I am finding it hard to form any sort of a conclusive opinion about Arsenal’s attack.
Nasri, Walcott, and Van Persie have contributed significantly more than they did in previous years. Arshavin too made a telling contribution in terms of goals and, more importantly, assists.
Arguably, the loss of 11 goals from last year’s tally of 83 does indicate the attack struggled a bit. Fabregas, Vermaelen, and even Bendtner’s contribution was not comparable to last season.
I don’t know how many have noticed this but all the top teams have scored less this season compared to the previous one. United scored 8 less, Chelsea dropped a whopping 34 (they did have an exceptional year last time around), while City lagged by 13. Even the Tiny Totts managed to score a dozen less than their paltry 67 from 09-10. Arsenal’s 11 seems par for the course in this context.
There could be many reasons for this collective slump. Some observers believe the top teams were weak this season whereas others believe the League was stronger. Given the amount of money City have spent I’m inclined to go with the former argument. If the top teams had been weaker Mancini’s side should have run away with the title. The fact that they did not, and indeed struggled to perform against the smaller teams, suggests that the other teams defended well and fought harder.
Another common argument that I have read during the season and in the summer is that the Gunners don’t break at speed anymore. I haven’t found any such opinion backed by actual evidence. Usually it is based on the writer’s feelings which are often triggered by watching ‘highlights’ of the seasons past.
If we believe the WhoScored website, Arsenal scored only 3 goals from a fast break this season. In comparison, United scored 5, Chelsea 4, and City got 2. Now there could be a debate over the definition of a fast break but one thing is certain – the definition is same for all the teams. Why did a team that was assembled at a cost of nearly half a billion and was based primarily on a counter-attacking style score only two goals from fast breaks? Didn’t they score that many or more against Arsenal alone in one game last time around?
Once again we can compare these numbers with the 2009-10 season to get some perspective. City scored 10 goals from fast breaks last season. Arsenal had 9, United 6, while Chelsea managed 8. To me, that is further evidence that in 2010-11, the smaller teams tightened their defences.
Based on the above discussion, I believe it’s safe to say that Arsenal’s attack wasn’t that bad.
The development of Nasri and Walcott was timely and the manager deserves enormous credit for nurturing them the way he has. It is also important to acknowledge the contribution of a little Russian in the success of the Frenchman and the England international. Many of their goals came after excellent work by Arshavin.
The diminutive playmaker often frustrates with his work rate and body language but it’s hard to ignore the value of his contribution. Is it a co-incidence that Nasri and Walcott lost form in the final few months when Arshavin wasn’t playing regularly?
Unfortunately, Arsenal did continue to disappoint with their crossing and set-pieces. I am one of the first to say that both of these methods are highly inefficient ways of attacking but the Gunners seem to have regressed in this department.
This season Arsenal scored 9 goals from set-pieces (excluding penalties). The Manchester sides managed 13 while Chelsea knocked in 18. A year ago, Arsenal finished with 16, United 13, Chelsea 17, and City topped the list with 21. The loss of Vermaelen might have been more of a blow in the opposition box than our own!
Van Persie was unplayable at times but his free-kick delivery was poor. It could be a mental issue and he might have been trying too hard because last season he did excel at corners.
Wenger has to make the set-pieces more dangerous. Even if they don’t lead to goals, Arsenal have to use them as a form of increasing the pressure. These days the opposition finds set-pieces to be a respite against Arsenal’s possession game and are happy to knock the ball out to get a breather and reorganize. Arsene has to infuse more creativity and purpose into the way the Gunners approach free-kicks and corners. This can only come from rigorous and focused training.
Before concluding I want to briefly mention Chamakh. The Moroccan had a respectable start to his Arsenal career after an impressive pre-season. Unfortunately, his form dropped off around Christmas and he failed to make an impression after that.
I believe he wasn’t signed as a typical goal-scorer or poacher but as a player who could bring the others into play more often. The early form of Nasri, Walcott, and Arshavin did justify his style. But, in a long season, there will always be times when the midfield struggles or the wide players cannot contribute as much. In such games one would expect more from a striker. So far, Arsene hasn’t been able to get the best out of Chamakh. Better set-pieces and a change to a more traditional approach every once in a while can help the striker and the team.
To be fair, Arsenal do try going wide and putting crosses in but it is a style they haven’t mastered as a collective. The team lacks cohesion on such occasions. More often than not there aren’t enough bodies in the box or in the right areas for a cross to at least cause confusion/panic. Once again, training is the only realistic solution.
On the whole, I was impressed by some developments in attack but felt there is room for improvement and flexibility. Arrivals and departures will affect the possibilities for next season so I’ll revisit the topic just before the start of the season.