Arsenal have not scored a goal from open play since Nicolas Pepe’s strike against Sheffield United. Mikel Arteta’s side were comfortably beaten 3-0 by Aston Villa Sunday evening and the continual creativity drought plagued the Gunners.
Under Unai Emery, Arsenal were defensively frail but Aubameyang still achieved a golden boot in the Spaniard’s first season. This season, Aubameyang has not scored a goal from open play since game week one against Fulham.
Playing on the left presents a fair argument as to why the club captain is not firing so frequently, however the 31-year-old has played in the role often and successfully. Alexandre Lacazette sits top of Arsenal’s league scoring charts despite being is terrible form. The Frenchman missed another clear-cut chance against the west-midlands club.
Questions are beginning to mount despite Arteta’s achievement of breaking the Gunners’ abject away form against top-6 opposition with the win at Old Trafford. The clear lack of central creativity will always fall back to the ‘football reasons‘ cited for Mesut Ozil’s omission from the Premier League squad.
With an overreliance on wide areas for insertion, Arsenal have become predictable. Whilst the crossing, notably from Kieran Tierney, has been good, the style of the team seems akin to an Arsenal side needing Olivier Giroud rather than their current roster of striking talent.
Arteta, still a very young and inexperienced manager, has a huge task of galvanising the dressing room, lifting heads and finding solutions to the problems so apparent in his side’s performances.
The first thing Arteta needs to address is the lack of clinical finishing in the final third. Lacazette has been given countless opportunities to play himself into form. However, the Frenchman has failed to do so and Arteta should, rightly, look to give others an opportunity.
Aubameyang presents the obvious central candidate, however, it is not just that simple. For the 31-year-old to be effective, he needs service. Crossing, despite its quality, is not how the Gabonese forward operates best. Either being played in behind or, when facing a low block, given poaching chances with low cut-back moves and driven low crosses. Which are both possible through Arsenal’s width.
Centrally, the side is barren. Ozil is not returning, so where can the Gunners gain momentum? Joe Willock’s performances in the Europa League have brought with them goals and even creativity. Not included in the matchday squad against Villa, it was disappointing for the youngster not be rewarded for his display.
Whilst still raw, providing the likes of Willock a route through reward will be key to squad morale and motivation. Qualities which are certainly lacking in their current form.
Whilst Mohamed Elneny and Thomas Partey’s partnership at United suited the game, Arteta needs to be versatile. Dani Ceballos could provide the more agile partner to Partey who, when taken off, was badly missed. The Spaniard tried to make things happen through the middle but to little effect without further midfield personnel.
Trusting the defence sounds naïve but could unleash Arsenal’s attacking potential. The fluidity of the Arsenal side, mainly through Bukayo Saka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles on the left, has added defensive security but removed offensive guile.
By putting faith in Arsenal’s left of Tierney and Gabriel, who have been arguably the side’s best players this season, means Saka can be set free further upfield. Be that in a wide position or behind the striker, Saka can be hugely creative and has been in the past.
Finally, the Willian experiment may have to be paused. The Brazilian’s only solidly offensive performance came on the opening day. Nicolas Pepe, whilst out of form also, represents a significant investment and has shown some goalscoring form in Europe. He needs game time, and the Europa League whilst good for confidence, will not develop him sufficiently.
Arteta has two weeks to work out what he is going to do before the trip to Leeds. Further dropped points there will begin to add real traction to the argument against his tenure.
This article was edited by Josh Barker.
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