By Ahmed Nada, @GizaGooner
A team that can’t seem to score when it matters, nor when it doesn’t seem to matter. Arsenal, a team with the creative breadth of Mesut Özil – the leading chance creator in Europe – the injury-ridden Santi Cazorla, the mercurial Aaron Ramsey, the tidy duo of Francis Coquelin & Mohamed El-Neny, and even a creative right-back in Héctor Bellerín… Arsenal seem spoiled for chances to score, and that’s without mentioning the possible impact of Alexis Sánchez, Danny Welbeck, Olivier Giroud, and Laurent Koscielny, among others.
Yet… Arsenal are not putting many – sometimes any – of these chances away. How hard can it be to strike a football? From Alexis’ chance against West Ham – a near-guaranteed goal for 2014-15’s Alexis – to Welbeck’s non-shot against the unmentionable neighbours of old; to name two. Arsenal have had chances this season and every season past that could’ve easily been a goal had there been a hint of confidence to the would-be scorer.
Confidence? Is that it? Perhaps, but that belies a larger problem: should confidence be an ample reason not to do your sole job as an attacker? Should your mood be the driving force in your form when you’re paid obscene amounts each week? My views on this aside, I believe we’d all agree on what the answer is. However, confidence alone isn’t the issue, nor is it an Arsenal-specific issue.
The prevalence of a fear of shooting in modern football is actually nothing new. We live in an age of media and information wherein even the tiniest, most minuscule of errors is recorded for eons to come. Our technology is growing ever more capable of recording one’s gaffes, from the least to the most relevant. Players, throughout football, throughout its history, have felt that shooting from afar was a risk.
What’s changed isn’t the perspective that shooting should only be done when guaranteed, what’s changed is what’s perceived as guaranteed. Teams such as Barcelona or Bayern Münich have showed the ease at which a team can score if allowed space for a ‘tap-in’, and this has enticed players to emulate this. A ‘tap-in’ is seen as the ultimate team goal, but is it truly what football is about?
This is another argument entirely, of whether teams should or shouldn’t be exciting, but it still is an argument nonetheless. In a league such as the Premier League, wherein every facet of the opposing defence and goalkeeping is molded specifically to disallow those kinds of soft goals, you must take the risk on a shot, even if the risk is minimal. In days gone by, a 50-50 shot was seen as acceptable to take: now players are afraid of taking shots that are 90% likely to go in.
The cruel irony of the situation is that they – evidently – fear the criticism associated with a miss, and thus they miss a clear-cut chance. It is genuinely difficult to believe a player such as Alexis – who scored what could be the greatest FA cup goal of all time from well outside the box last season – can’t put the ball into the net from only a few yards away… This is a worrying trend, one that favours a player’s own statistical prowess over the benefit of the team itself.
Time will tell if this trend continues, but for now, only one thing can be stated with any certainty: the players at Arsenal and many other teams are not confident in taking risks, and in this lies the biggest issue to face a football club: what are you if you are not willing to risk failure in order to gain success?
Ahmed Nada is a blogger of Full90Gooner. Follow him at @GizaGooner