Mikel Arteta believes a lack of confidence is the hurdle his shot-shy Arsenal side cannot clear as they continue to slide down the Premier League table.
The 13-time English champions are 15th in the table, just four points clear of the bottom three, and winless in seven league games after their latest defeat to Everton.
Arteta believes Arsenal have the fighters to turn their season around, but “some of them can doubt in any moment”.
The lack of a goal threat has been of particular concern, with the Gunners dominating matches but struggling to create or convert chances.
Arsenal have netted just 12 times in the league – of which two have been penalties – and rank 17th for goals scored.
They have forged a relatively modest 21 big chances, from which they would be expected to score, which puts Arteta’s men in a tie for 14th in the top flight.
Even when Arsenal are getting shots in on goal, they score with a meagre 8.2 per cent of their efforts – better only than Sheffield United, Burnley, Wolves, Fulham and West Brom.
By these crucial metrics, Arsenal are right where they should be: looking over their shoulders towards a relegation battle.
It is a sharp decline Arteta could scarcely have anticipated, with Arsenal trailing only champions Liverpool in terms of shot conversion last term (13.8 per cent) and leading the way in 2018-19 (15.3 per cent).
“I think it’s confidence-related,” Arteta said. “When you are in that [confident] mood, when you shoot, the ball goes in the net.
14 – Arsenal’s points return from 14 games this season is their worst record at this stage since the 1974-75 campaign (12 points, converted to 3/win). Desperate. pic.twitter.com/wowPbSkoXe
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 19, 2020
“When it’s not happening, you are overthinking or sometimes it’s bad luck. It’s moments you have to go through. It’s difficult to explain.
“What has been sustaining the team in the past few seasons as well is the conversion rate being much higher than what it was supposed to be.
“Now it’s much lower. That’s a big gap and a lot of points at the end.
“We need to completely change that straight away and try to find ways to score goals even when the opportunities are not that clear.”
Arsenal were creating 2.3 big chances per game two seasons ago, but that dropped to 1.8 last year and now 1.5 in 2020-21.
It should come as no surprise then that technical director Edu has openly targeted “a player with creativity in the middle” in the upcoming transfer window, although reported target Dominik Szoboszlai – who played 14 key passes across six Champions League matches – has joined RB Leipzig from Salzburg.
“The plan is done, what we wanted to do in January, what we wanted to do in the summer,” Arteta said. “Sometimes we can do it, sometimes not – depending on a lot of factors.
“Edu is dealing with that at the moment. I am focused with all the games. We don’t have time to expend energy on that, because it’s very clear what we want to do.”
Nicolas Pepe was supposed to be the man to drive Arsenal forward, yet he has laid on only two chances from 10 Premier League appearances and has seen his attitude called into question.
“He is hurting, he is suffering, believe me,” said Arteta, hurtling from one issue to the next as he passes a year in charge at Emirates Stadium, their FA Cup success swiftly forgotten.
8 – Nicolas Pépé has been directly involved in eight goals in all competitions this season (five goals and three assists); the most of any Arsenal player. Lifeline. pic.twitter.com/cGcZthEIhV
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 19, 2020
“[Life president] Ken Friar has been here longer than anybody – I think 70 years,” he added.
“He said, ‘Mikel, it’s not one of the most challenging years in Arsenal’s history, believe me I’ve been here 70 years, it’s the most challenging and difficult year in Arsenal’s history’.
“I can take a lot of positives in the things that we’ve done, the things that we’ve changed, the things that have worked, the trophies we have won.
“But the results now in the Premier League are taking the gloss off what we have done, for sure. We have to accept that. There is a negativity around the team, because that is what happens.”
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