You know how people say “stats don’t tell the whole story”? I’ve noticed that what they really mean is “I don’t like this one stat.”
See, if I post a stat like “69 – Alexis Sanchez took 69 shots for Arsenal in the Premier League this season, more than any other player at Arsenal” I don’t intend for it to be a stat that tells the whole story. I intend for it to be a stat that leads to further discussion.
Most teams have a single player that gets the majority of their shots. Liverpool have Salah, he took 144 of Liverpool’s 639 shots this season, 23%. Kane took 184 of Sp*rs’ 622 shots, 30%. And last season, Alexis was the main shot caller taking 129 of Arsenal’s 572 shots, 23%. This is just normal distribution.
The problem with Alexis Sanchez, however, is that’s he’s not a striker finisher. He’s what I call a “second tier” striker. All players finish at a 10% rate. That’s average across defenders, strikers, mids, and keepers (lol). Alexis finishes at a 13% rate.
Kane finished 16% of his shots this season, Mo Salah finished 22% of his shots. And both of those players reached those high finishing rates without the benefit of a ton of penalties (Salah had just 1 penalty goal this season). The lower the finishing percentage, the more shots a player needs to score goals (you read that here first, folks, it’s my PhD thesis, right there). For example, Granit Xhaka took Arsenal’s 3rd most shots this season and he scored just 1 on 67 shots. That’s 1.5% finishing. I’d be ok if Granit Xhaka never shot again.
Arsenal haven’t had a clinical finisher at this club since van P*rsie, who scored 28/171 (we take out pens) in 2010/11. That’s a 16% finishing rate and that’s about what you need for a golden boot winner. That is to say: high finishing and a lot of shots.
What’s interesting at Arsenal right now is that we have two such players: Lacazette and Aubameyang. Lacazette scored 12 goals (open play, not pens) on 66 shots, that’s 18%. Aubameyang scored 9 goals on 29 shots, that’s 31%.
Now, before you get too excited, Auba isn’t a career 31% finisher. But over the last three seasons he is a 21% finisher, scoring 70 goals in league play alone over those three seasons.
Auba has such a high finishing rate because he almost never shoots outside the 18 yard box. Over the last three seasons, he’s taken just 30 shots from distance. In contrast, he’s taken 56 shots inside the 6 yard box over those same three seasons and has scored 29 of his 70 goals from inside the 6 yard box. This man is a poacher extraordinaire.
Lacazette is also not a player who takes a lot of shots from outside the box, shooting just 34 times from distance over the last three years. But he’s also not a 6 yard box hound like Auba. He’s only taken 28 shots from there. As I think you’ve seen this season, Laca operates in that 18 yard zone, where he takes quick shots once he gets the ball.
Because they play a different style of game, I have a feeling that these two players could both score 20+ goals for Arsenal next season. It’s not unrealistic, the two of them combined averaged 180 shots per season over the last three seasons and combined to average 39 goals. If the next manager can get both of these players playing at the same level they were in the season before they came to Arsenal, you could see them score 47 goals on 184 shots. That would be quite the season.
One last stat that doesn’t tell the whole story but it does tell a hell of a funny short story: Alexis took 69 shots in 1508 minutes while at Arsenal this season but took just 19 shots in 1048 minutes while at Man U. He may have gotten his dream to sign for Man U, but on a personal level, a player like him, who was on the ball so often for three and a half years at Arsenal, this might be a nightmare for him to play under Mourinho.
The story of the season is Man City and their incredible 106 goals haul. But most folks probably don’t know that they also had 85 assists this season. And if we take out own goals and penalties from their total goals tally, Man City scored 97 “regular” goals with 85 assists. That means an incredible 88% of their total goals scored this season were from team play. That’s Guardiolaball.
That’s also why the top four players with the most assists this season were de Bruyne (16), Sane (15), Silva (11), and Sterling (11). Those four players combined for 53 assists this season. That’s the same number of assists as all of Manchester United and 10 more than all of Chelsea. That’s Guardiolaball.
But Wenger’s Arsenal were actually 2nd in assists this season with 59. Since the Gunners only scored 69 goals from open play Arsenal had a similarly high percentage of their goals as team goals, 86%.
Now, obviously Liverpool’s 80 goals scored is a much more desirable stat than Arsenal’s 86% “team goals” rate. I highlight it here as a playing style rather than as a metric which will predict future results.
Wengerball, like Guardiolaball, leans heavily on multiple players up top creating multiple chances for their teammates and so it’s no surprise that (like City), Arsenal had four players who were all around the same when it comes to assists: Mkhitaryan (9 – not all with Arsenal), Ozil (8), Ramsey (8), and Xhaka (7). This group with 32 assists is some ways off the pace of City’s gang of four with 53 assists but it’s also true that Arsenal didn’t sign Mkhi until January, and didn’t get Aubameyang – a ravenous goalscorer – until January either.
Aubameyang and Lacazette both chipped in 4 assists each this season and Aubameyang’s 10 goals is something really special. Few players are able to directly translate their work from one league to another so quickly but Auba took zero transition time and immediately started scoring and creating.
You hear me say this time and again but I’m going to say it until it becomes law: this attack that Arsenal have is easily one of the best in the Premier League and could even be one of the best in Europe. The only reason there aren’t more pree folks fawning over the team that Arsenal have built is because we had such a poor defensive season.
Out damned spot!
Arsenal were, as they almost always were under Wenger, at or near the top in terms of Big Chances created. And just to remind people, Big Chances are shots from very close range, with few or no defenders, or one-on-ones with the keeper.
In 2015/16 Arsenal led the League with 97 Big Chances created and this season Arsenal created 95 Big Chances – Arsenal under Wenger were always an attack-focused team. As you see in the chart above, this season Arsenal created 18 more big chances than Man U and 26 more than Chelsea. That’s around 0.5 big chances per game more than their rivals and shows that Arsenal have the correct offensive philosophy.
What Arsenal lacked was the finishing. Once again, just like 2015/16 when Arsenal lost the title because of poor finishing, the Gunners get the chances and simply fail to put them away. Arsenal scored just 40/95 big chances for a conversion rate of 42%. 45% is league average across all teams.
I expect Arsenal’s big chance creation to stay the same but that next season with Lacazette and Aubameyang in the forward positions Arsenal should see an increase in finishing percentages.
And you know what one thing Arsenal need to change?
Above is a chart for Arsenal’s away form in Premier League matches over the last three seasons. Season 2015/16 Arsenal played with a defensive midfielder in a two-man midfield: they created tons of big chance for themselves and limited opposition big chances to just 17 (this is for away games, mind).
Then last season, Wenger dropped the DM, tried that back three thing, and Arsenal both conceded twice as many Big Chances and also created four fewer. And this season, Arsenal have officially “crossed the line” meaning that the opponents in away games created more big chances than Arsenal did.
Teams were no longer afraid of Arsenal on their home soil. They attacked Arsenal’s soft center, created great chances for themselves, and handed out well-deserved beatings this season. More than anything, the next Arsenal manager just needs to shore up the Arsenal defense from front to back, the way that Pep Guardiola’s Man City do: Man City conceded the fewest big chances of any club in the league, 32. That’s 37 fewer (1 per game) than Arsenal, who allowed 69.
In away matches, Guardiola’s City conceded just 17 big chances this season, just 135 shots, and allowed 12 goals (13, I don’t count OG). Arsenal allowed 39 big chances, and 31 away goals on 237 shots.
Sources: Opta, my database