Mikel Arteta says he’s partly to blame for Arsenal not creating enough chances but he wouldn’t be drawn on the specific reasons for his squad’s creative struggles.
Ahead of the final day of the Premier League season, stats show that the Gunners are 13th in the table for “Big Chances Created” trailing our traditional big rivals but also the likes of Everton, Burnley, Southampton and West Ham United. Worse still, we’re 16th for shots taken over the course of the season, trailling even bottom club Norwich.
You don’t have to pore over passing and heat maps to be aware that Arsenal, when dominating opponents, too often play a stilted, one-dimensional type of football that relies on working the ball to the flanks before manufacturing a cross of some sort.
Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa was a prime example. The Gunners made 536 passes to the Villans 200, including 117 passes in the final third and 34 crosses (via @StatsZone) but created just one big chance didn’t register a single shot on target.
If the club doesn’t qualify for Europe and is forced to tighten the purse strings, it’s a problem the boss may have to solve without recruiting. For the time being, he’s keeping his cards close to his chest.
Asked about the failure to create chances, he said: “I have my reasons that I don’t want to make public, but it’s clear those stats don’t lie.
“When you relate them to Arsenal, it’s not good enough. There are certain aspects of the games that we don’t control as well as we should.
Pressed on whether it was down to a personnel issue, he went on: “It’s everything, it’s personnel, it’s myself that I have to improve to do things better, much better, individual, collective issues, a lot of things.”
It sounds as though pragmatism has also played a part. Eager to tighten up a leaky defence, Arteta has turned to playing with a three-man backline and wing-backs. With one less player in the centre of midfield – a position reserved pre-lockdown for Mesut Ozil – we’ve often looked short of bodies when we reach the final third and have had to rely on our attackers to do the hard work.
“When you are in a process and need immediate results, immediate performances and need to give your team the best chance to fight for the objectives that we have short-term, you have to find a way to do it,” explained the Spaniard.
“You cannot just shoot yourself in the feet trying to do something in certain moments that you are not able to do. We are trying to find this way but obviously the next step in our evolution has to be very much linked into that to improve that area a lot.”
He added: “Yes [it puts pressure on the strikers], and we have to put that [scoring] into the collective psyche more. Everybody should understand better how we’re going to do that process.
“It [the pressure] is inevitable though, at the end of the day they [the strikers] have to be the ones scoring the goals and the others have to get the service right for them and more consistency to get in the right areas more often.”