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What is Arsenal’s Biggest Creative Problem?

By Mac Johnson

Arsenal have not created a goal from open play in 476 Premier League minutes. For reference, that’s 7.933 hours that Arsenal have played football, without scoring a single goal that wasn't from a dead ball situation. We’ve scored 1 goal in our last five games, and it was a penalty that brought our goal tally up to a whopping nine for the season. We’ve scored just as many goals as Heung-Min Son! Incredible! When the Arsenal fanbase finished ranting over Nicolas Pepe, they turned their attention back to the issue at hand: our attack looks average at best, and it’s the most expensive in the league. Well, second bar Chelsea’s, and they’ve scored 22 goals, the most of anybody in the league. Clearly, there’s something wrong. There are some out there who believe it’s a personnel issue, that Willian, Pepe, Lacazette, hell even Aubameyang, aren’t good enough to make a difference. That’s usually connected to a thread of “Bring Back Mesut Ozil,” which is utter trollop, or “Sign Szoboszlai, Aouar, and Emi Buendia.” The latter is certainly more reasonable, but to think that new signings would completely solve our issues is barking up the wrong tree. Because there’s no question that the players we have are talented, but they, likewise, can’t solve all of our issues. And relying on players who don’t know the English game to play it is often a risky proposition.

Some out there believe that Mikel Arteta’s system, team selection and tactics are the issue. Adding higher risk, higher reward players, like Pepe, or Joe Willock, into the squad, to attempt at greater unpredictability, is often called for on matchdays when Arsenal deploy a rather defensive setup. And to be fair, our defence has been rock solid. Our back-four has began to develop a real shape, and our three best midfielders are far better at sitting than creating, with the exception of Bukayo Saka. He’s good at everything. But there’s just not enough movement going forward. Now, Arteta should take some of the blame for that, but nowhere near all of it. He’s turned this team around, brought stability and begun to rebuild from the ground up. He deserves credit for that. Which brings me to my point. Emery was meant to bring defensive stability to Wenger’s system which was all attack, no defence, towards the end of his reign. He didn’t, and he also completely nullified a successful attacking threat. We became completely mediocre, in all areas.

Arteta has brought defensive stability back, but has yet to reinstall balance to the team. Every successful team in the league has a balanced attacking system. For Liverpool, it’s a 5-5, with the fullbacks and front three attacking, and the midfield three and center-backs tasked with providing the platform for that attack. For Chelsea, it’s more of a 6-4, with the front three, pivot No. 8’s, and one full-back going forward, while the holding midfielder, centre-backs, and other full-back defending. Arsenal’s system looks like a 4-6 at the best of times, and a 2-8 at the worst. Our centre-backs, fullbacks, and midfield all trend to the defensive side of the game, and so there’s a massive gap between that collective unit and our front three. There’s just no connection to the attack, no fluidity. Regardless of who plays for the team, or who starts there’s no linkup. It partially comes down to available personnel, partially to tactics, and partially to team selection. But for everything to come together, we need balance. In the squad, in the tactics, in the lineup. If I knew how to fix it, I would be part of Arteta’s staff. But the fact that I’ve identified the problem means he knew it two weeks ago. Now it’s just up to him, and his staff, to turn this problem around.

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