• Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

Arsenal’s FA Cup exit proves they must sign a striker soon


Jan 7, 2024 #Sports


LONDON — Rarely in elite sport is problem-solving as simple as this, but the case for Arsenal signing a striker to realise their ambitions grows stronger by the day.

The Gunners exited the FA Cup on Sunday with a 2-0 third-round defeat to Liverpool that owed more to their own profligacy than anything else.

It is rapidly becoming a familiar story. Arsenal wasted a plethora of chances in losing to West Ham and Fulham last week, albeit the latter performance was a flawed display all around. On Sunday, the Gunners were made to pay at Emirates Stadium by a Liverpool side who for long periods appeared primarily concerned with avoiding a replay regardless of whether that meant they won or lost.

– Stream FA Cup on ESPN+: Wigan AFC vs. Man United (Monday, 3 p.m. ET)
– Read on ESPN+: Investigating what’s behind Arsenal’s sudden slump

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta lost leading striker Gabriel Jesus to a knee injury in the buildup to the game, and he opted to experiment with Kai Havertz starting through the middle for the first time since August’s Community Shield clash with Manchester City. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp described Arsenal’s setup afterwards as “4-2-2-2” with Havertz and Martin Odegaard operating as “double tens,” so nobody could question Arteta’s innovation in trying to find a cure for their goal-scoring issues.

However, Havertz was one of several guilty culprits, often taking too many touches before shooting or heading off target when it seemed easier to test Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Reiss Nelson missed a flurry of openings in the first 15 minutes alone as Odegaard also hit the crossbar and Liverpool struggled to get out of their own half.

The confidence gradually slipped from their play as Klopp shuffled his team around, switching Luis Díaz and Darwin Núñez before introducing Diogo Jota, Ryan Gravenberch, Bobby Clark and Conor Bradley as Liverpool reversed the momentum and seized on Arsenal’s uncertainty.

Arsenal did eventually score but at the wrong end, with Jakub Kiwior heading in Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s 80th-minute free kick to further deepen an issue at set-pieces: Arsenal have now conceded five goals in eight games across all competition from dead ball situations.

Diaz converted a second goal in stoppage time with the sort of clinical finish Arsenal lacked all afternoon, leaving Arteta to field yet more questions about whether the answer to their current scoring woes lies in the January transfer market. Asked about the chances of signing a natural goalscorer this month, Arteta told beIN Sports: “At the moment it does not look realistic. What my job is, and what we have to do is improve our players and try to get better results with the players we have.”

Arsenal have now had 48 shots since their last goal at home. They have scored one goal from 63 shots since Christmas. They ended here against Liverpool with an expected goals (xG) figure of 2.74 but nothing to show for it once more.

Arteta is right to be encouraged by his team’s creativity — they have not become a bad team overnight — but a run of one win in seven games is threatening to sabotage a campaign that had so much promise just a fortnight or so ago.

The Gunners’ boss was challenged on whether it has become a psychological issue.

“Probably it has,” he said. “Especially after today, more than it was against Fulham or West Ham before that. That’s why I think we need to reset. This break is good. It comes in a good time. We’re going to as well feel how we feel and how I feel about them in difficult moments. Hopefully I can see that from other people too. When things are going well they jump on the train. Now things are difficult, let’s see where they stand.”

Arteta revealed that Jesus has had a scan “that shows something” after complaining of a pain in his knee. Arteta added: “Hopefully it’s not something big. It’s the same knee that he had [an injury in before], so we could not take any risks.”

Jesus, who is expected to travel with the team for a training break in Dubai, is Arsenal’s best forward but not a consistently reliable goal scorer.

Havertz was not convincing as his deputy while Leandro Trossard has played through the middle for Brighton but his form has been patchy in that role for the Gunners. And what of Eddie Nketiah? The 24-year-old is paid £100,000 a week primarily to play the role of Jesus’ deputy, but he was an unused substitute here. Crystal Palace have expressed an interest in Nketiah and there must be a temptation in some quarters to move him on, if he was not held back here amid concerns Jesus is in fact at risk of a lengthy absence.

Of course, signing a striker in January is easier said than done.

Arsenal have limited funds available as they seek to remain compliant with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules and their preferred target, Brentford‘s Ivan Toney, would cost around £80 million. Brentford are also reluctant to sell midseason and so Arteta likely faces the prospect of signing an alternative or going with what he has, until the summer offers a more inviting climate to persuade Toney away.

This conundrum did not stop some supporters from shouting “sign a striker” in Arteta’s direction during the game.

“What I beg from the supporters is that they are behind the team like they have been in difficult moments,” said Arteta in response. “Stick behind the ones that we have. They are incredibly good. If not, then they don’t do what they’ve done today and in Anfield [when drawing 1-1 in the Premier League on December 23].

“Stick by them. That’s exactly what they need. Then they feel important and supported. With their attitude they don’t deserve anything different. That’s my opinion. It is frustrating but what can we do? I can’t tell them, ‘Play bad, don’t shoot, and Liverpool is going to score an own goal and win the game.’ I don’t know how to create a game plan like this. It’s impossible.

“So, stick by them. If we have 18 shots, then next time we need to have 35. If we continuously do that, the ball will go in the net and we’ll generate momentum and we’ll win the games. That’s for sure.”

That faith is being heavily tested at present.


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