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Do Arsenal actually have a goalscoring problem?

By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)

For the last couple of weeks I've written more general bloggy type pieces, rambling on about a selection of timely topics. For this week, it's a return to my more mechanical and analytical style, breaking down and contradicting the mainstream narrative. "Here we go".

I've heard a lot recently about our supposed goalscoring troubles. How we are grinding out results by scoring minimal numbers of goals and relying on our resolute defence that is increasingly effective at shutting the opposition out. Admittedly, it does feel like we don't score very often. Four 1-0 wins this season and three 2-0 victories in the league make it feel as though when we do pick up all three points, the margins are narrow and we aren't exactly thrashing our opponents. These 7 games do take up over 50% of all our victories this season. Added to this feeling of a lack of proficiency in front of goal is the 6 games in which we failed to find the back of the net. In fact, we've only managed three or more goals in 5 league games this campaign. On paper, particularly with Arsene Wenger's free-flowing sides as the precedent for goal scoring analysis, this doesn't feel like an awful lot.

Exacerbating this narrative is the glance towards our top goalscorers list. Only Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have scored more than four league goals thus far, with 6 and 8 respectively. There is no run away front runner, with no-one yet reaching the double figures mark. The lack of a prominent and prolific number nine definitely makes it feel as though we're not netting at the rate a team with top four aspirations would expect.

However, when you dive a little deeper, the issue doesn't seem as stark. For starters, we're anywhere between 4th and 6th in the division for the expected goals created metric, depending on which model you look at. So essentially, we're creating at a good rate in comparison to everyone else and where we should be, so even if the actual goals don't feel like they're coming, the chances are and we're likely to score more over time.

In terms of actual goal-scoring, we're the 7th most prolific team in the league with 34 goals. In comparison, that's 6 more than top four rivals Spurs and 6 fewer than one of our other major rivals for the Champions League places, Manchester United. However, as United have played an additional 3 games to us, looking at goals scored per 90 is more useful. Ragnick's men are netting at a rate of 1.6 goals per 90 minutes, while we are very slightly under that at 1.55 goals per match. At this moment in time, we have less of a goal-scoring issue than Tottenham, and no more of an issue in this department than Man United, arguably our two greatest competitors for a place in top four.

Other contenders for a place in the Champions League, West Ham, are indeed ahead of us from a goal-scoring standpoint. The Hammers have scored 44 goals from 25 games, a rate of 1.76 per 90. Having said this, we boast a significantly better defensive record than David Moyes' men, conceding 8 goals fewer than our East London counterparts. They are also creating less than us, managing 1.39 xG/90 compared to our 1.48. This suggests that over a larger sample size we should at least roughly level them with regards to goals scored, and that we're currently suffering from something of a finishing slump, as they enjoy a substantial over performance in front of goal. Essentially what I'm saying is, West Ham aren't and shouldn't be what we're worried about.

While I expect us to ultimately trump the Irons in the goals for column, I don't expect us to overtake any of the top three. Chelsea's 2 goals per 90 suggests we're far off scoring at a rate of a comfortable and established top four side, while Liverpool's 2.54 and City's 2.44 show just how far we are from competing for the title (even if these rates are simply ridiculous, even for sides running away from the rest of the pack). All three of these sides metrics suggest these are sustainable goalscoring rates. What Chelsea are producing in front of goal is the next stage in our development and what we should aspire for, but at the moment for where we are, it doesn't look like we do have a goal scoring problem. Leicester are the only other side in the league worth comparing to, and while they have narrowly out scored us thus far, their defensive record is so bad that it's basically irrelevant.

Of course, we should always be looking to be putting the ball in the back of the net more frequently. Methods of chance creation are inevitably the thing that needs to be worked on and mastered, which in turn produces goals, but there are players in our squad who could be doing more with what they're getting. Alex Lacazette currently has 3 goals from 5.2 xG, while Aubameyang managed 4 from 5.8 before his departure. Aside from our two veteran strikers, the rest of the squad is finishing pretty effectively, with Saka managing 6 from 4.7 xG, Smith Rowe 8 from 3.6, Martinelli 4 from 3.3 and Odegaard 4 from 1.8. It's just about creating a greater volume and probably more importantly, quality of chances. We take the 4th most shots per 90, behind only the top three, but create fewer big chances than some of our direct competitors.

We're currently on course to score roughly 59 goals, if we continue converting shots at the rate we are now. Aside from Chelsea's campaign last season, where Tuchel's men managed 58 goals and finished 4th, generally teams that finish in the Champions League places are scoring in the higher 60s at least. However, as I alluded to earlier, with United only on course to score slightly more than us (2 more) and Spurs on course for roughly just 48 goals, our current goals scoring exploits are not a cause for drastic concern. We're competing for a top four place in a season where the standard of teams trying to secure 4th is much lower. They'll likely be a lower points tally needed for this position than in many previous years.

Furthermore, there are reasons to believe we can significantly increase our goal getting rate in the second half of the season. In December we found a system that saw us score 14 times in just 4 matches, and that system and personnel is now ready and available again after a January heavily disrupted by injuries, AFCON and Covid. There's no reason why we can't replicate that electric football that saw us become the form team in the final month of 2021, in which we were ruthless in front of goal. Our overall goal scoring rate for the season doesn't take into account our horrific start in August or the inconsistency that came between September and November as the new team gelled together.

Expect us to go from strength to strength in this department, and hopefully another level next season after we bring in our shiny new striker. So after this nuanced and analytical dive into the matter, I'd personally conclude that we don't really have a resounding goal scoring issue, but it is an area that could certainly be massively improved upon.

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