A funny thing happened yesterday, Arsenal scored two goals from outside the box in a single game. This was the first time Arsenal have done that in a Premier League match since the 4-1 win over Liverpool in April 2015 when Arsenal scored 3 goals from distance.
This is such a rare occurrence because this is Wenger’s style. His teams almost never score goals from distance. In fact, between 2006 to 2016 Arsenal have only scored 79 goals from outside the 18 yard box, an average of 7.9 goals per season. The exception to that rule was the 2009/10 Gunners who scored 18 goals from distance. If we take that outlier out and the 4 goals scored this season out, Arsenal have basically averaged 7 goals a season from distance.
The logic behind this is simple: outside shots suck. Shots from distance are converted at about a 3.5% rate. Even the best clubs, with the very best players, score goals from distance at about a 5% rate. All of the big clubs know this and instead of wasting possession with a hopeful poke from 20 yards they patiently build up play until they can get a shot inside the 18 yard box or, even better, in the 6 yard box.
Fans complain about Arsenal’s lack of shots from distance and that is understandable: long range shots are crowd pleasers. Long range shots can also sometimes go in, get deflected, result in a rebound, draw a handball (not that Arsenal are going to win any penalties), and so on. There are good reasons to shoot from there. There are just better reasons to shoot from inside.
Alexis has been Arsenal’s best bet from outside the box and has scored 6 of Arsenal’s 9 goals from distance over the last two seasons. If you want to be upset about Arsenal’s lack of goals from distance you might consider criticizing some of the other players who almost never score from outside the box.
And actually, to Arsene Wenger’s credit, creating shots in the box is one of the things his team does exceptionally well. Here is a chart comparing all the top club in England plus the top two from Spain and Germany:
Notice that Arsenal create nearly as many shots inside the 18 yard box as clubs like Bayern, Real Madrid, and Barcelona. And you should also know that Arsenal have created more shots in the 6 yard box than every team but Barcelona: both have 48, Real Madrid has 47, and Man City is second in the Premier League with 38.
The result we should see (in other words “expected goals”) should be Arsenal on par with those top clubs. Or at least Arsenal doing very well or near them in terms of scoring. Here is a chart of actual goals scored by the three locations:
Arsenal are just about the worst of the bunch, only in front of Man U and Liverpool, two teams who have struggled mightily this season.
The reason is simple: Wenger’s team didn’t convert the chances this season. Here is the conversion chart:
What you’re seeing here is the problem at Arsenal, they have the lowest conversion rate of any of these teams from shots in the 18 yard box. The shots from distance are low percentage finishing, the shots from the six yard box are low creation numbers, that makes finishing shots in the 18 yard box the most crucial metric. And as you can see, Arsenal haven’t been finishing in that area.
So, while goals from distance are nice and they get the crowd off their feet, the real bread and butter are the goals in the 18 yard box. Wenger has the team creating the right shots, he’s got the team creating on a par with the biggest clubs in Europe, and this season Arsenal finished them at just an 11% rate, their worst rate ever under Wenger* and as you can see from the chart the worst rate among their peers,
One last thing. Notice that Leicester is finishing at a 19% rate in that crucial 18 yard area. That is on par with Real Madrid and Barcelona and is the main reason why they are top of the Premier League.
All stats courtesy Opta, all stats Premier League, la Liga, or Bundesliga only
*As far back as my databases go which is only 2006