Arsenal don’t really shoot from outside the box – everybody from the fans, to opponents, to the tea lady’s cat at Merthyr Tydfil Rugby Club knows as much.
So imagine the surprise when Arsene Wenger conceded in his pre-Sunderland press conference that Alexis Sanchez’s willingness to have a go from beyond the 18-yard line had been a factor in Arsenal’s win over West Brom.
It was a sort of back-handed admission, but it was an admission nonetheless.
He told Arsenal.com: “It is a bit incidental, but I think it is a bit linked to the way teams play against us now because everybody comes to Arsenal and you see one striker out.
“For example, Saloman Rondon was on the bench [for West Brom] and another defensive midfielder was in. Crystal Palace did exactly the same and we have to learn to cope with that.
“How we can cope with it is to be quicker with our passing, quicker in our movement and as well by being more dangerous with shots from outside the box, because that is something that gets the defenders out. So I’m pleased we can score goals from outside the box.”
It was widely reported that the two goals scored from outside the box against West Brom matched the total scored from a similar distance in the previous 33 Premier League games.
I’ve seen it reported so often these last few days, that it lost all meaning for a while.
Put into the context of Arsene’s quotes, however, it becomes staggering all over again. Because teams know how reluctant Arsenal players are to shoot from range, they know they can sit deep, hold their position, and be sure not to leave much space through which the likes of Ozil and Iwobi can work the ball.
Clearly, Arsene noticed opponents were doing as much – so it is doubly surprising that this issue of shooting from range hasn’t been addressed previously.
I’m not blind to the elephant in the room – the fact that a vastly higher percentage of shots taken from inside the box end with a goal as compared to shots from outside the box. Efficiency is key to success in the Premier League these days, so of course, as a team, you would want to give yourself the best chance to score possible.
And if that means the vast majority of shots must come from inside the box, then so be it.
But an element of variety, of surprise, in how we go about our football must surely be an advantage. If teams know exactly how Arsenal are going to set up and play, they have much more time to prepare and organise. If there is an element of doubt, a new threat that has to be considered, then surely we become harder to defend against?
Of the four goals Arsenal have scored from outside the box in league football this season, three have been scored by Alexis Sanchez, with Theo Walcott’s effort against Manchester City the other.
Arguably, Alexis is out most unpredictable attacking player. He can score from free-kicks, he can score with his head, he can make runs from deep, he can dribble and beat players. Nobody is really sure what he is going to do, and it makes him very hard to defend or mark.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that his unpredictability has seen him most willing to take the chance of shooting from range, and just looked at the rewards he reaped as a result.
How many hundreds of times of the years have we implored a player to shoot having picked up the ball in space about 20 yards from goal, only for the desperate chorus to be ignored and the ball to be played square or wide.
I’m not calling for Arsenal to be firing in shots from all angles, in every game from here until Armageddon, but there is definitely merit in mixing up the play – Alexis has proved as much.
It is high time players who are capable of putting their foot through the ball did as much. Let’s hope that Arsene’s admission that shooting could be key to drawing out these deep-lying defences is the first step on the road to recovery.