Sunday, November 27, 2022

Chelsea preview: If we can’t score, make sure we don’t concede

Mikel Arteta’s pre-game press conference was dominated by questions and answers about two strikers who are likely to leave the club this summer, however he was pressed about the the last three results and if he was close to understanding why they happened.

He said:

I’m very close. Our efficiency in front of goal, and what the teams have produced in our own box with the amount of chances they created, there is no relationship there at all.

On a purely statistical basis, it is a bit extraordinary. Arsenal have scored just 2 goals from our last 73 attempts on goal, while the opposition have scored 8 from their last 14 (via @Orbinho). That is unusual, to say the least, but it goes some way to summing up where things have gone wrong of late. We can’t score, and our defending has been less than impressive at times.

Obviously those stats aren’t completely detached from our overall performances, and the lack of goals is directly connected to our lack of quality up front, but if you were in any way scratching your head then the ‘mystery’ has been solved: don’t score enough, let too many in.

The big question tonight is what Mikel Arteta does to solve that. Personally speaking, I don’t think there’s a great deal he can do about the lack of quality up front beyond crossing his fingers, lighting an array of votive candles, and leaving it in the lap of the gods to an extent. It’s Lacazette or Nketiah, neither have done much this season to give you confidence that they’ll stick it away with any frequency or conviction, and realistically it’s more likely that the players around them will make the goalscoring contribution. Unfortunately, beyond using Martinelli up front – again not something I’d be averse to – there’s little we can do between now and May.

Where I think we do have a bit more control is how well we defend, and how difficult we make it for Chelsea to score. As such, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a system that is tweaked in that regard, and maybe even the selection of someone like Mohamed Elneny. He’s not the player you want in midfield if you want to play quick-moving, progressive football, but his experience might be just what need if you’re going to sit in, work hard, deny them space and look to nick something up the other end.

I realise that this isn’t what we’ve been doing of late. The manager may well stick with the system we’ve used for most of this season, and in some ways adhering to those principles could be seen as admirable – ‘at least we’re going to try and play our game!’. However, after three successive defeats, this one still feels much more like a must-not-lose than a must-win game to me.

When it’s clear that you are missing at least one fundamental element of a system (i.e a centre-forward who can score goals), maybe you need to go down a more pragmatic route until you have that in place. You can’t win a Formula 1 race if you have all the parts for the car except, you know, the steering wheel. I know some people would prefer us to go for it and stick to a way of playing, but I can only speak for myself and say that a dirty, scrappy point (or even three if you can sucker-punch them the way we’ve been sucker-punched in the last couple of weeks) would be far preferable than none at all. The comfort blanket of ‘Oh, well at least we had a good go at them’ has been soiled by the fact we shit the bed against Palace, Brighton and Southampton.

Look, ideally it’d be great to go to Stamford Bridge and try and go toe to toe with them. If we were going into this one on the back of three wins, and with a fully fit squad, I’d be the first to say that’s what we should do, but sometimes circumstance dictates your game plan, and tonight feels very much like the kind of game we have to scrap our way through and if it’s as ugly as hell, then so be it.

Beyond that, we have to hope that the response we thought was necessary in previous games is there this evening. I think the Southampton performance was judged a little more harshly than it deserved to be because it was the third successive defeat, but if we have chances this evening the efficiency level has to be high because we’re not going to end up with 23 attempts like we did at St Mary’s. We’re looking for Hail Mary’s, to be quite honest.

Fingers crossed.

I did mention the two strikers, and I don’t think there’s anything worth discussing re: Lacazette – it’s just more of the same ‘Contract discussion at the end of the season’ stuff which we all understand basically means there won’t be a contract at the end of the season.

I would point people in the direction of the Eddie Nketiah interview on The Beautiful Game podcast though (YouTube link – and it’s available in all the usual podcast places). I don’t think he’s got the quality to make it at Arsenal, but it’s worth a listen to go through his experience and it’s a reminder that these are young men trying to break through in one of the most difficult leagues in the world. It’s not easy. We can quickly forget the human element, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s desperate to make a contribution to the team he supports between now and the end of the season.

When you’re finished that, there’s the preview podcast over on Patreon for your listening pleasure, and as ever we’ll have a live blog for you later and post-game coverage on Arseblog News.

Catch you later for the game.

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