Mikel Arteta accepts Arsenal must work out how to channel the freedom of their Europa League performances into a Premier League campaign that has seen them turn out largely uninspiring fare.
Arsenal have not scored a top-flight goal in open play for 476 minutes, a run that stretches back to 4 October. They have endured no such problems in Europe, scoring 12 times in their four Group B games including three in a fine second-half performance at Molde on Thursday. While the standard of opposition has been markedly different, Arteta believes the challenge is to release the shackles against sides such as Wolves, who visit the Emirates on Sunday.
“It’s true that in the opposition box we haven’t been as ruthless and resilient as we have to be,” he said. “We have paid for that with some results. In the Europa we find ourselves with more flow and more creativity in the final third, I would say. More: ‘Let’s go for it, and let’s express ourselves.’ Obviously the opponent is not the same but it’s something to look at.”
Younger players such as Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson, who scored his first goal of the season against Molde, have looked comfortable on the Europa League stage but neither has imposed himself consistently on the top flight. The same might be said for Nicolas Pépé, who crowned a greatly improved display on Thursday by breaking the deadlock but has frustrated domestically and will miss the Wolves fixture through suspension after his red card at Leeds last Sunday.
“We try to encourage them to play with that freedom,” Arteta said. “We have a lot of rotation, some because of injuries, some because of their performances. We have played some big teams in the first nine games. That is something we obviously have to improve, and we are trying to improve.”
The last two top-flight games at the Emirates have brought wins for Leicester and Aston Villa. Arteta knows Arsenal badly need a response in what looks certain to be their final fixture in an empty stadium, with fans slated to return from Thursday’s meeting with Rapid Vienna.
“We have to put that right,” he said. “We have to make the Emirates a fortress. It’s a completely different feeling playing at home without our fans but it’s what we have at the moment and we need a win on Sunday for sure.”