Jamie Carragher has questioned whether Arsenal have a world-class forward line and says they must increase their goals from open play if they are to reignite hopes of a first Premier League title since 2004.
Mikel Arteta’a side sit fourth in the table after a 2-1 loss to Fulham at Craven Cottage added to a home defeat to West Ham on Thursday.
The Gunners have lost back-to-back Premier League games for the first time this season, missing two opportunities to move back to the top of the table.
Five games ago, Arsenal were six points clear of champions Manchester City but are now level, having played one more game with Pep Guardiola’s side in World Club Cup action before Christmas.
Speaking on Monday Night Football, Carragher said: “They got in front against Fulham but they didn’t create too much after that. You thought they would go on to win the game comfortably but Fulham were outstanding.
“Arsenal have a problem defensively as they look really stretched with [Jurrien] Timber being out and [Takehiro] Tomiyasu only just coming back, [Oleksandr] Zinchenko missed the game.
“Set-piece wise, they’re usually so strong at both ends of the pitch so it was really a result off the back of the West Ham game. They’re two fixtures you look at and you think they should get at least four points – probably six – so to come out of it with nothing is a big blow for them.”
Arsenal had 30 attempts on goal as they slipped to a 2-0 loss to West Ham – but it was a different story on Sunday as Arteta’s side toiled to create chances on a wet and windy afternoon by the Thames.
Arteta described the latest setback as the nadir of Arsenal’s season – and part of the problem has been scoring in open play.
In 20 league matches, they have only scored 20 such goals, which ranks them 13th in the division, behind the likes of Bournemouth, Fulham, Nottingham Forest and Wolves.
For greater context, they rank significantly below the previous six Premier League champions based on their current attacking output. Right now, Arsenal are relying on set pieces – but is it sustainable?
“No, they need to be scoring more from open play,” Carragher continued. “On a recent MNF with Freddie Ljungberg, we were almost debating this different Arsenal. And it is a different Arsenal to the one we saw last season.
“My feeling then was that if the attacking front three or four didn’t improve, I felt Arsenal wouldn’t win the league. I still believe that.
“When I say it’s a different Arsenal, there’s definitely more control. The best way to describe it is that last season it was a bit ‘Jurgen Klopp Liverpool’ and this season it feels more like Man City.
“There’s less transition, there’s more control which I think helps them defensively. But does it help them offensively?
“The goal against Fulham saw them go from one end of the pitch to the other. An end-to-end game suits the likes of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. Kai Havertz has come in and for me that hasn’t worked because both at Chelsea and now at Arsenal, you’re not quite sure where he plays.
“Out of the front four, Martinelli is the one who is really struggling. They had [Granit] Xhaka in a fixed No 8 position last season but this time we’ve seen Leandro Trossard sometimes play there, so too Declan Rice. I don’t think that’s helping Martinelli.
“All of Arsenal’s forwards have scored goals that you would associate with them. How often last season would we see Martin Odegaard scoring goals from a pull back to the edge of the box? We’ve seen it again this time around, so you can see the same patterns and organisation of Arsenal when they attack.
“It made me think whether they are too organised in attack? We see the same repetition but is there enough off-the-cuff? When was the last time you can remember an Arsenal player in those front three or Odegaard scoring a worldie? It’s all a bit too organised.”
“They’re all having really good seasons but the gold standard of shot conversion is 20-plus. That’s what your Mo Salah, your Erling Haaland, your Harry Kane is getting.
“None of Arsenal’s front four have got above that number even last season. And yet they are still creating the same number of shots a game and they’ve still got the same xG so these players are underperforming from last season, when even then still wasn’t good enough in terms of winning a title.
“All four of Arsenal’s front are top players but none of them are world class. I think Saka can become world class, but in this league Liverpool won a title because they had Mo Salah.
“City have won titles in the past because they had [Sergio] Aguero and they’ve now got Haaland. Is that enough for Arsenal to win a league title? Are any of them world class right now to take Arsenal to a title? I’d say no.”
Is there a way of this getting fixed in January?
Carragher added: “Yes, of course it can. We know how close Arsenal are monitoring FFP as they’ve spent a lot of money in the last few years. They’ve brought in David Raya from Brentford and that’s almost getting paid next season.
“I think it will be tough for them to bring someone in of the right quality that’s better than what they’ve already got.
“I’m not quite sure where they get it from but if they don’t – whether in January or next summer – it’s going to be very difficult for them to go above a Manchester City.”
Time for an Arsenal reset?
You could feel Mikel Arteta’s anger as he spoke to the media at his post-match press conference, writes Sky Sports News’ Oli Yew.
On Thursday, he had seen his side miss a host of chances as they lost 2-0 to West Ham. Sometimes that can happen and is just one of those things, said Arteta, but the defeat to Fulham was much more “worrying” for the Spaniard.
Having only lost two of their opening 18 Premier League games this season (winning 12 and drawing four), Arsenal have since lost both of their last two, just the second time since the start of last season that they have suffered back-to-back league defeats.
“We had the chance to be top of the table after 20 games. Three days ago, we lost a game that we deserved to win, today was a different story. We weren’t good enough. We need to look at ourselves in the mirror.”
The Gunners now have a break from league action. They face Liverpool in the FA Cup next Sunday but after that their next league engagement is not until January 20 when Crystal Palace visit the Emirates.
It could be a break that is coming just at the right time for Arteta and his side as they look to find the fluency and attacking threat that has eluded them so far this season and was so evident in their second-placed finish last season.
It’s been a miserable end to 2023 and after being top of the table at Christmas, they now finish the year in fourth and potentially five points behind leaders Liverpool should they beat Newcastle on Monday.
But just as Arsenal have found out in recent weeks, things can change quickly and that’s something for Arteta and the Arsenal supporters to hold onto.