How The Numbers Lie
After 29 Premier League encounters, Arsenal has scored 55 goals. In last season’s campaign, Arsenal bagged 58 at the same point in the fixture calendar. We aren’t missing Van Persie’s goals – says the holder of a glass half filled. I’m not that guy.
Perhaps I am guilty of not letting go. To be honest, I most definitely am. As far as I see it, a finisher of Van Persie’s distinction would – for starters – have won us two extra points against Sunderland on August 18, 2012. And then – perhaps – many more.
Just as well, someone of the Dutchman’s caliber would have most likely edged us into the lead when we met Chelsea and Tottenham at Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane respectively. No disrespect to Olivier Giroud but in both games he fluffed glaring opportunities to put Arsenal ahead. Those are the kinds of moments that turn matches.
Lastly, I know Arsenal fans don’t want to think about this but do you remember Gervinho’s toe poke against Bradford?
It’s said that numbers don’t lie. But everyone knows that the narrative can be altered dramatically if the same facts are presented and rewritten in a different format. So here are a couple instances of how flakey the statistics can be.
New Statistic: In five of Arsenal’s 29 games – Southampton (H), Tottenham (H), Newcastle (H), West Ham (H) and Reading (A) – Arsenal tallied 28 goals. Arsenal has therefore scored 27 goals in their other 24 matches. New narrative: For the majority of their fixtures (83% of them) the team’s scoring rate has been unimpressive 1.13 per match. All but 6 teams in the Premier League are more prolific.
New Statistic: Arsenal has been shut out in 6 games this season. To put it another way, the team has been unable to hit the back of the net in 21 percent of its league games. New narrative: That’s already more blanks than they drew last season, and you have to go back to 2008/09 to find a campaign in which they’ve failed to breach the opposition defense on more occasions.
I don’t think I need to find any more examples to make my point. The proof is in how you make the pudding. We tend to live and die by the numbers and use the absolute counts of goals and assists to drive home our arguments. But like any field of study, football media often places the opinion before the numbers and the fact checkers are guilty of [deliberate] selection bias.
The quantitative evidence provided by our total goals scored suggests that Arsenal – as an attacking force – has been about as efficient as it was last season. A deeper dive and some of the qualitative factors reveal that there are many games in which our attack has been found wanting.
Why are we satisfied with bench marking against last season anyway? We finished a distant third. Whether we’re doing as well as we did last year shouldn’t negate the opinion that our scoring needs to improve.