Examining What Arsenal Must Do to Solve Goal-Scoring Woes
Arsene Wenger faces a big challenge. The longtime Arsenal manager must figure out a way to replace the 37 goals Robin van Persie scored last season. So far, the results haven't been promising with two straight scoreless draws to begin the season.
Van Persie landed with Manchester United after an extended transfer saga that nearly carried over into the new campaign before he was finally granted his wish to leave Emirates. His exit left a gigantic hole atop the Gunners' attack.
Wenger did everything in his power to convince the Dutch scoring sensation to remain with the team, but it became clear his heart was elsewhere. It left the club few options beyond giving in to his request and moving on.
As Arsenal embarks on a season in which it will try to replicate its Premier League achievements from last season when the Gunners finished third and also make some noise in the Champions League, the team's success will be decided by the offense.
The defense has already shown the ability to keep opponents from generating scoring chances, holding Sunderland and Stoke City to a total of three shots on goal. But instead of picking up six points with two wins, the Gunners only have two.
While Arsenal took an astonishing 40 attempts toward goal in those matches, the lack of finishing ability was evident with only five hitting the target and none ending up in the net. It's led to a lot of frustration for the players, coaches and fans.
Wenger did attempt to get out in front of the problem by adding Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Neither of those players can be expected to produce on the same level Van Persie did, however.
Since the Gunners don't have any single player capable of filling those shoes, Wenger must continue to fiddle with his lineup combinations until he finds one that works. Chemistry is always the biggest problem when trying to replace an entrenched starter with transfers.
It takes time for everybody to get on the same page. Mikel Arteta and new addition Santi Cazorla give Arsenal a pair of creative midfielders capable of creating a lot of opportunities for the forwards. But who's going to finish those chances?
Theo Walcott is still trying to live up to his potential while also seeking a bigger contract and has been linked to moves. The goal-scoring prowess Gervinho showed with Lille hasn't been on display with Arsenal. Podolski and Giroud are still getting used to their new club.
Then there's 19-year-old phenom Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He has plenty of upside, and most fans would probably agree that he's a key piece of the future at Emirates. Nobody is sure if he's ready to take that next step toward stardom yet, though.
The versatile English international has shown a willingness to fill any role to earn playing time, but would it hurt to let him try his hand up top as a starter to see if he can show off the finishing touch the team needs? Definitely not.
Oxlade-Chamberlain made an appearance off the bench against Stoke. Based off the team's performance in the attacking third in the first two games, giving him a spot in the lineup to see how he handles the situation certainly can't hurt.
Rising stars like him often take the opportunity and run with it. Even if it doesn't work out, simply giving him a chance to become the focal point of the attack should light a fire under everybody else who wants that spot.
As it stands now, things aren't working. Wenger needs to get creative and do some outside-the-box thinking to jump-start his offense. Oxlade-Chamberlain was impressive in limited duty last season and could be the spark the team needs.
What level of concern should Arsenal have about the lack of goals so far?
Ultimately, the Van Persie hole may never get filled. At least not this season. Arsenal still has enough talented players on the roster to score the goals necessary to win a lot of games, though. The first two games have been a lack of performance, not a lack of ability.
Wenger just needs to keep shuffling the deck, which should include Oxlade-Chamberlain, until his acquisitions settle in and something finally clicks. He just has to hope it happens before Champions League play starting picking up.
The Gunners face off against a Liverpool back line that has already allowed five goals in two Premier League games. The Reds will provide Arsenal with a chance to get on the scoreboard and the confidence to improve from there.
Things are bound to get a lot better. It's only a matter of time.
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