Arsenal’s offense is back, but the defense is slack: by the numbers

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Here is the good news: Arsenal have the largest shot differential of any Arsene Wenger side since the year 2000. Here is the bad news: Arsenal’s defense is allowing the opposition to score on the fewest number of shots since the year 2000. The result is that Arsenal have had a see-saw season, though all signs point to an Arsenal revival of sorts, if they can sort out their defensive problems.

Don’t let the stats-haters fool you, shots matter. Sure, a team can score goals without shooting, Man U scored one on Arsenal just last week. But overall, in the marathon of a league season, the teams that shoot more tend to score more goals and tend to be the better teams.

Last season Arsenal were in the midst of a four year decline in offensive output. Just looking at shots per game Arsenal were 9th in the League last season, 6th in the 2012/2013 season, and 6th in 2011/2012.

Worse, Arsenal’s defense was allowing more shots than ever before. On a per game basis, Arsenal went from being the best team in 2010/2011 in terms of shots allowed per game to being 5th best in 2013/2014. Those don’t seem like steep declines in defense but when you combine an increase in shots allowed with decrease in shots taken you get an Arsenal side which went from challenging for the title to barely holding on to 4th place.

But this summer’s signings of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck have dramatically turned Arsenal’s shots output around and the Gunners are now 2nd in the League in shots per game. Arsenal’s increase in offensive output means that the Gunners no longer have to sit back and soak up pressure, like they did last season, and the result is that Arsenal are now #1 in terms of shots allowed with a stingy 8.2 per game.

If we chart this progress we can see a dramatic turnaround this season very clearly:

Shots-trend

If you take a team’s total number of shots taken and subtract the number of shots allowed, you get a simple shot differential. And if you take the number of shots that a team takes and compare it as a portion of the total shots taken and allowed you get a fancy stat called a “TSR” or “Total Shots Ratio”.

Total shots ratio correlates very strongly with league position¹. We all, inherently, know why: simply put, better teams take more shots than the opposition. In the chart above, I use “shot differential”, but it’s basically the same stat as TSR. It just sound less like something E. Gary Gygax would create.

As you can see, Arsenal’s shot differential has skyrocketed this season. This bodes well for Arsenal. If they can continue to shoot more and limit the opposition’s chances, they should pick up points.

The main two reasons for the Arsenal offensive revival are Alexis and Welbeck. These two players have combined for just 70 of Arsenal’s 225 shots so far this season but have already scored half of Arsenal’s 22 goals.

The problem with Arsenal’s offensive output isn’t the total number of shots taken, the problem is that Arsenal have players who are taking low-percentage shots and not scoring goals. Cazorla is 2nd at Arsenal with 34 total shots and Ramsey is 4th with 30 total shots but the problem is that those two players have combined for just 2 goals off those 64 shots.

The reason is simple: both players shoot too much from outside. I know that fans love a long-range shot. Nothing more exciting than seeing a screamer go in from 20 yards. But the reality is that shots from outside the box are converted at about a 3% rate. You won’t be surprised to learn that Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey lead the Arsenal with a combined 43 shots from outside the box. Just to prove my point, Arsenal have only scored one goal from outside the box in League play, that was Olly Giroud’s wonderballs against Man U.

The result of all this shooting from distance (Alexis is 3rd on the team in that category) is that Arsenal’s conversion rate is at an all time low of just 9%. No Wenger team has ever converted below 12% of their total shots, until this season.

Last season, Arsenal weren’t taking a ton of shots but they were scoring plenty of goals because they looked to get closer before taking the shot. They tried to walk the ball into the net.

Defensively, the opposite is happening. The opposition teams are now converting 14% of their shots! This is almost a direct reversal of last season where Arsenal converted 13% but forced the opposition to shoot from distance and kept their conversion rate down to 9% — the best rate since the Invincibles.

I can tell you definitively that this won’t continue. Arsenal have been unlucky on a number of goals allowed this season and that along with multiple injuries to the defense mean that Wenger had to shuffle the pack constantly.

Gibbs’ own goal against Manchester United is an example of how Arsenal kept Man U quiet for the majority of the game only to be undone by a Fellaini foul and the resulting Gibbs O.G. A similar thing happened in the Everton match, Arsenal dominated the game but Lukaku gets away with a foul and Naismith an offside goal which made Everton look like they had a better match than they actually did.

Injuries to key players Debuchy and Koscielny mean that Arsenal have been forced to rely on two fullbacks to play center half this season. That crucial partnership between Koscielny and Mertesacker has been broken up by injury and as a result, the Arsenal defense looks a bit mystified at times. That partially explains why the Arsenal defensive conversion rate is at an all time high.

But in the end, all signs look up for Arsenal. Wenger’s shrewd purchases of Alexis and Welbeck have revitalized a stagnant Arseal attack and if they can sort out the defense and keep a lineup together for more than two weeks, the Arsenal could be a formidable opponent once more.

 

¹Goal Difference is the gold standard of correlation between stats and League position. And Goal Difference, it turns out, also persists from season to season. You can predict the league position of teams the next season if you know the goal difference of the season prior. It’s that strong a correlation.

 

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AC
AC

Oh good news that I want to hear! I am in a positive mood as the things will improve! Our injured players are coming back strongly! Beating Southampton on Wednesday is our next step! COYG

SPP
SPP

Pleasure to read the post, both in terms of your analysis and what the rest of season looks like for The Arsenal. My worry is can we really get back the defensive consistencies of 2013-14 again this season for a sustained period. That consistency was as a result of trio of players being present in majority of matches: Mertesacker, Koscielny and Arteta. Kos is back now, but Arteta would be missing for 3-4 games again.

xxxrob
xxxrob

The other thing about that season was we had the ability to throw on Vermaelen, Monreal and Sagna was still there too to hold onto leads and see games out. As you mentioned, Arteta was fit most of the season (I think..) and Giroud too. He makes a big difference defending corners.
This season we don’t have those defensive minded players on the bench so it’s harder to shut up shop.

I think if anything, Wenger has shown last year when the options are there he CAN change the team around to scrap for a win.. but hasn’t been able to this year because of injury and negligence in the market.

Zelalem
Zelalem

You have to put Rambo in there, too! I think he was our best tackler last year and he’s slowly getting back to that now

Dan
Dan

Santi seems to be back, and Rambo showing encouraging signs! Can only do us good.

GoonerN16

Don’t forget Sagna, always consistent and his strong work ethic. Then the unfortunate injury to Debuchy who was slotting in so well. We need him back too, injury free asap. And we always play better as a team when Arteta is on the pitch, imo.

vince

good analysis. it expresses in numbers just what the season has felt like.
it’s hard for a manager to act. he will encourage taking shots , especially as in seasons past it was frustrating to see that we did not take many chances, but opted to carry the ball into the net and failed.

I hope santi and aaron break their ducks, otherwise and get less desperate to score.

Rezatron
Rezatron

Classic photo. Mert looks like he’s smilingly about to drop Kos with the crane.

santori
santori

Yes, despite two clean sheets, our defense is slack.:D

Sure more work to be done but the return of Koscielny will be crucial.

Also Flamini has done well and will need Ramsey to assist him in lieu of Arteta.

I’m not sure what period statistically this covers. Presumably its over the start of the season. If we are looking from last two games (which there have been signs of improvement, we have not afforded quite as many shots in the most recent turn around.

Shooting from distance has to be accompanied by accuracy. No point shooting if the player concern cannot hit the target. Alexis hits the target which is the crucial element. It is not a prescribe to just take more shots.

Alexis is also elevating the play of the likes of Alexis and Santi who has weighed in recent two games with 3 assists! Again statistics on shooting do not effectively tell the whole story.

Nigerian
Nigerian

Alexis elevating the play of Alexis! Just that alone must be worth the 30m we paid for him!

AP
AP

Thats why he’s called Alexis Alexis

Trez
Trez

Yeah because two clean sheets erases our poor performances this season right??

santori
santori

We also quite obviously need a DM according to ‘statistics’ since :

1) our DMs are useless against Borussia Dortmund’s physically imposing pair of Bender and Gundogan.

2) Flamini quite obviously can’t organise a defense and bark out orders.

3) Most goals are coming against us from wide areas where we fail to manage the situation (Chambers)

4) We should also switch to 4-2-3-1 never mind the 4-1-4-1 actually allowed us to assert pressure on Bender and Gundogan higher up with Ramsey and Santi pressing. Wenger is clueless with tactics. WOBs clearly know better. Sanogo, give me a break.

Maybe a new manager like Klopp would help. After all he has been devastating in the Bundesliga guiding his team to 18th this season. Quite obviously Arsene is tactically clueless against his genius even if he won at the Emirates.

😉

xxxrob
xxxrob

Not sure if trolling or..

Dylan
Dylan

I honestly keep reading this over and over to determine if there actually is a sense of sarcasm or not. I really don’t know.

GoonerN16

Me too…

MPLS
MPLS

Yes, Sarcasm.

grannydanger
grannydanger

see what you have to say after southampton carve us apart…backlash game after city defeat is no good for us…

Trez
Trez

Wenger is so great with tactics that we always win against the likes of chelsea, manchester united(best squad in their history), and the greatest team of all time swansea. Flamini and arteta are so much better than matic, busquets, martinez, schweni, schnederlin,gustavo. Arteta is sooYOUNG that he’s the first name in the spanish national team. He’s so young and energetic that he overran the chelsea team last season during THAT GREAT PERFOMANCE of ours. Flamini is also getting younger…he’s FAR FAR better than a fit and on form gundogan. Thats why madrid are after our dms cos they’re all so world class.

Dutch Gooner
Dutch Gooner

I’d happily take klopp if or when wenger decides to call it a day. For now though I’d love to see arsenal fans back the team and the manager like Dortmund fans do theirs.

Pony Eye
Pony Eye

Last season only Giroud and Ramsey loved to arrive in the opponents box for the ball. Two only, not nearly enough. This season has, added to the 2, Alexis, Welbeck, and Oxlade. That makes 4/5 in the box, expousing the team to counters, particularly when you factor in the fact tha we use our full backs to create width in our offense. 3 in the box appears the best balance., and our double pivot should be players without the overpowering inclination to surging upfield with the attack.

Mesut Aussie
Mesut Aussie

At last a bit of perspective – thanks 7amkickoff.
COYG!!!

Tee Söng
Tee Söng

Defensively, the high conversion rate suggests that while we’re giving up fewer total shots than last year we’re also giving up shots which are more likely to be converted. So far this season we’re giving up a miserly 8.2 shots/game but 64% are from inside our penalty area. Last season we only gave up 52% of total shots from inside the penalty area. Southampton, still with the leagues best scoring defense, are giving up 8.7 shots/game but only 51% of those shots are inside the penalty area. So it seems like we are restricting the total number of shots but the shots we’re giving up seem to be from high percentage areas. It points to the lack of focus and discipline which Arsene, Arteta, and Mert have been speaking of this season. We defend well for large portions of games but momentary lapses in team structure, focus, and discipline lead to giving away easy, high percentage chances. Fundamentally, these issues are correctable.

Tee Söng
Tee Söng

The WBA game was a perfect example. Overall, our defending was pretty good but we were a crappy offside decision away from giving up a great one on one scoring opportunity against our 3rd string keeper. What’s the point of giving up 8 shots a game if one or two of them is a high percentage opportunity like that one potentially was?

Malaysian gunner
Malaysian gunner

Watch how MC defend against Saints. Of course no two teams are the same.MC scored their last 2 goals when the Saints left gaps at the back.This was similar to the game with MU.
Imho,Wenger has built a team of too many ballerinas. We need some thugs in the team.If the link with the NU player is true,then perhaps the fm has finally realized you have to play other teams at their own game.
.Tactically he has been a novice compared to the other top bosses.If you continue to lose the big games and don’t adapt and change,then something has to give.Imho,if Wenger can’t get the gunners going despite his 300 years coaching,he shd leave asap.

Trez
Trez

We need a bit of steel in the middle; a young, energetic dm not 33 year old arteta as first choice.

Eternal Titi Berg Pat Nostalgia
Eternal Titi Berg Pat Nostalgia

The ox is our second best player so far this season but he hasn’t been converting shots into goals. When Theo is fit, Wenger is going to face a big dilemma. He will have to decide if he wants to trade Chamberlain’s drive forward, dribbles etc… with goals from Theo. After all, you win a game by scoring goals. Would he bench a player who has been in a very good form ? Will be interesting to see. Also, the entire team needs to defend better not just the defenders.

Özil Gummidge
Özil Gummidge

If Walcott returns to his pre-injury form then it is a no-brainer. His end product, goals and assists, ensure his place. Ox will hopefully get starts when Theo or Ramsey are rested. Ox can play in the middle.

Question is, what happens when Özil comes back. How many starts will Welbeck get? Wenger promised him game time, but I’m not convinced he will pick him over Giroud at the moment.

Woolwich Peripatetic
Woolwich Peripatetic

Different players for different opponents. Something we’ve rarely had the luxury of. Giroud is better against a deep defence than Welbeck (size versus speed), likewise Özil can pick apart a massed defence better than anyone else on the team but offers less defensively than the Ox. Playing a big-name team we would be better off with Alexis, Theo and Welbeck as a front three with a solid midfield behind them. That could be the Ox, Rambo and Flamini with instructions to hold the fort and/or hit raking diagonal balls across the path of the front three.
Monreal posts quite good numbers for a DM (passing/interception), he could be the new Spanish schemer at the base of midfield if Gibbs keeps him out at LB.

Edgar
Edgar

I think our problem this season is mainly due to our injuries. Do you guys realise we have not field the same team for even four consergative matches. This talks tall of our consistency. Having Arteta along Rambo as per my observations tends to produce the more balanced engine room at midfield. Wilshee too has been devastating this season, but he seems to perform much better for The Lions more than at Arsenal.
Arteta tends to pose great positional awareness to Flamini. Example U could see that how Westbrom Gardner collected free before his centre backs. Flamini tends to be always where the ball is, something Bould and Wenger should correct easily ideally both having been traded as defenders in their respective playing time. If we can acquire a great combative DMF and A Cb. Then we are up there for it.
Our attack plays well but Henry should be hired to sharpen their accuracy and runs, Diego Costa isnt that good but his great runs and positioning is key to his great goal rate. For Sanchez is just to scrape sam few things and he will be great for us. I would be happy to see front three of Theo, Welbeck and Sanchez trade together.

Gunner pundit
Gunner pundit

Sanchez welbeck giroud and oxlade chamberlain. One of them may need to get dropped. All 4 quality

Gandalf the Gooner
Gandalf the Gooner

I would suggest one of those in particular probably (definitely) wont get dropped…

Gunner pundit
Gunner pundit

Oh yeah I think Arsenal may get third this season. And I think were atleast the third best side in the prem

grannydanger
grannydanger

Our defensive problems won’t improve with chambers continuing at RB, if anyone can find a statistic, I think Chambers would have a horrible stat of most number of crosses/penetrative runs allowed into the box per match…just how this guy ended up playing right back is a wonder…

Trez
Trez

Look when we have all players fit, this is a very strong squad which is lacking in 2 postions…CB and DM.
How wenger is going to deal with rotation is key. He screwed up big time by not buying a cb and a dm. If he had sorted this out, who knows, we just might have been second place, not city.
Ozil HAS to be played as a no 10 when he returns. Theo will have to work his butt off to get into the starting lineup.
Imagine having theo alexis ox as our front 3….that’ll be crazy.

Moxxi
Moxxi

It is a myth that Dortmund fans support their team despite being last in Bundesliga. Anyone who have actually watched a Dortmund league game recently would know that they Boo their own team off the pitch, and just like at Arsenal there is a faction of Klopp out aswell.

My Brother is a Dortmund supporter, qnd it is not as rosy red love the team and manager no matter what As people like to think. The Klopp out fction is not As big As our Wenger out yet, but i doubt Klopp could survive 10 years of stagnation at Dortmund with no progress. So our fans have been extremely patient imo and infact Dortmund fans started to turn against their manager a Hell of alot faster than we did.

loose_cannon
loose_cannon

In fairness, booing your team doesn’t mean you don’t support them. It just means you’re aggrieved. And the Dortmund fans are rightly aggrieved!

santori
santori

Try surviving relegation first.

I don’t think Wenger (even after selling best assets) has seen us in that position.

2014-2015 = the year we've been waiting for
2014-2015 = the year we've been waiting for

“Worse, Arsenal’s defense was allowing more shots than ever before. On a per game basis, Arsenal went from being the best team in 2010/2011 in terms of shots allowed per game to being 5th best in 2013/2014”

I’m pretty sure we were better defensively in 2013-2014, than in 2010-2011… not the other way around.

Perhaps this ‘shots allowed per game’ statistic is a bit misleading because last season after going 1-0 or 2-0 up we were happy to stop attacking, sit back and soak up the pressure. Most games we were 1-0 or 2-0 up after 60 minutes, therefore for 30 minutes we were a) Showing no interest in attacking, and b) Soaking up a lot of (low quality) shots on our on goal.

Maybe the statistics we really need to look at are ‘shots taken on goal during minutes when we really need a goal’, and ‘opponent shots on our own goal during minutes when the game is still in the balance’?

santori
santori

This is why I don’t follow 7amkickoff.

he has his own agenda.

His statistics are misleading and depends in what context he wants them viewed.

and if you hold a different opinion to his fawning “masses”, they will likely ban you from commenting unlike here where all opinions are welcome.

loose_cannon
loose_cannon

The stat about shot conversion doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s ironic, people used to accuse us of walking the ball into the net but now we’re too impatient. Ramsey in particular is taking way more shots from range than last season and that’s probably why he isn’t scoring. At times we’re too slow when we should countering at speed and too rushed when we need to work a tight defence. Ge the balance right Wenger!

santori
santori

Wenger does not dictate when a player shoots.

That is dependent on the players.

What is encouraging is we now have gumption to shoot from range as well as walk the ball in.
Particularly encouraging (which Stats can’t show) is how Alexis passed the ball across to the other flank to Ox twice in the Dortmund game. Ox hit the bar with the first volley and narrowly missed the target with a fizzing shot to the upright with the other. In both cases, keeper beaten.

But what it really means is we are switching the ball quicker from one flank to the other which provides us opportunity to shoot.

Shooting as you mentioned is futile with lots of bodies in the way. In this instance, the ability to shoot because we transition the ball quickly to the other flank affords us opportunity.

When the opponents try to close this threat down, we are then afforded opportunity to switch the ball centrally for a shot on the edge of the box (which we did against West Brom for the misfiring Santi on 3 occasions)

Any threat from a longer range means the opponents have to deal with it by sending players forward to close gaps further up which presents us opportunities in the box as space opens up behind them.

Diaby`s Glassware
Diaby`s Glassware

been poor at mathematics for a loong time now…bt i think what I read is promising enough….damn my mathematics teacher!!!! COYG let`s turn this season on its head

santori
santori

Stats depends on how 7amkickoff wants you to see things. They have their own agenda.

Last game against West Brom we sat back deeper than against Dortmund Where we pressed high against Bender And Gundogan with Ramsey/Santi in the often derided 4-1-4-1)

We were equally as effective in 26 interceptions all games as with the forward pressing of the other game.

Our formation was also altered (those obsessed by 4-2-3-1) with the gaffer electing to have Welbeck and Giroud on. Welbeck did not play wide instead popped up in all areas but crucially made an extra man in the middle where we overloaded against a team likely to stay compact.

Nor did Santi restrict himself to central positioning as illustrated by his assists (3rd in 2 games) which came from the flank providing width (much like Gibbs slightly earlier)

In fact, none of Alexis, Santi, Welbeck, were restricted to fixed positions.

This is the central tenet to Wenger’s system which is closer to a controlled total football.

the back 3 Per-Koscielny and Flamini are fixed. Fullbacks go up to provide width.

The attacking 3 in Santi- Alexis- Welbeck (in this case) have freedom to roam. Giroud provides reference up top.

This is perhaps the reason why Ozil has had a harder time adapting being more used to the fixed positioning of Madrid or germany and where Alexis thrives being brought up with the controlled chaos of Barca and Chile.

Its is a system which requires a great deal of familiarity (which is why Wenger has resisted putting a spanner in the works by changing too many players, apart from as injury may demand). Its diffccult to perfect but when done, extremely hard to defend against.

As oppose to what this article suggest, we simply now need to take our chances more clinically because we are beginning to create a lot of them. Agian what statistics won’t tell you is that if you don;t take those chances, it brings pressure on the defense.