Monday, December 11, 2023

Jesus, xG, and missing Smith Rowe

Morning all.

“Of course, the goals are coming back soon”, said Gabriel Jesus after the 1-1 draw with Southampton, a game in which Arsenal – and he in particular – failed to take their chances the way you would like.

Jesus had two in particular that you would have backed him to score. Late in the first half he shot straight at the keeper from a superb Martin Odegaard pass, and while it’s far from simple due to the way the ball is falling, I think he’s capable of doing better there. Then there was the one around the hour mark when he worked really well to win the ball back before Odegaard again sent him beyond the defenders with just the keeper to beat. His first touch wasn’t great, his second touch was worse, and Southampton cleared.

I think he’d be the first to admit he should have done better, and while I do think he’s been a little way from his best of late, I don’t worry too much about him. His presence up front still brings plenty to the team, but a striker is judged on goals so it’s understandable that on a day of tight margins he’s under the spotlight a bit. He continued:

The only thing I can do is keep trying, keep fighting, keep improving. Like I said, I am here to score goals, I am here to help the team with the goals. I understand that.

So far this season he has 5 Premier League goals from an xG of 6.3, so based on the chances he’s had, he’s only a little under where he should be. I don’t think that’s reason to sound the alarm about him, per se, but I get why there’s some focus. He seems like the kind of character who won’t do anything else but work harder, and while his finishing throughout his career wouldn’t put him in in the echelons of the ‘top’ strikers, I do think part of the plan in bringing him to Arsenal was to improve him. He’s still only 25, there’s room for him to develop still, and hopefully we see that happen this season. After all, if Mikel Arteta can get Granit Xhaka scoring like prime Aaron Ramsey …

Where I think we lacked something on Sunday at Southampton was another wide forward, and I’m sure people will think first of the transfer market, but it’s games like this where I believe we’re feeling the absence of Emile Smith Rowe quite keenly. Remember, he got 11 goals in all competitions last season – our second highest scorer behind Bukayo Saka – and he went through a little spell when he was very effective off the bench too.

What Smith Rowe gives you isn’t necessarily a traditional Plan B from the bench, but his qualities are sufficiently different to Gabriel Martinelli, for example, that it gives the opposition something new to think about. With all due respect to Eddie Nketiah, who has worked really hard to develop his game beyond that of a penalty box poacher, he’s still much more effective in that role than he is stationed out wide on the left. However, the paucity of options because of Smith Rowe’s injury and the inability to add ‘more firepower’ before the end of the last transfer window means he’s the first man the manager turns to when making an attacking change.

As a sidebar to that: I’ve seen a lot of discourse about how we should rotate completely for the game against PSV on Thursday, and leaving aside the big part of the discussion about how sensible that is for what is an important fixture (because topping the group this week means we can then rest heavily ahead of a trip to Chelsea), how do we even do that on a practical level? The only feasible way is to call up a handful of Academy kids to start, and I don’t think PSV away is the place to do that.

With just a couple of weeks to go until the World Cup enforced hiatus to the season, there’s not much we can do but manage the minutes of the players we’ve got, and be more efficient in games like the one at St Mary’s which, objectively, we should have won because we had good goalscoring chances to do it. The disappointment of the draw is, in part, because we’ve set standards so high this season, but ultimately because we all know that two points went begging because of poor finishing more than anything else.

Finally for today, speaking of xG, Aston Villa v Arsenal, scheduled for February 18th will see Unai Emery’s new team grab a 1-0 win with an xG of 0.000000000000001 to Arsenal’s 906. As sure as eggs are eggs.

Right, that’s your lot this morning. Over on Patreon we have a new episode of The 30, rounding up the weekend’s Premier League action. News throughout the day on Arseblog News, and more here tomorrow.

Until then.

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