Predictability is first up on list of issues concerning Arsenal.
We all know there are problems to see to. In fact, we all know many facets are wrong with this Arsenal team, but all those individual elements come together to form the basis of one outstanding issue: a blunt attacking formula.
The next two weeks are pivotal for Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff as they open a fresh notebook and redesign the structure of Arsenal’s limp, ineffective attack. Well, that’s the hope anyway.
One such area that needs tending to – on a very long list – is predictability.
Whomever Arsenal face, in the Premier League especially, can brush up on their opponents’ forward movements all in a brief three-slide PowerPoint presentation.
- Go Wide
- Go Back Inside
- Stall for a Third Overlap
It doesn’t change.
Down the right hand side against Aston Villa, Willian would collect possession with Hector Bellerin offering one of either an underlap or an overlap. Presented with a dead end each time, it would require a third body to flood that flank in a desperate effort to put enough players there to allow one to lose his marker.
When that didn’t work, it’d go back inside to one of either Thomas Partey or Mohamed Elneny, who were so deep the only option available to them was wide to the winger nowhere near the penalty box. Either that or back to Gabriel Magalhaes.
Laborious, repetitive and predictable, the method would be rinsed and repeated to the point of either exhaustion, or a loss of possession.
It would fall on Alexandre Lacazette to attempt to fill the gaping hole in front of the back four with the occasional movement towards the ball. Such a ploy is fine if a domino effect is in play. One member of the forward line drops deep to make space in behind himself, which is attacked by a fellow teammate with the gap then occupied by the next player along and so forth.
Not quite as formulaic as that, it’s nonetheless a means for disruption that enforces defenders to constantly be shifting to follow markers press certain areas.
Arsenal don’t do that.
Arteta adopts a four or five-man attack when in possession, which against Villa – I use the most recent example but this issue has plagued the side for months now and is not exclusive to one single match – was Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Lacazette, Willian and Bellerin.
That five is interchangeable in terms of personnel, but that’s the only notion of the setup which can be granted the honour of being ‘movable’. Why? Because it’s so static.
Anger was the overriding emotion at the Emirates. Fear, however, crept in because even the most casual onlooker could clearly make out the predictable nature of each attacking move. Nothing changed. Crosses flung into the box for a squad full of players who can’t head a ball.
With a deep midfield pivot stuck staring at a wall of Villa defenders with small fragments of red dotted in between, all passing lanes and link-up opportunities are non-runners.
Persisting with this method is infuriating. Of course, as we know, the squad lacks certain players to add variation in these phases, but it’s folly to assume you can set up so rigidly and just exempt the No. 8/No. 10 role. With creative players absent, the route to goal has to be re-imagined.
Arsenal’s constant probing of playing the ball wide left, or right, is set out with one aim in sight: pounce on errors or high turnovers when a move breaks down.
Both are effective ways of scoring. That much isn’t disputed. But to rely solely on that avenue to goal is reactive as opposed to proactive. Arsenal will have joy building through the middle, the insistence on going wide has to stop.
There must be a focal point in the attack for others to feed off, but Lacazette is attempting to assume that mantle as well as the deeper false-nine mantle. He isn’t the calibre of player who can perform both those tasks. At present, he can’t even do one.
You need someone on the shoulders of the centre-halves throughout and someone sitting in front. Setting up as we are, there is nothing to trouble opposition defences. Nothing to cause them unrest or uncertainty.
Blunt, boring and bootless, the scarcity of diversification will continue to yield the same results if not altered.