Analysis

Aubameyang isn't entirely at fault for Arsenal's poor start to the season

While the Gabon forward has hardly been in form, Gunners manager Mikel Arteta has bigger problems to deal with in midfield

 
1:12pm on Monday 30th November 2020
By
Stefan Bienkowski

Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Wolves on Sunday was their fifth of the Premier League season and yet another example of how Mikel Arteta’s team simply aren’t working.

Despite the flutter of good results at the start of the season and the 1-0 win over Manchester United in early November, the London club seem incapable of putting together a consistent run of form or even figuring out the best way to beat their opposition.

With just four goals from 12 appearances this season, fingers have quickly been pointed at Arsenal’s striker-turned-winger-turned-striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. But, that probably excuses deeper issues and more troubling culprits in Arteta’s squad.

For example, when we look at how Arsenal stack up to the rest of the Premier League we can see that while Aubameyang is by no means an exemplary player in Arsenal colours at the moment, he’s still the only focal point for the team’s attack.

While Arteta’s side are eighth in the division for attacks down the left flank - facilitated mostly by Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka, along with Aubameyang - they’re bottom in the English top-flight for attacks down the right flank or through the middle.

Similarly, Arteta’s side are not only third bottom of the division for dribbles attempted per game but sit dead last among other Premier League sides for attempted counter attack plays that led to a shot. In other words, Arsenal are terrible at getting the ball up the park with any kind of speed or precision.

The Willian problem

Arsenal spent around £77 million bringing defensive players like Thomas Partey, Gabriel and Pablo Mari to the club in the summer but the one attacking player that was recruited to help the team score goals as well as they defended them was Willian from Chelsea. And it just hasn’t worked out as well as Arteta would have surely hoped for.

So far this season the Brazilian attacking midfielder is averaging 0.11 shots on target per game, which is a huge drop off from the 0.83 he averaged last season. Couple that with the fact that only 17 percent of the shots he’s hit this season have been on target - a drop from the 44 percent he hit on target last season - and you have a player that is nowhere near as effective in front of goal as he was last season.

Willian's form at Chelsea and Arsenal

Willian's stats per game

SeasonDribblesShots on target
2017/184.30.72
2018/194.20.78
2019/203.90.83
2020/2110.11

Another troubling trend for the 32-year-old midfielder is just how little he dribbles with the ball this season. Over the course of the last three seasons Willian averaged around four dribbles per game for Chelsea, yet that figure has dropped down to just one per game for Arsenal this season.

When we consider that Arsenal are unquestionably lacking players that can dribble with the ball and provide a goal threat, we can’t overlook the fact that Willian simply isn’t the same player that he was for Chelsea. Indeed, his goals per game underline this point perfectly: last season he averaged around one goal every four games. So far, after 628 minutes of Premier League football for Arsenal, he has none.

No midfield creativity

As if Willian’s form wasn’t troubling enough for Arsenal fans, it’s also worth considering the fact that despite the Brazilian’s drop in form he’s still handily outperforming Arteta’s other midfielders when it comes to creating chances for the forward line.

So far this season Willian is top of Arsenal’s (admittedly rather underwhelming) table of chance creators, with 13 from 12 games. Then it’s Nicolas Pepe, Joe Willock, Hector Bellerin, Aubameyang, Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Eddit Nketiah and then David Luiz.

Aside from Willock, there isn’t a single Arsenal central midfielder among the club’s top 10 players for chances created. Which is quite something, considering Arteta’s insistence on playing Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos, Mohamed Elneny or Thomas Partey whenever possible.

Nov 30, 2020
  NameDribbles P90Pass comp %AVG Rating
1Mohamed El Neny000.2094%6.8
2Granit Xhaka000.0089%6.7
3Dani Ceballos101.7587%6.9
4Thomas Partey002.3390%6.7

Among the four midfielders, Ceballos is the best for assists per game but sits just 77th in the Premier League in that metric. He’s also the best for key passes per game, but sits 67th among his peers. And when it comes to dribbles per game Partey is the best among Arteta’s central midfielders, but sits 68th in the Premier League.

That’s not entirely their fault - they’re all defensive or holding midfielders by trade and are doing exactly that in most games - but Arteta’s insistence on playing two or three of them in every game means there’s absolutely no creativity or playmaking at the heart of this Arsenal team.

Arsenal have the fifth best defensive record in the Premier League this season but when it comes to scoring goals only three teams are worse. And while Aubameyang may be the most obvious fault in the team’s shortcomings in front of goal, he isn’t the biggest problem in Arteta’s squad.

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