Most soccer fans know not to read too much into pre-season performances or results, but anyone who has watched Arsenal play this past week surely has some concerns. Mikel Arteta himself has confessed to being worried by what he has seen from his team in a defeat to Hibernian and a draw against Rangers during the Gunners’ camp in Scotland.
“We created so many chances, but we are not converting enough,” Arteta said after the 2-2 draw against Steven Gerrard’s Rangers on Saturday. “Today we should’ve scored many more goals and with the quality of the players we have up front, they have to demand much more of themselves. But at least we are getting there.”
Indeed, Arsenal were wasteful in front of goal and needed an Eddie Nketiah equaliser seven minutes from the end to just salvage a draw. Arteta didn’t field a full strength XI, but the Gunners had more than enough experience and quality on the pitch to produce a better performance than they did.
There is no real reason for Arsenal to panic. Not yet, anyway. It’s still early in pre-season and results at this stage of the campaign rarely, if ever, count for much. Pre-season is largely about finding fitness and match sharpness and yet Arteta’s lack of a vision for this group of players is mildly concerning.
The 2021/22 season will be a make or break one for Arteta, who has been afforded more patience and freedom to implement his ideas than his predecessor Unai Emery ever was. Even as Arsenal finished a lowly eighth in the Premier League table last season, having spent much of the campaign in the bottom half, fans were told to trust the process.
That process, though, must lead to something meaningful and that still looks to be beyond Arteta’s team. There are no clear patterns to Arsenal’s play. For coaches, pre-season is an opportunity to mould the team for the campaign ahead, but it’s not exactly clear what Arteta wants his side to be.
Arteta speaks well on how he wants Arsenal to play, but he’s been in the job for a year-and-a-half and the Gunners have still find an identity. They are neither a high-press outfit not a counter-attacking team. While Arteta demands his players be technically able on the ball, Arsenal don’t pass through opponents. And they’re not a direct team either – so what are they?
Even amid the disappointment of the draw against Rangers, Arteta saw some positives. “I think we dominated the game, we created so many chances – I counted about eight or 10 clear chances to score,” he said. “But this game is decided in both boxes.
“So much better from the other day and you tell that physically we were already better in the second game, the organisation was better, individually they played better, but I really liked the collective understanding of the game and how we executed a lot of things we’ve been working on in the training pitch.”
Once the 2021/22 campaign is under way, Arteta would expect his attackers to be more ruthless. The rustiness was clear in the way the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe played. If, however, that doesn’t happen, Arsenal could find themselves in trouble. A difficult start to the new season would pose fresh questions of Arteta who is already on thin ice with a lot of supporters.