Inconsistency remains a consistent within this Arsenal team under Mikel Arteta. A lot of this can be expected as the players continue to adjust to a new philosophy under the Spaniard.
Sure enough, there are still signs of progression. After a slow start to the season, the Gunners lost only one of their nine matches from Boxing Day until the end of January whilst securing impressive victories against the likes of Chelsea.
However, form has tailed off again since the beginning of this month with three defeats in their last five matches. In each of Arsenal’s two most recent defeats against Aston Villa and Manchester City, they conceded early and failed to find a route back into the match.
Whilst there’s no real shame in not finding a way through City’s robust defence which has been almost unbreachable for the bulk of this campaign so far, an inability to regularly find a response to things such as the opposition taking the lead has been an issue that has plagued Arsenal all season.
As the below highlights, Arsenal have conceded the opening goal in 11 of their 25 Premier League matches so far.
And they’ve managed to win just one of those matches in which they did fall behind, drawing one and losing the other nine. This is the worst return of any team currently inside the top ten.
What this basically indicates is that when Arsenal concede first, they more than likely go on to lose.
Given the unpredictable nature of football, this is a significant problem.
Whilst it’s important that you minimise how many opening goals you concede as a team given the impact it can have on things such as game state, it’s often just as important to possess the capacity to bounce back from these initial set-backs as sometimes they simply can’t be stopped.
Leicester City and Manchester United for example have conceded the same number of opening goals as Arsenal this season, yet as highlighted above, they have a much better average points return when doing so and sit joint second in the Premier League table.
It’s difficult to state conclusively why Arsenal haven’t been able to bounce back in these matches. Yet, one theory relates to the often one-dimensional approach by Arteta from a tactical point of view.
Across this season so far, Arsenal have lined up almost exclusively in either a 3-4-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation. The latter of which has been utilised in 14 consecutive matches.
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Arteta also focuses on a strict possession-based philosophy that doesn’t seem to be altered when the landscape of a fixture changes, for example when required to chase an equaliser or when pushing for a winner when the games tied.
This point sheds some light on why they’ve managed to score just two league goals in the final 15 minutes of matches this season – the joint-lowest amount in the league.
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with having key staples behind a team’s philosophy, Arsenal’s inability to change gears or implement a plan B does seem to be a hindrance at times.
It’s something Arteta might need to work on if he wants his side to start picking up more results from unfavourable positions.