Gabriel Jesus
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Can a New Number 9 Fix All Of Arteta’s Problems At Arsenal?

Arsenal is a team that is considered to be one of the title challengers this season by pundits and fans of the Premier League around the world, owing to their brilliant performance last season, where they topped the table for a large chunk of the season. Eventually, losing to Pep Guardiola’s treble-winning Blues from Manchester.

Arsenal have been quite dominant throughout the season but have recently suffered, winning only 1 game of the last 5 they played, which is way below the expectations from the rejuvenated Arsenal team under Mikel Arteta. The main topic of conversation has been Arsenal’s difficulties in burying chances, which is quite a valid argument as they only have managed to score 1 goal from 6.48 xG (expected goals) according to The xG Philosophy. In these games, if Arsenal had taken their chances, there would be no doubt that they would have been able to win a majority of those matches if not all.

This does warrant some questions as to the ability of the Arsenal attacking force, but does this paint the whole picture? Does a new No.9 fix all the cracks that have appeared after these stints of games? Are these cracks significant enough for Arteta to address?

Keep reading to get all your answers to the questions surrounding Arsenal’s current state of their attack.

Are Arsenal Really “Underperforming” Finishing-wise?

Well, according to the xG models, the answer is “NO.”

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As you can see, Arsenal is very negligently over-performing in context to their expected goals. Now, that might be a different debate as to why they aren’t operating at the same levels as the likes of Manchester City or their North London rivals, Spurs.

As can be seen above, City, Spurs, and Aston Villa have the same xG, but they have been able to score approximately 8/7 goals more than Arsenal, which does mean that Arsenal is lacking that attacking touch to kill games and be higher up the table. First we need to understand what are the reasons teams over-perform and under-perform, and we’ll also further investigate individual player’s finishing performances.

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“According to my point of view, there are three main reasons as to why teams’ actual goals differentiate from the expected goals metric: luck or randomness, opposing goalkeeping/defence ability, and the one relevant in our case today, a forward’s finishing ability.”

Now, if the feature is of a recurring theme, and the underperformance is of a large sample of data, not 3 games only, then it warrants doubts on forward finishing ability. For that, I have used moving averages of Arsenal’s popular frontmen (forwards) to see if they are as bad as they have been painted by “Football Twitter or X.”

Moving Averages of Arsenal’s Popular Forwards.

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It can be seen that all 4 of them are operating at very efficient levels in terms of finishing currently, if compared with a reasonable chunk of data sample, even though large red mountains can be seen on Jesus’s and Havertz’s visual during the first part of 2023, which in the case of Jesus is due to his bad form and for Havertz it was his confidence. Now, both of them are performing well. Only Bukayo Saka’s average has taken a hit and is currently in red.

I do believe that Arsenal can improve as a team with a more consistent forward operating from the middle, but it is also very unfair to judge players based on a very tiny window of games, and in Jesus’s defence his playing style and ability on the ball allows the progression in the Arsenal team facilitating the positional transitioning football Arteta plays. Jesus and Zinchenko are two very intelligent players who identify spaces and can operate in any of them, allowing progression.

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So… Where Does Arsenal Need to Improve, If Not On the Forward Front?

arsenalcf

This heatmap allows us to see where Arsenal centre-forward (Nketiah and Jesus) has been receiving the ball this season and also allows me to put some precedent to my argument. As you can see, they received most of the passes wide, and the majority of them are very deep for a central attacker. This is due to the lack of progression in the current Arsenal team, and most of the blame is on the fitness issues of the players.

Now we saw how Kiwior did not invert as comfortably as Zinchenko in the recent games, which makes our centre-forward occupy the left pocket as our LCM has to drop deep with our DM to form a double pivot. Whenever Zinchenko plays, our progression of the ball is much better.

Secondly, even with Zinchenko in the team, Havertz is not a player that is known for his passing and carrying abilities; he is a #9 making instinctive runs, allowing Arsenal a completely different attacking dynamic to play over the press, but still, he is not a good progressor of the ball. This leaves Martinelli with tons to do, hence his low numbers this season.

Now this is my point of view: as we all know, in the end, the results of the games are decided by kicking the ball in the back of the net, no matter how beautifully you play the game. If you can’t score, you can’t win. Now I think the signing of Havertz was to allow Arsenal to win games that would get scrappy while dealing with compact, disciplined defences, thanks to his high footballing IQ and instincts. The Brentford goal was why he was signed. However, injuries to Partey and Vieira have hurt Arsenal, leaving Arteta with no choice but to play him in a position not best suited.

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Now, many would say, why not play ESR or Nwaneri? I cannot say anything, but it is clear that Jesus is a player who used to facilitate and allow Martinelli and Saka to get the goals, but neither of them, especially Martinelli hasn’t seen chances.

Concluding Thoughts

In Conclusion, I would still say that yes, a striker would raise the bar of this team, but people are exaggerating the recent defeats Arsenal has suffered. They are an elite team, and once they are at full strength their versatility in play will make them very unpredictable, owing to the versatile natures of Timber/Havertz/Zinchenko/Jesus.

I recently read reports of Arsenal tying up Onana to the club. This, for me, is the right move as, currently there is difficulty in signing a forward in this January window that can help Arsenal raise their bar significantly. However, a full-back signing and a hybrid 6/8 to cater for Partey’s inconsistent fitness could be the right way to go.

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