To most fans, a win by any means is satisfactory. Three points are, after all, better than one or zero, and Arsenal earned all three points up for grabs on Saturday, notching their first win of the season with a 1-0 scoreline at home against bottom of the table Norwich. Wins are the aim of the game, so nitpicking three points this early in the season feels a little excessive, especially considering Arsenal’s start to the season. But for Mikel Arteta’s side, pressing questions are arising on the offensive end of the pitch, as the Gunners just cannot seem to find the back of the net despite the abundance of attacking talent in the side.
Arsenal’s lone goal against Norwich will never find its way onto any Best Arsenal Goals YouTube compilations. In fact, it was downright ugly, finding the net after the ball landed at Aubameyang’s foot less than a yard from the goal mouth after a few errant bounces. In a way, it was the perfect allegory for Arsenal’s attack this season - confusing, frustrating, and inconsistent.
With 15 minutes left to play, Arsenal turned on the pressure as Norwich pressed higher for an equalizer, and despite a few clear cut chances by Emile Smith Rowe and Aubameyang on the counter, the 1-0 scoreline stood. By the time the final whistle blew, Arsenal’s stat sheet showed 30 shots, 6 on target, and one goal scored.
30 shots for Arsenal today (20 in the second half), just the one goal.— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) September 11, 2021
Today was always just about the win, but they have to be more ruthless in the future.
Still they are up and running now. Onwards and upwards (hopefully). pic.twitter.com/ndLIoQG2Wk
The shooting stats for the season are, in a word, dreadful. Over four matches this season, Arsenal have registered 59 total shots with only 19 on target. While those 59 shots puts Arsenal at 6th in the league in total volume of shots, the single goal scored puts the at the bottom of the goals scored column, tied with Norwich. With shots, quality is always going to outweigh quantity, and the Gunners are struggling to finish their quality chances.
Much has been said of Arteta’s tactics neutering Arsenal’s creativity in the attack, relying on what has been referred to as the Donut of Sadness or Horseshoe of Death - start the play with the CB, work it wide to Tierney for a cross, fail to find a shot, and back to the CB it goes. Lather, rinse, repeat. The midfielders are either too afraid to shoot or have been instructed not to, leaving a gaping goal scoring hole in the middle of the pitch. Since Arteta took over as the manager, Arsenal’s attack has been streaky and unpredictable. The FA Cup winning run in 2019-2020 and the post-Boxing Day run in 2020-2021 both featured strong showings from the attack, but the production has yet to be sustainable.
Individual execution, however, has kept Arsenal from making more of their chances as much as the tactics. In the 83rd minute against Norwich, Aubameyang found himself driving in from the left side of the box - his preferred angle - with a clear shot on goal, only to place his shot directly at Tim Kruul. Four minutes later, Emile Smith Rowe had what surely should have been the nail in the coffin as he found himself in the center of the box facing the keeper. Once again, what should have been a sure goal ended up directly at the keeper.
Arsenal continued to find quality opportunities in the waning moments, but the combination of indecisiveness, poor finishing, or miscommunication led to missed chances and missed goals. If this weren’t a frustratingly familiar scene, it could be chalked up to early-season rust. But the more it continues, the more it appears to become Arsenal’s standard. And that is a frightening thought.
Arsenal are a young side, which is a blessing and a curse. Behind Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are a slew of promising young attackers. Bukayo Saka is the heir apparent to the next great Arsenal attacker mantle, and players like Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, Falorin Balogun, and Eddie Nketiah are all teeming with promise. But if the youth players are unable to establish a track record of goal scoring success, their development is at risk of stalling out. Arteta’s vision is clear - build the roster up with young, talented, hungry players. But if you can’t feed a hungry player, their progress takes a tremendous hit. If one of Auba or Laca are sidelined for a discernible time, the youth need to step up and seize the reins, and right now it is unclear who exactly will be able to do so.
Long gone are the swashbuckling Arsenal sides that glided across the pitch en route to a barrage of quality chances from every attacking player, and while that hurts to see, the Gunners have a manageable run of matches over the next month to get their act together before the fixture list gets tougher. With Burnley in the league and AFC Wimbledon in the EFL cup this upcoming week, they will have ample opportunity to find their footing and bang in some goals.
Will somebody - anybody - please start scoring?