Arsenal were famously top of the table for 128 days this season prompting Arsene Wenger to joke that “we won the stamina League.” And on the face of it, it’s hard to argue that Arsenal failed to make any progress over last season. After all, you don’t stay at the top of the League for that long if you’re not a real title contender, right? But Arsenal also fell away from the title race and into a fight for fourth place with Everton. So which is it: title team or fourth place scrappers?
Arsenal have long been hailed as an attacking team, a team which plays beautiful football, but this season was marked more by superb defensive performances rather than all out attack. Every Arsenal fan can remember the 1-0 win over Sp*rs at White Hart Lane: early goal scored by Tomas Rosicky followed by 80 minutes of solid defending. In many ways that match typified Arsenal’s season.
The biggest stat in favor of the defense is that Arsenal finished the season with four consecutive clean sheets to take the total to 17, just one shy of the League’s best defense, Chelsea. Arsenal also only conceded 1 goal 14 times, meaning that in 31 games this season, Arsenal conceded just 14 goals. Thus, for the vast majority of the season, Arsenal allowed less than 1/2 a goal per game on average. That is an outstanding record and hearkens back to Wenger’s best defensive teams like the 98/99 Arsenal side which allowed just 17 goals all season.
The problem is that Arsenal conceded 27 goals in the other 7 games. That’s almost 4 goals a game on average and boggles the mind, really. Really. Just think about this: Arsenal conceded 22 goals against the teams in the top five, 20 of those on away games to those same top teams (Chelsea, City, Liverpool, and Everton). Until this year, Wenger had never conceded 22 goals against the top five during his tenure at Arsenal. He’d conceded 18 one year, but that was the year of the famous Old Trafford loss. Cardiff ,who had objectively the worst defense in the League, conceded 23 goals against the same group. The reason Arsenal’s defensive record was so bizarre is down, at least in part, to the fact that Arsenal were the best at keeping teams shooting from distance and at saving those shots and the mid-range shots. All totaled, Arsenal forced their opponents to take 50% of their shots from outside the 18 yard box where they scored on less than 3% of their bulk attempts. When they did manage a shot on target, Szczesny was amazing. He saved 91% of shots from distance and 81% of shots in the mid-range area.
Where Arsenal struggled defensively was in the prime area. The opposition only scored 15 goals on 368 total shots from outside the prime area but they scored 26 goals on 85 shots (42 on target) in that prime area. I have a feeling it’s a debate that is going to go on all summer but I don’t think we have a definitive answer as to whether Arsenal improved defensively or not. My conclusion is that in some ways (forcing shots from distance, 31 games with the opposition scoring just 14 goals, more clean sheets than the previous season, the ability to rely on the defense to get us through games, etc.) Arsenal were significantly better this year over last. But losing by such huge margins to the other contenders is something that still stings.
Offensively, Arsenal dropped out of the top four for shots per game in the first time under Wenger’s tenure notching just 13.8 shots per game. To put that in context, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea (you know, Mourinho the parking attendant?) led the League in shots per game with 18.2. This was the first time in Wenger’s tenure that Arsenal’s shots taken and shots allowed have converged and I hope that it’s an anomaly caused by the fact that Arsenal had an incredible record of jumping out to an early lead. The Gunners went up 1-0, 24 times this season. After they would take these leads, they would sit back and allow the opposition to attack. As a result, their shots numbers were down, their conversion rate up, and all of Arsenal’s defensive stats went up as well.
|INT||Blocks||Clearances||Tackles Attempted||Tackles Won||Aerial Duels||Aerials Won|
Wenger’s Arsenal has never led the League in shots per game, the most prolific shooters rarely win the League, and Wenger’s most successful Arsenal teams were his least prolific teams in terms of shots per game. The Invincibles took just 471 shots, converting 16% and scoring 73 goals. This season Arsenal took 523 and converted just 13%. If they had converted 16%, Arsenal would have scored 83 goals!
|Arsenal 2013-2014||Shots and Goals||Conversion/Shots per goal|
Instead of chucking shots down range, those Championship winning Arsenal sides were insanely efficient. Between 2001 and 2005 Arsenal converted 15, 17, 16, and 18 percent of their shots in each of those seasons. This season, one of Wenger’s most efficient in recent years in terms of shots on goal per shot, Arsenal converted just 13% of their total shots. To put those numbers in context, if Arsenal had converted 15% of their total shots this season they would have scored 78 goals, 17% conversion rate would mean 89 goals and an 18% conversion rate would be 94 goals.
Wenger’s teams, however, have never scored more than 87 goals in a season and that was that 04/05 season where they had an 18% conversion rate and lost the title to a rampant Chelsea team. Just like with defense, I’m struggling to see improvement from this Arsenal team. We finished the season with 68 goals — the lowest total goals haul in 4 years. We finished the season taking just 523 shots — the lowest in four years and part of a steady offensive decline 595 shots in 10/11, 585 in 11/12, 546 last year, and 523 this year. Meanwhile Arsenal’s conversion rate has flatlined at 13%.
Did we progress? That’s your lot for this week. Next week, I’ll be back with a look at the entire season including the cup matches. Over the summer I will also be doing some player profiles of transfer targets here and on my own site. See you then.