Arsenal took 30 shots against West Ham and didn’t score a single goal. After 19 games, all of Arsenal’s attacking players are contributing less than they did a season ago. Only Bukayo Saka is close to last season’s metrics, with 5 goals and 6 assists, but only one goal in twelve. And, in one sense, creating 2.5 xG and not scoring a single goal is a finishing issue. But on the season as a whole, Arsenal have slightly overperformed xG. In open play, Arsenal’s xG is 21.4, with Arsenal scoring 18 goals. That xG is essentially the same as Sean Dyche’s Everton, and is tenth in the league.
This, then, is a creativity issue, perhaps best illustrated by the defeat against West Ham. Yes, Arsenal took 30 shots, but also, 30 shots and 2.5 xG means the value of the shots is not very high, and the overall quality of the chances created was low. The highest quality chance created last night was .62, when Saka’s shot rebounded at pace off of Leandro Trossard’s leg—which doesn’t seem like an actual quality chance. After that, Saka’s shot off the post and Jesus’s header were the two highest quality chances, with both under .3; a big chance is somewhere between .3 and .4 xG.
It was similar against Brighton, a game that Arsenal dominated but could’ve dropped points before Kai Havertz scored a second goal. Against Brighton, all of Arsenal’s chances were below .4 xG. Against Aston Villa, it was similar: .32 xG for Saliba the highest. It’s a consistent pattern: Arsenal dominate games, control games, and create decent chances. But they do not consistently create excellent chances. Last season, Arsenal’s xG per shot was second in the league. This year it’s 14th. Part of that is because facing deeper blocks means taking more poor quality shots—after all, Liverpool’s shot quality is below Arsenal’s. But Arsenal’s shot quality is 17% worse than last season, and given Arsenal’s goal scoring issues, that feels significant.
Last season, Arsenal outperformed xG by nearly a third; perhaps it should’ve been a sign for Arsenal to do more to add to the attacking line. While good teams usually outperform xG by ten to fifteen percent, that is in part because good teams usually have outstanding attackers who frequently outperform xG: for example, Haaland and Harry Kane always outperform xG. Arsenal don’t have those attackers. Gabriel Jesus frequently underperforms xG, as does Kai Havertz. It’s unclear if Bukayo Saka, Martinelli or Martin Ødegaard consistently outperform xG.
This again brings the focus back to creating chances. Arsenal’s chance creation is subpar this season. It is below the level of last season, especially on the left hand side. That side is struggling; outside of Kai Havertz, everyone who plays on the left is suffering. Zinchenko’s creativity is down, and Gabriel Martinelli’s form is down, with his output down and his shooting numbers down. The rotations on the left hand side are no longer there, and Martinelli is struggling against deep blocks.
Be it form, tiredness, or tactics, Arsenal’s creativity is down. There are potential solutions: having more rotations between Martinelli and Jesus, for example, to give Martinelli more central space in behind, and offer Arsenal the central pass behind defences. It might not come off, but it could force the opposition to drop off and create just a little more space in midfield.
Arsenal do have a finishing issue. Good teams usually outperform xG, and Arsenal are essentially not. But the larger issue is creativity. The volume of chance creation is high but the quality is down.