Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Unsustainable strike rate

The Monday morning after a bad weekend in the Premier League is always a difficult one. We have all week to take stock, to analyse, to pore over everything that went wrong, and – of course – attempt to come up with solutions.

The problem with a small squad is that there aren’t too many options other than to trust the players who have, until now, done well enough to have had us excited about the prospect of top four but now dismayed at how difficult that seems. It harks back to what I said last week about the fluctuating moods this side can bring. When it’s good I have to remind myself it’s probably not as good as I think, and when it’s bad it’s not end of the world bad.

It just feels like it though.

I thought Aaron Ramsdale was quite interesting after the Brighton game. He spoke about the players feeling the tension a bit after losing to Palace:

I think in the first half we were very tense and slow so we just need to go out there next week, trust what the manager and the coaching staff are saying and go and play our football, which we’ve done all season. We were not in the rhythm of the game, that’s unlike us, especially at home where we’ve normally started really well all season.

That’s the thing Mikel Arteta really needs to get to the heart of this week. When he talked about creating a cold atmosphere, it really is in stark contrast to much of this season, especially at home, where that connection between team and fans has been so present.

The imbalance in the team explains some of what went wrong, but not all of it. Of course it is related, if you have midfield control for example, you play a different game and probably energise the crowd more, but as Ramsdale said there was supposed to be a reaction to Palace and there wasn’t. Whether it’s nerves, pressure, tension, all of the above, or something else entirely, it’s hard to know.

Also interesting, Arteta’s answer about Alexandre Lacazette’s form and lack of goals:

We need to score more goals, that’s for sure and that’s a collective issue.

And then a question on whether he was happy with other aspects of the Frenchman’s play:

I’m never happy when I lose, I’m really upset. I cannot be happy.

I don’t think anyone who has watched or listened to Arteta since he took over would expect much different. He’s not going throw a player under the bus or single someone out for individual criticism. And he’s right in one sense, goalscoring is a collective thing, and I understand what he’s trying to say. However, there’s a position … or two … in every team where that is the single biggest part of the job and he’s not doing it. He’s essentially our very own Shane Long, but without the element of snide.

It is funny how a player can struggle so much though. He scored 17 goals in all competitions last season, 13 in the Premier League with a goal every 148 minutes. It’s not brilliant, but he was mostly the second choice to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when he was available. It’s interesting to note that the former captain only scored 10 in the Premier League last season, at a rate of one every 234 minutes (he scored 15 in all competitions, 2 behind Lacazette).

This season, Lacazette has 4 goals in the Premier League, 2 penalties and just 2 from open play, scoring a goal every 429 minutes played! As much as it is a collective issue, I don’t know how you can hope to secure Champions League football with that kind of strike rate from your main centre-forward. The lack of firepower was always my biggest concern about top four, and while young players like Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard have chipped in and offset that, that burden was always going to be too heavy for them.

I don’t think there’s much point re-litigating the Aubameyang decision, because it’s clear those were extraordinary circumstances, but maybe the bigger issue was January and not adding anything to the squad in this position. We didn’t have to spend a lot of money on a player we didn’t want for the long-term, but was there really no striker on the loan market? Again, it’s a bit pointless re-hashing this now given we’re almost at the end of the campaign, but it was always going to be a risk, and it’s hard not to look back with some regret.

Striker is the single biggest problem this team has, and I can’t really remember any team making the top four without a decent centre-forward of some fashion. It’s why I think Arteta absolutely has to do something else for the final few games. He’s given Lacazette every conceivable opportunity to contribute, but if we’re going to try and salvage this season we can’t continue to just hope he improves when the weight of evidence goes against that. Any other player, any other position, is subject to form, and he shouldn’t be any different.

Quite what that different thing is remains to be seen. I’ve said for some time I’d like to see Gabriel Martinelli up front, and that’s my first option. I wonder too if Arteta’s lack of faith in Nuno Tavares, coupled with the need to never play Granit Xhaka at left-back again, might see a change of formation. A 3-4-3 with attacking wing-backs could be an option. Not ideal, but after a good period, the team has plateaued and needs something new to spark it back into life.

Let the rejuvenation begin!

Ok, 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.

Related articles

Share article

Featured on NewsNow

Support Arseblog

Latest posts

Latest Arsecast