In this article I’m having a look at which player was the best finisher in the Premier League last season. By “best finisher” I mean the player that achieved the highest percentage of their shots on target.
Given the fact that Robin van Persie finished top of the Premier League goal scoring charts with 26 goals some might think that makes the Flying Dutchman was the most accurate finisher.
Others may well be of the opinion that due to the amount of long range, and therefore difficult shots, that Gareth Bale took, yet managed to bag 21 goals in the process, means that he could be described as the most accurate finisher in the league.
Although Bale was close to earning the title of most accurate finisher, using a methodology that I have created neither Van Persie nor Bale achieved this feat this season.
Read on to see which player was the most accurate with their strikes on goal. But before you get there, have a guess at who you think it might be.
First of all, a little introduction to the methodology used. I looked at each shot that was taken in the Premier League this season and divided the locations of those shots into 4 zones. Those zones were:
– Inside Pen Areas Central (yellow)
– Inside Pen Area Sides (red)
– Outside Central (blue)
– Outside Other (green)
For each of the zones I looked at the overall 2012/13 Premier League average for accuracy, ie shots on target.
The total league average for the 4 zones are as follows:
So the average player has 45% of the shots they strike from the Inside Central zone on target, and this then reduces to 41% for shots taken from just inside the edges of the penalty area and finally down to 31% or 32% for shots from outside the area.
We will quantatively decide which player had the most accurate shot ratio over the course of the season by combining those average accuracy percentages with the actual number of shots that each player took from each of the four zones. The real benefit of using this measure is that it takes into account the location of the shots and therefore the difficulty that the player would have experienced in getting his shots on target.
Tale of Two Gunners
A look at two of Arsenal’s forwards provides an interesting demonstration of the importance of shot locations.
Podolski had 35% of his shots on target and Giroud managed to get 36% of his shots within the frame of the goal. If we were armed with only those stats, which would be as much information as we would traditionally use, then it would be reasonable to reach the conclusion that the French striker finished his chances slightly better than his German comrade.
However, if we were to look at the location of where the shots originated from for each of the two strikers I’m not sure that we would still reach that conclusion.
Now we have the benefit seeing the breakdown of their shots, we realise that a massive 61% of Giroud’s shots came from the optimum location, Inside Central. It is obvious that Podolski’s achievement of getting 35% of his shots on target was a much better achievement due to the fact that he had less than 40% of his shots from that same prime location and much more from outside the penalty area.
Don’t worry, I’m not awarding the crown of Most Accurate Finisher to either of the Arsenal strikers but hopefully my look at part of the Arsenal strike force shows why the location of shots are so important when evaluating a striker. Bare shots on target data simply cannot tell the full story.
From the above table we can instinctively tell that Podolski has achieved a higher accuracy rating than Giroud, but can we quantify this?
Thankfully, yes, I feel that I am now in a position to be able to quantify just how much better his performance was than his French strike partner’s last season.
Using the absolute number of shots that the players had in each zone and multiplying those by the league average accuracy rate for the respective zone gives us the total expected number of shots on target that each player would have expected to have had (on the basis they had league average accuracy). We can then compare to the actual number of shots that they managed to hit the target with and this Actual number divided by the Expected gives us our Accuracy Ratio (AR).
A worked Arsenal example may aid the understanding here.
Podolski actually had 19 shots on target, and when we looked at the mix of his shot locations we see that the average Premier League player would have had 17.14 of them on target. 19 Actual shots on target divided by 17.14 Expected= 1.11, ie Podolski had 11% more shots on target than the average player given the mix of shots he took.
We can see that Podolski achieved an AR of 1.11 and Giroud 1.03. When you bear in mind that the entire league average of all players who took a shot, including defenders, Aaron Ramsay and Stuart Downing, was 1.00 you can see just how poor a season Giroud had in terms of trying to hit the target.
Bottom of the Table
Before we look towards the top of the table, I thought it would be interesting, if not a little cruel, to see which players languish at he bottom of the AR table.
To ensure that players who took relatively few shots during the course of the season don’t interfere with my analysis I decided to just include players who had taken at least 38 shots during the season. Please note that penalties are excluded from all of the figures quoted in this article.
We’ll not labour too long at the names on the above list, as many of them won’t come as a surprise to football watchers. However, when your job is to primarily get the ball in the net (I’m looking at Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll to a lesser extent) and you are sitting in the bottom dozen accurate finishers across the league as a whole then you probably should have some explaining to do to those paying your wages.
One name which appears on that list and may surprise some, but it’s not an error, is Michu. How could a player who finished 5th in the Premier League goalscorers table, and who had a great season, at least according to all the traditional media outlets, be that poor of a finisher?
The purpose of this article is not really to reason why but it certainly appears that Michu lucked out in a big way, both in terms of the amount of shots on target that turned into goals and also the fact that 66% of his shots came from that golden Inside Central zone.
At the Top
We’ll now turn our attention to the top of the Accuracy Ratio table. Note that at this stage I have still hidden the player with the highest AR at this stage, and that Bale actually finished 2nd in the table with an AR of 1.54.
Take a second to pause and consider just how good an AR of 1.54 is; had he been the average league player faced with the shots that he took during the season Bale would have had just over 47 shots on target – instead he managed a hugely impressive figure of 73.
44% of Gareth Bale’s shots were on target, and when you consider that so many of his efforts were long-range attempts (59% of all his shots were outside the penalty box) you can realise just what a Shot Monster (term created by @mixedknuts) Bale was for Spurs during the 2012/13 season. At this stage, we’ll not consider what sort of a season Spurs would have had if Gareth Bale was merely human.
I guess not too many would have expected to see Anthony Pilkington occupy the lofty position of 3rd in this particular table.
A little further down, Chicarito underlined just what a great finisher he is with an AR of 1.47, comfortably ahead of Van Persie who achieved 1.30. Perhaps, given his AR, he can feel aggrieved that he doesn’t get a huge amount of pitch time.
You can browse the list in your own time, but one last name that I want to mention is Daniel Sturridge. For some reason he never seems to get the credit he deserves and yet he showed terrific shooting skills to finish the season on an AR of 1.40.
Now it’s drum-roll time. Given the above list contains 27 top finishers, who is missing from that list and therefore is the holder of the Number 1 position in terms of shooting accuracy in the 2012/13 Premier League?
That man is Shaun Maloney, all 5ft 7inches of him, who unfortunately wasn’t able to help Wigan avoid relegation. Despite only scoring 6 goals from 55 shots his shooting accuracy was better than anyone else in the Premier League this season.
Maloney managed to get 45% of his shots on target, a slightly better percentage than Bale.
But it was the location of the shots that he took that seen him win the crown of the Most Accurate Finisher with a terrific AR of 1.59.
He had the misfortune to have just 15% of his shots from the Inside Central location, even there the league average for shots on target is only 45%. So to achieve an accuracy of 45% from all of his shots, when we bear in mind that 57% of his shots were from outside the area, demonstrates just how sweet a right foot the little Scottish winger possesses.
Needless to say, it’ll be a shame if Maloney isn’t playing Premier League football next season.
As an aside, if we were to ignore shot location, the players that had at least 38 shots and had the most shots on target as a percentage of all their shots were Chicarito and Steven Fletcher – both achieved 51% on target.
EDIT – For full disclosure, I have noticed that I made an error when calculating the league average for each of the zones. The correct figures should be
Using the correct numbers doesn’t change any of the placings or subatantially change any of the ARs so I’ll keep the article as it was published originally as the essence of the article is still exactly the same.
The author will be even more careful when dealing with large amounts of data in the future.