Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Stats Do Not Lie; Arsenal Have to Match United's Accuracy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Stats Do Not Lie; Arsenal Have to Match United's Accuracy

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID MELLOR

I'M a member of the lies, damned lies and statistics tendency, but I've got to admit the Carling Opta Football Year Book (Carlton [pound]18.99) does make absorbing reading. And vindicates the decision of my Standard Sport colleagues to encourage this process when it was little more than a gleam in its founder's eye.

Opta stats can't tell you whether Manchester United will win the Premiership yet again. They do however make clear what the challengers have to do to make a better fist of it next time.

Arsenal had more shots on target than Manchester United (267 against 246), and a higher proportion of their shots hit the target, but when United hit it, it stayed hit far more often than the Gunners.

United converted 14 per cent of their shots into goals, Arsenal a mere 11.7 per cent, and that in a nutshell is why they finished second.

Arsenal's key striker, Thierry Henry, did score 17 goals in the Premier-ship, but a closer analysis shows he squandered too many chances. His ability to convert shots into goals at 14 per cent was equivalent to United's average.

Most strikers of his ability did better. Premiership top-scorer Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, for instance, converted 20 per cent of his shooting opportunities, while newcomers Robbie Keane and Eidur Gud-johnsen converted one in three of theirs. If managers take any notice of this stuff we should be seeing more of them next season.

Arsenal lack a dead-ball specialist, something I pointed out without the benefit of statistics, as they squandered chances in their European run. But Opta proves it. United scored 18 goals from outside the box, five of them David Beckham dead-ball specials. Leeds, via Ian Harte, got six of their 13 in the same way.

Arsenal scored only nine outside the penalty area, none of them from set-pieces. Has that been rectified?

No. For a good footballing team the Gunners are also surprisingly slack at accurate crossing. For two of the last three seasons they have been bottom of the entire Premiership in that department, and were bottom of the headed goals league for the third time running as well.

Gooners have just got to hope Francis Jeffers can mature quickly into the "fox in the box" so desperately needed at Highbury. Last season one in five of his shots were converted, but since he only started 10 games and scored only six times, the evidence is thin. However, if anyone doubted whether it was worth keeping Patrick Vieira, these stats vindicate the decision triumphantly.

He was Arsenal's best passer of the ball (1500 passes, 300 more than anyone else, 82 per cent of them successful). He won more tackles than any of his team-mates, and scored five goals with four assists. If overall the statistics provide little evidence that Arsenal have done what is necessary to overhaul United, they show that if Vieira had gone, a slim chance would have become no chance. …

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