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Yalla Shoot :Arsenal beat out a tune heard too often – it’s time to sign a goalscorer | Arsenal

Where’s the wanker with the drum, the West Ham supporters asked with 10 minutes left at the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal 2-0 down – a question followed by huge cheers as the drum in the home end was bonged defiantly in response.

Like Arsenal’s players, the drum guy never let up here, never tired, never let his levels drop. But like Arsenal’s players he also only really seemed to have one tune; a riff that everyone on the pitch, opponents included, has heard a little too much already over the past two seasons.

There are worse problems to have in life than Saka-dependencia. For one thing, being overly reliant on English football’s outstanding right-sided attacking midfielder does also mean that Bukayo Saka is definitely in your team; and that he looks like English football’s outstanding right‑sided attacking midfielder while he’s there.

Good teams are always dependent on good players. This is how that equation works. Barcelona were fatally overreliant on Lionel Messi for at least a decade, a sorrowful state of affairs only mitigated by the fact they also won 34 trophies in that period, so something to build on there. The difference with Arsenal, of course, is the sense of a question still in the process of being answered, of a fine team that is just that for now – still an asterisk in the story of titles won and trophies divvied up.

West Ham did very little here that was unexpected. But they also looked entirely in control of their own destiny en route to a fine victory, achieved with a single goal in each half. Faced with this, Arsenal spent the first half stroking their chin, doodling on a pad, running through those intricate, lateral patterns and waiting for victory to happen. At times it felt like watching the knockout stages of the world competitive knitting championship. Clickety clack. Here we go again. Another furrow, another row, another attempt to tickle you to death with our mildly abrasive red twine.

The most obvious block on Arsenal’s ambitions is the lack of variation in those attacking patterns. Every time he plays, Saka is required to spend vast amounts of energy trying to trick his way past two designated defenders. One thing about having a relentlessly drilled attacking formula is your opponents can also read it, peel it back, predict its outcomes. Here Saïd Benrahma and Emerson Palmieri could be seen literally measuring the space between them with their arms every time Saka got the ball, forming that pre‑planned wall.

Declan Rice looking disappointed
Declan Rice was left with too much to do against his former club. Photograph: Henry Nicholls/AFP/Getty Images

Saka never stopped coming, hit the post, and didn’t have a bad game here. Really, this isn’t his problem to solve. It was more the lack of a proper centre-forward that hurt Arsenal against a team happy to sit deep. This is hardly a mystery story, or a devilish tactical insight. Arsenal lack a goal-bludgeon. They lack a shark. They lack an angry, selfish, horrible player who only pretends to feel ecstatic after wins in which he hasn’t personally scored. Perhaps signing one in January would bring its own problems. Who knows what kind of condition Ivan Toney is in right now. On the other hand, well, just sign a goalscorer.

This isn’t just an attacking issue, either. In possession Arsenal looked like a split team at times, with five attackers and five defenders, and Declan Rice delegated the job of making up what a deep midfield should look like.

It isn’t just a Saka issue, either. Gabriel Martinelli is also a wonderful player, with the full range of speed, trickery, stamina, bravery. But he also looks like he needs a rest; and a rest that isn’t going to come because if not him, then who?

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It is that lack of variation that might hurt Arsenal now. Liverpool have more flaws but also more scorers. Manchester City have a greater attacking range than any other team on the planet when the machine starts purring. Arsenal, meanwhile, have a 22‑year‑old with bruised ankles and a season-long headache from always having to solve the same problem.

West Ham took the lead early on after an extended VAR‑about to determine if the ball had gone out in the build-up. The second goal was a fine header from a corner by Konstantinos Mavropanos. Arsenal kept coming, didn’t stop, kept running through their scales. The spirit is excellent. The chemistry is good. But this was also a chance missed, and a moment when the limits of Arteta’s current best XI were held up to the light.

This should be Arsenal’s hungry period, a run of key games with City still shaking off the jet lag and five points behind. A buffer zone is required, an acorn pile of points, to have any real chance of staying out in front. Arsenal haven’t tended to make major signings in the winter window. This might be a good moment to start.

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