Mikel Arteta may believe it is a simple case of mathematics, but the numbers are simply not adding up for Arsenal.
After drawing a blank in a north London derby defeat to Tottenham, the Gunners remain stuck on 10 Premier League goals for the campaign. To put that into context, it is the same number as Son Heung-min, who grabbed the first for a Spurs side who had just three on-target attempts and 30 per cent possession, yet still always appeared the more threatening.
Having fallen into Jose Mourinho’s counter-attacking trap, Arsenal responded with crosses. Lots of crosses – 32 of them in total. Willian contributed half that number, of which just two were rated as good by Opta.
It was Arsenal’s highest tally in a Premier League match since February 2016, when they managed 36 against Leicester City, while their most in an away fixture since March 2011, when West Brom were the opponents.
“A cross doesn’t mean just an aerial cross,” Arteta explained after a game where his team had played football’s version of Battleships, blindly guessing at the potential location of an intended target.
2 – Mikel Arteta is just the second Arsenal manager to lose each of his first two north London derbies, after Bertie Mee in 1966-67. Disappointing. pic.twitter.com/4tx33AuaRr
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 6, 2020
It was not a one-off occurrence, either. Arsenal had attempted 30 crosses from open play in the home loss to Wolves in their previous league outing, albeit one of them – following a short corner – did lead to a goal, scored by centre-back Gabriel.
The Arsenal boss was asked about the continual bombardment in his post-match press conference after that game, to which he replied: “With the bodies we have in certain moments of the game in that box, it’s maths, pure maths. It will happen. It’s how consistently we can do that and with what level of quality.”
The concern, though, is that the players Arsenal have in attack are not seemingly adept at scoring from such opportunities. Since the start of Arteta’s reign in December 2019, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has managed two goals from crosses, Alexandre Lacazette just the one.
In terms of the current season, Arsenal now average 15.5 open-play crosses per game, a number only beaten by Aston Villa (16.1) heading into matchweek 12. However, in terms of accuracy, they ranked 14th in the top flight, with a 17.1 per cent success rate.
It may be a case of necessity without enough creativity in midfield to break down opposing teams willing to cede space out wide, but then that is what comes with ostracising your most gifted playmaker in Mesut Ozil, who managed 54 assists in 184 league appearances. His accuracy when it comes to open-play crosses sits at 30 per cent, by the way.
128 – Before 2020/21, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had the joint-5th best minutes per goal ratio in @PremierLeague history; scoring every 128 minutes. This season, he’s scored just twice in 897 league minutes. Diminished.
What’s gone wrong for the Arsenal star in 2020/21?
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 3, 2020
A crossing policy can reap rewards – Manchester United averaged 19.1 from open play in 2012-13 as they won a 20th title in Alex Ferguson’s final season at the helm – yet it has shown little sign of working so far for Arsenal, who have collected just 13 points from their opening 11 league games, their worst start to a campaign in the Premier League era.
The arrival of Burnley to Emirates Stadium would normally be a welcome sight, considering their next opponents have lost nine on the spin at Emirates Stadium in all competitions, but away sides have recently had success at the venue.
Arteta has overseen three successive home losses in the league – the club has not lost four on the spin since December 1959, a run that included a 4-2 reverse against Burnley. A similar result on Sunday and the Spaniard will have to forget about being concerned with the gap to the top six and instead start looking over his shoulder towards the bottom of the table.