Game||Res||Score||1 goal extra||Score 2 more|
|18 Aug 2018||Chelsea v Arsenal||L||3-2||+1 point||+2 pts|
|02 Sep 2018||Cardiff City v Arsenal||W||2-3|
|15 Sep 2018||Newcastle United v Arsenal||W||1-2|
|07 Oct 2018||Fulham v Arsenal||W||1-5|
|28 Oct 2018||Crystal Palace v Arsenal||D||2-2||+2 pts||+ 2 pts|
|25 Nov 2018||AFC Bournemouth v Arsenal||W||1-2|
|05 Dec 2018||Manchester United v Arsenal||D||2-2||+ 2 pts||+ 2pts|
|16 Dec 2018||Southampton v Arsenal||L||3-2||+1 point||+ 2pts|
|26 Dec 2018||Brighton and Hove v Arsenal||D||1-1||+ 2 pts||+2 pts|
|29 Dec 2018||Liverpool v Arsenal||L||5-1|
|12 Jan 2019||West Ham United v Arsenal||L||1-0||+1 point||+2 pts|
|03 Feb 2019||Manchester City v Arsenal||L||3-1||+1 pt|
|09 Feb 2019||Huddersfield Town v Arsenal||W||1-2|
|02 Mar 2019||Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal||D||1-1||+2 pts||+2 pts|
|07 Apr 2019||Everton v Arsenal||L||1-0||+1 point||+2 pts|
|15 Apr 2019||Watford v Arsenal||W||0-1|
|24 Apr 2019||Wolverhampton Wanderers v Arsenal||L||3-1||+1 pt|
|28 Apr 2019||Leicester City v Arsenal||L||3-0|
|12 May 2019||Burnley v Arsenal||W||1-3|
|Points gained||+ 12 points||+ 18 points|
One more goal scored a game gives us 12 more points. Two more goals a game gives us 18 points. And then in addition Chelsea, Man U, Man City and Tottenham would all get fewer points, because they were in fact four of the teams we were taking points from last season.
We would not have caught Liverpool or Manchester City last season with this “one more goal” approach but we would have got a lot closer and would have easily been in the top four.
Now of course we are not going to score eight more goals exactly in the games we needed – but then as noted we didn’t need to do it in all eight games – just one would have done it.
So Arsenal’s approach, at least thus far, involving improving an already impressive forward line and doing less about the defence, could well be exactly the approach we need to secure third.
And for anyone leftover from the “fourth is not a trophy” days, I know you don’t get anything for being third – except a place in the Champions League. But it is a good start.
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