Arsenal’s lack of firepower is proving costly in the Champions League race, but the way forward is clear | Soccer News

Arsenal’s 1-0 loss to Southampton on Saturday made it 15 games since one of their strikers last scored a goal from open play in the Premier League, a run dating back to December.

Eddie Nketiah was chosen to lead the line at St Mary’s in the absence of Alexandre Lacazette, who was ruled out with Covid-19, but he has done little better than his team-mate recently.

The 22-year-old managed at least one shot on goal, which is more than Lacazette managed in the 2-1 reverse against Brighton a week earlier, but he never really threatened to find the net.

It has now been over two months since Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left for Barcelona but, damningly, after scoring seven goals in all competitions in the first half of the campaign, he remains Barcelona’s most successful striker. ‘Arsenal this season.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Arsenal’s defeat at Southampton

Arsenal did very well without him early on, winning 10 of 13 Premier League games and scoring 26 goals between mid-December – when he was exiled – and the end of March.

But with Lacazette and Nketiah unable to provide enough of an edge up front and Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and the rest of Arsenal’s supporting forwards struggling to deliver consistently in front of goal, results deteriorated sharply.

A bad finish that is expensive

It’s not for lack of trying.

Arsenal had plenty of scoring chances against Southampton, with Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard coming closest, but the result was a familiar one as Jan Bednarek’s goal, one of Arsenal’s nine shots to 23, turned out to be decisive.

Between December and March, Mikel Arteta’s side managed to convert enough chances to revive their first four hopes, but wasted finishing has been a problem throughout the season.

Arsenal rank fifth in the division in terms of expected goals this season, according to Opta, and yet their actual tally of 45 puts them eighth, sandwiched between Leicester and Crystal Palace.

Opta’s expected goals model indicates that they scored around 10 fewer goals than they should have over the course of the campaign, based on the quality of the chances they created.

The only teams with worse records in front of goal this season are bottom Norwich and mid-table Brighton.

Arsenal’s poor finish stands in stark contrast to that of their opponents on Wednesday night.

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says he expects Alexandre Lacazette to remain focused on playing for the club despite doubts over his

Chelsea have of course had their own problems this season.

Romelu Lukaku, signed from Inter Milan for a club-record £97.5million at the start of the campaign, failed to live up to expectations and now finds himself demoted to the bench with his future uncertain.

But while Arsenal have struggled to convert chances into goals, Opta data shows Thomas Tuchel’s side have scored nearly eight times. After than expected, making them the most efficient team in the division this season in terms of finishing, despite the issues around Lukaku.

This gives them a significant advantage heading into Wednesday’s game.

Encouragement in the underlying numbers

Arsenal's Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring his team's second goal of the game
Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka celebrates after a recent goal against Watford

Arteta knew Arsenal had played when they allowed Aubameyang to leave without bringing in a replacement in January. Logic, he explained to sky sports in March, was that the right player was simply not available halfway through the season.

“Even if you’re tempted to do something, but you think it’s going to get you in trouble for months or years to come, you shouldn’t do it,” he said. “But whether it was a good decision or not, we won’t know until the end of the season.”

It looks increasingly like he will be remembered as a bad guy, although it is accepted that Aubameyang’s presence at the club had become more of a hindrance than a help, but there is at least one encouragement to be found in the underlying numbers.

Arsenal have been far from their best of late, with injuries to Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney having had a significant impact on their performances, but overall they are still creating chances.

In fact, since the start of the year, they have recorded a higher expected goals total than their opponents in nine of 12 Premier League games, the only exceptions being against Manchester City, Liverpool and Crystal Palace.

Statistically speaking, Arsenal’s performances at both ends of the pitch throughout the second half of the campaign were better than at any other time in Arteta’s tenure.

That’s little consolation now, as a top-four finish slips out of reach, but the numbers suggest an increase in firepower this summer could have a transformative effect on their future bottom line.

Lack of experience needs to be corrected

An Arsneal player protests against a decision in their 2-1 loss to Manchester City
Arsenal have lost four of their last five Premier League games

Arsenal’s bet in January was all the more risky given the squad profile Arteta currently has.

Last summer’s recruiting campaign proved successful, with new signings invigorating the team and significantly lowering the average age of the squad, but with youth comes inexperience and that inexperience has shown that. lately.

“The players we have, they haven’t made it to this league,” Arteta said after the Southampton game. “When you have a world-class player who’s been in the league for 10 years, you’re probably not sitting here.”

Arsenal’s inexperience can be seen not only in their inability to convert chances in recent weeks, but also in the way their form has fluctuated over the campaign.

The defeats followed one another, as did the victories.

The streak is typical of youth and underscores the need for more experience this summer, something the club are aware of having focused their recruitment on players aged 23 or younger last year.

“I think now we can be more flexible in the type of recruitment we do because obviously we are the youngest team in the league at the moment,” Arteta added to sky sports in March. “We have to be careful what the balance is.”

That balance isn’t right yet and that’s another factor that could end up costing them a Champions League final this season. But the path to improvement is clear – even if there’s more frustration to come by the end of the campaign.

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