Is Manuel Pellegrini Getting A Raw Deal At Man City? + Premier League Round Up

Repeatability of metrics and genuine insight are the primary drivers for football analytics and the best work in the field is rigorously tested after the collation of long series of data. What we see happening in front of us week by week are just fragments of the greater storyline but it is always fascinating to go through the individual game data and this weekend's Premier League games have been a marvellous reminder of why one-game hard statistical analysis isn't really a thing.  The ultimate small sample, one game, can throw up many a quirk, as this weekend amply showed.

Saving Manuel

Huge excitement amongst us number watchers as the shot totals came in at half time in the Man City vs West Brom game.  Ten men for West Brom, 26 shots for Man City and it looked like they could possibly emulate and exceed their title winning match against QPR and shoot past 40 shots, beat the 44 recorded in that game and maybe even hit 50?  Such shot volumes are incredibly rare and even beyond the obvious skew caused by the sending off, that they recorded 43 shots is verging on the ridiculous.  They went super-hard for an hour and recorded 38 shots only to bring out the cigars and coast through the last half hour.  The easy dampening of City here just notes the sending off and gives them little credit for their dominant performance, (and in one of many ideas lifted from ice hockey there is a valid argument that only 11 v 11 statistics should be examined in analysis; the excellent Football in the clouds site records player data in such scenarios) but I'm more inclined to celebrate the statistic as it is and look at how Man City are now performing in comparison to the rest of the league:

city 201415


Plenty of media commentary appears to be suggesting that Manuel Pellegrini's job is under threat. Take this from er... Robbie Savage:

Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini could be sacked in the summer after their Champions League exit, says BBC football expert Robbie Savage. "I think Pellegrini's time will be up," says Savage. "Would Diego Simeone leave Atletico Madrid or Carlo Ancelotti leave Real Madrid? That's the kind of manager I would look at for City.”

Why not Guardiola, Robbie? Or maybe Alex Ferguson? But I digress.

Plenty more media commentary has had a quick look at the table and spotted how close Arsenal and Man Utd are to the top two and in particular City. They have then presumed that City's position in the top two is under threat and they are vulnerable to challengers.  The numbers just don't support this analysis.  The trouble for City is mainly in perception, which is of course functionally irrelevant.  Their season last year was so fluid and goal laden that any normal regression would look underwhelming.  That they have regressed yet still maintained huge shot dominance is actually impressive. Their shot ratios over this year and last are now almost identical and it has been their raw conversion that has fallen off.  No other team in the league approaches 8 shots and 3 shots on target over and above their opposition.  Their current record of 18-7-5 is only six points behind their comparative record from last year of 21-4-5 and whilst I could easily be wrong I will be surprised if the owners rescind Pellegrini's contract.  Certainly they shouldn't.  There is no Champions League heritage to protect, disappointment there has no prior measure of success and the team remains very talented and strong.

If I have any concern regarding Man City moving forward it is more centred around the playing squad and the long comfortable contracts that have been generated by FFP compliance.  There are two ways of looking at this: 1) that long term they are potentially demotivating and too comfortable for aging players or 2) there is a degree of loyalty in the higher echelons at City.  One suspects the former, but any shred of the latter could extend Pellegrini's stay.  Regardless, NYCFC may well have a hell of a side in a couple of years.  Mancini only went due to disagreements with key personnel both on pitch and off and the last coach to get sacked from one of the Premier League's mega-clubs after following up a hugely successful season with something less dominant was Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea.  I hope and think City won't make the same error.

Sunday away day

Three away wins on Sunday recorded by Chelsea, Man Utd and Everton and three more cracking examples of one game skew. Between them, the three teams scored seven goals from ten shots on target, which when compared to an realistic expectation of about three goals shows how pleasant a trip each team had.

The Hull v Chelsea game was particularly interesting as after a quick start the half ended at two a-piece and the shots stat were 14-3 in Hull's favour, something which bore no resemblance to anything we've seen from Hull all season.  The Courtois triple save upped the Hull on target shot count to eight, equal to Chelsea's total shot count and us number watchers were left scratching our heads as to how Chelsea managed to limp over the line. You couldn't even blame score effects, as little happened between 2-0 and 2-2 and once again we wonder if Chelsea are tiring.  Their cushion is significant and necessary but it is worth noting that they suffered a similar dip at this point last year and it cost them any chance of the title.  They should have enough to repel challengers but many more moderate efforts such as this could see dropped points and raised eyebrows.

Man Utd v Liverpool

Juan Mata has once more set about his annual task of winning over a manager and made a decent fist of it in this match with two quality finishes.  The stat angle on this one was once more that it was a shot freak; this time tying the season low of 13 shots in a game (with Chelsea v Man City).  And what we can quickly notice here is that both games involve top four challengers.  A quick calculation shows that matches involving top four contenders average around 11.6 shots per team per game, which is low compared to a league average of 12.8.  All that makes a deal of sense, shot counts are likely to get bloated against worse teams and the top seven includes teams managed by Koeman, Van Gaal and Mourinho, each of whom appears to value pragmatism over shooting affluence.

So, for Man Utd: six shots, four on target, including the penalty and two goals.  As we saw last week, Van Gaal appears to do a good line in efficiency in shooting and they shut down Liverpool almost entirely even before the disparity in player numbers, much as they had Tottenham last week.  There was always the possibility that Utd could gel at some point and impress and these two recent wins certainly indicate that they may well have arrived.

For Liverpool, I will always object to the use of Raheem Sterling on the right flank and as expected, his influence was negligible from that position.

Obligatory Tottenham bit

There may well be pragmatism in other teams near the top of the table but it's been in precious supply at Tottenham as witnessed by their thrilling, rollercoaster display against Leicester.  I say “thrilling and rollercoaster” when I could quite easily go for “bewildering and chancy” as the easy concession of multiple goals now means Tottenham have conceded more than Sunderland, Villa, Hull, West Brom, Everton, Palace and every other team outside the relegation zone bar Newcastle and are one short of matching Southampton's full year total of 46 from last season.

So that is a concern.

In an attempt to mask and ignore these issues, I shall once more celebrate Harry Kane who co-leads the traditional goal charts with Diego Costa.  His Non-Penalty Goal rate is still excellent but only ranks 4th in comparison to the other sharp shooters (minimum 10 NPG):


Those boys at the top are running especially hot and Olivier Giroud is the most lethal striker in the league.

Oh my days.


Thanks for reading! Find me on twitter here: @jair1970

Tracking Romelu Lukaku's Progress

A few years ago I sat in the stands at CenturyLink field in Seattle to watch a meaningless friendly between Seattle Sounders and Chelsea. These MLS friendlies against European teams on preseason tours amount to little more than exercises in marketing, and really, that game was no different. The Sounders got beaten 4-2 by a mix of Chelsea’s youth team players and big names trying not to pull any muscles. Every once in a while, though, there were glaring reminders of the gap in quality between the two sides. On that occasion, a lot of those reminders happened to come from Romelu Lukaku. Lukaku and his game both seemed larger than life as he bodied MLS starting center backs to the tune of two goals in 63 minutes and then left the field when it felt like he was just getting started. Obviously the stage of the performance warranted more than a grain of salt, but he gave the impression that he was something out of the ordinary. Fast forward to 2015, and Lukaku has strung together two consecutive 15 goal seasons in the Premier League, been to the World Cup, sold for 35 million Euro and is now leading the line for Everton. Though he's certainly hit some highs over the last two years, this year has gone less smoothly. With Everton struggling and Lukaku bearing a greater attacking burden, he has produced only 7 goals so far, down to 0.28 NPG90 from 0.53 last year. He's come under some considerable scrutiny for his play this year, and people are now praising Jose Mourinho’s genius for letting him leave Chelsea and banking the transfer fee. But before we label Everton’s record signing a flop less than a year on, it's worth wondering whether this criticism is warranted, and what is responsible for Lukaku's dip in form. Separate entirely from Lukaku's own performances, consider how much has changed around him at Everton. Last season, nearly 80% of Everton's midfield minutes were played by Ross Barkley, Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Leon Osman, and Kevin Mirallas. This year, injuries have hampered Barkley, McCarthy, and Osman to varying extents. Osman has ceded minutes to the inconsistent Muhamed Besic and while Mirallas is still contributing, Everton have struggled to find a consistent option on the other wing, where Gerard Deulofeu caught on last year. This season has left Lukaku playing in front of a midfield in flux, whose performance isn’t matching the level it reached last year, and whose inconsistency has forced him to change roles depending on the circumstances. He also suffers from the same affliction as Mesut Ozil: a large price tag. Similar to Ozil, Lukaku’s performances have been colored by the expectations of supporters eager for constant brilliance now that their club has finally paid for a star. While Everton’s struggles as a team have contributed to Lukaku’s dip in performance, Lukaku has certainly dealt with his own drop in form. Last year, Lukaku’s conversion rate of 14.9% put him in the 83rd percentile among 178 forwards and midfielders who played at least 900 minutes. This year he’s converting only 8.6% percent of his shots, which would have put him squarely in the 50th percentile last year. On the other hand, his rate of shots on target has dropped by only four percentage points, suggesting that his conversion dropoff might be the result of some bad luck. We can examine this in a little more detail by mapping Lukaku’s shot locations. lukaku1314 lukaku1415     This is something that I and other writers on the site have used to break down in detail the shooting performance of a player or a team. In Lukaku’s case, it becomes abundantly clear that his goalscoring form from last year relied on shooting often and precisely from inside the box. Indeed, all 15 of his Premier League goals came from within the penalty area. This year, however, his shot volume is down from dangerous areas, and more of his shots come from the right side, where he’s more likely to be shooting on his weaker foot. His on target rate from these areas has also suffered. This seems to indicate that Lukaku’s struggles run a bit deeper than just bad luck in the form of regression to the mean. While this trend isn’t encouraging, it looks a little different in the context of Everton’s shooting as a team. everton1314 everton1415 Lukaku’s own shot charts mimic those of Everton, whose accuracy and volume from within the penalty area has dropped off this year. Viewed in this context, Lukaku seems to be suffering more from Everton’s attacking dysfunction as a team than an individual inability to generate and finish chances. Romelu Lukaku may not be on fire the way he was last season, but his teammates aren’t helping, and he may take some time to settle into a full-time role as the top striker at a Premier League club. Though some of Lukaku’s struggles are real, panicking about his development now seems very premature. He’s shown flashes where he looks impossible to stop, and his recent Europa League performance rightfully drew a comparison to Marshawn Lynch. It’s easy to forget in the midst of his third season seeing significant minutes in the league, but Lukaku only turns 22 in May. I’m confident that the best is yet to come.

Man Utd's Defence Under Van Gaal: Lucky, Good Or Neither? + Premier League Round Up

The desire to write properly about Tim Sherwood runs strong but will have to wait for a sufficient sample.  For now, we can note that the 4 goal first half salvo against Sunderland has single-handedly lifted their seasonal raw conversion rate (goals to shots) above 6%, a rate which is no longer cut adrift as historically terrible and is merely very bad.  I can speculate that a little attacking intent can go a long way at the bottom of this league, and that may well be enough to garnish enough points, but I suspect that an in-form good team may be able to exploit Tim's functional 4-4-2.  These three points so kindly donated by Gus Poyet were clearly vital given that Villa look as though they will struggle to get another away point this season: trips to Utd, Tottenham, City and Southampton await and their survival will likely be determined at Villa Park.

Man Utd's defence
It's interesting to note that in the nascent world of football analytics, we often see counter-narratives growing alongside traditional reactive media or in-game views in relation to the successes or performances of any given team.  This season has seen the marvellous dichotomy between Villa's early successes, subsequent contractual beano and the underlying structural statistical truths that pointed out, quite vividly, that retained success was something of an unlikely longshot.  We can also point to one game, a huge outlier amongst Man Utd's season, their 3-5 defeat to Leicester as a game pivotal to both teams' wider perception.

It seemed feasible at the time to presume that Leicester were coping well with life in the top division, but just as with Villa, the stats told a different story: they were conceding heroically large quantities of shots and had scored nine of 16 shots on target, an unsustainable figure that sure enough did not sustain. Subsequently, they have plodded, rarely been destroyed, yet picked up two wins in 23 games.  Leicester are simply not very good, they never were very good and sadly for them the Championship beckons.

What that game did for Man Utd was reinforce a wide view that they were suspect defensively.  After shipping out a trio of veteran club legends in the summer and making interesting but not entirely convincing replacement signings, they were handicapped by a slew of injuries and Van Gaal's desire to tweak formations. And this game showed a clear storyline: they were vulnerable.  Never mind that they were down a man or that for a team to score from all five of its recorded shots on target was an extremely rare feat, Man Utd were dodgy at the back.

As autumn drew on, a new narrative emerged from the number watchers. Utd, by now having strung a series of decent results together could primarily thank the efforts of one man, their goalkeeper, David De Gea.  His Save Percentage was extremely high, and indeed has remained extremely high, as we can see here:

man utd save percentage

De Gea's year long save rate is around seven percent above league average which loosely translates to about eight goals.  Liberally sprinkle an extra eight goals conceded around their fixtures and their season might look all a bit Moyes. (Last season the rate was 71%, lesser but indicating other issues at play).

So here we are: they have rarely looked convincing, there's sufficient reason to think that their current position is flattering yet they continue to post largely good results and are bizarrely two points behind Man City.

Obviously the eight extra goals never arrived and because of that Man Utd's defense has some pretty impressive numbers aligned to it. Here's a thing: based on a sample of 1200 Premier League games in which either team conceded two goals, the average expected points from a team conceding two goals is about half a point per game.  Half a point a game will get you relegated pretty quickly so conceding two goals or more in any given game is an extremely bad idea. Man Utd tie the league lead with only four matches in which they've conceded two or more goals: the five against Leicester, two against West Brom in a 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns and both 1-2 defeats against Swansea:

2plus frequency

Against the better teams in the league, their record is quite remarkable, they have not once conceded two goals:

utd v rivals

They're just lucky? Hmm... Not so sure.  Overall they've conceded less than a goal a game; a feat that Van Gaal has achieved in the vast majority of his seasons in management.  Sure, he's been in charge of clubs that were powerful within their leagues, but it implies that limiting the opposition is a key tenet to his work.  In fact, as a bit of a curio, there are interesting parallels with the last time he took control of a giant club: his tenure at Bayern Munich that started in 2009-10.

Both in that season and this, his team started quite slowly, Bayern were 5-6-2 compared with Man Utd's 6-4-3, then followed it up with a strong run: Bayern 12-2-2, Man Utd 10-4-2. Other similarities are here: bayern utd And that year, Bayern only conceded two or more goals on five occasions... We're down the rabbit hole here!

It has been well reported that Van Gaal's methods are extremely prescriptive and team-orientated, so it should come as no surprise that aspects of his statistical map are replicated. What i'm trying to show is that beyond the unsustainable high save percentage, there seems to be a strong system that is designed to effect defensive solidity, and it's working.  Chelsea and Southampton have been the obviously strong defenses throughout this season, but Van Gaal has managed to install a formidable defensive base.  If only he could get his attack functioning too.

Obligatory Tottenham Capitulation

And he did! Tottenham's kind efforts to rehabilitate the unwanted stars of rivals teams continued apace, as weeks after giving Mario Balotelli a shining moment, Marouane Fellaini surprised the world by sprinting clear of the Spurs defense and finishing handsomely with his wrong foot.  A Michael Carrick header and a Gascoigne-esque bundling run from Rooney added to the one-in-a-million nature of the game's goals and Tottenham left with barely a whimper from their inexperienced line-up.

Esteemed fellow Statsbomb stalwart Colin Trainor had earlier in the week flagged this match up as an intriguing battle of the hard press:

What actually occurred was somewhat typical when compared with other teams that have been unwilling to let Tottenham play their own game.  Man Utd's hard press was extremely effective and once more the central midfield position looked most vulnerable, as horribly exemplified by the Rooney goal.  I'm still happy to forgive Bentaleb for reasons of age and general competence but dearly desire an upgrade on Mason, especially when factored against Morgan Schneiderlin's continued quality in the heart of Southampton's team.  Certainly Man Utd clicked, and whilst he may never be a Van Gaal 'type' player, it was disheartening to see Juan Mata line up; he's had many a good game against Tottenham over the years. Meanwhile, concerns about rotation and tiredness were probably valid.  Sadly, but inevitably, this appears to the the end of the road for this season and the team is actually three points behind the Villas Boas/Sherwood train wreck from last year.

Progress?  I would say so, but more in terms of the distant future.  The usual blend of tricky sales and hopefully choice recruitment is once again required this summer and whilst i'm generally positive, there is the nagging feeling that Tottenham look more like Southampton these days than Southampton themselves.

Thanks for reading!

Everton In A Hole, Carver At Newcastle, Tottenham Learn To Shoot: Premier League Round Up

An interesting week for Everton with their chairman Dave Whelan stepping down and handing over the reins to his 23 year old grandson.  Sadly, they were unable to find a win away from the DW Stadium and a 0-2 defeat to Stoke leaves them teetering on the edge of the “battle to avoid relegation” precipice.  Roberto Martinez has been loyal to Wigarton and despite some rank awful defeats, larger clubs such as Evergan will surely come a-knocking in the summer. But seriously! It is getting a little desperate for Everton.  They've only just gained enough points to presume full blown panic to be premature but the recent numbers are quite grim.  A month or so back, it looked like they were on the road to recovery as they went three games without conceding and picked up 6 points in 4 games, but one point in 4 ties since (and that was at home against Leicester) and we're back wondering who the heck are that team cutting a swathe through the Europa League? everton stats I've highlighted the particular horror. As we can see, they weren't great to start with, special notice can be drawn to their concession of goals at a very high rate (13%) but they were outshooting the opposition and scoring at a similar rate themselves. The 3-6 Chelsea defeat was notable but could maybe be categorized as a one off against a hot team. 18 points from 14 games was a bit disappointing, especially given last season's efforts. The real issue though is with what has happened since. To start, the rolling shots totals have reached a nadir: everton chart Everton have failed to find the net on ten occasions this season. Nine of these have occurred in the last 14 games. Their raw conversion rate in this period is down at 6%, which is so bad that it's within handshake distance of Aston Villa, their shot ratios have fallen down below par and their Finishing +/- (PDO) is low, has been low all year and is getting worse.  I have noted this before but the team that most consistently posted Finishing +/- scores this bad on a consistent basis was Wigan under Martinez.  They survived on more than one occasion despite handicapping themselves on the numbers year after year but as weeks go by and Everton fail to pick up points or score with any regularity, it seems more and more clear that there is something in Martinez' tactical make-up that causes his teams to do the opposite that say, a Tony Pulis team might.  Pulis teams always look rubbish in the stats, yet pick up average points totals.  Martinez teams usually look okay under the hood, but the goals, wins and points don't necessarily follow. Newcastle under Carver Nine games in and I thought i'd have a quick look at John Carver's numbers at Newcastle. A seemingly convenient appointment upon the swift departure of Alan Pardew, there were valid concerns as to whether Carver had sufficient nous or clout to helm the club. Upon being thoroughly trounced by Man City, such concerns appeared valid but they returned with a close fought win over Villa and were arguably unfortunate to collectively gift Man Utd the win just earlier tonight.  Here's a few background numbers: carver The obvious problem for Carver, a horrid 16% goals to shots conceded rate, is unlikely to persist long term but could do with shaping up quickly.  His Finishing +/- is not good but has improved / regressed from Pardew's time and Newcastle are still taking a marginally above par rate of shots.  A big 8% drop in shots on target is a red flag of sorts and will need remedying if Newcastle are to do anything other than meander through to May.  Nine points in nine games is not great, in fact it's pretty bad, but the Pardew era left Newcastle comfortably mid-table and pressure is unlikely to be exerted too heavily before tough (read: expensive) boardroom decisions are made in the summer. Personally, i'd hire a decorated, progressive or talented coach but the wider motivations in play at Newcastle may preclude such a move. Obligatory Tottenham Bit After the shrewd removal of the Europa League from the forthcoming schedule and a frustrating yet somewhat inevitable Capitol One Cup defeat, a home game against Swansea was probably about as favourable a match as you could find to try and regain some kind of thread. Andros Townsend scored and it wasn't a penalty; his goal was more Bale than baloney. Ryan Mason did too to thankfully remove the 'next Andros Townsend' tag he was seemingly earning for his high, wide and handsome back catalogue. But more to the point, Tottenham are slowly doing better things on the pitch, and when I say “doing better” I mean “shooting” and when I say “things” I mean “a lot”. This has been a recurrent criticism of Pochettino's reign: the shooting numbers have been consistently average. At home, shooting has staged a resurgence!  In the last 7 home games, Tottenham have shot over 20 times on 5 occasions, the other matches being the 0-0 against Utd and the 5-3 Chelsea game.  In this period they've won five and drawn two.  Twenty shots a game is Villas Boas territory and highly pleasing for the casual stats fan.  Sure, they're still conceding a) too many chances and b) too many goals and their away form has looked less impressive but with a clear run (yay!) and a game a week between here and May, they've at least given themselves a slim chance.  And slim is better than none. Breaking down Finishing +/- (PDO) As a quick curio, I've compiled a table that breaks down the value of Finishing +/- into the goals for or against expected against what has been actually achieved.  This is interesting because it tells us whether the attack or defense has been powering over or under-performance and by converting it into goals, hopefully, i've given a degree of clarity as to value of the level of performance. variation sot epl

  • Man Utd have benefited at both ends of the pitch, they've scored more than projected and De Gea has saved more than expected. They are running very hot.
  • Man City's advantage is entirely borne from their attack.
  • Everton and Newcastle have suffered defensive misery.
  • Aston Villa's problems are entirely offense based.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Thanks for reading! Find me at:  jair1970  

Arsenal, Score Effects And A Season Of Two Halves

Arsenal have been one of the more intriguing teams in the Premier League this season. Sequences of results appear at odds with their underlying numbers, which for the most part have appeared impressive, and we enter March with them in a familiar position- not good enough to make a title challenge but heading the chasing pack and seeming a likely bet to maintain top 4.  The method in which they have acquired this status couldn't be more different to that which powered their 2013-14 run.  My interest in this notion was sparked by the significant drop off in their recent shot totals and a desire to find out “why?”.  Let's see what we can find out. 2013-14 Over the course of a number of years, and at least since the advent of the super-rich clubs, Arsenal have been a solid, top 4 standard dominant shots team.  Last season, by their own standards was a weird outlier and their shooting numbers were in amongst the chasers, the 5th to 8th brigade, with the eventual top three clear.  This demarcation is well represented by looking at the “+/- shots on target” stat: epl2013 sot That they came out of this with a comfortable 4th place was testament to the remarkable start they had to the season and the method here will inform our analysis of 2014-15.  At the start of 2013-14. Arsenal won 8 of their first 10 games (and 11 of the first 15) but most interesting was how they managed to do it. In those first 15 games, they took the lead in 13. That taking the lead would have a strong correlation to winning a match is no revelation but what's important here is the time of the first goal: ten of the 15 matches featured an Arsenal goal within the first half hour.  As such, Arsenal spent a significant proportion of their game-time in the early season ahead. The knock on effect from this (as has been shown by Benjamin Pugsley, Sander @11Tegen11 and more recently Garry Gelade) is fundamentally intuitive if you think about the sole purpose of a football match: to win.  Once a potentially winning state has been achieved, the onus of each team changes; the leading team is less inclined to attack and therefore shoots less often and the converse is true for the trailing team.  In isolation this scenario can have an impact on the nature of results, other things can too.  Things such as conversion rates: arse early conversion Not only were Arsenal taking the lead quickly and regularly, the opposition were finishing at a progressively woeful rate.  So within 15 games we had a huge skew that informed the rest of the season.  All of this masked a deficiency to compete at the very top of the table, a gap that became vividly clear in subsequent heavy defeats at the hands of the Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City.  At that point Arsenal were nominally in the hunt for the title, as the season wore on , and in no small part hindered by injuries, they regressed to what was probably their true level: the back-end of the top 4 race.  Indeed in the remaining 23 fixtures, they only took the lead within half an hour in 4 matches and team conversion levels fluctuated sharply in both directions.  Overall the seasonal stats were clear: this Arsenal team had significantly overachieved against expectations derived from their shot statistics.  They had also spent very little time under any threat from teams beneath them. Only a strong late run from Everton gave cause for concern and eventually they petered out.  The battle for the top 4 never came to fruition and Champions League qualification become a formality, with a series of late season wins. So what's this got to do with this season? 2014-15 For much of the early season and through into autumn, Arsenal's results to underlying stats were the opposite to last season.  They shot like contenders and repressed the opposition at an impressive rate.  But the kicker was in the mixed results.  In recent weeks, however, the opposite has been true.  In particular, since being thoroughly outperformed yet drawing against Liverpool, their shot numbers have become decidedly par, yet results have improved.  Initially, I set about writing this as a warning to Arsenal's long term prospects; they seemed to be declining as the season went by: arse shpergame So straight away we have a storyline: first 13 games, title contending shot numbers but only 1.54 points per game (PPG), a rate which isn't even going to qualify a team for the Europa League.  Since then, negative total shot numbers but 2.15 PPG.  That's a top 2 points rate and bottom half shot numbers.  As a visual aid, I can show the rolling 5 game numbers and it looks decidedly and progressively worse: arse shot graph Not good, right?  Moving in the wrong direction.  Warning signs?  Well: yes and no.  Obviously it is preferable to have a title challenging shot profile but when you're winning matches and other aspects of play are coming to the fore, is it less important?  Having spent a deal of time pulling out shot totals at given game states for Arsenal's season, I'm in a position to observe what has been going on beyond the raw shot totals.  And it's revealing. At a tied game state, Arsenal post excellent shot totals, basically a 2:1 ratio. Going further in we can learn a few more things: arse nilnil At 0-0 in particular Arsenal are extremely solid, they restrict the opposition and take a lot of shots themselves.  However, in looking at the two halves of the season, there is a substantial reduction in the time of the first goal (39 minutes to 27).  As we can see in the first part of the season, Arsenal only scored the first goal in 6 out of 13 games, so, not only did the first goal of the game take longer to arrive, they were also regularly faced with a deficit. Each of these aspects seems to lend itself towards higher shot rates.  Because they were now struggling to obtain leading positions, they were obligated to attack more, either to obtain a lead, or to recover from being behind. This is the opposite scenario to the start of their 2013-14 season. Latterly, they have taken the lead in 10/13 games and have scored a number of early goals.  This is very reminiscent of early 2013-14 and their seemingly mediocre shot totals follow this blueprint.  In those most recent 13 games, they have spent only around 120 minutes in a losing position in comparison to nearly 300 minutes prior.  They have also spent over 600 minutes leading or rather in the position in which they will aim to end the game.  This is over treble the total from the first 13 games.  Where have Arsenal's shots gone?  They simply have no need to take them at the rate they would if level or behind. So what we can see here is that beyond the raw shot totals we have found nuance in the 'score effects'.  The generally sub-par recent shot totals are only one window into the whole shape of the team's shooting performance.  Is anything else informing the storyline? Conversion To say Arsenal's opposition conversion rates were verging on the fortunate in the early months of the season would be something of an understatement: arse conv Here we can see that throughout the season Arsenal have been fluctuating around league average with regard their own shot conversion. In contrast, and something that must be factored into their moderate early form, their opposition have spent the entire year converting at well above league average rate.  That they have now managed to bring that rate down to around league average will have had a significant impact in powering their recent better form. Other issues Big games There are still problems with Arsenal's results in games with their rivals for the top 4 and Chelsea and City. Their pragmatic hit-and-run victory at the Etihad and a dominant win over Southampton are the only two wins in nine such fixtures and whilst in the first 5 of these fixtures they weren't out shot, the more recent big games have been characterised by poor shooting performances. Again the Liverpool game appears a watershed, being outshot 7 to 27 was both very good by Liverpool and pretty abject from Arsenal. Similar shot totals were recorded in the defeat at Tottenham (7 to 23). In Arsenal's defence, each match involved a long spell of leading but that they were ultimately unable to repel the opposition and dropped points suggests that there are still personnel and tactical issues that are required to be looked at before Arsenal can ever consider challenging for the top two places in the league. Recruitment The huge signings of first Ozil and then Sanchez were rightly envied by the rest of the league. Sanchez is already one of the best players in the league: his shot contribution of 6.2 per/90 and his goal contribution of 0.95 per 90 (0.60 Goals + 0.35 Assists) are extremely high and he's a worthy contender for Player of the Year.  With quietly Ozil's goal contribution levels not too far behind (c. 0.80 per/90), and despite a lot of criticism for him, there are two bonafide world class talents scheming in Arsenal's attack.  With able assistance all around the attacking midfield positions and Welbeck coming in to provide solidity, if not too many goals (c.0.4 goal contribution per/90), as an alternative to Giroud, the attack seems pretty well set. Finally signing Gabriel, albeit 6 months late, should give some kind of respite to Mertesacker, who appears to have suffered a World Cup hangover and adds long required depth.  As ever there are question marks around the lack of a dominant central midfielder with the talents of an aging Arteta, functional Flamini and now Coquelin not seeming to be long term solutions. It is rarely a positive reflection of the goalkeeping situation when cloudiness appears around the first choice role either. Prospects Having climbed to third, and now within sight of Man City's wing mirrors, Arsenal can feel relatively confident that they can repel challengers beneath them.  Throughout this season, i've had them projecting to be the 3rd or 4th best team in the division and I can represent this here via Shots on Target: arse goal diff In truth I could have used any one of four or five metrics to represent this.  We're not looking at shot locations here but as an approximation of how teams have performed over the course of the season, it's an interesting tool.  The inadequacies or otherwise of a few other teams can also be seen here. It also shows that where last season there were 3 superior teams and 5 chasers, this year we have probably 5 'better' teams with the top two clear of the others.  Man Utd and Tottenham have exceeded expectations across underlying metrics and it would require a significant improvement, a further increase in already good fortune or maybe an act of God for them to secure a top 4 slot. Personally, I suspect the top 4 of 2013-14 will claw their way back to the top.  I posited some while ago that Brendan Rodgers had a talent for improving his team throughout a season, and whilst it has required an unorthodox formation for him to extract the best from his squad, I feel their rise through the league is unsurprising and likely to succeed. After that, a possible battle between Southampton, Man Utd and Tottenham to avoid qualifying for the Europa League should be fascinating. Final thoughts As someone who regularly writes content based around shot metrics, it may seem counter productive to add in an extra layer of analysis that may or may not undermine simple conclusions that can be gained from shooting numbers.  But the more I poke around the numbers generated by the league, the more I realise that the storylines that can be read from them are more nuanced than may initially appear.  This season's Arsenal team are an ideal case to represent ideas around score effects in a hopefully accessible manner and show that simple biases are generated purely by how long a team exists within a specific game state and the scoring structure of a game.   Thanks for reading.   ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~   Apologies for the lack of a round up column this week, you get this instead! A small consequence cup final has prevented my Premier League data from being complete. Let us hope order is restored soon. 😉