How Arsenal January transfer woe will denied them of making EPL top 4
The biggest irony of Arsenal’s miserable transfer window? The one player they signed was called ‘Trusty’ – yet there’s still no one Mikel Arteta can trust up front.
January transfer windows are often quite predictable at the Emirates – it’s usually all smoke and no flame as the Gunners were linked with a handful of names yet no major incomings were announced by the strike of midnight on February 1.
The focus was very much on outgoings as Sead Kolasinac, Callum Chambers and then disgraced captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – previously their talismanic forward – sealing a free transfer to Barcelona. Fans were rightly peeved that the deadwood was cleared without any recruits coming in to replace them.
Instead, defender Austin Trusty was signed from Colorado Rapids then loaned back to them, while a deal for US keeper Matt Turner is expected to be wrapped up in the summer. Not quite what the team needed if their ambitions of a top four finish are to be taken seriously.
Even before Aubameyang went off the boil and picked up his third disciplinary of his Gunners career, the team had their struggles to put the ball in the back of the net. It speaks volumes that young midfielder Emile Smith Rowe is the club’s top scorer in the Premier League this season – with eight goals.
Bukayo Saka – another midfielder – is second with six strikes, while Aubameyang managed just four. Now the Gabon man is gone, Arsenal’s main hopes up front are pinned on Alexandre Lacazette – who has just three league goals to his name – and Eddie Nketiah – who is yet to find the net.
Worrying statistics for a team that is still finding its rhythm under Arteta – a team that has gone four games in a row without scoring. Aubameyang’s departure doesn’t really weaken the team as he was exiled anyway, but the club’s failure to bring in another forward does.
So where exactly will Arsenal’s firepower come from? That’s a riddle that should keep Arteta up at night, but for now it seems his biggest threat comes from midfield – meaning he should maximise the presence of both Smith Rowe and Saka.
In all competitions they have 16 goals between them as Arsenal’s leading scorers – with Smith Rowe in particular acting as Arteta’s shining light this season.
Figures from Opta show he has a shot conversion rate of 28 per cent – better than any Arsenal forward has managed so far – with 32 shots. He has only been bettered in that catagory by Aubameyang and Saka. However, while the 21-year-old steps up for the team in important moments – can he supply a steady flow of goals until May?
His last goal game in December – with his minutes per goal ratio standing at 170.9.
Saka’s is much worse at 277.3 – but he is the most lively of Arsenal’s forwards with 54 shots. Perhaps he could work on his accuracy – with his shot conversion rate standing at just 13 per cent.
But more encouragingly he has more touches in the opposition box than any other Arsenal attacker with 133.
The figures put pressure on Saka and Smith Rowe to provide even more impetus up front for Arsenal, but also shame Lazazette and Nketiah. The latter only has four appearances in the league – with his five goals all coming in the Carabao Cup.
That has given Nketiah technically the best minutes per goal ratio of 89.6 – but when handed a rare start in the FA Cup loss to Nottingham Forest, he was singled out for a lack of ruthlessness up front.
Indeed, he has not been given much of a chance by Arteta this season, with just 448 minutes in total – perhaps indicative of the Spaniard’s confidence in him. But he might now be forced to unleash him more often, and will hope he can bring his League Cup form to league games.
But unlike Nketiah, at least Lacazette actually has a few goals in the top flight this season. Three to be precise – his last coming on Boxing Day.
And his minutes per goal record isn’t the best as a result at 254.6. His 25 shots mean he is having less efforts than both Saka and Smith Rowe, while Martin Odegaard has had the same amount – with Nicholas Pepe having one less. And only 14 of those have been on target.
He has the third-highest amount of touches in the opposition box with 82, with an expected goals of 6.2, but has not managed to significantly kick on since Aubameyang was stripped of his captain’s armband.
He does not even feature in Arsenal’s top five top scorers in the Premier League – with even Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli (4) managing more.
So it’s becoming more and more clear that Arsenal made mistakes in the January transfer window. They were linked all window with a big move for hotshot forward Dusan Vlahovic, who ended up completing a lucrative switch to Juventus.
And another target in Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak was spotted in London on deadline day – getting Arsenal fans excited he was nearing a move to the club. Unfortunately, it was a red herring.
Arsenal’s big moment will come in the summer – when Lacazette will be off on a free transfer and then the Kroenke’s will have no choice but to strengthen Arteta’s front line. Isak will be high on their list but fans have come to expect disappointment.
For now – the Spaniard will be focusing on their uphill battle for a top four spot, a task that looks gargantuan given the blunted tools at his disposal.