Arsenal have finally hit a plateau after years of upward trajectory under Mikel Arteta, but the answer to their scoring stagnation could be staring them in the face.
For years under Arsene Wenger, the Gunners focused on playing beautiful football, with passes and attacking moves sculpted by some of the game’s greatest artists.
The less said about those first post-Wenger years, the better. It took Arsenal a while and a significant reset within the club to claw their way back to near the top of the mountain, but Arteta has done just that – and done so by developing a spectacular style of play.
It can’t be disputed that his side plays possibly the nicest football in the Premier League, even pipping Manchester City at this point.
But there’s only so far that style alone can take a team. When push comes to shove, Arsenal have failed to be ruthless.
It cost them the 2022-23 Premier League title and it’s costing them again a season later, with their struggles to find the back of the net and punish teams, having scored more than one goal in a game just once since the start of December.
To summarise, Arteta’s Arsenal move the ball like a Ferrari being thrashed out along the Stelvio Pass until the ball gets near the 18-yard box, at which point it all suddenly feels like a Fiat Punto breaking down on the M25.
The obvious – and boring – fix to that would be to sign another striker, but having splashed £45million on Gabriel Jesus, is it all that sensible?
Not when young Charlie Patino is banging them in from midfield on loan at Swansea, it isn’t.
Arsenal lack dynamism and a sense of being able to kill teams with a more direct approach, but the 20-year-old and his throwback box-to-box style might just be the piece of the puzzle that plugs the gap and breaks the plateau once again.
Beautiful football is fun, sure. But kamikaze, crash bang wallop football is sometimes needed to drum up some chaos, steal a victory and bomb it back down south with a belief-injecting win.
The Watford-born England under-21 is learning the art of that skill with the second-tier side, putting it on display most recently in the FA Cup with a well-taken goal.
Charlie Patino scores in the FA Cup!! pic.twitter.com/EYXGDtQdkx
— Hale End Productions (@HaleEndProds) January 6, 2024
Have it. Goalscoring, box-to-box midfielders are back and better than ever.
Instead of doing the boring thing and sitting on the edge of the box passing it sideways while Swansea try to walk it into the net, Patino takes up a brilliant position and makes an intelligent run to smartly stick a toe on the end of a well-whipped cross for the goal.
It’s extremely intelligent and damaging for opponents – a trait Arsenal don’t have in their current configuration, despite how pretty it all looks.
Patino’s scoring touch isn’t just a fluke, either. The Hale End wonder who was training with the under-18s aged 14 scored on his senior debut in 2020 and has merely been honing his craft ever since.
Considering his ceiling, it’s hard not to see him providing an extra dimension for Arsenal in 2024, once his loan has come to an end.
His pathway to the first team might not have been as linear as others, but the experience of going shoulder to shoulder with blokes who have a death warrant for you in the EFL will undoubtedly stand him in good stead for an inevitable breakthrough.
The answer to Arsenal’s scoring woes is chaos – and he’s just warming up.
By Mitch Wilks