Arsenal and the “big chances” myth ahead of the Southampton game

By Bulldog Drummond

The Guardian has come out with one of its famous statements: “if Arsenal show up and play with an ounce of positivity then Ralph Hasenhüttl’s usual forward-thinking approach should allow for plenty of chances. Chances have so often gone unfinished this season, however.”

So we wondered if it is true that, “Chances have so often gone unfinished” with the implication that other teams do better.  We thought we had better find out.

The Premier League provide a statistic showing how many big chances each team has had to date.  However not every goal comes from a “Big chance”.  But we can still find some interesting points here since the Guardian has brought this up.

Arsenal are seventh in the league total of goal scorers this season with 45 goals.  They are fifth in the league, so there is not too much disparity there, and it is obviously fair to say that if the club wants to do better next season it has to score more.

But clearly, not all big chances are converted and to see how often this occurs we’ve taken the Premier League’s list of big chances created and the number of goals scored and divided one into the other.

What we get is a number of clubs that have scored more goals than they have had big chances (which is to say a number over 100% in the final column).

And when we look at this table what is clear is that Arsenal’s problem is not likely to be that “chances so often go unfinished” as the Guardian proclaims without any evidence whatsoever, but rather that Arsenal are not creating enough chances.

In fact Arsenal have created 34 “big chances” but scored 45 goals, which means that the goalscorers are the best in the league at converting what one must presumably call “small chances” into goals.   That is a real positive for Arsenal because it is a much harder task than having a big centre forward powering the ball into the net when just faced with a keeper.

The table is given below, but it raises the question: why did the anonymous writer in the Guardian make this wild and whacky statement which is clearly not true?  Arsenal’s advantage this season (which is obvious if one looks at it, is that they create goals out of little chances, or indeed out of nothing at all, using Saka and Smith Rowe (our two top scorers to achieve this) to achieve this.

If the Guardian had wished to be accurate they could have said “Arsenal’s problem is that they do not create enough big chances and so have achieved miracles by being the fifth in the league while being 16th in the “big chances” league.   But they don’t say that.  Either because they couldn’t be arsed to do the research or because they want to mislead us.

Here’s the table.

Rank Club Big Chances Goals Percentage converted
1. Liverpool 85 79 93%
2. Tottenham Hotspur 68 56 82%
3. Manchester City 67 72 107%
4. Chelsea 61 54 89%
5. Manchester United 58 49 84%
6. West Ham United 48 51 106%
7. Watford 42 29 69%
8. Southampton 41 37 90%
9. Brighton and Hove Albion 39 28 72%
10. Brentford 38 39 103%
11. Crystal Palace 38 43 114%
12. Aston Villa 36 42 116%
13. Leeds United 36 38 106%
14. Leicester City 36 45 125%
15. Wolverhampton Wanderers 35 33 94%
16. Arsenal 34 45 132%

As we can see, there is a propensity for clubs who score fewer goals to get them from converting big chances but by other means.   So maybe we do need roaming centre forward after all!