Arsenal have recovered following their terrible start to the 2021/22 season, but Mikel Arteta’s side still have one glaring weakness that needs to be addressed in January
Arsenal are occupying a strange middle ground, in between their two previous more extreme phases, as the international break offers pause for reflection.
First came panic after the Gunners lost their opening three Premier League matches by an aggregate scoreline of 9-0.
Next came delirious excitement after the team followed three successive wins with a crushing 3-1 victory against Tottenham.
Now, after a bubble-bursting 0-0 draw against Brighton, Mikel Arteta’s side are somewhere in between the two contrasting emotions. Realism has hit home.
Arsenal are neither utterly atrocious and doomed, nor as promising as their first-half demolition of Spurs suggested.
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They are a team in the midst of a rebuild. They are bedding in six new players. They are presided over by an inexperienced manager who is still working out his chosen style of play.
The suspicion is that, with a more settled squad and a bit of positivity amongst the group, Arteta may well be on his way to forming something cohesive.
But even so, there remains one area the Arsenal manager’s work on the training pitch and the club’s £150million outlay in the summer transfer window will struggle to address.
So far Arsenal have managed to score just five goals in seven Premier League matches – the second-lowest tally in the division alongside strugglers Southampton and Burnley – and three of those came in a 22-minute spell against Spurs.
While they have netted nine in Carabao Cup wins over a weakened West Brom and League One side AFC Wimbledon, both of those games were followed immediately by blanks in the league.
The problem is acute. Arsenal are currently averaging just 13.1 shots per Premier League game, 3.7 of which have been on target – both figures which put them mid-table, way behind leaders Liverpool (21 shots, 7.6 on target).
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Collectively, Arsenal have had just 10 shots on target more than Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah in the Premier League.
Emile Smith Rowe (six) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (five) are the only two Arsenal players who feature in the top 40 Premier League players for shots on target this season.
If their current struggles continue then the Gunners could beat their record of 49 goals in 1995/96 as their lowest tally in a 38-game Premier League season.
It could get worse, too, with Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah out of contract next summer. Luckily for Arteta, there is a solution.
Arsenal showed ambition in the summer transfer window – arguably too much. They paid £50m to sign Ben White from Brighton because they wanted him. They knew the fee was inflated, but did it anyway.
If they follow the same approach in January then a striker is surely a must. And there is one obvious option available to them: Dusan Vlahovic.
Vlahovic is 21 years old, scored 21 goals in 37 Serie A appearances last season, has six in eight games in all competitions so far in 2021/22 and is keen to move on from Fiorentina.
Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso has been very open about the club’s efforts to get the Serbian international to sign a new contract.
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The Italian side put a five-year contract worth £34.58m (€40m) on the table, but that offer has been turned down by Vlahovic.
“I am disappointed to say that our efforts and attempts have not been rewarded,” Commisso said in a statement on Tuesday.
“At this point, all that we can do is acknowledge the wishes of the player and his entourage and quickly identify feasible, appropriate solutions as we proceed with this exciting new season.”
Vlahovic is under contract with Fiorentina until June 2023, so would still command a decent transfer fee. But the fact he has rejected a new contract suggests he is open to a move.
Fiorentina rejected a £51m bid from Atletico Madrid for Vlahovic’s services over the summer, according to Sky Sports Italia, and Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool and Inter Milan have all also been credited with interest.
Arsenal are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting players due to their lack of European football this season. But, ultimately, that is what sporting director Edu earns his money for.
A move for Vlahovic in January would tick two boxes, helping Arsenal to fix their goalscoring problem and show the kind of ambition required to bring European football back to the Emirates Stadium.