How Emery has changed the Arsenal pt.1 (Total Shots)

This “article” is going to be posted over several days. If you’re not into that sort of thing, cool. Come back later this week and I’ll try to post a brief recap. However, if you want to argue with the smart people who comment on every article then stick around and have fun. Remember, just don’t attack each other.

If you recall my season preview, I said that I would follow several key stories. These were the points I was going to look at to see how Emery and Wenger differed and how Emery has changed the Arsenal. The points were kind of simple:

  • (Özil/offensive players) and their defensive stats
  • How the defense will change (Wenger teams were always very “interception” oriented)
  • Torreira (specifically, I thought he would be like Kante)
  • How Laca and Auba score 40 goals
  • Total shots created
  • Big Chances
  • Cech’s clangers
  • Individual errors
  • And I added one more after the season started “Douzis”

I’d like to jump right in but we are dealing with a lot of topics here and it should also be noted, a paucity of data. We are 11 games in and some players haven’t been given optimal roles, some players have been played out of position, and Emery has radically changed the way that this team plays football.

I say all that to give you permission to latch on to the stats that you like with the fervor of a Trump supporter at a Trump rally and also simultaneously dismiss any stats that you don’t like for “small sample size” the way that, uhh.. Harry dismissed Falstaff after the fat knight claimed he’d been waylaid by dozens of bandits, “These lies are like their father that begets them–gross as a mountain, open, palpable. Why, thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch—”. I will also say that I’m not going to get through all of these points today because I have to take the dog for a walk in 30 minutes.

So, let’s start with the easy ones!

Total shots:

One of the reasons I thought this would be important is that Laca and Auba typically need shots to score. Lacazette is typically more economical (he’s never had a 100 shot season, in league play) but if both players were going to score 20 goals each I thought that they would need somewhere around 200 total shots. Last season Arsenal took 593 shots (5th in the League), and if Lacazette and Aubameyang were going to get 200 total shots, I reasoned that Arsenal would need to increase our total shots output.

Well… I was wrong (so far).

Arsenal are currently sitting 12th overall in shots taken with 12.3 per contest and if they keep up at that rate, Arsenal will take 120 fewer shots than last season. But while we aren’t creating many shots, Lacazette and Aubameyang are already off to a great goalscoring start, with 12 combined (league) goals on 50 shots.

Auba and Lacazette are on pace to take 173 shots this season. That’s pretty close to the 200 shots I thought they would need to bad 40 goals. And with 12 goals in 11 games they are well on their way to 40 goals combined as well.

What has happened is a massive shift in who shoots at Arsenal. Last season’s most prolific shooter was… Alexis with 69 shots. Ok, so, throwing him out 2nd was Lacazette with 68, third was Xhaka with 66, and 4th was Ramsey with 56.

Ramsey averaged over two shots a game last season (2.33), Xhaka averaged 1.72. Combined, they pulled in 4 shots a game. This season, they combine for just 1 shot per game.

There is a definite switch in the way that Arsenal attempt to score, from the more open way that Wenger’s side played with Ramsey told to get into the box on nearly every play to the more forward-oriented way that Emery’s team are told to play, with both Aubameyang and Lacazette on the end of the play. With the focus on them, it’s no wonder that the forwards are having so much fun.

One unintended consequence is that Arsenal’s total shots taken are way down. This is happening because Auba and Laca are converting at a 24% rate. That’s higher than normal, but not really irrationally high for them: both players have converted 20% for the last three to four years of their careers. And forwards often have high conversion rates.

Ok, that covers two pretty big topics (forwards and shots) and that’s all I have time for today. Come back tomorrow, where I will probably have some big chances data for you. Or maybe I’ll write about something completely nuts.

Don’t forget that today is election day and that you should vote.

Have a good one.



  1. Tim, I wish you and all our American friends (except Trump supporters) a game-changing midterm elections. A very sharp rebuke and repudiation of the ugliness of Trumpism (not conservatism, before you @ me) is needed, and with it more Democrats in congressional office. Because it’s clear that his fellow Republicans have no interest in oversight, or in checking his excesses. In this regard, the early long lines look promising.

    You were absolutely on the money with shots taken, and with your early stats analysis on Auba. What would his and Laca’s (already great) conversion rate be if they didnt miss so many shots? To me — and I watch nearly every minute of every Arsenal game — they’ve missed a lot of not-too-difficult shots. Laca should be on 9 or 10 goals, not 5. But hey, as the stats say, strikers normally convert 1 in 5.

    I do worry about our over-reliance on those 2, and Welbeck. It’s tempered by the fact that Mesut shows that he has real quality in front of goal, so Im confident that he’s going to contribute. Monreal on the overlap is a surprisingly good shooter. Xhaka shows that we ‘ll get dead ball goals out of him, and Torreira (who takes set pieces for Uruguay) will show the same. Mustafi is good on corners. But these are low-yield goals, and we would need more from open play from both midfielders. Torreira surged beautifully to create a chance but shot straight at Allison. Ozil teed up Bellerin nicely, but he showed that his left leg is chocolate.

    What happens if we lose both our elite forwards? Ok, Danny will start and Nketiah can be on the bench, but we really need Iwobi and Mhki to be better than they are at shot execution. This is where Ramsey, in his last season for us, has a chance to add value over the course of a long, gruelling 4-Trophy season. I’ve not been a fan of Welbeck over the years, but man, he’s brought it this season, and if it continues it could be his best ever. He’s OOC too, but we’re hardly talking about it.

  2. I’ll leave the statistics to people who are good at it( I’m not), but the first most obvious change that needs mentioning is how there are no more sacred cows on this Arsenal roster.
    “Oh you’re making £350k a week do you, sorry, your not playing well today , off you go on 60 minutes.
    That’s ok if you ignore my handshake and throw your gloves to the turf in displeasure. I’ll do the same next week if I think it helps the team”

    How many times did we see Alexis stink up the place but last the whole 90 minutes last season before his exit to United?

    1. Alexis believed he had to freelance and bought into his image as the only decent player on that team. It was toxic for everybody. I also think he took a lot of really bad shots and that was the reason we had great shots taken stats yet didn’t score very many goals.

      1. Doc – The more distance we get from Alexis, the more we realize what a drag on the team he must have been. Such a difference from the constant drama of last season. Even when the press tries to create drama about Ozil or Ramsey or Auba being subbed, it dies fast. Winning does that, I suppose.

        1. Unfair. And lacking in nuance and overall balance.

          Towards the end, Alexis became a disagreeable preek, but we should resist the urge to rewrite the history of the players who have left us, whoever they are and whatever the circumstances of their leaving. From Alexis, to Van Persie, to Fabregas, however disagreeable they turned out to be.

          Alexis, was, for 3 of the 3 and a half season he spent with us, an astonishingly productive forward. For 2 of those years, he was Arsenal’s best player, and one of the very best in the league. The nosedive in form form and commitment after a badly botched summer non-transfer does not change the overall picture.

          He worked his socks off, mostly. A lot of the time, very very latterly as he soured on the club, the quality of the help around him and became a locker room pariah, it was a Flamini-esque show. But far more often than not, he ran himself into the ground for the cause.


          1. I happen to agree with LA. There came a point beyond which Alexis was probably a net negative for the team even as he continued to take the lion’s share of the shots. That doesn’t negate everything he ever did for Arsenal, but it was a poor way to conclude a very promising start to life with us. He could’ve been one of the all time Arsenal greats but he chose himself over the team and that’s the legacy he left us with. Cesc and RVP did the same but that was after 10 years of service, not 3, so it was easier for me to understand and accept.

          2. The numbers over the course of his Arsenal career say otherwise, Im afraid.

            So they make the assessment terribly unbalanced. The many, many instances of Alexis single handedly hauling Arsenal back into games they would otherwise have lost isn’t our imagination, nor are they negated by the fact that he latterly became a jerk, on and off the field.. But hey, don’t trust the evidence of my eyes or powers of analysis. Look at the numbers over his ENTIRE time.

            This is the exasperating thing about these internet insta-debates. They so lack broad perspective sometimes. Do we have to go all or nothing on everything?

          3. I definitely agree that hot takes are common and sometimes cringe-worthy, but think you may be assuming some level of concrete thought that doesn’t exist based on some recent comments. We can’t and won’t post lengthy caveats for every view, but that doesn’t mean we lack all nuance of thought on that topic.

          4. I dislike superficial analysis, and allornothingism. But hey, that’s just me. It’s a football forum. I should expect this, I suppose.

          5. It’s oh too common… “Walcott is trash”, “Alexis was just selfish ball-hog who didn’t play for the team”. The sort of stuff you read in the comments section of Bleacher Report. This is supposed to be the thoughtful commentariat! 😀 Perhaps I shouldn’t argue this so vociferously, but I hate to see players good contributions so easily dismissed. How many points did Alexis save or win for us? Too many to count. How easily we forget.

          6. Well Claude yes, but IIRC Doc himself was saying almost exactly the same thing a few threads back on the tendency to single out Xhaka for criticism.

            I hate scapegoating and I’m definitely here for the nuance, but that shouldn’t stop us from stating opinions or venting either.

            IIRC *before* Alexis even joined us, Tim predicted he would divide people because he was, in fact a ball hog, and compared him to Suarez. Huge numbers of shots, dribbles, take ons etc. with high wastefulness. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t also incredibly productive, talented and a great forward.

            But it’s also surely correct to say that Alexis affected team balance, and when he was out of sorts he could hold back the team. Later on when he wanted out this became the norm, and the price of playing Alexis all the time was that other players did not get the confidence or backing to excel in his place. For example, Iwobi’s recent comments I think imply that he was intimidated by having to compete for a spot with the Chilean.

            It’s also interesting to contrast the late Wenger Arsenal where he had 2 or 3 superstars dominating an unbalanced side, and Emery’s team today where much more focus is placed on bringing up the whole team to a higher standard.

            I love Arsene but it’s clear to me now that he was ultimately let down by his reliance on being able to find extraordinary players. When you do the cost-benefit of having Alexis in the side, his numbers imply that you would be crazy not to play him. But the point is that there’s also an opportunity cost that comes with each decision, the value of the things you don’t do instead. I think Emery’s factoring that in better than Wenger was.

    2. Precisely.

      From the dying embers of the last thread….
      “Ozil has to show greater commitment and energy in tackling, harrying and pressing when we don’t have the ball. Not doing it half heartedly, as is his wont. Sometimes he really comes to the party… too often he does not. He and Elneny — the worst tacklers in the squad — have this thing where they fanny about busily in the general direction of the man on the ball, rather than genuinely press and pressure him. He did that a lot in the first half against Liverpool, but (like Mhki) really grew into the game as it went on. He was removed against Palace because he was listless off the ball. He was not bringing any control, and therefore we couldn’t lose what we didnt have”.

      He was half paced in a high intensity game in which Palace were winning all the 50/50 balls, and was clearly, to anyone watching the game, a prime candidate for a subbing. And he was captain to boot. Emery took Ramsey off when he too was skipper and not playing up to the standard that he wanted. There were no histrionics, but he was plainly unhappy as well.

      I think we got the right coach at the right time. He’ll have learned a lot from an environment in which he couldn’t tell Neymar what to do. No sacred cows. You may have had the game of your life a week ago, mate, but you’re a passenger out there, and I’m yanking you.

  3. Just from the eye test I’ve had the sense that we are taking different types of shots and probably better shots than we did in previous seasons. Disclaimer: I don’t have data for this and I can’t be arsed to find video evidence to back up my claims.

    Most of the chances we create come from cutbacks from out wide or from transitions of play. Midfielder switches play, wide player bounces pass inside, inside player bounces ball back outside to onrushing overlap, inside players crash the box waiting for service. That’s a typical passage of possession play under Emery resulting in a shot. These situations seem like they create higher leverage opportunities more often than the approach favored by Wenger which tried to play through the middle at all costs. When it worked, one of our forwards had a 1v1 against the keeper but more often it resulted in a pot shot, either Alexis trying to dribble through everyone to get his trademark right foot curler off or Xhaka having a blast from 40 yards and hoping it caroms in off of Matic’s back. Wenger’s teams used FB overlaps too but that was not the focus of the attack as much as a way to find width in order to open up the middle for the creative players. The Chelsea game was probably the best example of the overlap being used by Arsenal in a new way and Hector Bellers’ 4 assists also speak to this new approach. Arsenal briefly got away from this approach while experimenting with a front 4 of Ramsey, Ozil, Auba and Laca (which sputtered and mostly didn’t work) because the nominal wide players drifted too far inside and didn’t give the FB a passing option. It’s palpable how different we look when the first choice specialist FB players are not fit or not in the team, as was the case in the CP game second half and against Blackpool, versus when the team is fully fit and firing as was the case against Liverpool, Fulham, etc. Notably Guardiola’s Man City went from very good to unstoppable after investing north of one hundred million in transfer fees for Mendy, Walker and Danilo, so Emery is following in the right footsteps here by focusing from outside to inside rather than the opposite.

    So we create more shots from cutbacks, so what? Well, my opinion is that cutbacks are so much more dangerous because defenders don’t know what’s coming and can’t see players behind them, whereas with the play through the middle approach favored by Wenger, the play is always in front of the defender, and that’s their comfort zone. Running backwards to defend the goal is the opposite of comfort for any defender. Bellerin is fantastic at picking up his head before he delivers, and the team has gotten good at timing and holding runs to give him options in the box. One issue I have with shots and xG is that it doesn’t account for how many of these high leverage situations a team creates. If Arsenal gets behind the defense on an overlap 5 times in a half, I would bet at least one of those will be a goal. But if the other 4 are cut out or the cross is mis-kicked, that doesn’t show up anywhere in the stat sheet. Yet, it’s a hugely important situation. So that’s my explanation for why we are taking fewer shots, yet scoring more goals.

    1. I do agree with your observation about the type of shots Arsenal are taking. However, xG is accounting for these dragbacks. Expected Goals’ weakness is that it needs a team to take a lot of shots in order to generate high numbers. Basically, if you want an xG above 2, you really need 18+ shots. So, what’s happening with Arsenal is that they are scoring on a low number of shots. After they score, they generate fewer shots (which is normal) and thus xG is lower than aG.

      The opposite happened during the Leicester title season: Arsenal took more shots because we weren’t scoring. Thus we “underperformed” xG.

      What I worry about with Arsenal isn’t their ability to get shots, I think that’s fine. It’s the propensity for giving up chances that is bothering me. But that could ALSO be a property of scoring on relatively few chances. I’m not sure.

      1. The reason I say xG is not accounting for how dangerous these plays are is because not all of them result in shots, but even the ones that don’t are valuable because it COULD have resulted in a high quality chance. That’s my angle for right or for wrong… as I also argue in a response below.

        1. In a weird way it’s like scheming your way into an open 3 in the NBA or getting a receiver open in the NFL. Even if it doesn’t result in points or a reception because the shot misses or the receiver drops it, it was still the right play and more likely than not to add win expectancy. That’s how I view the Emery cutbacks. I can’t think of a more efficient way to create scoring opportunities when facing a low block in open play.

    2. And cutbacks from wide worked spectacularly well against Chelsea, especially first half. We should have been out of sight at halftime, and you could see that the break couldnt come soon enough for Sarri.

      And because of this, Hector Bellerin has become indispensable. And really shown that Licht isn’t anywhere near his level asa backup. If we lose Hector for any length of time, we lose a significant part of our attacking potency. In Bellerin, Emery has brought about one of his most startling improvements. Sadly, we havent seen that much of Nacho as yet, but we know that he has that in his game. Good signs from Kolasinac that he can bring that to the table. Iwobi’s been supplying that too,

      1. I’d also add that the way the cutbacks are being developed matters. We are seeing more inside to outside runs from midfielders which pull defenders wide. Then there is more space in the middle for the player who arrives for the cutback. It’s not just overlapping fullbacks and midfielders who were already wide and stayed wide.

  4. Just had a long comment disappear into moderation 🤦‍♂️

    The crux of it was that I believe we are taking different kinds of shots by focusing on playing from inside to outside and creating high leverage opportunities from cut backs. The number of cut backs doesn’t show up in shots or xG stats, but I believe they are hugely significant sources of goals, especially for this team. So that’s why I believe we are taking fewer shots, yet scoring more goals.

  5. Tim do you still have the big chance table and other stats of all teams that you displayed last season? If so where do you post them now? Thanks.

  6. I had to read the paragraph to my wife that went from Trump to Shaekspeare to taking the dog for a walk. She said
    “That guy ought to write a book.” I said he is. BTW – how is it going? Thanks for a nother great piece.
    Looks like it’s about quality over quantity this season. Give your strikers chances vs. setting up anyone and everyone. Get players in behind to cut back and create really good scoring opportunities. You would think that would drive better Xg, but that hasn’t really been the case so far, has it? Hmmm.

    1. I think it’s not showing up in xG because cutbacks don’t always result in shots. It’s like if you play a perfect through ball but the forward takes a heavy touch… you don’t see that in xG but everyone knows that was almost a goal. I think cut backs are like that. If the defender just about clears it, not a goal, not a shot, still, so close!

  7. Off topic, one of Liverpool, PSG and Napoli is dropping down to Europa. Probably Spurs and United too. We could, COULD have Arsenal, spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea and United — 5 of the EPL Top 6 — fighting for Emery’s favourite trophy. Interesting.

  8. Claude , I think your you’re over reacting there a bit pal.
    No one is rewriting Alexis ‘ history. It was clearly stated the period in question was the first half of the last season.

    Now if you want nuance I suppose it could be said Wenger was bending over backwards to accommodate Alexis for the sake of his signature on a new contract and therefore allowed things get out of hand a bit.

    Btw, accusing doc of lack of nuance is like accusing Trump of being too measured and thoughtful .
    Me on the other hand…… 🙂

    1. He had a three and a half year career at Arsenal!

      Doc has his hobby horses, and his untouchables. He does not very his opinions on either, whatever the facts.

    2. Tom, Alexis may well have ‘stunk out the place’ a few times before he left, but we didn’t exactly improve as a team without him. I get people singling him out because of their animosity towards the Chilean but too many refuse to acknowledge that the evidence of the rest of the season showed that Alexis alone was not our major malfunction.

      Besides, without him we were literally unable to win away from home (look at how many times Alexis was on the scoresheet during the first half of the season’s away games). So Claude is absolutely right to argue in his favour.

      Greg brought up Tim’s prophecy about how Arsenal fans would receive Alexis’ flaws – well, Guardiola had the same problem at Barca. After discovering all those flaws when playing him in his preferred attacking midfield position, he banished Alexis to a stricter more defined role on the right side of the forward line where his electric bursts would do most damage. Alexis responded with 19 league goals including an absolute screamer of a go-ahead goal in that iconic title-deciding game against Atletico Madrid. Only Diego Godin’s title-winning equaliser for Atleti robbed that goal of the prominence it deserves.

      Wenger knew the blueprint about how to deploy Alexis but towards the bitter end he probably veered towards over-relying on him and giving him too much freedom on the pitch. It was a tough dilemma for Wenger because as Claude rightly points out, Alexis’ form placed him in the top 5 European players the season prior. We also lacked an authoritative player/captain figure who could rein in his worst impulses, like what Mertesacker did for Ozil by calling him out on the Emirates pitch that time he didn’t want to walk over and acknowledge the fans after a defeat.

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