Arsenal Women By The Numbers: Are They Too Profligate in Front of Goal?

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“They had three big chances and scored two goals, we had lots of chances and only scored one. We got into a lot of good positions, a lot of coaches might say that we should have, could have won, but in the end you have to do it and we didn’t do it. We have to look at a couple of other little issues to make sure that when we do get into good positions, that we do score goals.”

This was [part of] Joe Montemurro’s assessment after the last-gasp defeat to Chelsea in the Conti Cup Final. Arsenal dominated territory and created more chances, but Chelsea were more clinical and won. It was a similar story three weeks earlier when the Gunners went to Manchester and dominated City but were left to rue missed chances as they fell to a damaging 2-1 defeat.

I asked Jordan Nobbs if chance conversion was becoming an issue a few minutes after I posed the question to Joe. “We can maybe get away with it in some games, but when we play teams like Chelsea, we have to be on it and take our chances,” she admitted. Tellingly, she critiqued her own performance in this respect, “I think maybe I need to shoot a little bit more at times.”

Five days earlier, I spoke with Joe and Jordan ahead of the Conti Cup Final. I had been perusing Statsbomb’s mine of WSL data to see if my suspicion of Arsenal’s profligacy held water. The data certainly reveals that Arsenal shoot less often than Manchester City and Chelsea but take marginally better-quality shots when they do chance their arm.

 Shots per gameShots on target per gameDifferential
Arsenal15.065.869.2
Chelsea19.738.1311.6
Manchester City16.56.3110.19

This is a consequence of Montemurro’s precision, possession-based style. Arsenal favour the scalpel approach and are not afraid to go backwards to go forwards. I asked Montemurro about this at the pre-Conti Cup Final media day. “I hate crosses for crossing’s sake,” he explained. “If it’s not on to cross and there’s no one in the box, then we start again and we try to probe and find the space.”

It isn’t only games against Chelsea and Manchester City that have given the impression of profligacy. Home victories against Birmingham [2-0] and Liverpool [1-0] and the away victory at Spurs [2-0] ought to have been won more convincingly as Arsenal pushed their food around the plate for large sections of the game. Looking at the data- which only takes in WSL games- Arsenal’s XGD [expected goal difference] is nestled somewhere between Manchester City and Chelsea’s.

 XGF [Expected goals for per game]Goals per gameXGC [Expected goals against per game]Goals against per gameXGD [Expected goal difference]Goal difference per game
Arsenal1.902.66 [+0.76]0.680.86 [+0.18]1.211.80 [+0.59]
Chelsea2.493.13 [+0.64]0.560.73 [+0.17]1.922.40 [+0.48]
Manchester City2.022.43 [+0.41]0.870.56 [-0.31]1.161.87 [+0.71]

Yet the data doesn’t suggest Arsenal are any more profligate than their title rivals. In fact, they are overperforming their XG slightly more than City and Chelsea. I wondered how much the figures had been skewed by the Miedema inspired 11-1 win over Bristol City- a day in which the Gunners scored 11 from an XG of 5.25. I wanted to know how many times Montemurro’s side had underperformed on XG compared to City and Chelsea.

I was surprised by the results. Arsenal have underperformed their XG in seven of their 15 WSL games, three of those occasions by more than 0.5 goals. Chelsea have underperformed on XG six times in 14 games and in five of those games it was by more than 0.5 goals. City are the same as Arsenal, scoring below their XG tally on seven occasions, but only twice by more than 0.5 goals.

However, the Gunners scored once from an XG of 1.51 in a 2-1 defeat at City last month [the home side’s two goals came from an XG of 0.63], they scored once from an XG of 1.44 in the 1-0 victory over the same opponents in October. Unfortunately, Opta do not produce stats for the Conti Cup, but I am willing to bet that Arsenal’s XG was more than 1.5 in the 2-1 reverse to Emma Hayes’ side in the final.

Maybe the fact that Arsenal’s shot volume is lower means misses are more keenly felt, compared to Chelsea’s more blunderbuss approach to attack. I wanted to examine whether individual players are skewing the team stats, in Vivianne Miedema Arsenal have arguably the finest centre-forward in the world. I looked at the XG of Arsenal’s principal attackers. To what extent is Viv boosting the stats?

 Shots per 90XG per 90Non-penalty goals per 90
Danielle van de Donk1.370.270.33 [+0.06]
Jordan Nobbs2.460.280.41 [+0.13]
Kim Little1.110.140.32 [+0.18]
Vivianne Miedema3.900.671.09 [+0.42]
Beth Mead2.590.260.24 [-0.02]

Well, she is a little, but Danielle van de Donk, Jordan Nobbs and Kim Little are all overperforming their XG to varying degrees, with Beth Mead very slightly underperforming hers. Unfortunately, this level of data does not exist from Arsenal’s league winning campaign in 2018-19, so it’s not possible to compare. The impression remains that the Gunners have been wasteful in front of goal, but the numbers don’t really bare it out.

If the data existed for cup games, I tend to think a slightly different picture might emerge. I am certain Arsenal underperformed XG in Conti Cup knockout ties against Reading [1-0] and probably even Manchester City [2-1] and the final against Chelsea. The group stages also featured their solitary scoreless game this season against Brighton. The data we do have confirms that Arsenal have a more precise style resulting in fewer shots, but better-quality shots than their immediate rivals. But the numbers do not suggest that chance conversion is a big issue.

FixtureTotal ShotsShots on targetXG [expected goals]Goals scored
West Ham United [H]1752.062
Manchester United [a]2191.611
Brighton & Hove Albion [H]1251.974
Chelsea [a]730.551
Manchester City [H]1031.441
Tottenham Hotspur [a]1931.802
Liverpool [H]1821.991
Bristol City [H]35165.2511
Reading [a]1261.823
Everton [a]1583.20 [including penalty]3
Birmingham City [H]1272.392
Brighton & Hove Albion [a]1452.364
Chelsea [H]940.471
Manchester City [a]1571.511
Liverpool [a]1051.253
Totals2268829.640

all data derived from Statsbomb

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Crash Fistfight
Crash Fistfight
28 days ago

A couple of the differential figures in the xG/90 vs goals/90 table are wrong. DVD’s differential should be +0.06 not +0.60 and Beth Mead’s should be -0.02 not +0.20.

Stillberto
Stillberto
27 days ago

Cheers! Yes you’re right, that was an auto fill error on the excel when I copy pasted the ingo, will correct!

trugun
trugun
27 days ago

For me this is history repeating itself, go back awhile to the successful men’s team and the same happened to them. After a while every game I went too all you could hear was “Shoot” as Arsenal again and again tried to walk the ball into the back of the net.

Peter Story Teller
Peter Story Teller
27 days ago

It will be an interesting comparison to see what Caitlin does to the stats.
She appears to be a different kind of attacker to what we have had in the recent past; perhaps Julie Fleeting like? More of a physical presence up front than we have had in a while and we may end up scoring a few more scrappy bundled home efforts rather than surgically precise goal of the month contenders but they all count just the same.
Bottom line is we dominate games, now even against City and Chelsea, so we have to convert that domination into results.

Eeleen
Eeleen
27 days ago

I think the problem is that WSL is really unforgiving. The season is decided by 4 games, so one off day may mean season is gone. Against ManC away it was 2:1 with xG 0,7×1,6. I think we have underperformed our xG in all big games this season (at home to Chelsea excluded, but this was one off game anyway). Also I think it is fair to say that since new year Viv has struggeled a little. Beth England has basicly scored every oportunity she has had against us and thats the difference with such small margins. Same with Bremer… Read more »

Peter Story Teller
Peter Story Teller
27 days ago
Reply to  Eeleen

I know Viv has been complaining of a “sore” back but what that is actually caused by appears a mystery. I agree she hasn’t looked herself for a while now and the chances simply haven’t been there for her to convert it’s not that she has been missing sitters. The World Cup is 9 months ago now so we cannot keep using that as an excuse. Players come back from an ACL in less time. I’m concerned there is an underlying problem that is either not being diagnosed or is being deliberately kept under wraps to perpetuate the fear of… Read more »

Christopher Humphrey
Christopher Humphrey
27 days ago

The statistics are interesting but the human factors are more interesting. Up to Christmas we had lost only the one game to a poor second half performance against Chelski. After the last December game I do rememember Viv saying how much she and the girls were looking forward to the Christmas break and Joe had already gone off home to Oz for family reasons. Since the resumption in January, Viv has suffered her 4 match “goal drought” and as others have observed just seems to be lacking her normal ruthlessness. Perhaps she is carrying an injury or maybe she’s just… Read more »

Christopher Humphrey
Christopher Humphrey
27 days ago

Bugger! This fekin injury “curse”. Seems that as well as Jill pulling out of last night’s game with a thigh problem, Viv seems to have suffered a similar issue.