Arsenal again paying price for living on the margins with top 4 at risk

It is panic stations all over again on the red side of north London as a 1-0 defeat to Southampton made it 3 defeats on the bounce for Mikel Arteta's side, the second time they have put such a run together this season.

Their defeat at St Mary's on Saturday afternoon followed losses at fellow midtable clubs Brighton and, more convincingly, at Crystal Palace. It sees them remain 3 points off the top 4 in the Premier League, a luxury only granted to them by Tottenham's loss to Brighton, while Manchester United find themselves right back in the mix and ahead of the Gunners before the two sides meet on April 23rd.

But where is it going wrong for the Gunners?

Key players absent, but stats remain the same

Arsenal fans will be quick to point to the absences that they have suffered in the last weeks. Takehiro Tomiyasu remains sidelined, while Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney have both been ruled out for the season.

For the loss to Southampton, they were also without Alexandre Lacazette, though some Arsenal supporters would be quick to write that off as a bonus, rather than an issue.

Despite the losses both on the pitch and in personnel, Mikel Arteta's underlying stats remain largely the same. In the games between the turn of the year and the defeat at Selhurst Park, they had taken an average of 16 shots per game, of which just over 4 were on target.

In the three defeats since, they have upped their shooting, now taking 18 per game across the small sample size, while the number on target has remained the same.

Meanwhile, they are conceding fewer shots (7.5 down from 9.5) but a higher percentage of shots on target (3.6 in their last 3 compared to 2.8 beforehand.

So, maybe they are conceding better chances and creating worse ones? Expected goals say otherwise. In the period before defeat to Patrick Vieira's side, they were registering an xG of 1.48, which has marginally increased across the last 3 encounters to 1.58.

So too, however, has the xG of their opponents. Whereas before they "should" have conceded 0.91 per game, they are now conceding just over 1 (1.01) across their last three games.

Poor luck, or poor form?

In truth, as it so often does, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Losing a player of Partey's class and specialism was something that the Gunners could ill-afford to do, and they have certainly missed him more than the stats suggest.

At the same time, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka have struggled with the increased burdens on them to perform, with Odegaard forced deeper to receive the ball as the link between him and the defence is absent. This, in turn, leaves Saka without the Norwegian to link up with.

But they have come up against sides that, on another day, they would have beaten, albeit not comfortably. Were it not for Fraser Forster in goal for the Saints, the scoreline would have been a different story altogether, while Brighton's second goal was the type of tidy finish that the Gunners themselves are guilty of regularly missing.

And there are certainly unsustainable underlying numbers. Arsenal have scored with just two of their last 73 attempts on goal, while they have conceded eight goals from their last 14 shots on target faced.

But the Gunners have also ridden their luck at times this season. Their wins over Wolves on both occasions, for instance, could in truth have very easily gone the other way.

It is the risk you run when you live on the margins as the Gunners do.

Quality the difference

Ultimately, however, goals win games, and Arsenal don't score enough of them. Only 4 Arsenal players have scored five or more Premier League goals this season, and neither striker is on that list. Lacazette sits on four while Eddie Nketiah has just one in limited gametime.

No Arsenal player is in double figures, while as a club they have managed just 45 goals, the seventh most in the division. The stats make for grim reading.

Comparing their last three games to those of the clubs around them, it is clear to see that while Tottenham and Manchester United generate similar levels of chances at both ends, the difference lies in the finishing.

That is especially true with Antonio Conte's Tottenham, who have scored 9 goals across their last 3 games from an xG of 5, and conceded 2 from an xG of 2.75.

Meanwhile, Manchester United have had a mixed set of results but are still largely defaulting to their data. They have scored 4 goals from 3.33 xG and conceded 4 goals from 3.24 xG across their last 3.

Of course, Tottenham have Harry Kane and Manchester United have Cristiano Ronaldo, players that ultimately will make the difference in the tightest games.

Could Arsenal have got themselves a difference-maker of their own?

The golden goose striker

A great deal of criticism has been thrown the way of Alexandre Lacazette in recent weeks, and in many cases fairly. The Frenchman's last open play goal came on December 12th, and he has just 4 goals to his name this season, of which two are penalties.

But, then the criticism turns. "Why did Arsenal not buy a striker in January" is the common question. And, the short answer is, they missed out on Dusan Vlahovic and thought it best to hold fire on overpaying for another player who could become a deadweight around the neck of the club, having just recovered from the Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lessons.

Looking at the form of the strikers Arsenal were linked to in January, a time notoriously difficult to do business anyway, it seems that the "golden goose" striker that the Gunners faithful are desperate for doesn't actually exist other than Vlahovic.

The Serbian has netted six goals in 10 games for Juventus since joining them over the Gunners in January, and is showing just why Arsenal pushed so hard to get a deal done for the then-Fiorentina man. Beyond that, however, it is slim pickings.

Take Alexandre Isak, the Real Sociedad man that Arsenal were linked with a deadline day swoop for. Since the close of the January transfer window, he has registered 1 goal and 1 assist in 756 minutes of La Liga football.

As per xG, he should have grabbed a couple more too, meaning that per the model, his performances in front of goal have actually been worse than those of Lacazette's.

Deportivo's Raul De Tomas has just two goals and an assist to his name in the same time frame, while Lille forward Jonathan David has managed just one goal in his last 10 outings since the window slammed shut.

None suggest that they would have been an immediate step up even on the often turned upon Lacazette.

Read more:

Chelsea vs Crystal Palace betting tips: FA Cup preview, predictions & odds

Celtic vs Rangers betting tips: Scottish Cup semi-final preview, predictions and odds



Ben Browning

Ben Browning

Football writer and analyst. Long-time writer of all things Arsenal and avid watcher of European football. Happy to discuss all things football over on Twitter.

Related Content