By Tony Attwood
The problem with tactical rethinks is that they can take a while to get right. And we have perfect evidence of that with the first third of last season when the whole approach to defending was changed and we slipped to 15th in the league.
I must admit I had hoped that having got it so right in the last two thirds of last season we would now be pushing forward for a top four place, but it seems we are in the midst of another tactical revolution.
Many journalists have noted that we don’t have a centre forward who can knock in the goals constantly – Aubameyang has got seven. So the simplistic journalist response is to demand that we go out and buy one.
But that, as we now know from watching him through last season, is most certainly not Arteta’s way. Besides, saying we need to buy x or y ignores the most important part of the story. X or Y might not want to come to Arsenal (and given the sort of media treatment, referee and fan treatment some of our players get, that can be understood), and besides their current clubs might not be willing to let them go.
But it looks as if maybe the manager is looking at a second approach: two goal scoring number 10s.
One of those two of course is Smith Rowe, who has scored only one fewer than Aubameyang – but who was injured for last night’s match. The second could be Saka, but given the need for him in defensive midfield, seemingly instead we are thinking about Odegaard, who has three (the same as Saka who can also take up that position).
This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t play with a centre forward, but under this approach he is not there to knock in 20 goals a season, although Aubameyang could still do it if he could refind his confidence and touch. But rather the centre forward is there to distract the defence, and knock the ball back to the two number tens as much as to score goals.
This situation might be a work in progress therefore, or it might have arisen because the situation has been forced upon Arsenal because his lack of form was not anticipated and not covered. But still Auba has scored seven in 13 games (54% scoring rate), whereas last season it was 15 in 33 (45% scoring rate). The season before that it was 29 in 41 (71%), which is what one looks for when the big centre forward is the club’s main scoring option.
This season however our top three goal scorers are
- Aubameyang: 7 in 13 (54%)
- Smith Rowe: 6 in 14 (42%)
- Lacazette, 3 in 6 (50%)
- Odegaard, 3 in 14 (21%)
So the two big strikers have still got the edge in percentage terms and thus we can see how far and how fast his figures have fallen, although so far, this season is slightly better than last.
Of course, I am not quite sure where Mr Arteta is taking this (I must have missed his call). But it could be that he wants to play Aubameyang alongside two number 10s (Smith Rowe and Odegaard) – which would be very unusual. Or maybe not play a big number nine type player at all.
But certainly, something needs to change because at present we are 12th in the goalscoring league, having scored only just over half the number of goals Chelsea have scored and just one more than Newcastle United and only two more than Tottenham Hots.
Unfortunately, this slippage in attack is not compensated by a greater effectiveness in defence where we have slipped behind such luminaries as Burnley, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Brentford in terms of goals conceded.
We know from last season that Mr Arteta is a man who works to a plan, and that his plan can be obscure and can take a while to come to fruition. So it seems unlikely that he didn’t foresee this situation, and that he is not working on resolving it. (The journalistic notion that they can see exactly where the problem is but the manager can’t, need not be taken seriously. If the journalists were as clever as they suggest each day on TV, they’d all be managers). But so far the only thing we are seeing is Smith Rowe getting the goals.
Maybe that is the plan, or maybe he is about to buy a player we’ve never heard of, in the style of Mr Wenger; a player who will astound us. Although remember Mr Wenger’s purchases didn’t always work out perfectly from the off (think of Henry and Pires). So we might need to wait until next season – unless AST, Black Scarf (now in hibernation) and AFTV reboot the demands of “Arteta Out”.
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