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!