It’s nothing new to say that goals win games. This season’s title race, however, perhaps more than ever, underlines the idea that clinical finishing and the lack of it can prove the crucial factor in defining a season’s campaign.

Going into last weekend’s fixtures, leaders Arsenal and Liverpool boasted the best goals scored record in the league. Fast forward a couple of days and not only had their slender points advantage been wiped out. Manchester City had overtaken that goals record and their profligacy in front of goal had been cruelly exposed. And while the nature – and timing – of their respective home defeats against Crystal Palace and Aston Villa will draw most of the focus, their wastefulness in front of goal has been a problem for both teams for large parts of the season.

It feels harsh to point the finger at individuals, but it is pertinent that, while holders City benefit from the all-conquering, record-breaking robot-striker that is Erling Haaland, Liverpool is still yet to see a dependable goalscoring return for the significant investment in their big money No. 9, Darwin Núñez.

Núñez’s misses have cost Liverpool dearly in Premier League title race

The Uruguayan brings a lot to the game; excitement, a free spirit and the ability to inject a sense of chaos into the Reds’ frontline. A calm head in front of goal is not one of them. The data isn’t kind either, ranking him 559th out of 562 players for striking efficiency.

To his credit, he’s not a player likely to be put off by such statistics but for all the goals he has scored this season, it will be the glaring misses he’ll be remembered for most. It’s not helped that they often come in crucial games too, such as the snapped volley in the defeat to Palace or the miscued cutback against Man United a week before. These are the chances that swing games and win titles. And he’s not the only one missing them.

In three games against Manchester United alone this season, Liverpool has amassed over 80 total shot attempts. Twenty-six of those have been on target. Their 1-1 draw against title rivals Manchester City in March will stand out as a missed opportunity. Luis Diaz’s one-on-one which he skewed wide of the post may serve as a stark reminder of ‘what could have been.’

Diaz can match Núñez in his South American colleague in both his excitement and rashness. Incredibly exciting for neutrals but too unreliable for the pair to make up two-thirds of a frontline trying to win a title. These are the results of a team still readjusting to a huge overturn of players in the last couple of years, a reconfiguring of playing styles and tweaks to minimize the departure of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino and the strongest forward trio of recent years.

Despite success, Arsenal has lacked a punishing ability

Arsenal’s fate may have been less sudden, but the impact has been just as stark. Last season they surprised by challenging for the title with a City-like approach, spreading their goals out across the attacking four and hoping to outscore opponents. This season, Arteta has attempted to shore things up a little, tightening the screws and adding an element of control to their game. Hence the massive outlay on Declan Rice. In that regard, Arsenal’s figures this season have been an unmitigated success. The Gunners have the best goal difference in the league with the fewest goals conceded. Arteta’s side has scored just one fewer than leaders City.

And yet there remains doubt over the North London club’s ability to sufficiently punish opponents when on top. It was in evidence at the weekend against Aston Villa. Arsenal had nothing to show for its first-half dominance and were left to rue the missed chances come the last five minutes.

It’s an element of their game that came under scrutiny in the earlier half of the season. Fans and pundits started to notice their switch to a more composed, controlled game. Yet, that came at the expense of the previous season’s goal-plundering attack. Most critics pointed fingers at Gabriel Jesus and expensive summer addition Kai Havertz. Neither one filled the role of an out-and-out number nine. In itself, that shouldn’t matter, especially when goals are shared between others. However, when Saka, Martinelli and Odegaard fail to make up the numbers, the lack of chances taken starts to look increasingly damaging for a team’s hopes of a credible title push.

Other clubs show the benefit of a potent striker

But what of the other end of the scale? Teams benefit hugely from a player with the ability to turn a half-chance into a goal. That slight difference can easily shift a one-point draw into claiming all three points. Arsenal witnessed one up close on Sunday in the shape of Olly Watkins. The Englishman is performing at his peak. In all likelihood, he is leading the Villans to their first appearance in Europe’s top club competition in 42 years.

Dominik Solanke has come good on early potential to lift Bournemouth to unprecedented Premier League heights. Likewise, Alexander Isak has an impressive return of 17 goals from just 24 starts. How different Newcastle’s season could have turned out is he maintained fitness.

Yes, it’s a cliché that goals win games. But if this season has taught us anything it’s that cliches exist for a reason. Goals win games, and chances taken win titles. Unfortunately for Liverpool and Arsenal, they just have not taken enough of theirs.