Pass, Pass, Pass Or Shoot At Sight – What Should Arsenal Do?

Gooners all over the world know that a common criticism of Wenger’s team is that they try to pass the ball into the net and over complicate matters. This was used even after the impressive win against City.

To be honest, I completely understand why some might feel that way about Arsenal. There were a couple of moments early in the second half when we passed the ball in and around the opposition penalty area when many expected, or should I say demanded, a strike on goal. I get it, it can be frustrating.

Before I go further, let’s look at a couple of facts.

  • Arsenal with 134, have the most shots on goal in the Premier League so far this season. Chelsea are second with 133 and no one else comes within 20 shots of that number.
  • Last season Arsenal scored the most number of League goals from outside the box. I’m writing this from memory so I might be wrong, but I think it was 18 goals.

These facts seem strong enough to refute the argument that Arsenal don’t shoot enough, or the subsidiary argument – don’t shoot from distance. Nevertheless, we all have seen moments in many games when we felt a shot was on but wasn’t taken.

Considering these thoughts, the truth seems to be somewhere in between in a gray area.

It’s not surprising. Football is a simple enough sport to watch but when we get down into the details it can get quite complex. Players have to make split second decisions and even the best don’t always get it right.

We can assume that most who play for Arsenal have the technique to shoot from distance so let’s leave that out for the time being. Inside or on the edge of the box, a player would have very little time to consider many factors.

The most important would be the angles available to him. When we see a player running into space we feel he has a clear shot. Often, a defender sees that and throws himself in front of the strike. On other occasions the defender is already there.

If you’ve played football you’ll know that having a man a couple of yards in front of you takes away a lot of shooting options because the chances of a block are very high. This is similar to the reason goalkeepers try to come a yard or so out of their line while defending a penalty, it narrows the angles and allows them to block a wider range of shots.

For instance, let’s look at the opportunity Chamakh created after winning a physical tussle with Boateng. When Cesc got the ball there was a defender in front of him and the Keeper was in a good position. If he’d taken a shot the chances of scoring would have been minimal.

Naturally, given the fact that Arsenal are a team that doesn’t like to give the ball away cheaply, Fabregas found Nasri on top of the box. In the above image it seems like Nasri is in a lot of space. But by the time he gets the ball, the defender has done a good job of closing him down.

Once again, chances of scoring with the defender right in front of him were quite low. The Frenchman created some space with a quick dummy and found Cesc who was now free. El Capitan did get his shot away but couldn’t quite get it right. It happens.

Similar analysis can be done for other situations as well.

To me the key here is that Arsenal don’t play a low percentage game. We are good enough to create clear chances. No team takes all their chances so sometimes it doesn’t come off. On other occasions the opposing defenders do well.

When it does come off we score amazing goals like we’ve been doing for years. If you think back to the three goals against City, you’ll notice that there was no defender between the ball/striker and the goal/goalkeeper for all three of our goals. This was quite evident in the goals by Nasri and Bendtner but even when Song got his shot away, the defenders were to the side and he had a clean sight of goal making it a high percentage chance.

Of course a team can have a different approach. Consider Carlos Tevez in the last game. He tried to shoot at our goal on two or three occasions. They were lame efforts from distance and didn’t really trouble Fabianski. In the end all he achieved was giving possession over to us. But that’s his style and he scores a lot of goals by doing that. Some would say he’s a striker and that’s his job.

The only problem is that such a striker often hogs the goal scoring charts but his teammates don’t get enough chances. It could happen that team ends up relying on such a striker and struggles when he is out of form or injured.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of a team’s philosophy and the choices made by players on a given day. We have Arshavin who does try his luck from distance quite often. It could be that the manager encourages him because he has the best technique as we’ve seen on countless occasions. In the same vein, it’s quite possible that Wenger wants players like Cesc and Nasri to control possession because they can do that even in tight areas and have the vision and talent to create better chances.

In conclusion, I’d say I understand why fans can get frustrated, there are times when I share that feeling. Commentators don’t help either as they belt out one cliché after another. But taking that frustration and making a theory that Arsenal don’t shoot enough seems a touch too harsh. Taking that theory and pretending that it is gospel, unduly criticizing players and the manager in the process, is naive and daft.

The game is played at a really fast pace and the players have to make difficult, instinctive choices. We should respect the fact that they are doing the best they can.

On an unrelated side note, how many noticed that Arsenal scored the third goal with 2 passes? Fabianski to Nasri to Bendtner and Goal!

46 Responses to Pass, Pass, Pass Or Shoot At Sight – What Should Arsenal Do?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Billy McBoney, EpiKnightz. EpiKnightz said: DesiGunner: Pass, Pass, Pass Or Shoot At Sight – What Should Arsenal Do?: Gooners all over the world know … #Arsenal […]

  2. damien says:

    The little bout of passturbation between Arshavin , Fab and Nas during the middle of second half caused me to nearly smash up the TV. I said god damn shoot it!

  3. HexyDre says:

    Insightful perspective as usual, I was discussing this with a fellow gooner earlier and he quoted the same stat you stated:

    “Last season Arsenal scored the most number of League goals from outside the box. I’m writing this from memory so I might be wrong, but I think it was 18 goals.”

    Actually, I have nothing to add right now if we truly have most shots at goal this season. Maybe it’s true bcos we create more ‘goal scoring chances’ than most teams, I still feel we need to take more shots despite the statistics.

    Cheers to a treble winning season!

  4. Raghugovind says:

    Nice article !!! Did clear some of my doubts !!! But I feel personally is that Arshavin and Chamakh should be given the free hand to go for goal . One reason being and I may be worng Arshavin gets a lot of power behind is shot and there may be a chance of the ball getting rebound and falling in favourable areas . As I said I may be worng !

  5. desigunner says:

    Unrelated but Hilarious quotes of Ian Holloway

  6. Jim says:

    Top article.

  7. aravindvr says:

    Nice one…
    but I still think our efficiency infront of the goal is far less.
    Whn we say we r top of the shooting charts, it doesnt mean tht we r more efficient in trying to score a goal.
    we create may be around 20 chances per game more thn wat Chelski or ManU create.
    When takin tht into account we are still lacking lethal shooting.

    And I do not agree with u on tht we need to shoot only when no defenders are in front of us or when we r sure tht we can beat the GoalKeeper.
    Most goals in Football comes from taking chances- having a go.

    Even the Arsenals style of football when many forward players attack together could create numerous opportuinities for a ‘rebound shots’.

    Anyone has a count on how many rebound goals the Legend Robert Pires scored for Arsenal?
    Against City, we saw Denilson having a go even when defenders r in front of him, moments like these could unsettle opposition defensive setup for few seconds and a Midfielder could pounce in to score from the resulting rebounds.

    I personally think Alevander Hleb brought with him this ‘no shoot mentality’ to the club and we have still much room for improvement on this front.

    And there r many like Rosckiy and Nasri and may be Arshavin who were long range experts during the time of joining the Club but got affected by the ‘Hleb disease’.

    Having said all these, this season is definetely an improvement upon the past few ones with Nasri,Rosc,Walcott,Arshavin,Cesc and Denilson-all attempting many shots from outside the box.
    It shows our players are growing and learning.So theres nothing much to worry about.

    • Jimmie says:

      What lacking is the curve ball that Pires, Henry, Ljunberg and Bergkamp really good at. rarely seen the curving ball and miss it. with that they can shoot outside the box with 2-3 opp blocking the area.

      • aravindvr says:

        yes u r right…thts one good observation…Since long havent seen anyone except Rosicky trying curlers in our current team.really missing tht too.
        but it depends more on players style and opportunities.

      • Jonathan says:

        Wilshere has definitely got it, hopefully he brings it with him in his progession as a footballer… Beautiful Curler at 1:18 ^^^^

        Another beauty ^^^
        Yes they are youtube videos but the talent is there…

    • Hong_gunner says:

      with the line in the below post saying it depends on the player style, its well summed up. but with the first part of first post, i would like to disagree. sorry.
      bobby is my one of the bests, but there won’t be another bobby and ljungbergs and henrys. that was one generation. now, the game has totally evolved, and thanks to wenger’s vision of the game, the game has stepped onto another level. our current team and their system has a different game approach than the invincibles. bobby and ljungberg were second to none in their roles. and the 03/04 season was when allmost all the players were at their peaks. atleast the attacking players. and lauren and cole had such telepathic understanding. if one attacked, the other stayed back. but this team if all about understanding on the flanks. nasri has been cutting in and doing his job so well, thanks to the fullback in sagna. he is solid at the back and makes logical runs whenever he goes forward. his crossing has improved than last seasons. not just for creating goals scoring chances every now and then, but atleast unrattling the defence a bit. this team plays on understanding and passing that is equivalent to breathing in footballing terms. but yea, as you say, we could take a few shots more often, but with Vermaelen back, we should be able to play an even better pressing game and play a few 2-3 one touch passes to get a few chances to have a go. but something was still missing, as can be seen in the picture above. that comes with confidence. for the moment, its absolutely vital that we take the stride and believe we can do it convincingly against West Ham this weekend. Arshavin and Clichy both are on form, we can’t mistake that. but their combination is not in any song at the moment. and thats one area other managers will like to target often. wenger has a few head aches over there. but we are pretty equipped on both flanks of the pitch with players returning. thats how multi dimensional and better technical ability as a team do we possess at the moment, may I say, even better than the invincibles. a win on saturday, and a lot of papers will be unwanting to write the fact Arsenal have bounced back after the shock at West Brom with 4 wins in a row. that will be a very good week.

      @ desi – I hear Vela may not be in the squad for the game at Newcastle. what has happened to Vela? may be a post about it from you, would be interesting to talk on. what do you thing, mate?

      • desigunner says:

        Arsene said Vela is back. Not sure what he means but that but I expect him to be in the squad.

        I think Vela is struggling to find a position at Arsenal. He doesn’t have the physical strength or the work rate to play down the middle and his defensive skills might prevent him from playing on the wings. Personally, I’d like to see him get some chances on the left.

      • Hong_gunner says:

        @ desi – well, yes, Wenger did say Vela is back, but i think he means to the first team. a little thing that worried me was when we were playing Birmingham and Shaktar, Vela wasn’t even on the bench. he was playing in the reserves game against West Ham, and may I say, he failed to show any sign over there that he deserves a first team place. I think tonight is a big big chance for Vela. one would wonder how many more chances he’ll get.

    • Jerry says:

      me thinks its Arsene wenger who changes player mentality not to shoot and take chances. remember arshavin used to shoot from far, its the manager.

  8. isutsa says:

    Good article.The passing is entertaining and shows the difference between arsenal and other premier league teams but if that is their culture then they should be accurate enough while on the offensive.That was shown during city game.Otherwise long range shots do result into Alex-chelsea

  9. kurt bento says:

    i think some players should just go for it, the strikers/forwards in particular. quite often, we ended up losing the ball in the box, in the last few matches. i would prefer someone taking a chance and winning a corner or atleast unsettling the defence.

    many bigger teams defend a lot deeper now when they play arsenal and we all know why. we’re known for trying to pass it into goal.

    having said that…i love the passing game we play… its always exciting to watch and that’s why i’ve supported arsenal for over a decade.

  10. macca says:

    134 shots on goal this season ? not a good ratio when we have only scored 21 goals !!!

  11. Kushagra India says:

    Interesting write up but I believe in big games we need to take our chances especially against Chelsea our reluctance to shoot cost us even a deflection can help or unsettle the defense .Stats paint a faulty picture because we create numerous chances more than any other team,agree with Aravindr

  12. Hong_gunner says:

    nice article. I’ve too heard a lot of people talk about Arsenal not shooting enough when the shot is there and so on. but believe me, its a different ball game when we’re watching it on tv/from the stands and when we are actually playing it. yes, they are professionals, but thats why arsenal can keep possession so effortlessly around the oppositions box for ages and ages. believe me, it takes a lot of team effort to keep possession in such a crowded area. I’ve seen the stats above, and its pretty close to telling the picture. but what I’m interested in is: how many times have we been hit on the counter/lost a large share of possession from the loose ball where we could have taken a shot but passed into a more better area? I don’t have any stats for it, but I believe not many. thats how well we keep possession in the opposition third and around their box. Nasri’s goal against City(the opener) is just an example. there was a little space for a shot, but Nasri pulled Barry and co towards the ball, played a little 1-2 with Arshavin and in the process Barry lost his man(Nasri) (which was a big mistake on his part imo). but thats the way we do it. we are an intelligent team and we don’t go on about shooting at goal whenever we go inside the box. thats the way we play it and will remain the same till wenger is at the helm.

  13. JAMES MUNGA says:

    passes should be made to draw the defenders off the line, when you commit them to come for the ball, they open up gaps for penetration, then we can get the beautiful goals. But, in a crowded defence,like when playing with Chelsea, pass the ball from our defenders through the midfield as they expect us to go into their box, they put all their deffenders into it, it becomes crowded you can not definetly pass the ball there, shoot from out side the box, chances are you might get a deflection and a goal. this willalso bring forth to defend the strikes, this then opens up the deffence for our passes to be possible. so for me, both passes and shootings should be made simulteneously.

  14. nicky says:

    I love the passing game……when it results in a goal or at least a shot. Have you all noticed that as we approach the opposition’s last 1/3, our passes get shorter and shorter, until our players reach the brick wall of their defence. We are gradually being sussed out and earlier shooting must be the answer.

    • desigunner says:

      I guess its natural that passes in the final third have to be short unless it’s a cross. That’s because the number of players to the given area ratio would be quite high meaning the spaces are at a premium.

  15. Tom opedun says:

    Good article,
    Many more goals would de scored if only chamaka is supplied with arial bolls in the box. He is the master in air may be better than croach

  16. Furovich says:

    Arsenal do try and walk the ball in sometimes but thats partly because they are good enough and like to destroy teams with brilliant goals. Mind you, this also seems to happen when The Arsenal are already 3 or so up.

  17. Phil23 says:

    I agree with many of the points made so far. I would not be completely swayed by those statistics. Having the most shots on target is more of a reflection of the huge volumes of possession we get imo. The other stat, 20 goals from outside the box (opta) was double the closest (Man City 10) also set a record since 2001 but it could be even longer than that. This is obviously a great stat but my reasoning for this is that we have such terrible wing play and crossing (17.49% the worst in the league last year). As we had such bad crossing we needed long shots as another threat so that we weren’t completely one dimensional. We are a bit different this year but for me our main problems in shooting are a) lack of confidence to shoot. b) some players lack of ability to shoot powerfully on target. c) players receive the ball stagnantly too often in and around the box, this is because it is the best way to control the ball so is the best way for retaining possession but when in and around the box players should be running on to the ball at pace for a first time shot. This means that the opposition has less time to react and causes fear in the defense. Also, as mentioned above (although I was thinking the exact same thing before I read the comment) shooting is a way to counter counter attacks as in most cases (if the ball is hit hard enough) the ball will either go out of play or most likely come back into play for second phase (as the keeper is less likely to catch the ball). Both of these situations are very important for our team. If we can do this as well as have more dangerous wing play we will be very very threatening this season. I have faith that by the Champions League Final we will be as feared as Barcelona partly because we will have an improved reputation but also because Barca are nowhere near the force they were against us last year. I’m sure that will change but I just have a feeling Barcelona will be eating some humble pie against us this season. We have survived a huge injury run in great fashion coming out of it with no players in bad form which I think is very rare for us in the last few years. Our keeper position has improved hugely. We have four center backs that are can play against any team in the world with their heads held high. Our wing backs create plenty of competition between them. Our midfield is the best in the world bar none imo, huge depth. Our attack is stronger than last year as well with the addition of Chamakh. All in all we have a hell of a season ahead of us!

    • MSL says:

      Great analysis Desi and Phil23. I agree with (c). The players when coming forward don’t come hoping to shoot and hence your positioning and movement are different and you end up with the ball where you can pass well and can’t really shoot. That said, we do get some chances where shooting is a great possibility and still players’ mentality or lack awareness leads to a pass.

      • Phil23 says:

        Thanks MSL, I read your comments often and agree with many of them! I’d just like to clarify a) and b) as they are not explained well at all. For me, the lack of confidence to shoot (note I didn’t put from long distance) is a collective thing and once the team gets on a solid run of form I think we’ll find we shoot more often. I agree with others that we should shoot INSIDE the box. If you don’t shoot inside the box you don’t score as many goals as you should. Having Chamakh up top is great and I love him but as he doesn’t shoot often, other players need to step up. About b), technically most of our players are good at shooting. I would exclude both our starting fullbacks from that list and this won’t go down well after his wonderful toe hack goal but Song is also not the best shooter technically either. When it comes to shooting with power though we have Arshavin, Van Persie, Bendtner, Rosicky and Vermaelen. That’s a long list but when you consider that only two or three of them are on the pitch at once we are light in that department. Especially when you consider that the players you would like to be good at shooting long range are your midfielders who get a lot of second phase opportunities because they are just outside the box. Wing backs are also extremely important because they are often the extra man and therefore have more chances to shoot. I’ll stop there or I’ll end up writing a few thousand words on our fullbacks.

  18. blazingooner says:

    Great article dude, youre getting better and better over time. I especially love these kind of articles, refreshing after the constantly rehashed midweek articles we’re used to seeing.

  19. critic says:

    other reasons could be that there aren’t enuff 3rd man runs to create spaces…..walcott is specialist in that..and we also lack fox in the box type of midfielder which will be at the right place at the right time, instead we see many midfielders making the same runs more often…

  20. durban_gun says:

    who remembers when we played liverpool 3 seasons back at home it ended 1-1 hleb could have smashed it in and won us the league ,he chose to trap the ball and lose the chance ….moral of the story is our decision making between passing and shooting tends to favour the passing most.its not that we dont shoot enough its just that we dont take our best shooting chances

  21. Ole Gunner says:

    Someone quipped on Twitter that even though the stats show that Arsenal have had the most shots on goal, that stat should be twice its number.

    There are many people, pundits and even fans who don’t actually watch the football unfolding before them, but instead deal in stereotypes and preconceptions.

    The notion that Arsenal try to walk the ball into the net was true, but that was way back in 06/07 and even then, the main culprit was Alex Hleb. Last season, our title challenge was sustained on shooting a lot and being clinical.

    However, this season Arsenal are back to not shooting enough. Especially in the last 3 or 4 games.

    In the example you show, Nasri should absolutely have shot. He was closed down, but he had enough time and ability to use the man closing him down to put the ball past the keeper.

    Let’s face it, Arsenal took the piss a bit with that chance and it was annoying that they didn’t score from that chance.

    • desigunner says:

      Completely agree with you about the problem of stereotypes and preconceived notions.

      I thought Nasri did a good job of finding Cesc in space. It’s a different matter that El Capitan’s technique let him down at a vital moment (something that happens to everyone and that’s one of the reasons scoring is so difficult).

  22. goonerpk says:

    great post..

  23. feygooner says:

    Great post. Bookmarked 😀

  24. drvics (mumbai gooner) says:

    Good analysis as always Desi.
    Like Phil23 I see a slight chink in the logic though.

    First, as many have have stated above, though we have the most number of shots on goal and the highest number of goals from distance, we arent exactly an ‘efficient’ scoring team because our goals to shots on target ratio wouldnt be better than Chelsea or even Man Utd (I am just taking an educated guess there, as both scored more goals last season, 103 and 86 respectively, to our 83). Hence the logic that we wait to get a ‘clearer’ shot on goal is wrong or it could mean that our players are inferior finishers to the other teams,to which I am sure none of us would agree.

    Also if it were possible to extrapolate possession in the opposition’d final third and the consequent shot on goals ratios, I am sure we wont be leading that table either (another educated guess).

    The reason for us not having as many shots on goal given by you is also valid. For is keeping the possession is not only a form of offence (to score goals) but also defense, as pointed out several times by Le Boss,”They cant score a goal if they dont have the ball”.

    But my grievance isnt that we dont shoot enough or that we dont shoot enough from outside the box. It is simply that we dont shoot even when that seems to be the best option, and let me add, this is several times when we are inside the opposition box. Take for example, the Birmingham game, a couple of weeks ago. In the 2nd half, Diaby steals the ball in the Blues half, shifts gears and races towards the opposition goal. We are basically 2 on 2, and Chamack cleverly leads one of the defender away from goal. Diaby is in the box and has a chance to take on the last defender, who is woefully off balance and struggling, and shoot.
    Instead he stops, drags the ball back and gives it to Chamack. Chamack too has the same options as diaby, though a smaller chance of success, but he waits, then gives the ball back to Diaby, and the opportunity is lost.

    Yes, I understand, the opportunity may not be as clear cut as it seems on the Tele and there are several considerations involved, but at the end of the day, to me it is a missed opportunity. The reason I think, is that the default brain setting for all our midfielders is to look for the pass. And when a split second decision has to be made, they reflexly go for the default.

    On the other end of the spectrum, we have Arshavin, who is more of a striker than a midfielder. We have complained on his ‘selfish’ nature to take a shot, even when he has an player open, several times in the last season. The same logic applies here. His default is to shoot if he thinks he can score, irrespective of the position of other players.

    So how do we change this for the better. Get other to choose to shoot more and Arshavin to shoot less (I’d prefer he’d shoot, btw). It can come only through practice and playing with each other day in day out. Also, it is very much a confidence thing. I remember a few seasons ago when Cesc wasnt getting too many goals, he too was reluctant to shoot. That changed last season when he started banging in goals for fun. The same goes for Nasri this season.

    • Jonathan says:

      You have to remember that we were missing RVP all of last season and he is prominently one of our goal poachers. Half of a chance presents itself and he will take the shot. Without a player of his calibre the team has to shift to tactics that suit the team best, hence Arsenal relied on alot of goals from our midfield. So how do u get the midfield to score goals? Simple, you have to wait until they get in a decent position, which is why we tend to use excessive passing and holding the other team hostage in their 18.

  25. WC says:

    The team should watch more Pires & Henry tapes. Neither player cared which defender was how close – they took the shot and scored a hell of alot of goals from distance. All it took was a moment to look up and if there’s daylight expect a shot on goal.

  26. desigunner says:

    Thanks to everyone for the compliments and comments. I see some interesting counter arguments here and will try to extend the discussion in another article as I have some other thoughts of my own as well. This seems to be a very debatable and thought provoking topic.

  27. […] Pass, Pass, Pass Or Shoot At Sight – What Should Arsenal Do? Gooners all over the world know that a common criticism of Wenger’s team is that they try to pass the ball into the […] […]

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