Once again, we’re here bemoaning dropped points in a game we should have killed off. We’re here wondering how Granit Xhaka can still be making errors in a system built to support his weakness. We are totally shocked how a refereeing decision can go against us, even with the support of a video analyst. We are pissed that we dropped needless points again.
Arsenal should have taken 3 points today. We should have buried Burnley after demoralising them in the first half. We didn’t. The big conversation point will be about Granit Xhaka. He controlled the ball in our penalty box after receiving it 8 yards from Leno’s line, he looked up, and played a pass to Chris Wood so perfect, the player barely needed to move to score. It was embarrassing, the 8th Xhaka error leading to a goal this season.
‘Unforced error’ has been the deadliest weapon in the oppositions attack for Arsenal since the Chelsea restart. We’re at the point now where it’s clear that the only way we alleviate the issue is to shift on the players that make them. Our main challenge is we don’t have the depth to do that at the moment, so it’ll be a next season thing.
The more concerning problem for me is the lack of goals. Before Christmas, we weren’t creating chances. Against Burnley, we had more big chances than shots on target. We hit the bar, the post, Pepe fluffed a stunning chance, whiffing the ball when a connection looked easier. It’s worrying how relaxed our players are in front of goal. I know Thomas Partey isn’t a striker, but a player of his quality should be keeping a shot on the edge of the box under the bar.
It’s also worth highlighting how bad our luck is with referees. Peters handled the ball in the box. By this seasons standards for handball, it was absolutely nailed on, but the VAR crew looked at it and took a hard pass on it. To make matters worse, the ref looked like he’d evened up things a little later when Pepe’s sublime volley was cleared by the same players shoulder. It wasn’t a penalty, the decision was correct… it’s just mad they spent that much time making sure they got the Burnley decision right, but not the easier decision for the earlier issue. At some point, someone at the top of the game has to make a decision, because the referees are still shit even with the best tools at their disposal.
When you combine fear in front of goal, with the mistake avengers, and you throw in bad luck… you’re always going to struggle.
… but, I will take positives from this game even if you hate it.
The system is working. It’s generating high quality chances, it’s largely limiting the opposition, the results will come. At this point, it’s clear that it’s a personnel problem and the backroom staff absolutely know this.
What fans won’t accept is this carrying on into next season. If Xhaka is the first name on the teamsheet in August, after all the data that supports an issue all the fans know, then you have to question Arteta. Our entire midfield needs a revamp. Ceballos isn’t the full ticket and we don’t have to buy him. Elneny is simply not good enough. Xhaka has great bits to his game, but the upside isn’t high enough to merit him continuing. He’s not young, he’ll never get better than this, errors are a feature of his game. That fact cannot continue to be ignored, and we have to see the correlation of him coming to Arsenal and our sharp decline as a force in English football.
There are lots of nice bits about the squad. We are controlling games now. Chances are coming from lots of places. There’s a lot of talent bubbling in the right areas. Plug the unforced errors this season and we’re 12 points higher in the table competing for top 4. Unforced errors like the Granit one today is a player thing. You can’t coach that level of dimness out of a player.
We really, really missed ESR out there today. It’s incredible how big his impact is on how we play. His off ball movement makes us harder to play against. His runs, his passing, his quick thinking… we missed it today.
The league is so done now. It’s all on Europa. It’s the only saving grace we have. Let’s see where to take it on Thursday.
Tune into the On-The-Whistle podcast with Johnny and Matt. It’s a good one. We debate the strengthening arguments for keeping Arteta and moving him on.