Tuesday, January 9, 2024

FA Cup Third Round: Gunners Firing Blanks

The surprises were mild in the FA Cup third round. West Ham and Nottingham Forest were held to draws and thus will need to replay their matches against Bristol City and Blackpool, respectively. No Premier League team, however, was outright ousted by lower-level competition. Crystal Palace and Everton as well as Wolverhampton and Brentford will also need to replay the third round after drawing their contests. Twelve of the Premier League clubs are already through to the fourth round with just two clubs eliminated after falling to other Premier League sides. Unsurprisingly, Burnley was bounced 1-0 by Tottenham Hotspur. Arsenal is gone from the tournament after a 2-0 loss to Liverpool.

Two weeks after drawing at Anfield, Arsenal was defeated at the Emirates Sunday by a Liverpool side playing without Mohamed Salah. These are concerning times for the Gunners. The defeat to Liverpool marked the sixth time in the last seven matches across all competitions that Arsenal has walked away without a win. Back-to-back losses during the holiday period saw Arsenal topple from the top of the Premier League standings to fourth place, just a point above rival Tottenham Hotspur. Through 20 matches, the Gunners have accumulated 40 points. That is ten points less than Arsenal had in the Premier League after 20 matches last season. On the surface, the returns do not look great from the investments in Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and goalkeeper David Raya. More impactful, in fact, might be the loss of Granit Xhaka. Goal production after 20 matches is down by eight goals year over year. Goals allowed are three greater. Manager Mikel Arteta almost nonsensically insists after non-winning outcomes that his club “deserved” to win, the latest claim coming after the FA loss to Liverpool.

Unfortunately, a club deserves to win when it scores more goals than the opposition. Arsenal seems short of a goal scorer who can consistently help accomplish that aim. Gabriel Jesus has a cranky knee again. An overworked Bukayo Saka seems stuck in neutral. Eddie Nketiah is not taking the next step as a dependable Premier League striker. Gabriel Martinelli is unusually quiet. Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz have also largely gone silent after brief moments in the sun. Captain Martin Odegaard was guilty of missing Arsenal’s best chance on Sunday when his uncontested shot from close range caromed off the top bar. There are a lot of potential goal scorers for Arsenal. The club creates a lot of chances. But there is no real threat in front of goal. Havertz started as a striker against Liverpool in a role he played poorly for Chelsea before his puzzling move to the Gunners. The ball is not finding the net often enough for Arsenal and the Gunners’ title hopes could rest on addressing that issue. That is easier said than done, however, as the Gunners are boxed in by financial fair play concerns this transfer window. They may have the opportunity to address other areas, such as a need at fullback, but a move for a goal scorer would first require outgoing deals for players such as Emile Smith Rowe and/or Nketiah. If it could somehow be maneuvered, the addition of a goal scorer like Brentford’s returning Ivan Toney would add instant accelerant to the Gunners’ title bid.

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