Arsenal’s defensive frailties have been well documented for a number of years, dating back to the days of Arsene Wenger.
When the Frenchman eventually stood aside, successor Unai Emery wasn’t really able to address the problem – and soon enough, a lack of creativity in front of goal was added to the list of criticisms being flung Arsenal’s way.
Now, Mikel Arteta is steering the ship – and although the creativity issue remains, it’s fair comment to say that the Spaniard has started to address the club’s issues at the back.
There’s also an issue of restricted finances at the club, meaning the recruitment team will need to focus spending in one area, rather than reconstructing the entire team. So where should Arteta’s priorities lie? Well, the statistics would suggest that defence isn’t the main area of concern, contrary to public opinion.
In the 20 games Emery managed in the Premier League this season, Arsenal conceded 1.45 goals per game – yet in Arteta’s 15 games, his Arsenal side have averaged 0.8 goals per game – almost half. When compared to the best defensive side in the league this season – Liverpool – Arteta’s Arsenal are only 0.04 worse off than the champions.
While this isn’t something to write home about, Arteta’s Arsenal side are much harder to beat than Emery’s team were. It is evident that this Arsenal side have improved, but the difference between goals scored pales in comparison to that of the numbers now being conceded.
With Emery in charge, Arsenal averaged 1.38 goals per game. That figure has now risen to 1.63 under Arteta, but when you compare those numbers to Manchester City – for example – they are some way off the 2.53 goals per game mark set by Pep Guardiola’s side. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but almost a goal per game more on average? That’s a big difference.
It’s a figure that’s not really good enough, considering Arsenal boast two of the most expensive forwards to have ever been purchased in the Premier League – in Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Pepe has struggled to find his feet in England so far, but has shown on occasion some of the ability that persuaded the Gunners to part with £72m (eventually). Aubameyang, meanwhile, continues to carry Arsenal’s goal threat on his shoulders, scoring 40% of the club’s goals (20 out of 50). Considering he’s been linked away from the club, that’s a real concern.
The main problem lies in Arsenal’s midfield, and their lack of contribution going forward. Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka, Joe Willock, Mesut Özil and Bukayo Saka have all scored just once, while chances have hardly been created at a premium.
The most impressive performer in that regard has been Saka, who is continuing his rise to prominence with impressive displays each and every week. He’s also a teenager, so it’s perhaps unfair to level criticism at a player who is finding his feet and is visibly improving.
Dani Ceballos, on loan from Real Madrid, appears to be the only central midfielder with any real desire to push forward and drive on with impetus. But even he goes missing on occasion, though things have improved since the Premier League’s resumption. So much so, in fact, that Arteta is thought to be keen on extending his loan deal, which looked highly unlikely with Emery at the helm.
But even if he does stay, Arsenal must be in the market for an attacking midfielder. Somebody in the mould of James Maddison – willing to get on the ball and dictate from deep, but also keen to push forward and take shots at goal.
To say the Gunners have underwhelmed this season would be an understatement, and the majority of those problems have come from their failure to outscore the opposition. Yes, David Luiz has looked rocky at the back and a number of goals have been conceded from errors – but sometimes you have to look forwards, rather than backwards.
A defender would be nice, but a midfielder is essential.