Losing 5-1 at home in the Champions League is the worst loss Arsenal have ever suffered at the Emirates, and while the refereeing controversies added to the bloated scoreline the fact remains that Arsenal have been diabolical in big games this season.
Last season Arsenal played 14 matches against other big money teams. By “big money” I mean teams who can afford to pay top salaries: Liverpool, Tottenham, Man U, Man City, Chelsea, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich. Arsenal won three of those matches, drew five, and lost six. As a result Arsenal averaged just a point a game over those 14 matches.
However, when I look at the underlying stats, there was cause for optimism.
For example, Arsenal scored 19 goals and conceded 24 in those matches. And even more optimistically, Arsenal matched the opposition 17 to 17 for goals scored in the 18 yard box. Arsenal’s weakness was that they allowed 7 goals from outside the 18 yard box. These are normally converted at a 3% rate, and were instead shipped at a 7% rate. Not great, not terrible, but something that could and should be addressed easily.
You probably already know this having read my column before, having played football before, or having a modicum of intelligence, but your chance of scoring a goal increases as you get closer to the goal. So… and I’m not at all insulting your intelligence pointing this out… you want your opponents to take their shots from outside the 18 yard box: they are usually easier to save, less chance of getting on target, and smaller chance of scoring.
Arsenal did exactly that against big teams last season, matching them for shots in the box 122-134, and creating the exact same number of big chances (one on ones with the keeper, shots from very close range, penalties, and other shots we expect to score) 31-31, but conceding 57 more shots from outside the box:
|Arsenal shots in 6 yard box||11|
|Opposition shots in 6||9|
|Arsenal shots in 18 yard box (not inc. 6 yard)||101|
|Opposition shots in 18||125|
|Arsenal shots outside the box||45|
|Opposition shots outside the box||102|
|Arsenal big chances||31|
|Opposition big chances||31|
Arsenal’s conversion rate last season was also superior, finishing 12% of their overall shots, while keeping the opponents to a bog average 10%. Using my expected goals formula, I have Arsenal with a score of 22 expected goals and the opposition 26. Sure, there is room for improvement here but these are big games and big games should be tight.
This season, however, Arsenal have gone off the rails. First, the good news: Arsenal are finishing 14.46% of their shots! This is a great finishing percentage and unlike last season where Arsenal were generating great shots but not finishing, this season Arsenal are taking their chances.
Now the bad news!
Arsenal’s offense may be more efficient but they aren’t generating as many chances as they did last season. And worse, Arsenal are conceding just as many good chances as they did last season and the opposition are now scoring their chances at an alarming 16.5% rate.
|Arsenal shots in the 6 yard box||3|
|Opposition shots in 6||12|
|Arsenal shots in 18 yard box (not inc. 6 yard box)||60|
|Opposition shots in 18||93|
|Arsenal shots outside the box||35|
|Opposition shots outside||52|
|Arsenal big chances||11|
|Opposition big chances||33|
Arsenal aren’t getting shots in good positions, taking just 3 to 12 in the 6 yard box and taking about 2/3rds of the number of shots inside the 18 yard box that the opponents have taken. As for shots outside the box, well, that’s gotten worse. Arsenal are now allowing 10% of the shots from distance in for goals. 5 out of 52 is just atrocious but 3 of those were scored on Ospina on 5 shots faced. That’s just straight up a droppable offense right there.
All of the other stats look worse as well. Last season, Arsenal allowed more shots on goal per game in these matches, averaging 6.5 shots on goal allowed per match. This season Arsenal are allowing just 5.36 shots on goal per game. But the opposition are scoring 44% of their shots on goal this season compared to 26% last season. The opposition are also scoring nearly 50% of their big chances and are generating 3 big chances for every one we generate. Our keeper isn’t saving us in these games like he did last season.
As for the expected goals this season, Arsenal are at 11 and the opposition 22. That’s really close to the actual goals scored of 14 and 26.
Red cards change games as well and against these teams, Arsenal already have two red cards this season. But, again, last season Arsenal got 4 red cards in 3 matches. So, while the red cards this season have dragged down Arsenal’s stats (especially the 5-1 defeat last night), the team had more reds last season than this.
During the Fabregas years Arsenal were known as a slick passing team who stuck to their possession-based football plan regardless of their opponents. This led many to criticize Wenger (myself included) and suggest that he try a pragmatic approach. Wenger was supposedly a stubborn man and stuck to his footballing aesthetics. We were going to play football the Arsenal way. Or so we were told.
In these last two seasons, playing against these other big-money teams, Arsenal have only out-passed our opponents five times. When Arsenal beat Barcelona 2-1 in 2011, the Gunners completed 84% of their passes. This season, against these big teams Arsenal are averaging just 79% pass completion.
One last thing I noticed compiling all of this data is that when Arsenal play Tottenham we routinely struggle to complete our passes. This season, Arsenal barely broke 70% passing against Spurs. Last season it was 71% away and 75% at home. Similarly, Arsenal at Liverpool was a 71% passing rate and Man City away was another 71% rate. At Bayern, this season, Arsenal completed just 69% of our passes.
A low passing percentage would be ok if Arsenal were a cynical, fouling, counter attacking team. If Arsenal killed off the clock or played an organized defensive scheme. But Arsenal don’t even seem to be doing that. Arsenal are being matched tackle for tackle averaging 31 per game to the opposition’s 30, and actually being slightly out-tackled in tackles not coming from a dribble* 12 to 13.
Arsenal aren’t winning the ball back, they aren’t defending the box well, they aren’t generating great chances for themselves, they aren’t saving shots, and they are being out scored through superior finishing. You’re not going to win many games with that as your formula. I guess the good news is that Arsenal only have three more of these matches to play between now and the end of the season, so long as we don’t draw one of them in the FA Cup.
Source: stats compiled using the 442 stats zone app, going match by match. Please don’t ask me for individual player’s stats. I don’t have time for that. Thanks.
*Most tackles occur in a 1-v-1 duel between a dribbler and a tackler, however, some tackles happen when the player is just holding on to the ball. These are the ones I’m looking at here.