The Arsenal midfield aren’t creating enough chances, which is part of what made it so easy for Tottenham Hotspur to shut them down on Sunday.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 12: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal gives his team instructions during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on July 12, 2020 in London, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Tim Goode/Pool via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND: Mikel Arteta of Arsenal gives his team instructions on July 12, 2020. (Photo by Tim Goode/Pool via Getty Images)

In terms of creating against Spurs, the Arsenal midfield tried to play their usual game. In sustained periods of possession, they shifted the ball from midfield out wide for cutbacks, with the rest of their attacks coming from counters relying on Pepe or Aubameyang.

The problem was that Mourinho was anticipating this approach, and set up the team to shut down the flanks and push Arsenal inside. At that point, the Gunners offered very little.

Granit Xhaka created one chance – if you can call it that – with his tackle leading to Alexandre Lacazette’s goal. It was a well-timed challenge followed by some good shielding of the shot, but it certainly wasn’t a display of midfield creativity.

Dani Ceballos created two, but when you look at the two he created, they were nothing more than short passes to players outside the box who then did most of the work themselves.

Dani Ceballos chances created vs Tottenham Hotspur (Photo via StatsZone)
Dani Ceballos chances created vs Tottenham Hotspur (Photo via StatsZone)

This is the point I want to address. Even when Arsenal’s midfield ‘create chances’ according to the stats, it’s usually little more than playing a simple pass that happens to lead to a shot. They aren’t playing the strikers through on goal.

Big chance creation (or lack thereof)

A better indicator of this kind of creation is in ‘big chances’, and it’s an area Arsenal’s central midfielders are really lacking. In fact, none of them have created more than one in the league this season:

  • Dani Ceballos – 1
  • Mesut Özil – 1
  • Granit Xhaka – 1
  • Matteo Guendouzi – 1
  • Joe Willock – 1
  • Lucas Torreira – 0

Every other big-six club has at least one central midfielder who has created six big chances or more. Meaning all of them have one player who trumps Arsenal’s six on his own. Manchester City have three, one of whom (Kevin De Bruyne) has made 30 alone.

Now, part of this is down to style of play. As mentioned, Arsenal’s midfielders generally look to play the ball out wide, or get it in behind the full-back for cutbacks. That’s inevitably going to lead to fewer chances created directly.

The problem is more that the midfielders just seem incapable of playing through the middle when that’s their only option. When Mourinho decides to focus all his team’s energy on defending the flanks, Arsenal’s chances dry up.

The best chance Arsenal created through the middle on Sunday was Lacazette playing a through ball to Aubameyang. The midfield just didn’t come close to setting anything like that up.

This isn’t even really a criticism of their performances. Ceballos was very good on the day, and Xhaka was fine. But even when they’re playing well, they just don’t offer an effective final ball. It’s not in their game.

Arsenal need to look into signing a midfielder who can make that kind of impact. Otherwise, the team are just too reliant on one style of play, and it’s too easy to defend against.