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xGunners: Arsenal’s worrying lack of creativity

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Arsenal players are missing from the list of creative passers

Arsenal FC v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

With Mikel Arteta coming in as the new manager, I was thinking about all of the changes that will need to eventually happen with Arsenal, and the deficiencies in the current squad.

I think that most, if not all, of us can agree that Arsenal’s current squad is unbalanced but fairly talented and as a team playing below the sum of their parts. We have some really talented strikers, we have an exciting young winger, we have some pretty good more defensively minded midfielders (or at least midfielders inclined to play in deeper roles), and when they aren’t injured we have pretty decent full backs.

What is really missing from this team is true creativity, and players to provide the service that our attackers need.

Sort the Premier League stats by total key passes created (not a perfect metric, but it will work as a proxy in this case), and you don’t find an Arsenal player until you get down into the 40’s.

Player Passing Table
Assi
Rk Player Squad 90s KP
1 Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City 14.6 62
2 Trent Alexander-Arnold Liverpool 16.5 52
3 James Maddison Leicester City 15.7 48
4 Pascal Groß Brighton 12.3 44
5 Emiliano Buendía Norwich City 13.9 42
6 Lucas Digne Everton 16.0 41
7 João Moutinho Wolves 16.0 40
8 Jack Grealish Aston Villa 14.9 38
9 Sadio Mané Liverpool 14.8 29
10 John McGinn Aston Villa 17.0 29
11 Raheem Sterling Manchester City 15.6 29
12 Mason Mount Chelsea 15.7 27
13 Gerard Deulofeu Watford 13.3 26
14 Son Heung-min Tottenham 13.7 26
15 Raúl Jiménez Wolves 16.4 26
16 Gylfi Sigurðsson Everton 12.8 26
17 Youri Tielemans Leicester City 16.7 26
18 John Fleck Sheffield Utd 14.3 25
19 Andrew Robertson Liverpool 16.2 24
20 James Ward-Prowse Southampton 17.0 24
21 César Azpilicueta Chelsea 15.0 23
22 Ben Chilwell Leicester City 13.9 23
23 İlkay Gündoğan Manchester City 10.9 23
24 Dwight McNeil Burnley 16.3 23
25 Oliver Norwood Sheffield Utd 15.7 23
26 Bernardo Silva Manchester City 10.4 23
27 David Silva Manchester City 11.3 23
28 Willian Chelsea 12.2 23
29 Todd Cantwell Norwich City 13.3 22
30 Ryan Fraser Bournemouth 13.0 21
31 Daniel James Manchester Utd 15.9 21
32 Manuel Lanzini West Ham 8.1 21
33 Riyad Mahrez Manchester City 7.6 21
34 Marcus Rashford Manchester Utd 16.6 21
35 Diego Rico Bournemouth 13.4 21
36 Felipe Anderson West Ham 12.0 20
37 Anwar El Ghazi Aston Villa 11.4 20
38 Pierre Højbjerg Southampton 15.2 20
39 Teemu Pukki Norwich City 16.9 20
40 Robert Snodgrass West Ham 8.9 20
41 Roberto Firmino Liverpool 15.2 19
42 Luka Milivojević Crystal Palace 15.8 19
43 Fred Manchester Utd 10.6 18
44 Mateo Kovačić Chelsea 13.1 18
45 Mesut Özil Arsenal 7.4 18
46 Nicolas Pépé Arsenal 11.2 18
Provided by FBref.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/19/2019.

If we do the same thing with passes completed in the box, it gets a little bit better, but the first Arsenal player doesn’t show up until the 30th spot:

Player Passing Table
Rk Player Squad 90s PenArea
1 Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City 14.6 75
2 Trent Alexander-Arnold Liverpool 16.5 53
3 Lucas Digne Everton 16.0 46
4 James Maddison Leicester City 15.7 43
5 Emiliano Buendía Norwich City 13.9 42
6 Oliver Norwood Sheffield Utd 15.7 40
7 Jack Grealish Aston Villa 14.9 39
8 David Silva Manchester City 11.3 33
9 Mason Mount Chelsea 15.7 32
10 Raheem Sterling Manchester City 15.6 32
11 Andrew Robertson Liverpool 16.2 31
12 Wilfried Zaha Crystal Palace 16.3 30
13 Ryan Fraser Bournemouth 13.0 29
14 Diego Rico Bournemouth 13.4 29
15 Pascal Groß Brighton 12.3 28
16 Sadio Mané Liverpool 14.8 28
17 Marcus Rashford Manchester Utd 16.6 28
18 Enda Stevens Sheffield Utd 17.0 28
19 João Moutinho Wolves 16.0 27
20 James Ward-Prowse Southampton 17.0 27
21 Felipe Anderson West Ham 12.0 26
22 Riyad Mahrez Manchester City 7.6 26
23 John McGinn Aston Villa 17.0 26
24 Luka Milivojević Crystal Palace 15.8 26
25 Youri Tielemans Leicester City 16.7 25
26 Alex Iwobi Everton 11.5 24
27 Dwight McNeil Burnley 16.3 24
28 Ashley Westwood Burnley 14.0 24
29 Ashley Young Manchester Utd 9.6 24
30 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal 17.0 23
31 Gerard Deulofeu Watford 13.3 23
32 John Fleck Sheffield Utd 14.3 23
33 Gylfi Sigurðsson Everton 12.8 23
34 Ryan Bertrand Southampton 10.5 22
35 Willian Chelsea 12.2 22
36 Harvey Barnes Leicester City 10.6 21
37 Christian Eriksen Tottenham 8.1 21
38 İlkay Gündoğan Manchester City 10.9 21
39 Nicolas Pépé Arsenal 11.2 21
Provided by FBref.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/19/2019.

I think that when Arsenal drew up their plans for this season, they were leaning heavily on Dani Ceballos to be that guy, and unfortunately that hasn’t worked out. Ceballos was okay and showed flashes of the ability when he was healthy early in the season, but he didn’t quite fill the hole. Over the last few matches Mesut Özil has played more, but even if we hate to admit it, he is no longer the creative genius he was a few seasons ago. Still, he is probably the player best suited for the role at Arsenal.

As we write off this season and start to turn our attention to the future, finding a creative player (or players) and a tactical system that can maximize and support the attacking talent must become the club’s focus.