The 49 Steps
Published in

The 49 Steps

Notes on Arsenal 5–1 Everton: Goal Rush Too Late

Arsenal scored five goals on the final day of the Premier League season against an Everton side still hungover from securing top-flight safety a few days earlier. Sunday’s goal rush was a decent sendoff for the home fans at the Emirates Stadium, but it came too late to airbrush the weaknesses that ultimately cost Arsenal a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Chief among those weaknesses is an ability to score goals consistently. The stats bear out the argument. Mikel Arteta’s team managed to find the net 61 times over 38 games during the 2021/22 campaign.

It’s the fifth-lowest tally in the top five, which is exactly where Arsenal sit in the final table. The fact it took a too-late goal spurt to put Arsenal above West Ham and Manchester United for goals scored speaks volumes about this issue.

So does this damning stat from Orbinho:

https://twitter.com/Orbinho/status/1528374873164173312

Back-to-back barren stretches this long prove a lack of goals is no anomaly under Arteta. It’s the worrying, frustrating norm.

Things were at least different against the Toffees, right from the moment Gabriel Martinelli scored from the penalty spot. Martinelli’s still raw and inconsistent, but I’d like to see the Brazilian get a prolonged run at centre-forward next season. He’s got that coolness when taking chances you need to see from a natural goalscorer.

Eddie Nketiah is a little rougher around the edges, but he simply gets the job done when an opportunity comes his way. Fast Eddie headed in Arsenal’s second from Martinelli’s flick in a manner reminiscent of the old near-post corner routine.

Nketiah’s league goals have come in a clutch in the dying embers of this season, but he’s still surpassed every other striker on the books:

https://twitter.com/charles_watts/status/1528398954114727938

When you’re top-scoring striker yields only single digits, you know you’re in trouble. It’s also a problem Arsenal could lose a player of Nektiah’s potential for nothing.

By his own admission, Arteta hasn’t used Nketiah enough. That should be a strike against a manager who swings Project Shield without shame.

Nketiah and Martinelli have the potential to grow into something more. Like, say, a prolific partnership.

Yet, even if they did, Arsenal need a few more goals from elsewhere. The defence would be a good place to start.

Ironically, Arsenal got two goals from the back against Everton. Cedric Soares curled in a beauty, before Gabriel Magalhaes recycled a chance to score Arsenal’s fourth.

Cedric’s place in the squad is galling for many. It’s likely be another of those self-inflicted mistakes Arteta gets to correct with more time and money than he deserves. Just like Willian, David Luiz, Pablo Mari and Alex Runarsson.

At least Arteta can claim some small part in Gabriel’s improvement this season. The Brazilian who was more of a Raul Sanllehi parting gift than an Arteta/Edu transfer masterstroke (if such a thing exists), has matured into a colossus this season.

Gabriel’s more vocal, tougher physically and also more efficient at the other end of the pitch:

https://twitter.com/Squawka/status/1528411284730830848

It’s not a stretch to say Gabi M. is already the best centre-back signing this club has made in a long, long time. Maybe even since Kolo Toure’s arrival.

Gabriel’s final goal of the season was the third from a set-piece against the not-really-up-for-it Toffees. Set pieces have been a good source of goals for Arsenal throughout the campaign:

https://twitter.com/OptaJoe/status/1528412535610818560

Set-piece boffin Nicolas Jover has earned his crust by inspiring a revival in this area, even if Arsenal’s numbers from set pieces were never as bad under Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery as many would like you to believe.

A few goals from other defenders would make Jover look even better and ease Gabriel’s burden next season. It’s not unreasonable to expect more given the expansive role full-backs are supposed to play in Arteta’s system.

Granted, I’m still stumped about what Arteta’s system actually looks like, but many assume it’s something akin to what he learned from Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Joao Cancelo is a steady source of goal actions for City, but it’s Wenger Arteta ought to take his cues from when deciding how to use full-backs more offensively.

Wenger routinely had full-backs who were more than just tireless runners and cross merchants. Ashley Cole, Lauren, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin all created and scored goals.

It would also help to have a FB who is a set-piece merchant. There’s one for the transfer committee of Arteta, Edu and a cardboard cutout of Sven Mislintat’s so-called ‘Diamond Eye.’

In truth, goalscoring defenders are a bonus. What Arteta needs is a few more goals from midfield. Sure, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka hit double digits in the league, and Martin Odegaard added his seventh of the season by icing the Everton cake with a graceful slalom and tidy finish from inside the box.

Odegaard is still far and away the best player signed by this regime, but he’s not as prolific as his talents would suggest. Consider what Leicester’s James Maddison, the more expensive option Arteta declined last summer, has produced:

https://twitter.com/WilliamHill/status/1528416841311596544

Odegaard is no mere consolation for not signing Maddison, but scoring goals in bunches is about being greedy, especially in the transfer market. Imagine what a two-pronged force of Maddison and Odegaard might achieve.

Arsenal need a steadier stream of goals from midfielders. Smith Rowe and Saka ran dry for large portions of the run-in, combining for just three goals over the last 10 matches, and two of those were Saka penalties. Arteta’s alleged fledglings lost five of those games and failed to score in four of those defeats.

Pressure played its part, and there’s no doubt Sunday would’ve looked different if Everton hadn’t already made sure of safety by beating Crystal Palace on Thursday. The muted reaction from the away fans when Donny van de Beek halved Arsenal’s two-goal advantage in first-half stoppage time summed up how few fucks Everton had to give.

Goals didn’t flow freely for Arsenal when the pressure was on against Tottenham and Newcastle. Paying to ship out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who scored 13 goals for Barcleona since January, without a replacement, didn’t help matters.

Ultimately though, Arsenal’s problems in front of goal are as much about an incoherent system as they are mediocre personnel in key areas. Arteta is getting longer than he deserves to put things right, but goal tallies of 56, 55 and 61 in the league on his watch make for grim reading.

Originally published at http://arsenalnotes49.wordpress.com on May 23, 2022.

--

--

Arsenal, NFL History and Film Analysis from James Dudko

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
James Dudko

James Dudko

Films, Footie and Gridiron, with the emphasis on Arsenal, NFL history and analysis of cinema from years past.