I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve written about attacking as the main issue for Arsenal under Mikel Arteta. Remember the 2013-14 season when Arsenal fell out of the title race, in part, because they scored 68 league goals that season as Manchester City and Liverpool racked up triple digits?
Do you remember discussing how Arsenal could increase their attacking potential to send them rushing to a century of league goals in one season? This season, they have been on the right track for half a century in the league. Whatever you think of Bernd Leno, the Arsenal defense or even their midfielder (although they have their part to play in the impoverished performance in front of goal), scoring goals is the biggest problem in the game. Arsenal.
Arteta has Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Alex Lacazette, Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah and * chirp * Willian crickets at his disposal for the top four positions. No one is saying it’s a collection of forwards that should take Europe over – but it should net you over 50 league goals in one season.
The problem is that of balance. There isn’t always an immediately obvious way to assemble some of these players. To be fair, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard were not available for Arteta in the first half of the campaign and attacking numbers have tended to increase since Christmas.
Arsenal have won 12 games since Christmas. Emile Smith Rowe threw 10. Aside from Sheffield United this weekend, I would say all of their best performances this season have come with him in the squad.
– Sam Dean (@SamJDean) April 15, 2021
However, Arsenal at home and Arsenal away are different beasts, in an offensive sense. They have scored two goals in their last five home games and have not scored more than one open play goal in a game at the Emirates since the 4-2 win over Leeds in February. (They scored three “at home” against Benfica but the game took place in Athens). On the road, they have scored 20 goals in their last eight games in all competitions, a marked difference. Throughout the league season, these numbers also hold true.
|Home||19||22.7 (1.26 per game)||199|
|A way||27||26.8 (1.58 per game)||208|
Arsenal shoot more often, score more often and with greater precision away from home than at home. Liverpool and Manchester United are going through something similar this season to a much lesser extent. In this unique “covid season” where almost all games have been played behind closed doors, the home advantage has diminished a bit.
The main reason Arsenal struggle to break home teams is obvious, the teams play a lot more defensively in the Emirates and they are a lot harder to break. Leeds’ game in February, when Arsenal scored four, turned out to be atypical because a) Leeds don’t play in a deep block and b) because of the variance. They ran hot in front of goal that day, scoring four goals on a 2.5 XG (according to Understanding).
One of the most interesting and difficult aspects of Arsenal attacking is the variance between players. Arteta has a number of binary choices and players with very different attributes. Having different clubs in your bag isn’t a bad thing, of course, but it can be difficult to promote continuity as the manager wishes.
This riddle is best illustrated by the attacker’s choices. Aubameyang and Lacazette are very, very different types of center-forward (which I touched on in depth in this piece recently). Arsenal started the season with a direct choice between Willian and Nicolas Pepe on the right flank and, again, these players couldn’t be more different.
In theory, at least, Willian is your typical “structure” player. He won’t rack up goals and assists, but he will retain your attacking form and give up the ball on the cheap (unfortunately none of these things have really come true as the season goes on. has developed).
Pepe is your maverick. He has 11 goals this season (six in Europe), that is… ..11 more than Willian. Pepe takes shots, tries to beat the players and places the ball in dangerous areas. In doing so, he will also dribble into dead ends, send the ball spiraling into the higher level, and he may not necessarily help you create effective passing triangles, although he is improving quickly in this regard.
The same goes for Gabriel Martinelli, who is not your type of player, but he will take lots and lots of shots on goal. Sometimes Emile Smith Rowe is deployed on the flank and he’s really a wide front model type of play, he won’t take a lot of hits (although I think we’ll see more of that from him next season) but he will help you get on the ground.
Bukayo Saka is the only Arsenal striker who combines power inside the penalty area with efficiency in stacking, which is why he always, always plays. He’s the only forward who doesn’t give Arteta this binary scalpel-hammer dilemma. Ultimately, Arteta, in his heart, prefers the scalpel and Arsenal can no longer afford or attract players who, like Saka, can do a bit of both.
That’s why he brought Willian in despite Pepe’s solid finish last season. That’s why Martinelli struggled for minutes in a way that Smith Rowe didn’t. The ‘scalpel’ approach tends to work best on the outside when Arsenal can play on counter Willian landed two of his best assists at Leicester and Burnley where he provided the last pass in smooth ‘d’ movements. back and forth ”.
At home against deep boulders, sometimes the hammer is the best approach. In all fairness against Fulham Arsenal produced an XG of 2.9 and Gabriel Martinelli was responsible for 1.5 of that (his four shots were rated at a total of 0.9XG and he created 0.6 XG from shooting opportunities for his teammates).
Where Arsenal ran hot on their XG against Leeds, they ran cold against Fulham, a game in which they didn’t do much damage except for a poor finish. Although the Gunners’ struggles with deep blockades aren’t just a consequence of the attackers themselves. One of the problems with the team is that they don’t really lead the teams into their own penalty areas.
Arteta likes to build attacks slowly, which means the ball takes a long time to get from A to B. When Arsenal get the ball into the box and the opposition manage to clear it, it takes a long time to get back on. them. , giving them the ability to reset, both positionally and mentally. The team doesn’t do enough to stress deep blocks by quickly collecting clearances and returning the ball to dangerous areas.
Like Arsenal, Liverpool’s central midfielders don’t contribute much in goals and assists. However, they detail Gini Wijnaldum to anticipate where the clearances will land so he can retrieve the ball and send it quickly to the penalty area. It’s an approach that was pioneered by Sam Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers.
His team of analysts spent a lot of time analyzing where the clearances landed and he would position players like Kevin Nolan and Ivan Campo in those areas, just around the corner of the penalty area. This meant Bolton could keep sending crosses until the defenses were tired and stressed.
I’m not necessarily advocating for Arsenal to become Sam Allardyce’s Bolton, but there is a learning point here. When a deep block repels an attack on Arteta’s team, they know they have plenty of time to reset and recover psychologically. On Thursday, we can reasonably assume that Unai Emery’s Villarreal will look to be defensively safe to protect his slim advantage in the first leg.
Emery is well aware that Arsenal have a hard time really putting pressure on teams that sit down (he will also know that they are perfectly capable of helping even the most conservative opposition find a goal). In my opinion, Arteta is going to have to fight some of his instincts and leave the game more to his Mavericks.
He will probably have little choice but to start Aubameyang on Thursday but he is also expected to start Pepe and if his side still need a goal in the last third of the game Martinelli is a good option. Playing this trio together would be too chaotic and Bukayo Saka has the right position on the lock anyway. Arsenal don’t need to score the perfect goal against Villarreal but they need to score at least one and they will have to put Villarreal under sustained pressure – something they have always struggled to do at Emirates Stadium.
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