Talking Tactics

Can Arteta reignite misfiring Arsenal attack?

By Adrian Clarke 17 Jan 2024
PL2324-TALKING-TACTICS-ARSCRY-Martinelli-Arteta

Adrian Clarke analyses Arsenal's recent struggles in the final third

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Team analysis - Arsenal

If Arsenal are to keep pace with Liverpool and Manchester City in the second half of the season, they have no choice but to sharpen up inside the final third.  

Across their first 10 matches the Gunners did not have an issue with their attack, finding the back of the net an impressive 23 times without hitting top gear in terms of performance.  

During the following 10 matches, however, the firepower of Mikel Arteta’s men has waned, with only 14 goals scored.

Following home blanks against West Ham United and in their FA Cup exit to Liverpool, it is imperative they rediscover their touch at home to Crystal Palace in the early kick-off.  

Wasteful finishing 

Arsenal’s first-choice front four have all produced flashes of individual brilliance, without clicking as a unit in the way they did in 2022/23.  

As a collective they have also not been lethal enough.  

Every member of this quartet reached double figures for top-flight goals last season, but their shot-conversion rate has markedly dropped.  

Gabriel Martinelli’s dip is the most alarming. His conversion rate has sunk from 27.27 per cent last season to only 9.09 per cent in 2023/24, but he is not alone in experiencing a downturn.  

Too many gilt-edged opportunities have been squandered by Arsenal’s chief goal threats.  

Shot conversion 22/23 & 23/24*
Player 2022/2023 2023/2024
Gabriel Jesus 19.3% 12.5%
Bukayo Saka 23.3% 20.7%
Martin Odegaard 25% 13.8%
Gabriel Martinelli 27.3% 9.1%

*Excluding blocks

Sharing goals around was not a problem for Arsenal last season when they scored a total of 88, with leading scorers Martinelli and Martin Odegaard hitting 15 goals apiece.

That tremendous campaign showed they did not need a prolific striker to compete with Man City, but the absence of a serial goalscorer means they rely on everybody chipping in on a frequent basis.   

This has not been the case in recent weeks, and consequently it has led to several unexpected dropped points.  

As shown in the table below, none of Arsenal’s front four has a minutes-per-goal rate they would be pleased with at this stage of the season.  

Minutes per goal 22/23 & 23/24
Player 2022/2023 2023/2024
Gabriel Jesus 188.6 313.3
Bukayo Saka 227.9 277.5
Martin Odegaard 209.5 377
Gabriel Martinelli 187 649.5

It is easy to see why many Arsenal supporters are clamouring for a proven goalscorer to be brought in as a matter of urgency.  

To get close to the number of goals required to win a Premier League title, huge improvements will be needed from all of Arteta’s forwards if a new recruit is not added to the squad this month. 

Too predictable & taking the extra touch 

Arsenal have been a touch too slow and formulaic in their build-up play this season.  

The sharp combinations and 3v2s out wide, which were the hallmark of how they stretched opponents in their 2022/23 campaign, have not been as prevalent. 

Instead, the Gunners have centred much of their approach around feeding Bukayo Saka or Martinelli for 1v1s down the flanks.  

Many teams have doubled up on Arsenal’s wingers and held lower blocks than they did last term, slowing down the pace of their attacks.  

This has congested space around the penalty area and limited their ability to create quality chances.  

In open play Arsenal have only scored 19 goals, ranking them 13th in the division; while Man City and Liverpool have produced 32 and 31 respectively.  

As shown below, Arteta’s men are fashioning plenty of shots (effectively the second-most in the competition), but too many have come to nothing.  

Lacking a bit of confidence in their finishing, too many players are delaying before taking on their shots, leading to a high number of blocks.  

PL shot stats 23/24
Team Shots inside the box Team Blocked shots
Liverpool 239 Liverpool 107
*Spurs 230 Arsenal 106
Arsenal 229 Man City 99
Man City 217 *Man Utd 96
*Aston Villa 215 *Spurs 96

*Have played one extra match

Across the last 18 months Arsenal have built themselves a reputation for scoring plenty of dramatic late goals.  

The spirit and character of the side is not in doubt.  

Yet across their last four matches in all competitions, Arteta’s side has fizzled out from half-time onwards, either running out of ideas or lacking the energy to wear opponents down in the manner we have grown accustomed to.

Failing to manufacture a shot on target in three of their last four second halves, they will be aiming to sustain pressure for longer periods against Palace on their return to action following the mid-season player break.  

Arsenal in second halves*
Match Second-half shots Second-half shots on target Second-half goals
Liverpool (A) 6 0 0
West Ham (H) 21 6 0
Fulham (A) 5 0 0
Liverpool (H) 5 0 0

*Last four matches in all competitions

It feels as if Arsenal’s brief winter break came at just the right time.  

Some jaded displays around the Christmas period have set them back in the title race, but a warm-weather training camp in Dubai should help them return with a renewed spring in their step.  

A new signing this month would certainly boost the Gunners’ attacking armoury, but the immediate priority for Arteta and his staff will be finding improvements to his side’s attacking play, individually and as a fluid unit.  

The quality is there, but tactical, physical and technical improvements have to be made if Arsenal are to push on and challenge for major honours.  

Also in this series

Part 1: Why Joao Pedro has won De Zerbi's favour
Part 2: How Elliott can step up and shine in Salah's absence
Part 4: Why Toney is so important to the success of Brentford

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