The less things change, the more things stay the same.
This certainly applies to Arsenal. One of the Gunners’ main flaws from last season was going forward, something that used to be their biggest strength is rapidly becoming a major concern.
Never mind scoring just 55 goals in 38 Premier League games, chance creation was something that Mikel Arteta had major issues with prior to the introduction of Emile Smith Rowe after Christmas as well as the arrival of Martin Odegaard in the January transfer window.
Whilst there was improvement during the second half of the season, it’s still very evident that a creative midfielder must be signed before the summer window closes.
As pointed out by @Orbinho on Twitter, the first half of Sunday’s pre-season defeat by Chelsea summed up exactly what Arsenal fans would have feared upon learning of the starting XI Arteta selected.
“Arsenal with three shots in the first half, all from outside the box, two barely worthy of the description,” they wrote. “Arsenal’s issues around lack of chance creation continue.”
With Thomas Partey and Mohamed Elneny operating as a double pivot, the onus was on Smith Rowe to be the creative spark with Alexandre Lacazette often dropping deep to pull Chelsea defenders out of position for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to exploit any space in behind.
Except it didn’t quite work out that way and one way to solve this problem is to bring in another creative midfielder to play alongside or instead of Smith Rowe at times.
However, bringing Odegaard back for a second spell might solve just one of Arsenal’s biggest flaws.
As well as a lack of chance creation, the Gunners still haven’t addressed the lack of goals from midfield.
Last season Elneny, Partey, Dani Ceballos and Granit Xhaka managed four goals between them across all competitions, whilst the more creative players such as Willian, Smith Rowe and Odegaard managed seven in total.
Arteta is well aware of the problem, highlighting it back in December.
“It’s very clear. If you say ‘can they do it?’ it’s a question mark. Have they done it in the past? The answer is no,” said Arteta. “We haven’t had any goals from midfield, it’s not something that happened [just] this year, it happened in other years and is something that has to be addressed.
“To change the qualities and characteristics of players is very, very difficult. A big team needs players in midfield who score goals. They need central defenders that score goals from set-pieces to add to that.
“If you start to lose those margins, you start to lose points, you start to be away from the top team, this is not any science.”
At the moment, two players tipped to solve these issues are Odegaard and James Maddison, but realistically only one, if any, is likely to arrive at the Emirates Stadium before the window closes on August 31.
It’s certainly a tough decision facing Arteta and technical director Edu, but one potentially made easier by Maddison’s own personal drive for goals and assists that matches up with what Arteta is demanding from his midfield players.
“I want to be the best player James Maddison can be. The way I can do that is put pressure on myself. I want everyone questioning me because that is what drives me,” he told BBC’s Football Focus earlier in the year. “Some people like to go under the radar – and that is not wrong – but, for me, I want my name in everyone’s mouth.
“One of the things that has made me get a lot of goals and assists in the last few months is because I heard Jamie Carragher say my numbers weren’t good enough. I didn’t go into my shell after that, that was adding fuel to my engine.
“I always back myself and believe in myself because that has got me to where I am today.”
Whilst Odegaard is more creative of the two, Maddison’s goal threat and set-piece prowess might just give him the edge, although chances of a £60m deal depend on Arsenal raising enough funds via player sales.
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The transfer window is in full swing and things are beginning to ramp up with Edu and Mikel Arteta’s dealings at the Emirates.
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Other than Joe Willock – who exposed the lack of goals from midfield flaw against Chelsea with an effort that would have counted had goalline technology been in use – the Gunners don’t have another midfielder willing to make runs from deep into the opposition box to get on the scoresheet.
Maddison’s clear hunger for goals is exactly why he’s more likely to match Arteta’s high standards of “15 goals and 10 assists” from Arsenal’s ideal number 10.
The Gunners’ 2021/22 season could be defined by the type of attacking midfielder they sign.
Given Arteta’s main transfer mission this summer is crystal clear, if it comes down to a choice of Maddison or Odegaard, the decision has already been made even easier.
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