Analysis of why Arsenal’s attack is deficient and needs addressing

Why is Arsenal’s attack so dysfunctional? by Yusuf

In football quality rules, and in order for quality players to be maximised to their best ability, coordination and synergy is required from the players in the squad to work together and be successful. You can easily look at Barcelona’s current league position and see that having a squad littered with high quality players does not always equate to a successful functioning team. Like in any industry a collective, or team, needs to have individuals that have attributes that can maximise each other’s strengths and compensate for each other’s deficiencies in order to find success. Arsenal’s incompetence in recruitment has led to a poorly structured squad and their inability to replace four key players had caused massive attribute deficiencies in their attack.

In terms of pure quality, Arsenal did replace Alexis Sanchez with a player of equal quality in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and although Aubemeyang had been immensely successful in replacing Sanchez’ goal return, Arsenal have been unable to replace Sanchez’s other qualities. In the 2016/17 season of which Sanchez played 38 league games, Arsenal had 566 shots with an average of 14.8 per game (Premier League) in the 2018/19, the first full season without Sanchez, they had 467 shots with an average of 12.3 per game. This season in the 14 games they’ve played they’ve had 146 shots with 10.4 per game. Whilst Arsenal’s drop off in shots is partially systematic and not only due to Sanchez’s individual departure, it’s clear to see the correlation. Arsenal are lacking in any player that provides the shot opportunism that Sanchez brought. All of Arsenal’s strikers do their best work in the penalty box and Arsenal are lacking in any player who provides a threat from distance or has the quality to produce shot creation situations. Sanchez also provided dynamism and unpredictability, Bruno Fernandes and Jack Grealish provide similar qualities in different profiles, and it is clear what immense impact they have on their respected teams in attacking moments.

It’s obviously that Arsenal attempted to replace these qualities in the summer of 2019 with Nicolas Pepe who can be a similar unpredictable individualist, however although Pepe has shown flashes of brilliance he has been unable so far in his Arsenal career to sustain high quality performances for any large period of time. Arsenal’s attack is desperately lacking in unpredictability and shot creation and if these deficiencies aren’t addressed then they will continue to find themselves being shut out by teams who are well organised as we have seen so far.

In the long term Santi Cazorla will have been replaced by Thomas Partey, who similarly to Cazorla is elite at ball progression. Partey differs to Cazorla in that his blend of physical and technical qualities provide a positional versatility that even Cazorla lacked. Due to Partey’s injury problems however, he has not been able to fully contribute to Arsenal this season and provide that much needed ball progression from deep. Cazorla most importantly provided technical versatility at a high level. He was capable of taking the ball in any situation and had the passing from both feet and dribbling ability to progress the ball into attacking positions at any moment of the game. When looking at Arsenal’s midfield subtracting Partey, it is clearly technically limited, symbolised in Granit Xhaka. Xhaka is the player trusted to connect the defence to midfield however his limitations are made clear when up against high quality opposition. Xhaka is good passer of the ball although largely only on his left foot, this limits the angles he can use to pass the ball forward. Xhaka is also a poor dribbler of the ball and not athletically talented limiting the amount of ground he can cover in attack or defence. Ceballos does present qualities more akin to those of Santi Cazorla however he struggles similarly with Pepe to find consistency and does show a lack of risk taking and adventurism in his passing that Cazorla was so confident in. The hope is that Arsenal can solve this issue internally with Partey once he returns to full fitness as without him Arsenal will struggle to progress the ball into attacking positions let alone create any chances.

When Arsenal fans think of Aaron Ramsey it is easy to remember his running in behind and goal scoring qualities. What’s often overlooked with Ramsey is his sheer athleticism and ability to contribute to multiple phases of play, not just goal scoring. Ramsey set a record for the most ground covered ever in a FA Cup final agasinst Chelsea in 2017 at 14.4km, whilst similar statistics can be found with Mohamed Elneny, like Arsenal’s other midfielders he specialises in one phase of play and cannot do multiple different roles as effortlessly as Ramsey could. When Arsenal sold Aaron Ramsey they identified Christopher Nkunku as a successor, a player Unai Emery knew well from his time at PSG. Nkunku is an all action midfielder who excels as a box to box presence as he has the engine to cover ground, reflected in his decision to join RB Leipzig a club often associated with high energy and pressing. Arsenal failed in their pursuit of Nkunku but should continue to look to replace that high level of athleticism that Ramsey provided in order to find balance in midfield.

Now clearly Mesut Ozil is still employed by Arsenal, however from a footballing perceptive his Arsenal career is effectively over and even if he was still playing for Arsenal, at 32, a long term successor would still need to be identified by the club. What Ozil excelled in for Arsenal was his ability to find space and receive the ball. Ozil was highly competent at finding positions in half spaces around the opposition area where he could turn and contribute to a goal threatening moments. Often it felt like games were passing him by because of his lack of involvement in play, although his decisions to at times move away from the ball was completely intentional for him to find space to be at his most effective. Arsenal’s current attack lacks any subtly or positional intelligence from the attacking players to find those half spaces that Ozil or a David Silva is so effective in. Finding those pockets is only half the job as a level of quality is also needed to be able to create goal scoring opportunities from a shot or pass. It’s been well documented and reflected in Arsenal’s poor attacking numbers that they are lacking in these attributes, and the creative players they do have such as Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock are still too young and inexperienced to be relied on consistently. Willian was a short term solution to this issue the club brought in however hasn’t been successful, and regardless, due to his age Arsenal still need a long term replacement (Perhaps Houssem Aouar) for these qualities and need to address this deficiency immediately if they want to see a more fluid and balanced attack.

Of course it is immensely difficult to replace players of this calibre at affordable prices when outside of the Champions League, simply put the message of this article is that it is not solely that quality is missing for Arsenal to start attacking better, but the profiles or attributes that those former players had that need replacing for a more functioning attack. Arsenal’s attack needs cohesion and recruitment is the best way to improve that. The club needs to start recruiting smarter and more effectively whilst acknowledging their attribute deficiencies if they want to give the manager the best opportunity for success and propel the club back into top four contention.

Yusuf Malik (Twitter @YMalik77)


          1. 😂
            I read that Pochettino is likely to get the job (which takes him off of our radar) and can just imagine some of the personality clashes with divas & egos etc. Just what PSG needs TBH.

    1. Oh so maybe PSG will look towards snatching Arteta from our hands, we need to be quick and tie him to a new 3 year contract extension.

  1. Both Wenger’s and Arteta’s systems are unstable, but Wenger had Giroud who was so dominant in the air, hardworking and able to hold the opponents off. Sanchez’s high risk playing style was tremendously helped by Giroud’s abilities to receive Szczesny’s/ Cech’s long distributions and pass the ball to our attacking players

    Cazorla is similar to Cebalos, which is a CAM who can play decently as a deep-lying playmaker. Cazorla’s close control and ambidexterity are world class, but Ozil, Sanchez and him wouldn’t have had a lot of ball possession if Giroud wasn’t our ultimate ball receiver in the front

    Our current CFs are easily man-handled by the opposition’s CBs and we won’t get another winning streak again in EPL until we have Giroud 2.0. Having said that, had we had a much more established system like Liverpool’s or Man City’s, we wouldn’t need any towering target man

    1. This is the most clear and concise explanation of how one of the lost underrated players in the epl was so effective. Giroud was immensely important at Arsenal and currently Chelsea and sad part is both teams didnt really value his work

        1. You just made me realise that we wouldn’t be in this position as Arsenal if we had Giroud. We just revert to crossing to nobody(Nketiah) and expect some kind of positive results, it’s so sad its laughable

    2. I remember so many games where Giroud couldn’t hold the ball and his flick-ons went nowhere. Adebayor was far better for holdup play in my view – he would often take a high pass on his chest and bring others into play, whereas Giroud was far less able – could be to do with the players around him at the time.
      Don’t get me wrong, OG would still be a big upgrade on what we’ve got now, he does have a nice highlight reel for quality Cf-assists and was very good from crosses, as you say. Agree that selling him was a mistake in hindsight.

      1. We need a younger CF whose abilities are better or similar to Giroud, because Giroud is already 34 years old

        However, the target man tactic is predictable, so the new CF must be willing to sit on the bench sometimes. By having a unique attacker like him, we could have different playing styles to confuse the oppositions

  2. I dont think new recruitment and big spending alone will solve Arsenal problems.. Think what happened to Ramsey Sanchez Eriksen Pepe Hazard Willian and many more examples we have like Torres to Chelsea Carrol to Liverpool etc. We can also expect these kind of issue on our players. Great manager will adopt tactics best suited to the availabe resources and system and will never try to impose his tactics on players who are not capable of delivering. We have very quick and fast players. But our game is slow and not a fast counter attacking one. After gaining ball possession our players slow down the game rather than attacking swiftly. I believe its the managers instructions and not players decision. Even if you bring Messi and Ronaldo if they follow same instruction the result would be same. So change manager as early as possible and reinstate the Arsenal attacking DNA in the team. Buying players will not be successful always.

    1. Our game is slow due to reliance on Xhaka and Ceballos in the middle. Elneny is a nice player but not a factor in the offense. All I want for Xmas is a healthy Partey.

      1. Even A fit Thomas Partey will not be enough to get us out of this mess.

        We have to integrate Smith Rowe into the midfield. He should be playing consistently.

        And also, buy Eriksson from Inter milan. We need goal scoring midfielders. i dont care if he once played for Spurs. he is what we need at the moment.

        Arteta is also a problem.
        The attackers are not playing with freedom. Arteta is giving too many instructions from the stands. like programming the attackers who to pass to. Willian was scoring free kicks and goals for Chelsea. why cant Arteta play Willian from the left hand side of attack? Our current midfield sucks. overhaul the midfield, Nketiah should not be starting games. Play Pepe/Smith Rowe behind the striker. And buy Eriksson in January.

        1. I don’t think Eriksson will be any better than Ozil was with his one goal and one assist in 18 games.
          I mean, the man was bad in Serie A, a league much easier than the Prem. Hard pass on that one.

          But Emile Smith Rowe must start games. He’s better than xhaka, Ceballos, Elneni, and Willock.
          Don’t know why is Arteta still sticking with the players that obviously can’t deliver.

    2. so true sadgunner. take chelsea for example,their players move the ball around quickly with most players not holding onto the ball for move more than 2 to 3 seconds giving the opposition headache in organising defensively. with arsenal the movement is slow with luiz when playing being the chief playmaker but funny enough he is a central defender. we need to start moving the ball to each player at a faster pace and find a player that can play through the middle and not only at the flanks.

    3. SadGunner do you really believe if we brought in Messi and Ronaldo we would have to same result? Come on. A manager is overrated. They can sit up a team but it’s up to the players to execute. Truth is we have very average players, aging strikers or strikers with no experience. Zero quality midfielders and really no consistency at CB. Plus we are mixing in guys who really can’t play top 6 level football, Xhaxa, Eleney, Runnerson?!

      Arteta is a solid manager, maybe his lack of experience makes him slow to adapt in game but bottom line. We are a mid table side at best based on last 5 years worth of talent at our club.

      Good news is we have lots of good young players and are just 3 or 4 really solid buys away from being top 6 again. But it’s not any managers fault.

  3. Thank heavens we have Thomas Partey or we would surely be relegated. We have in Xhaka, Ceballos and Elneny just about the worst midfield I have seen in the 62 years I have supported and watched Arsenal. To have let Guendouzi and Torreira go, and then the shameful Ozil scapegoating shows something very negative in Arteta’s mindset. Now seeing how Saliba is being treated… immoral. I supported Arteta strongly at first, now I feel he will never get these players playing. He has the worst man management skills I have seen and he is devoid of any experience. He makes a catalogue of blunders one after another……..and……he does not learn from his mistakes. How can the forwards score goals with the worst midfield in Arsenal history behind them?

    1. Torreira is not as magnificent as you make him to be. Cue: his struggle to get minutes at ATM. I enjoyed watching Guendouzi play but the truth is he was a walking time bomb because he was neither tactically nor emotionally disciplined. The primary blame should be the board. I believe they wanted to spend as little as possible to keep the team afloat even though it has been apparent for years that arsenal needed upgrades to its midfield. If we managed to get aour last summer, then we wouldn’t have had come to this point.

      1. CX111

        Where did I say Torreira was “magnificent”. Absurd. What I said was Xhaka, Ceballos and Elneny are not good enough. Guendouzi ‘was a walking time bomb’. Xhaka??????? You are putting words in my mouth that I did not say.

      2. Still rate Torreira and Guendozi high then what we have in midfiled at the moment. One thing ppl forget both are young, both are away from their home country and both are not playing in their shall we say youth Academy clubs. If you compare them to our youngsters who are at home, playing in same club where they were nurtured from grass level and still unable to break into league team to hold their place then you will appreciate the quality of these two. You don’t get to play for national team or are rated by well known footballers and managers if you don’t have quality. I would rather have a talented player who has bad attitude which can be moulded because of the young age factor then the one with good attitude but not good enough talent. Van Persie is one of the examples that pop in mind for above, great talent but trouble making history, look what Wenger manged to get out of him. This is the difference between aamher who can manage players and guide them to one who has no man management skills. This is one of the problems why our team is struggling this season Arteta favours work hours type players then talented ones who can produce moment of brilliance. He wants dumb 11 in team who don’t use their own Brian but just do as they are told.

          1. Lol.. @Moshan I could tell.

            I can also tell you that no manager enjoys having players that don’t heed to tactical instructions especially in critical areas of the pitch like midfield as being out of position could expose the team to goals in a blink. For different reasons, both players had to go. I personally enjoyed watching Torreira’s all action display in midfield, but the coach wanted someone taller and more expansive on the ball in his position; adding to the fact that he’s one of our more marketable players. Guendouzi was extended an olive branch after a couple of bust ups with the head coach and some unsavory behavior on the pitch, but the young man refused to apologize and move on. Maybe he thought it was within his right to taunt another professional with his salary and instigate unnecessary fights (prime ingredients for a suspension). Sure, he is a talent. But he’s not at the level where the coach needs to massage his ego. There are many players in the league who are far more important to their teams and still obey the coach’s directive.

      3. it’s so strange with arsenal. one time we didn’t have a defense,now we don’t have a proper midfield combination. smhp

    2. I’ve never been happy with the Guendouzi situation. He lost his head a bit in a game, but in the past that would be seen as passion. Vieira did far worse, but it was seen completely differently (internally at least). I think he’s the kind of guy who would be a good captain in the future and it’s sad it looks like we’re throwing it away.
      It shows a bit of immaturity if he couldn’t make things right with the manager, but it went way too far and he was sort of demonised.

      1. @Davi, 👍…complete agree with your comment. Perhaps what he has displayed in Arsenal shirt so far has back fired on him because ppl for get he is very young and a kid. Still learning his trait. But it can also be said that credit goes to him for people criticizing him as in same way as they would a 28 year old establish player.

  4. Great article. The description of Ozil’s game is very accurate. He excels in finding spaces not only to receive the ball but to draw the defense toward him and free up his team mates. He is effective with or without the ball. Unfortunately MA doe not like those type of players and that’s why ESR does not have a future under his management.

  5. On paper these player sound more than decent :
    Martinelli (even though he hasn’t played this season)

    A lot of money was spent.

    I can only think that they aren’t being used in the best way to get the best out of them and to make a real team that works. And that comes down to Manager and Coaches, I’m afraid

    We need an experienced Manager, I’m afraid imho

    1. we need to play ESR,but if he fail in the first league match we must not be so quick to critisise him. I think ESR can be a big player for us but need game time and time to adapt to the demands of the league.

  6. Emile Smith Rowe is the only creative player we have.

    Willock is not a creative player.

    Neither is Ceballos, not with the way he spots run from the forwards but directly decides to pass it back to Gabriel, and then raise his hand in apology.

  7. The issues are above the players and the manager. The first thing we need to fix is Edu. We need a football director that actually has a vision and direction that can mould the identity of this team properly.
    Edu seems to be doing things either reactionary or to the benefit of his bff Kia.

    No one today could tell me what kind of team Arsenal is after Wenger left.

  8. As I have been saying for long, Arteta took Arsenal as Barcelona and himself as Pep when he stepped into our club. If you compare he did exactly what Pep did at Barca, got rid of most of the well known players and basically it’s was my way or high way type tactics he used. Arteta followed in his teacher’s footsteps but forgot first he is not through n through Arsenal man, he does not posses the same quality as Pep himself and then he completely messed up by picking up the fights with so many players because he did not have their replacement. You see Pep got rid of all those players because he was working with Barca B side and Messi had imerged through as well apart from players like Xavi, Inesta, Puyol, Abidal all young at that time and ready to be play his way. On the other hand Arteta had no such quality coming out of the Acdemy as pep did and neither there were enough quality in current squad to displace the first eleven. So he messed up, he booted the current group of talented players with attitude problem (some of them) but had no replacement for them. So Arteta was bound to fail one way or other. The solution in this case was simple don’t do what pep did as you don’t have that influx of quality players coming through so instead manage the players you have and try to get best out of them. While replacing them slowly as you deem fit. You can not through most of the talent out of your team and expect the team to perform miracles every game. One should always choose his battles wisely.

    1. Along with all that young talent you mentioned, Guardiola also had Dani Alves, one of the best wing backs I’ve ever seen. He’ll never get that lucky again. As for Arteta he inherited a club on a downward trajectory. A problem for me though is that Arteta doesn’t seem to have a very good eye for talent and seems to prefer the plodders.

      1. Joe.S …I can go on about the whole Barcelona squad it was full of young and exciting players. I left out Pedro and Buesqet as well. My point was Pep is an intelligent guy he could afford to get rid of Deco and Ronaldinhio etc because he knew what talents he had at his disposal. Arteta on other hand played a poor hand, you don’t get rid of talented players in your team when you don’t have their replacement. It was stupid of him to stamp his authority and open up battle fronts with so many players…Guendozi, Ozil, Sokaritus, Torreira, AMN (who is a gentle giant that has not reacted so far for his testament) and then later even Luiz.

        1. Point taken Mohan, but please don’t torture me any further with those comparisons. That Barcelona team and our present bunch of Misfits just does not compute. Actually even someone like Deco would be massive in this present Arsenal team. At his best he had phenomenal workrate and was everything that Xhaka can never be. Artrta has inherited a youth system that was broken down and almost abandoned by Wegner, so to put do much emphasis on upcoming talent is slightly optimistic. But even Barcelona won’t see the likes of those young players for a long time even though their scouting system spans the globe.

  9. The big difference I see from the end of last season is a complete lack of movement in the forward areas, including from Aubamayeng. We’re good at moving into space so we can pass out from the back, but as soon as we get near the opposition box, we hit a wall.
    When ESR plays, it’s like a breath of fresh air because he moves between the lines and gives options in dangerous positions, whereas willian and Pepe seem afraid to move inside, of maybe it’s not their natural game, and we are consequently very easy to deal with.
    Maybe this is because of Arteta’s instructions but it looks like a fairly straightforward issue to me. We’re not giving opposition defenders anything to think about.

  10. Sanchez, Ozil and Carzola those were the three combinations which Arsenal have been unable to replace. The others, Ramsey, Giroud, Walcott and Chamberlain were extras,so easily interchangeable,or disposable?

    1. For me the one that hurt us the most was Santi, what a player 👊. For me that’s entirely my personal opinion but dude was the best midfileder we ever had. Because remember he was a winger then was converted into a CM by Wenger at his peak he was not even young when he transitioned into new role. Very skillfull with both feet, excellent tight control and ability to come out if difficult situation with ball, could play long short all sort of passes and he could defend as well because his positioning was brilliant. One of the reason for our downfall was we neve replaced him, he was the midfiled general of our team. He was always smiling and never created trouble for any one, true professional.

  11. As far as I’m concerned, the major problem in that team is the wage structure, as long as it is not regulated, what is happening will not stop even if we change 9 managers; Why should I kill myself on the field for 100k or less when the guys that are earning over 200k are not doing anything better than I’m, in fact some are pocketing large paychecks only to play craps and play safe, some are even busy doing other business only to……………….while I’ll be on the field to break my legs peanut. If things will change, the first positive step forward is the wage regulation. There are hungry and willing players out there with talents and skills willing to play their hearts out for the world to see.
    Until the present crops of senior players leave the club, it will be the same story going forward. That includes Auba, Laca, Willian, Bellerin, Kolasinac, Sokratis, Ozil, Pepe(he’s been a waste of money from the beginning) Xhaka,.

  12. Arteta must have some dirt on Edu and Vink or maybe they are partners in some sort of business. How is he still in job, no manager across Europe let alone England would deliver such pathetic performance and be not fired from his job. They won’t even tolerate that in championship let alone any EPL club. Not only this there are talks of club supporting him in January. Then we will all cry how we end up all the dead wood.

  13. I agree that few players are at their peak. But do u think that their skill would decline suddenly with one or two games?. If so how did they get massive contracts? What happened to Auba and William? I dont think its a natural decline. Because they were scintillating during last season. How can one perform like this in 3 months time?. Its definitely the negative tactics which they cant deliver. So its the problem of manager and not the players. Ozil was performing well under Wenger. Emery and Arteta wanted him to defend as well and spoiled him. He is an attacker. Leave him to his role and watch the beauty. …

  14. I think Arteta should trust the players and give them freedom to play with. If you watched willian at chelsea, you could tell he’s been restricted at Arsenal. And there’s obvious lack of forward movement from our attacking players. Nobody’s moving into spaces, and when they do the ball holders just turn a blind to them. What we have at Arsenal is players who prefer to play safe and the manager is happy with that, since he keeps selecting them. Nobody’s adventurous. Anytime I watch an Arsenal game, I notice the players are so afraid of making mistakes. I miss those one-touch plays, flicks and fluid football during wenger and even emery’s era.

  15. It is a fact Managers have their favorite players no matter how they play. We as fans see how limited these players are in their potions and all we want is for the other players to be given a chance in those same positions and see whether the ones Arteta has been selecting all along are actually better. His players have developed the loser mentality and he needs to change things or else he will take us down. I know for a fact that the current midfield is like a 1 horse power car because they lack pace, agility, mobility and creativity. Right now, the EPL is not for 1 horse power players who want to waste time on the ball because of their limited quality. The defense of Bellerin–Holding–Gabriel–Tierney is 50% strong in my opinion. Same with a back 3 of Holding-Luiz-Tierney is 50% strong. A back 4 of Niles–Luiz–Mari/Gabriel–Tierney is much stronger and a back 3 of Luiz—Mari–Gabriel is much stronger. The midfield of Ceballos/Xhaka–El Neny lack the pace, agility, mobility and creativity to press the opposition to win the ball and make something happen themselves. I see Smith-Rowe and Maitland-Niles as better suited for that midfield. Smith-Rowe has a mix of flair, technique, creativity and some pace to make something happen in that midfield. Niles has pace and man marking abilities to win the ball and pass immediately. All we need to bounce back again are players in the team who can pass the ball quickly enough and link-up better with each other rather than romancing and wasting time with it. A pacy midfield with the ability to release the ball quickly is key to our revival. Anything else will only flatter to deceive and relegation battle continues. We have the players to turn things around and lets use them aright. ONE-TOUCH football.













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