By Tony Attwood
We’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about the defence at Arsenal of late for two reasons. The most important is that it has been the scene of the most extraordinary tactical reformation that I’ve seen in my time as an Arsenal supporter (a period which goes back to the Neolithic era, at least according to some of my friends).
If you have missed those, the key articles were
- Amazingly, in 2020/1 the more clubs tackled, the more goals they let in!
- How Arsenal’s 40% decline in tackling over the past five years has sparked the revival
But there has been a second reason – the fact that the media at large has ignored this revolution. They have, it is true, dropped their insistence on ripping up the entire defence, but moving in several new players is still on the agenda, according to “reports” (ie fantasies).
However the real problem has been in attack as we can see from a very simple chart of the number of goals Arsenal have scored in recent seasons compared with Manchester City. The “shortage” column shows how far behind Man C we have dropped.
Even if we reset the target to one suggesting that Arsenal should be aiming initially at a top four place there is still a gap. In this second version of the table below the comparison is with the team coming fourth each season.
But suddenly the gap looks much more manageable, and although fourth is not a trophy, it would be quite an improvement on the last two seasons, and hopefully a stepping stone to greater things.
And so, to look at this in more detail…
Just as we have looked at tackles and yellow cards in relation to Arsenal’s defence so in terms of attack we can look at shots and goals, and from this derive an accuracy figure, showing what percentage of Arsenal’s shots result in goals, compared with the rest of the traditional “big six”.
In the table below we have three season’s worth of shots and goals and the derived accuracy rating. Numbers in red are the top for that column, in black the bottom.
|Club||Shots 20/1||Goals 20/1||Accuracy 20/1||Shots 19/20||Goals 19/20||Accuracy 19/20||Shots 18/19||Goals 18/19||Accuracy 18/19|
As we can see at once, Arsenal and Chelsea are the teams with the most black numbers, but while Chelsea’s stopped last in 2019/20, that is when our numbers got really bad.
But also do note: we had 53 more shots in 2020/21 than in the previous season and scored 18 fewer goals!
Why this happened, I think, is because all the emphasis was on getting the defence to adjust to its new approach of not tackling, leaving the forwards to pick up the scraps – along with the well recorded problems of Aubameyang.
But we must also note that the accuracy of the shots is incredibly varied across these six clubs over just three seasons, ranging from 7% for Tottenham last season at the bottom, and 18% for Arsenal in 2019/20 – the latter reminding us that this is not a long term decline as some have suggested.
Arsenal’s problem was that after two seasons at the upper end of the conversion rate (16% in 2018/19 and 18% in 2019/20), they suddenly sank to 8% in 2020/1, undoubtedly largely due to the problems with Aubameyang who having got 22 league goals in the previous two seasons, sank to 10 goals last season.
As we can see, having the most shots does not equal getting the most goals – not in any of these three seasons. And being reliant on one prime goalscorer as Arsenal have been recently can lead to major difficulties.
So let’s conclude this little series of pieces about the stats behind defence and attack with that most simple of lists….
Arsenal’s top scorer season by season
|Season||Lge goals||Club pos||Top scorer||Goals (all comps)|
|2006–07||63||4||Robin van Persie||13|
|2008–09||68||4||Robin van Persie||20|
|2010–11||72||4||Robin van Persie||22|
|2011–12||74||3||Robin van Persie||37|
A goalscorer knocking in 20+ very helpful but it is not the only way to get a top four placing, and indeed it carries with it a danger of the player getting injured and then all goal scoring falling apart. Having two good goalscorers can work – but the key point is the number of goals, not the goalscorer.
In short, it is shots and accuracy that matters, as the top table shows.
The four dangers that could stop Arsenal’s return to greatness
- Arsenal face four huge dangers as they stand again on the edge of greatness
- The four dangers that could stop Arsenal’s rise next season. 2: The journalists
- The four dangers that could stop Arsenal’s rise: Part 3; returning to the tackle
- The four dangers that could stop Arsenal’s rise back to the top: Part 4 – the rabble rousers
- Arsenal have benefitted by the world cup break: allegedly.
- Arsenal and Tottenham: which has had the easier ride so far this season?
- Arsenal v Tottenham: not exactly a battle of equals.
- Death by 300,000 passes: how the Arsenal transformation started 2 seasons ago.
- Approaching derby day we recall when Arsenal helped Tottenham get into the league