Arsenal 0-1 Burnley. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for Mikel Arteta’s men, they lose yet another game at the Emirates Stadium, their fourth on the trot in North London.
Losing to Leicester City, Aston Villa or Wolverhampton Wanderers — teams in the top half of the Premier League at the time — is one thing, falling to defeat by the Clarets — a side in the bottom three before kick-off and with a sole win before Sunday — was beyond depressing.
Speaking of disheartening; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired blanks, again. For anyone counting, it’s now 11 games on the spin since the Gunners captain netted from open play. His last goal of any kind was a penalty vs Manchester United in gameweek seven.
He appears low on confidence — which is telling for someone as assured and flamboyant as the Gabon star — amid the lack of goals and a general malaise of the team. Indeed, this has been obvious in the lack of conviction in front of goal.
This was somewhat evident by the Arsenal captain’s four shots against Burnley, which barely looked like scoring, as well as the blocked shot in the previous gameweek against Tottenham Hotspur. One late effort vs Spurs was blocked, and the former from Kieran Tierney’s pin-point cross could have been converted.
There’s an argument to be made that Auba’s headed effort would have been put away by a forward in form, but the breakdown of the forward’s Premier League strikes, by and large, suggests otherwise.
None of his goals in the second half of 2017/18 were headers; likewise, the following year, in which he won the Golden Boot, along with Liverpool’s Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah. Last season, however, saw a shift from the norm as the former Borussia Dortmund attacker scored three headed goals — against Chelsea, Newcastle United and Everton.
It’s not his forte, however, and, surprisingly, the Gunners have looked to cross constantly in the last few games and, indeed, this season.
“I think it’s the first time in the Premier League that we put in 33 crosses,” Mikel Arteta noted after the North London Derby defeat by Spurs. “I tell you if we do that more consistently, we are going to score more goals. It’s maths, pure maths and it will happen.”
The three-time PL champions put in 23 more against Burnley per Fbref, taking their total for the season so far to 187, the highest in the top flight. They are on pace to accumulate around 592, which will be significantly higher than their total last term (478) and 18/19 (466). In Arsene Wenger’s final season, the English giants put in 455 crosses
Strangely, if Arteta’s team continue to deliver balls into the box as frequently, their eventual tally will be lower in volume to Manchester City’s 605 in 18/19 and 617 last term. The Gunners are currently playing 15.6 crosses per game, which is lower than City’s average in the last two seasons respectively — 16.2 and 15.9.
Be that as it may, the issue with Arsenal’s recent penchant for sending balls into the mixer isn’t that act itself but the fact it appears to be Plan A, rather than the fall-back approach to events on the pitch. There’s also been a wider challenge with the timing of the crosses, quality of the deliveries and movement, or lack thereof, of the team’s forwards.
Liverpool, for instance, are a side whose full-backs, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, tend to deliver balls into the box with regularity, as do Man City with Kevin De Bruyne — majorly from his favoured inside-right channel — or Benjamin Mendy when he features at left-back.
Jurgen Klopp and Guardiola’s teams send a plethora of deliveries into the box, in fairness, but they form part of a well-rounded, varied approach, regardless. Right now, Arsenal’s style seems singularly reliant on them without the proper timing, excellence or appropriate runs from players in the box.
Their lack of height, however, can’t be an undisputed explanation for the paucity of goals from crossing due to how neither the defending league champions nor the Cityzens have towering frontmen in attack.
Aubameyang, for his part, scored a few goals from balls sent into the box at times last season, notably against Spurs at the Emirates and at West Ham United, where his off-the-ball run and standard of delivery made it easier to finish.
Arteta’s team notably sent in only 23 crosses against the Clarets on Sunday but whether this will be attributed to an alteration in approach remains to be seen.
A positive for Arsenal, though, was their encouraging display especially after half time before Granit Xhaka’s mindless sending off in the 56th minute.
The Gunners seemed to show life and intensity against Sean Dyche’s side and it told in their Expected Goals of 1.85 per Understat, their highest xG since...that opening day win at Fulham.
Maybe there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the side on a run of six defeats in their last eight league games, maybe there isn’t; however, the next few weeks will be revealing for Aubameyang and the North London side’s general approach as they look to arrest a worrying slump that's placed them closer to the relegation zone than Champions League contention.