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Analysis: The truth about Arsenal’s empty net syndrome

by Aidan Elder | August 30, 2012
Ian Wright

GOAL-DEN MOMENTS: Wright provided the goals in the early years of the Wenger era (pic: Inpho)

By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer

It had to have hurt. Like when you hit the brakes on your BMX too hard and came crashing down square on the crossbar. You could hold it in long enough to be out of eye and earshot of your friends, but it’s not long before you’re blubbing uncontrollably.

Arsenal spent the early part of Sunday afternoon huffing and puffing, but failing to break down the Stoke defence. Not destroying the antimatter to their beautiful collection of electrons and walking the ball into the net will have hurt Arsenal’s pride, but events at Old Trafford the day before made the result extra unpalatable.

Ten minutes into his home debut for Manchester United, Robin van Persie produced one of those casual yet perfectly timed swings of his left foot he has done so many times in an Arsenal shirt. A shanked cross bounced towards him, but with contemptuous ease RVP connected sweetly. Mark Schwarzer reacted quickly and still found himself doing what looked to be a Superman impression incidental to the path of the shot.

It had to look familiar to Arsenal fans. It was one of those silk purses he has produced from several sows’ ears in the last couple of seasons. The movement, the left foot, the clean strike of the ball – it would all seem so typical were it not for the addition of the Manchester United tablecloth adorning the Dutchman’s torso.

Two games and no goals. For the second season in a row (if you’re being extremely specific just to further your sensationalist point). The media jumped on it like it was a sign of Arsenal’s irreversible decline. In reality, it’s more a sign of not having much to talk about at this stage of the season. The Paddy Power Blog team have been digging through the archives to look some of the other times when Arsenal have struggled with goalscoring across all competitions.

The evidence shows us Arsenal have had worse droughts under Arsene Wenger. Even in the days when they could call upon the brilliance of Thierry Henry, the genius of Dennis Bergkamp, the tireless running of Robert Pires and the sulky homesickness of Jose Antonio Reyes. They kept up their side of the clean sheets bargain no less than 17 times in 59 games (29 per cent of the time) during the 2005/06 campaign, which is surprising considering the free-flowing brilliance associated with Arsenal at the time.

Every now and then, no matter who the personnel were, the Gunners have struggled to find the net like Jamie Redknapp struggles with the English language. In fact, they’ve gone through a spell of four games without a goal twice under Wenger. The first time coming in the 1998/99, not long after Arsenal claimed the second of three doubles in the club’s history and then in 2005/06 season when they no-one thought they could possibly go seven years without a trophy. They’ve also gone three successive games in all competitions without scoring on four occasions. That’s not too bad considering it dates back to a time when Nicolas Anelka was a fresh-faced youngster doing it for the love of the game and not a sulky money-hoover.

Beyond those extended streaks, there have been plenty of smaller droughts. You wouldn’t even call them droughts. They’re more ‘one afternoon of sunshine and no rain’. Or ‘summer’ as it’s called in this part of the world. Since Le Professeur took charge in 1996, Arsenal have not scored for two games in succession on no less than 18 occasions (excluding the times two games became three and four). At no point were those temporary blips regarded as a crisis period. But then again, at no point in the past had they just sold their star player to a huge domestic rival.

Two games without a goal is not that bleak

The longest run they’ve had without scoring a Premier League goal under Wenger came in 2009 when they went four games without the need for an opponent to pick the ball out of the back of the net. It probably didn’t seem so barren because the respite of the cup competitions in between league games made it feel less torturous. Overall, they’ve failed to score in 17.3 per cent of all games under Wenger. That sounds pretty high, but in truth it’s about one in six games and that’s not too alarming by typical standards.

So, two games without a goal, it’s not as bleak as it’s been suggested in certain places. It has happened before and Arsenal haven’t vanished off the face of the earth. This time van Persie isn’t around to remedy the situation, but there are positives. Santi Cazorla has started well and it’s only a matter of time before Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud get more acquainted with finding the back of a Premier League net. Two Robin van Persie goals saw the Gunners win at Anfield last season, but considering how generous the Liverpool defence were to Manchester City last Sunday, they may not a goalscorer of the Dutchman’s pedigree to make hay this weekend. A couple of goals could make a striking difference to how Arsenal are feeling at this stage of the season.

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