Aston Villa just thoroughly outplayed Arsenal at the Emirates. It was not a “warning flag” performance. It was a “break glass in case of emergency and smash that alarm repeatedly” performance. The Gunners have big, big problems on attack. And so far, Mikel Arteta has shown himself incapable of solving them.
Today’s match was a study of opposites. The Aston Villa attack was dynamic. Jack Grealish and Ross Barkley run into the box both on the ball and off. Ollie Watkins pops up in between the defenders. Wingers are sprinting for the back post. There’s movement between the lines and attackers at different depths.
The Arsenal attack was static. You could draw a horizontal line across the pitch that would connect Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Willian. And those three were more often than not, standing still next to their marker. There’s no movement between the lines and everything is flat. There aren’t any runners from midfield.
Willian was atrocious today. It’s not that he didn’t contribute anything going forward. He actively hurt the team with his giveaways. He misplaced simple passes at midfield multiple times, including turning it over for the possession that eventually led to Villa’s first goal. He should be nowhere near the lineup right now.
It’s probably time for Alexandre Lacazette to lose his place, too. He had perhaps Arsenal’s best chance of the game at 1-0 down, and he couldn’t steer his header on frame. Right now, he’s not even forcing keepers to make difficult saves. And when your offense is struggling and you aren’t getting many chance, you have to have a striker on the pitch who converts the scraps the he gets.
Arsenal haven’t scored from open play in four matches in the Premier League. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hasn’t scored from open play in the league since the opening match against Fulham. The attack is nonexistent.
Coming into today’s match, the Gunners had conceded the fewest goals of any team in the Premier League, but they were over-performing their xGA. Well, the stat-heads will tell you that you can only outrun xG for so long. Arsenal couldn’t outrun it today. They were slow to close down Barkley and Grealish on the first goal, and they couldn’t track and mark Ollie Watkins’ runs for the second and third. They give up far too many good chances for a defense playing behind an attack that can’t score goals.
The next few matches are going to reveal a lot about Mikel Arteta’s abilities as a manager and perhaps inform his future at Arsenal, as well. He needs to change something and spark some offense, whether it’s formation, tactics, team selection, or something else. It’s probably all of the above. Right now, the arrow of blame is pointed squarely at him. Arsenal are not in a good place.