Crisis of confidence
Who remembers when Arsenal were on an 10 match unbeaten run? Feels like a long time ago doesn’t it…
When the Gunners were at the peak of their powers confidence seemed to be flowing through their veins like water through the river Mersey, but in the space between two visits to the North West, that seems to have almost instantly evaporated.
Right from the off against Everton the tempo was slow, as Arsenal looked unsure of themselves and took far too long to make decisions in possession.
When a team is at it’s most secure, rapid, slick passing movements happen relexively, but with each careful and considered pass the Gunners looked to be more fearful of putting a foot wrong.
This was perhaps typified by the performance of Benjamin White. The England international who is usually so confident on the ball, did not attempt to dribble out from defence once, despite Everton’s standoffish approach, and looked to still be traumatised by the difficult evening he had at Old Trafford last Thursday night.
Let’s make no mistake, this was not a particularly impressive Everton side. The Toffees sat deep in a flat 4-4-2 that was easy enough to play around, and, with all due respect to them, in the opening exchanges looked every bit the team that had not won in eight Premier League matches before Monday night’s game.
Their first half performance was so poor, that boos rang around Goodison at half time. And still, Arsenal managed to find a way to lose.
As a busy fixture list approaches with the festive period a lack of confidence is precisely what the Gunners don’t need.
Poor performances can quickly snowball when the games come as thick and fast as they do is December, and Mikel Arteta knows his side must do something to arrest their slump.
“Well losing today is tough because we lost at Old Trafford but we had the feeling that we should have got much more from the game,” he said.
“Today if we had been at our level we would have won the game but the reality is that we weren’t for a big part of the game and not consistent enough.”
This sentiment seems to imply that Arsenal know that six points were there for the taking in their last two games. Frustratingly for them though they have come away with zero, and must find a way to cope with what seems to be a problem of mentality rather than quality.
If there’s one player who is feeling Arsenal’s current lack of confidence most keenly it is probably Thomas Partey.
The Ghanaian was refreshingly forthright in his appraisal of his time at Arsenal so far since signing from Atletico Madrid last summer during an interview in the build up to this game, admitting that he had been far from his best.
“Personally I would say five or six. But with the marks of the (fans) also, I would give myself four,” he said.
“Because there are moments in a game when I can really hurt the other team but there are also moments where, because I’m not yet adapted to the Premier League, maybe I lose a bit of focus and that’s when everything goes down.”
One of those exact moments occurred on Monday as the 28-year-old caused Nuno Tavares to cede possession after failing to make a simple pass back to the Portuguese following an Arsenal throw in. From that possession Everton would go on to score their equaliser.
It was the climax of another poor game for Partey who just isn’t performing at the level he would want right now.
There were hopes that Old Trafford could be a turning point for him, but after losing more duels that any player on the pitch at Goodison Park (nine out of 14 as Squawka), that didn’t turn out to be the case.
The Ghanaian was not the only poor peformer for Arsenal on the night, so perhaps it’s unfair to single him out for too much criticism.
But with Granit Xhaka now back, a solid enough defence behind him and a string of beatable opponents to come over the festive period he is out of excuses.
Like the rest of the team, his issue is not one of quality, but rather of confidence. The Gunners will be hoping he rediscovers it soon.
Final third problems
For all the issues in midfield and defence on the night at Goodison, it is generally in the final third where games are won and lost.
On the night Mikel Arteta made the bold call of dropping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after his disappointing showing at Old Trafford in favour of Alexandre Lacazette, but given the unexpected return of Granit Xhaka, that news went somewhat under the radar.
In trying to fix the problem of a lack of focal point in the middle though Arteta ended up creating another, as Lacazette simply wasn’t capable of providing the presence in the box that Arsenal required on the night.
The Frenchman received seven passes in the first half, but just one was in the final third as he could be seen dropping obscenely deep at times to try and be a passing option.
This lack of threat left the Gunners somewhat toothless, but perhaps it’s harsh to be too critical of Lacazette.
The Frenchman starved of service and clearly wanted his teammates to get up and support him in more advanced areas. On multiple occasions he could be seen waving Kieran Tierney up the pitch, clearly frustrated at the fact that his team weren’t getting the ball forward quick enough.
The fact that he is not the only one who is struggling to score goals might suggest that in fact it’s a systematic problem for Arsenal rather than necessarily one of quality of strikers.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eddie Nketiah both have established their goal scoring credentials in their careers, but missed big opportunities after coming on as a substitutes, and look low on confidence.
As per @oh_that_crab Arsenal have taken 10 or fewer shots six times this season, which is 40% of the games they’ve played so far.
The lack of chance creation is a big problem for a Gunners side who have consistently struggled to fashion consistent opportunities for their forwards across Mikel Arteta’s reign.
Perhaps new personelle in the forward areas would be able to take more advantage of the limited opportunities they create, but the systemic issues that exist for Arsenal in the final third were painfully evident at Goodison Park.
Pepe is absent again
When the players you put on the pitch don’t do the business, as a manager, you are always liable to be questioned over why you didn’t use the ones you left off it.
As we’ve highlighted Arsenal are struggling in the attacking areas right now, but throughout their recent relative dry spell in front of goal, one of their most potent goal scoring weapons has remained almost completely unutilised.
Questions were raised when Gabriel Martinelli was chosen ahead of Nicolas Pepe to come on to replace the injured Bukayo Saka during the win over Newcastle, but they had significant weight added to them when it was Eddie Nketiah who was chosen to come on ahead of the Ivorian in the defeat at Old Trafford.