The need for Arsenal to score more goals away from home by Terry Barry
Some people think that the responsibility for our demise is our inability to defend. I would like to draw a very different conclusion – I think a more obvious one which points to our failure to compete in the League this season is much more down to our inability to score goals and in particular our inability to score goals away from home – a trend which has spectacularly peaked to produce the astonishing mid April headline news that we have yet to register a single away League point in 2018!
Consider a comparison between this years run away League winners Manchester City and the Arsenal. I look at the comparisons for the 2 seasons 2016/17 and up till today in the 2017/18 seasons. I also look at the comparison over the period of the last 10 League games which comprises all matches that have been played in 2018.
2016/17 Season (38 games)
Club LP Points Goals F/A ……… Club LP Points Goals F/A
Arsenal (3) 45 39/16 Man C (2) 38 43/22
Man C (6) 40 37/17 Arsenal (6) 30 38/28
2017/18 Season (as at 17 April 2018 – 33 games played)
Home LP Points Goals F/A Away LP Points Goals F/A
Man C (1) 43 53/13 Man C (1) 44 40/12
Arsenal (2) 41 45/19 Arsenal (12) 13 17/26
2018 only – 10 games – Arsenal 5/5 home and away – City 4/6 home and away
Home Points Goals F/A …….. Away Points Goals F/A
Man C 12 12/3 Man C 13 15/7
Arsenal 12 15/7 Arsenal 0 4/10
What to make of these figures? Please feel free to interpret as you wish. My take is:
* We start off in 2016/17 broadly on much the same level as City – we better at home – they better away – the latter tips the league position in their favour – they qualify for Europe – we for the first time ever under Wenger – just missed out.
* In the current 2017/18 season City have run away from everybody – Arsenal have been nearly on a par with City at home but away from home we’ve been blown away – to date we are a staggering 31 points behind City just looking at the away games!
* If we compare stats for the away performances of Arsenal between 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons – the stand out figure is how many fewer goals we have scored this season away from home – a drop from 38 to 17! That’s a drop from 2 goals scored a game to only 1 goal a game!
* Puzzlingly – in view of huge decline in goal scoring away from home this season – when we make the same comparison between the 2 seasons for our home games we see that we manage to increase the number of goals we scored from 2.05 to 2.81 goals per game.
* In 2018 we get this dramatic headline stat of null points scored away from home. Here we get a slight decline in our scoring from 1.1 goals per game before January the 1st to 0.8 goals pg thereafter but the main stat here is the increase in the number of goals conceded from 1.3 in the first part of the season to 2 goals pg in 2018.
I realise this is a crude numerical perspective and the figures can be misconstrued but my instincts are to conclude that a decline in performance this season is down to our away performances and the most bleedin obvious explanation for this is the decline in our inability to score goals away from home – with the exception of the 5 away games played so far this year – where we see it is the number of goals conceded away from home that is the main problem.
This is not rocket science but if stats are to be of any use in seeking to help us understand why things happen on a football field then these stats need to be made sense of and explained. This is my ‘go’ at doing just that (please feel free to offer your alternative theses).
The first puzzle to be resolved is why has our ability to score goals away from home declined so dramatically whilst at the same time it has improved at home?
Clearly, as we all know there is an advantage in playing at home rather than away – even though Arsene tries to convince us (and his players) otherwise! It is commonly assumed this is down to the advantages of home crowd support – however it is sometimes a little difficult to see how this factor materialises at the Emirates with its fickle Arsenal support!
Is it more difficult to score goals away from home than at home? Intuitively, I say yes of course it is but hang on, a look at this season’s tables sees a number of teams bucking that trend? A sizeable minority – Chelsea, Tottenham, Newcastle, West Ham, Leicester and Burnley – have all scored more goals away than at home! The Arsenal has scored 17 goals away from home. Only 8 teams in the League have scored fewer than us and nearly all those teams have been fighting for survival for a good part of the season! Yet at home – we are nearly kings of the castle – only City has scored more than us.
Why is this happening?
i) Fortress Emirates at home, Distress Arsenal away from home.
One theory might be that teams come to the Emirates expecting a hard time – the famous fortress Emirates factor is at work – most teams expect to lose and they set out their stall accordingly – with a defensive based strategy. As we are an offensive biased club and armed with greater self belief – all this plays into our strengths and we by and large succeed in winning and accruing points – although not without giving 90 minutes worth of heart palpitations to the home supporters.
When it comes to playing away from home this season teams see us as being much more vulnerable and adopt a much more ambitious approach to the games. Not surprisingly with our greater self doubt in play the opposition achieve more against us.
You could throw in to this theory that we are an offensive team which seeks to entertain and accordingly plays with the philosophy that the best form of defence is attack and we will score more than the opposition. That is the Wenger philosophy and is the reason that brought us so much success and the reason why he is admired around the football world – although ironically not so much closer to home – where people are more concerned with results than how we attempt to play the game to entertain. This philosophy works well at home with the Fortress Emirates to help us on our way but works against us when we go on the road in the EPL. There are other related factors which work together with the above to make it more difficult for us to score away from home this season.
ii) Investment in players and our competitiveness has declined.
Our investment in players and hence the competitiveness of our squad has declined considerably relative to the other top 6 Clubs. City, United, Chelsea, Liverpool all have invested considerably more than us in their playing squads. Whilst in terms of League results we were broadly on a par with City for the 2016/17 season they have shot way ahead of us and the rest of the League this season. Would the fact that City invested £448M on new players in Gaurdiola’s first 19 months at City – and another £200m available for next season – have something to do with it? Or is it all down to Gaurdiola being such a better Manager than Wenger?
iii) Every game is tough.
With the introduction of TV money and huge investments from overseas Club owners the level of competitiveness throughout the League has increased hugely whilst at the same time our level of competitiveness has declined relative to the other top 6 Clubs. Every game is tough. For Arsenal, a Club which seeks to play entertaining football both home and away against Clubs who are either fighting for survival or a place in the top 4 with a squad that because of under investment is short in terms of having the squad of quality players that you need to play the Wenger way – then something has to eventually suffer. For a club like Arsenal competing on 4 levels – the first thing to suffer is where it is the competition is hardest – away in the League.
iv) A huge dent in our attacking strength – Sanchez disruption and its fall out.
I believe the Sanchez saga had a big impact on our season. This combined with the growing discontent with Wenger and the uncertainty about Ozil’s future created fault lines in the team’s confidence and collective strength up ’till he left in January. Sanchez went from hero ‘player of the season’ to villain within a few months. His goal scoring and assists contribution dried up – he halved his goal scoring and went from 0.6 goals per game to 0.3 goals per game. But more than this we suffered a loss of collectiveness in the team as a consequence of his desire to leave and again this hurt us most where it is the toughest – away in the league.
We lost Giroud, Walcott and Sanchez and gained 2 good players in Auba and Miki – this requires a lot of adjustment for the squad – especially as this adjustment is all focused on our attacking players. Throw in the injury to Lacazette and we have a problem seeking to play entertaining football and score goals in an increasingly competitive environment with a squad which is under-invested in and we suffer where it is hardest – away in the League.
v) Realisation that we can’t make top 4 and Europa League eggs in one basket.
The negative impacts of all the above on our away League results in 2018 is magnified by the realisation that we cant make the top 4 and our over arching priority is now to win the Europa League. This obviously impacts our ability to score goals where it is hardest – away in the League and then in turn affects our ability to defend and hence the run of null points.
All the above i) to v) goes a long way to explaining why we have had the season we have. The solution is to hugely invest in the squad with a new goal keeper, 2 new centre backs, a full back and a couple of quality midfielders. £250M should do it and we might, just might get a last (and first) opportunity (for a long time) to have a squad of players that is good enough to allow us to see a season of proper Wengerball being played with plenty of away goals and away points and the chance to win a trophy or two.
Ever the optimist…