Mikel Arteta had plenty to say after his side’s defeat at Newcastle. Proud of his players and left aghast by the officiating, some sympathised with the Arsenal boss after the Gunners fell to their first defeat of the season.
Arteta’s anger was understandable given the nature of Anthony Gordon’s winner. The margins are fine when attempting to usurp a juggernaut, and the boss felt that the officiating cost his side a point on Tyneside.
And while a singular point could prove decisive when it’s all said and done, that’s all Arsenal deserved against Newcastle. Arteta was keen to praise his players amid his VAR tirade, but perhaps it was his side’s performance with the ball that exacerbated his frustrations.
The Gunners produced a controlled performance at St. James’ Park, subduing the Toon Army before Kai Havertz’s ill-advised lunge on Sean Longstaff spurred the Geordies into life. They largely kept the hosts at arm’s length, but their own attacking performance was nothing short of futile.
Mikel Arteta has more pressing concerns than VAR woes
This was another flat and predictable performance in the final third, with Newcastle limiting the Gunners to their fourth-lowest xG output (0.56) since the start of last season. We know how much Arteta craves variance, but his side, who were albeit without Gabriel Jesus and Martin Odegaard, currently look as one-paced and one-dimensional as ever, especially against deep-lying defences.
It’s reminiscent of the club’s lean period in front of goal before Emile Smith Rowe was introduced into the starting XI in late 2020. Fortunately, the Gunners’ security in defence has rendered them productive at the start of 2023/24, and another stout defensive showing outside of Newcastle’s goal sequence meant a stalemate would’ve been a more than fair result.
In isolation, had that attacking performance led to a point on Saturday, there would’ve been little scope for complaints. But Arsenal’s struggles in the final third are undoubtedly becoming an issue. Gabriel Martinelli is failing to win his one-on-one duel, Bukayo Saka looks knackered, Odegaard has been out of sorts all season, Ben White’s scared to overlap, and Eddie Nketiah is far too consigned to the central space to facilitate any fluidity.
At the moment, Arteta’s side are not a fun watch (unless they’re playing Sheffield United).
While the issues were present with Gabriel Jesus in the side, the Brazilian showed in Seville that he can win games for Arsenal off his own back.
There seem to be multiple reasons as to why Arsenal’s open-play xG is only the tenth-highest in the Premier League. Odegaard’s aforementioned woes have inhibited the previously supreme dynamic down the right flank, while Granit Xhaka’s void is growing bigger and bleaker by the game. Kai Havertz adds another element to Arsenal’s possession play, allowing them to play over opposing presses, but his combined xG+xA per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season is currently on track to be the joint-lowest of his career (0.35). The German doesn’t attack the box with the same vigour as he once did, and he’s rarely sought to create from the left half-space – the zone from where Xhaka did so much damage last season.
There is no simple answer for Arsenal’s attacking malaise at the start of the new season, but Arteta’s emphasis on security and control has allowed the Gunners to collect points at an impressive click despite their chance creation woes.
At this point, Arsenal are capable of competing with any side on the planet, but the combination of issues which has led to a stagnation higher up the pitch means that winning matches is currently far more of an ordeal than it was for much of 2022/23.