Being defensively sound is one thing, but scoring heaps of goals makes winning football matches – and league titles – a whole bunch easier.
Once upon a time, teams would play two strikers up top and they would be responsible for the bulk of their side’s goalscoring – but, in this new tactical age, a sole frontman or woman has to be supplemented with goals from elsewhere too.
That’s a theory that Mikel Arteta hopes will guide Arsenal to another title challenge, but his side will almost certainly need to increase their productivity in front of goal.
But does he have the players at his disposal to do exactly that?
Always the Bridesmaid
Be honest: was there ever a point during the 2022/23 season when you genuinely thought the Gunners might beat Man City to the title?
The bookmakers were never convinced, and even now – with Arsenal at the summit of the table after 13 games – they remain unmoved, with Arteta’s men a 7/2 chance in the Premier League winner odds behind the odds-on favourite City (4/7).
One of the reasons for that is in the Premier League top goalscorer odds: there’s not an Arsenal player in sight at the head of the market, with the history books teaching us that goals really are a key currency for title winners – regardless of their proclivity for clean sheets.
C H A M P I O N S 2020/21 🙌🏼🥇Thanks to everyone supporting us – this one is also for you 💙🏆🎱 pic.twitter.com/MXhFy0KMmc
— Ilkay Gündogan (@IlkayGuendogan) May 23, 2021
City’s late surge to the EPL title in 2022/23 was powered by their prolific Norwegian hitman, but in the season prior, three of their players hit double-figures for Premier League goals (and four others notched eight or more).
It was similar in 2020/21, with Ilkay Gundogan and Raheem Sterling into double figures and three other City players bagging nine – Pep Guardiola has always had stars capable of scoring a large volume of goals at his disposal, even before switching his tactics to feature a prominent out-and-out striker.
Spreading the Joy
Arsenal’s bid for the 2022/23 title was fortified by four players blasting double-figures for goals, but so far this term, that load-sharing has been rather thin on the ground. It’s early days, of course, but a third of the way through the campaign, only a few of their young aces are on course to notch ten or more.
The player closest to being described as an out-and-out striker at the Emirates, Gabriel Jesus, has just one league goal to his name so far this term. This puts increasing pressure on wide men and midfielders to contribute the goals that they need to sweep Arsenal to the 90-point tally and challenge for the title.
In Manchester City’s last three Premier League triumphs, they blitzed 83, 99 and 94 goals respectively, while Liverpool’s memorable run to the trophy in 2019/20 was powered by 85 goals scored.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) June 26, 2020
The Arsenal squad is strong, but do they really have the firepower to get close to these numbers? They scored 88 last season, but a number of their key men in front of goal have so far regressed to their mean output in 2023/24.
A solution, perhaps, would be a January move for Ivan Toney, whose seasonal tallies of 12 and 20 with Brentford could be even higher at the Emirates with the quality of creative talents around him.
It would be churlish to suggest that signing Toney is the only way that Arsenal can win the title this term, but a quick trawl through the history books confirms that if they don’t up their goalscoring ratio over the course of a whole season, they are unlikely to be able to compete with City come April and May next year.