Jonas Eidevall has called it a ‘sin’. The stats back him up.
He is referring to Arsenal’s tendency, intentional or not, to indulge style over substance. Their failure to convert dominance into goals.
It’s been a problem plaguing the Gunners for seasons, pre-dating Eidevall’s tenure, but one that threatens to cling onto this term’s title challenge like a bad smell.
“We’re back a little bit to some of the sins earlier in the season, where on the chances we get, we don’t get shots on target,” Eidevall said ponderously after Arsenal’s third WSL loss of the season two weekends ago.
It appears to be a reccurring theme.
The weight of expectation on Arsenal, and Eidevall, to deliver trophies this season feels heavier and more burdensome than ever before. The reasons for that are multifaceted, and many have been calculated elsewhere on these pages, but adequate context requires a few finer details to be declared here.
Arsenal have found a way to be consistently creative, playing attractive and expansive football, without the corresponding end product. They have found a formula for attracting big crowds to games – loyal and faithful supporters – but not always compatible results.
They’ve made big marquee signings and are yet to see the best of them. Most glaringly, they’ve won one solitary trophy in the past five years.
To confuse matters, and for suitable balance, there is a huge amount to like about this Arsenal side, if only they could put the ball in the back of the net more consistently. It’s here where the stats are most exposing.
Across the past three WSL campaigns (up to and including the most recent matchday), Arsenal have ranked second, behind Chelsea, for big chances created (50.3 per season), but first for big chances missed (28.3 per season).
Again, only Chelsea (243) can boast a better record than Arsenal (233) for shots attempted this term, yet Arsenal rank fifth in the charts for shots on target (6.1 per game).
Arsenal’s lack of potency
|Shots on target/game
|Lauren James (12)
|Khadija Shaw (13)
|Nikita Parris (8)
|Alessia Russo (5)
It runs deeper. Arsenal lead the way in corners won and possession wins in the final third, and are second (again behind Chelsea) for touches in the opposition box (533), but rank fourth for average goals scored per game (2.2). The numbers don’t tally.
They have the second-best ‘big chance’ creator in the league in Victoria Pelova but no closer. No player with a ‘scruff of the neck’ attitude who can turn a game in an instant – at least not with enough regularity.
The Gunners’ top scorer this term is Alessia Russo, who has hit the net five times; her goal conversion rate is 18 per cent, while Bunny Shaw, who has scored 13 times, boasts a conversion rate of 33 per cent. Lauren James has 12 goals and has also converted 33 per cent of her chances. That’s no slight on Russo herself, but illustrative of Arsenal’s struggles more broadly.
There’s a softness that underpins this Arsenal side. A lack of ruthlessness and clinical edge that will prevent them from realising the ultimate dream of beating Chelsea to WSL gold. The same can be said of the way they were dumped unceremoniously out of the FA Cup by Manchester City last Sunday, losing 1-0. Adding insult to injury.
And yet, sandwiched between all the stats that suggest the Gunners’ performance in final third is inhibiting progress, is an individual result that disrupted the pattern. An offer of hope and promise. A performance that prompted this journalist to write about Eidevall’s side as the team to beat this term – the ones driving the title agenda.
Arsenal produced their most complete performance under Eidevall back in December, beating Chelsea 4-1, outperforming their xG (2.97) for only the fourth time this season.
The atmosphere created by a record WSL crowd inside Emirates Stadium matched the spark on the pitch and goals flowed as a result. The football was breathtaking. Arsenal drew level on points at the top of the league with their London rivals that day and dented more than just egos.
“That’s as bad as I’ve seen us for a long time,” Hayes said post-match. “They bullied us.”
Chelsea, so often the aggressors, getting tormented by Arsenal’s attacking efficiency felt like a moment. A turning point. A curious shift in energy. Maybe this is the Gunners’ time, many promptly – and prematurely – surmised.
Alas, a regular scourge has reared its ugly head in recent weeks. Failing to capitalise on that obvious power switch may be Eidevall’s biggest regret yet. Something’s amiss.
Can Gunners bounce back?
Arsenal have lost two of their last four WSL games and will be looking to avoid suffering consecutive
defeats for the first time this season against Man Utd on Saturday.
Arsenal have underperformed against their xG in three of four league games since beating Chelsea. Against Tottenham the following week their expected goals tally reached 2.52 and they lost 1-0. Their most recent WSL outing, a 2-1 defeat at West Ham, was equally underwhelming. The Hammers had never beaten Arsenal before.
“We created enough chances to turn the game around, but we didn’t put the ball away,” said Eidevall, not for the first time, likely not for the last.
Even Arsenal’s set-piece xG is the best in the league (6.58). It’s like getting all the way through a joke and stumbling over the punchline.
A front four of Caitlin Foord, Viv Miedema, Beth Mead and Russo are capable of so much more and Eidevall, a deep, analytical thinker, will be busy examining how he can tap into their unrealised threat. How best to put those players in positions where scoring is inexorable.
Arsenal out of favour vs Man Utd
Arsenal are winless in four straight WSL games against Manchester United (D2 L2), since a 2-0 away win in November 2021.
For all their beautiful approach play, intricate passing triangles, and movement into opposition boxes, finishing continues to let this enterprising Arsenal side down. This recent streak is just the latest example.
WSL winners, as Chelsea have proven time again, learn from their shortcomings. If Arsenal are going to deal with theirs, in time to re-enter the title picture, it’s going to have to be now.
Watch Arsenal vs Manchester United live on Sky Sports Main Event on Saturday from 12pm; kick-off 12.30pm