Lack of goals on road gives Wenger food for thought
Watford 2-1 Arsenal
Arsenal have played four away games in the Premier League this season and only scored one goal. And that was a Per Mertesacker header from a corner at Watford on Saturday evening.
It is a bad record and one that Arsene Wenger knows that he has to do something about. He said as much at Vicarage Road, admitting that he was worried by the lack of goals on the road. "We had the chances today that we had at Stoke," he said, "but we do not score enough goals away from home at the moment."
Arsenal's away season started with a 1-0 defeat at Stoke City - whose defence is not exactly impermeable - before they lost 4-0 at Liverpool, who are almost as bad. Their 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge was impressive but this game at Watford was not, despite Wenger's insistence that his team was "unlucky" having "played well for big parts of the game".
Wenger went for the same front three that helped to pin back Chelsea, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette, deciding that Iwobi and Welbeck were fitter and sharper than Mesut Ozil, who had only been back in training for one week after injury. Welbeck and Iwobi worked hard but Arsenal could get little to stick to Lacazette up front. When Welbeck limped off after an hour, to be replaced by Ozil, Arsenal lacked that physical focal point even more, a point made by Troy Deeney on television afterwards.
Lacazette has impressed so far with his penalty box sharpness, his awareness and skill. But it is no coincidence that all four of his Arsenal goals have come at the Emirates. He is a player who excels when his team have the ball in the opposition half, so that he can make the clever darts to find space in the box. He is a master of spying a gap where other players cannot. But away games are different and it is not unfair to ask whether the £52million man is the best option for some of these difficult road trips. Especially when they have a proven Premier League target man in Olivier Giroud on the bench.
He is back in a supporting role this season, having turned down a move away from the Emirates this summer. While Wenger likes having him as a Plan B who he can throw in in the second half - as he was at Watford - there may be occasions when Arsenal are better with him on at the start.
Arsenal go to Belgrade this week for their next Europa League group game and Wenger is likely make plenty of changes, as he did for the FC Koln and BATE Borisov games. But their next Premier League is at Goodison Park next Sunday. And Wenger has some difficult decisions to make.
Alexis Sanchez returned from a disappointing international break with a minor thigh problem which is why he did not play at Watford. He will surely come back in but Wenger has a harder call to make on Ozil. He did not think Ozil was fully fit to start on Saturday, but when he came on he missed a golden chance to make it 2-0 and secure the three points. But he missed and so Arsenal left with none.
"It's difficult to come out on any individual after a game like that," Wenger said afterwards, not wanting to criticise Ozil, but not desperate to defend him either.
"He had a good chance to score the second goal and on the positive not he gave a good ball to Iwobi as well to score the one against one with the keeper."
Sanchez will surely be in the team for Everton away, and Giroud could be too. But it is hard to see Ozil as a solution to their problems on the road.