Sunday, October 2, 2022

Weekend thoughts + striker goals needed for top four

If last weekend was a good one for Arsenal when we didn’t play, this one was also good in terms of what we did, but not so much when you look at the results of the teams around us. Man Utd won, something I think they’re going to do a lot of because despite how dysfunctional they are in many areas, they have enormous amounts of attacking quality and depth, and that is often sufficient to offset other issues.

Wolves continue to hang onto our coat-tails, beating Leicester 2-1, while Man City confirmed their status as the most annoying football club in history by losing to Sp*rs. For all his brilliance, Pep Guardiola has a nasty habit of losing games to absolute twats when I’ve had to compartmentalise my existing disdain for City and hoped they win. It’s like a double-whammy.

Still, not much changes from our perspective. What we have to do is more or less the same, and it makes Thursday’s game with Wolves even more important. Once again we’re in a situation where a win for them would see them go above us, but if we win all our games in hand, we’d end up 5 points above United.

Looking at what lies ahead, there are a number of ‘bread and butter’ fixtures, the kind you absolutely have to win if you want to secure top four. And when we speak about games in-hand, the three fixtures in question are Liverpool, Chelsea and Sp*rs – so it’s hardly a given we’re going to take maximum points there. For me, there’s no doubt we’re going to have to take some points from those games, and probably beat United to have a real chance of finishing top four.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about how Arsenal should be favourites for this, statistical models and all the rest, but I’m not sure I agree. We’ve got ourselves into a very good position, and I hope we can continue this push, but if I step back, I think United have to be favourites – all things considered. They have been a bit of a shambles this season, but they have plenty of experience and, as I mentioned, an array of attacking talent with players who can come off the bench to offer more threat when games aren’t going their way.

Meanwhile, we’re reliant on the goals of 20 year olds to win us games, and we have a significant shortfall at centre-forward. Our main striker has 3 goals all season in the Premier League – one in October, two in December, and it’s now almost two months since he got on the scoresheet. I absolutely understand the role he is being asked to play, but ultimately he’s our centre-forward and the most important part of his job is scoring goals, and that looks increasingly difficult for him these days. I don’t doubt his work ethic, but nor do I think we can make excuses for him – or any player for that matter.

I love what Smith Rowe and Saka did against Brentford; I think Martinelli and Odegaard can chip in with a few; maybe Pepe too with some more playing time; but in my opinion there’s no way we make top four without our centre-forward banging in some goals between now and May. I don’t mean to say it all rests on Lacazette, clearly that’s not the case, but he has to find something akin to a goalscoring streak in the 15 games we have left.

This issue, for me, is what puts us behind Man Utd in the top four race. They have someone like Ronaldo whose goalscoring instincts have never left him, even if he’s physically not the same as he used to be. That’s an inevitability when you hit your late 30s, but he’s 37 now and Lacazette is only 30. I don’t think it’s wrong to expect more from our player, and I’m sure Mikel Arteta knows that too.

If the goals don’t come, I don’t really know what kind of contingency plan we have. I don’t think Eddie Nketiah is it, with all due respect to him. I’ve written before about deploying Gabriel Martinelli up front, and at some point that might become the last throw of the centre-forward dice for this season. Let’s see.

Anyway, if this comes across as overly negative, I don’t mean it to be. It’s simply an honest assessment of our team and its chance of making it back into the Champions League next season. The reality is that it is going to be difficult to get that amount of points under our belt. It should be difficult. We can’t expect any favours, and while it’s in our hands to an extent, we also need to be honest about what we have in comparison to others.

Fingers crossed the goals for Saka and Smith Rowe keep coming, but it’s a heavy burden for two young players to carry, and the bottom line is some Lacazette goals would ease that considerably. I think Lacazette himself would admit this is a big part of his job between now and May, so let’s hope he can find his shooting boots again (and if not, a litany of hamstring, tendon and ligament injuries at other clubs would be very gratefully accepted).

Right, let’s leave it there for now. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra later on this morning so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Pod should be out by lunchtime. Until then, take it easy.

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