Arsenal’s attack inefficiencies is a hot topic of discussion in their fall out from their 3-0 home defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday night.
Since the beginning of the 2020/21 season, only five Premier League clubs have scored fewer goals than their total of nine. Arsenal in particular is yet to score more than two goals in a league fixture since their 3-0 opening day win away at Fulham.
In attempts to pinpoint the cause of the woes attack in Arsenal, many have pointed their finger on captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and his lack of goalscoring contribution as the biggest contributing factor.
To some extent, Aubameyang pointed out “problems” are understandable given he managed two goals this season only. However, there could be accusations leveled at Arsenal’s key man which questions if signing his new multi-million-pound deal, he’s lacking the same desire and precision that he was illustrating so emphatically in the closing stages of the last campaign.
However, there’s more of a case to say that he’s suffering as a direct consequence of the position he is playing within Mikel Arteta’s side.
For almost the entirety of Arteta’s time at the Emirates, Aubameyang has featured as a left-sided attacker. It’s a decision that seemed justified last season after he scored 16 goals in his first half of a season under Arteta and predecessor Unai Emery.
It’s also not uncommon in the modern game to see the top sides deploying some of their most clinical finishers on the flank, with Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Marcus Rashford all playing in wide attacking positions for their respective sides.
Yet a key difference between those players and Aubameyang is the attributes they possess. Each of Mane, Salah, and Rashford are fast, nimble, and skillful, using their pace and trickery to skip past opponents before cutting inside and unleashing shots towards goal.
That’s not to say Aubameyang was not initially enjoying an equal amount of success in picking the ball up in dangerous areas on the edge of the box and then cutting onto his favored right foot to fire dangerous efforts towards the goal.
However, these chances were initially arriving through the element of surprise with most opponents unaccustomed to seeing a traditional penalty-box poacher like the former Dortmund man playing in this new role.
As teams have become wiser to his threat, he’s finding it tougher to create shooting opportunities.
Unlike the players previously mentioned, he can’t rely on speed or skill to create openings. Therefore by simply guarding against Aubameyang cutting inside, or doubling up on the forward, defenders can restrict his opportunities to get shots away.
His lack of dribbling threat, certainly in comparison to the players previously mentioned, is captured by the fact that this season, both Mane and Salah have averaged over 4.2 dribbles per 90. Rashford has attempted an average of three per 90, whilst Arsenal’s key man is attempting just 0.88 per 90.
Playing both further away from goal, and lacking the penetration to drive closer to it when he is in possession has inevitably had a negative impact on his goal-scoring opportunities.
Arteta has implemented a system that’s highly structured, organized, and based around measured build-up play. There’s no doubt that this is definitely having a positive impact on the defense, yet the clear downside is the lack of attacking flair bestowed to his most dangerous attacking players.
Despite possessing players with standout dribbling ability such as Willian, Bukayo Saka, and Nicolas Pepe, it’s telling that they rank 18th in the Premier League this season in terms of dribbles attempted, with only Sheffield United and Burnley attempting fewer.
There’s also been a stark increase in the number of sideways passes made per 90 this season by Arsenal, increasing from 180 per 90 last season to 234 this season. Whether this is just as a consequence of a more dominating game, or tying in with a reluctance from some Arsenal players to take the ball on a drive at a defense isn’t clear.
But what is clear is that we can probably conclude Aubameyang’s lack of goals is a result of a wider issue relating to the tactics currently being deployed by Arteta.
A loosening of the Arsenal managers’ strict philosophy, added with both a team formation switch and a positional change for Aubameyang could quickly rectify their attacking issues and get the Gunners’ goals flowing again.