‘Shhhooooottttt!!’ we hear the Arsenal crowd chant.
‘These fancy dans are more interested in walking the ball into the back of the net rather than pulling the trigger’ say the opposition fans.
Pundits on the television sigh as they complain about Arsenal once again trying to score the perfect goal instead of putting the laces through the ball whenever an attacking player is within a 40 yards radius of the opposition goal.
These are some of the strokes used to paint the Arsenal picture over the last few years without enough thought as to why the French manager on the Arsenal bench asks his team to play in a mostly different way to the rest of the Premier League.
First of all, let us take a look at the data and see if it is fact or fiction that Arsenal refuse to pull the trigger when not in touching distance of the opposition man with the gloves.
Arsenal managed a total of 232 shots outside of the penalty box during the whole of the Premier League season. The Premier League winners, Manchester United managed to muster 265 shots from outside of the box while our West London chums, Chelsea struck 324 times from outside of the penalty area. Without checking the stats, I would imagine that Frank Lampard had something to do with that.
So Chelsea had 92 more shots from outside of the box than the fancy dans at Arsenal FC. You would imagine that the return on those shots must be through the roof. Well this may surprise you but from the extra 92 shots, Chelsea managed to score 8 goals from distance while Arsenal racked up 5. Those with maths skills better than my own will tell you that Chelsea scored 3 more goals from outside of the penalty area with 92 extra shots.
Manchester United managed to score 7 goals from 265 long range shots which is better than both Arsenal and Chelsea in terms of shots to goals.
37.8 shots per goal – Manchester United
40.5 shots per goal – Chelsea
46.4 shots per goal – Arsenal
So the question is, how do Arsenal manage to score so many goals consistently if they do not shoot?
Well if you have played football in your school playground then this may bring back a few memories. Remember the days when one kid was much better than everyone else, he would get the ball and do it all on his own. Shoot from all angles and dribble until either he lost the ball or scored a wonder goal. Do you ever remember standing totally unmarked at the far post with both arms raised only to find this kid smash the ball over the fence. Well Arsene Wenger has disposed of the greedy kid and has created an Arsenal front line who want the team to score before personal glory.
Arsene Wenger buys attacking players who can make assists, he brings in players who can spot and make a final pass in tight situations. If a penalty box is crowded and a shot is not on, then the ball gets recycled until a better shooting option has been found.
Even during the days of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp all in their prime, we were criticised for ‘overplaying’ yet those players often found themselves with double digit assists and goals in a season.
Many others teams will play their own version of percentages, throwing crosses into an area and hoping a big man will get on the end of it. Some teams will play the ball into the channel and hope that they cam win possession. Frank Lampard and Nani like to buy a raffle ticket with the hope to win a prize by belting the ball into the top corner. Occasionally these go in and they are beautiful to watch but they are still percentages. Chelsea could be losing with 10 minutes to go, the opposition penalty area could be packed with Chelsea strikers hoping to get one last stab at a through pass but instead Lampard smashes the ball high into the Shed end. The saying goes, if you do not shoot, you will not score. That is true, but without the ball you certainly will not score.
Arsenal’s percentages are based on passing, receiving the ball and finally finding an opening inside a penalty area where the chances of scoring a goal are much higher.
It is to no surprise that Arsenal topped both Manchester United and Chelsea for shots inside the penalty area even though we finished the season in a lower position and our goals had dried up in the last two months of the season.
422 shots inside penalty area – Arsenal
421 shots inside penalty area – Chelsea
353 shots inside penalty area – Manchester United
Arsene Wenger should ignore the likes of Alan Hansen, Chris Waddle and company and continue to work goal scoring opportunities, they just have to improve on finding those gaps more often against the bus parkers and once through, we need to improve our conversion rate.
It works for Barcelona so there is no reason why it cannot work for Arsenal with a bit of sharpening up on the training ground.