This was Arsenal’s worst performance of the season but they still managed to salvage a 1-1 draw with Leicester City in the Premier League. Let’s be honest: The Foxes were the more threatening side and could have won on Sunday.
Fatigue is the most obvious explanation for such a disappointing result. The Gunners lacked desire in the closing minutes of the match while they finished strong against Crystal Palace and Everton. They’ve played five matches in a 16-day span, including two gruelling tests against Turkish club Besiktas in the Champions League playoffs.
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I thought the manager could have rotated a bit more to inject some freshness in the team. Wenger will face again a similar problem after the international break with seven matches in a 23-day span. Let’s hope he’ll be more flexible in his team selection.
Leicester executed the kind of game plan you would expect from a promoted side: Parking the bus, showing a lot of commitment and waiting for counterattacking opportunities. Arsenal had very little fluidity in its passing game. Arteta’s absence meant we missed someone to set up plays from the back since Flamini doesn’t have the Spaniard’s passing skills.
Lack of balance
The lack of movement also contributed to the Gunners’ inability to create chances. On paper, the lineup was mouthwatering with our two best attacking midfielders (Cazorla and Ozil) and our best forward (Sanchez). But on the pitch, there was like a lack of balance in the team. Sanchez, Ozil and Cazorla kept swapping positions to unsettle the Leicester defense. But the end result was a congested final third and a poor use of the wings.
Sanogo got a second chance after a lackluster performance against Crystal Palace. Unfortunately, the Frenchman failed to rise to the occasion. Sanogo did OK to hold the ball up but his decision-making was often poor. He tried too hard quite a few times, attempting desperate shots that were easily blocked when a pass was the better option.
We all know Sanogo is still a raw player who needs to work on his timing and finishing. Cazorla sent him clean through on goal twice, but each time the Frenchman was slightly offside. Sanogo can get some credit for his involvement in the opening goal but his lack of spontaneity in the 20th minute was quite telling.
When Cazorla sent a ball over the top, Sanogo could have volleyed the ball, but he preferred to let it bounce. That’s what a player struggling for confidence does. But the weirdest part was that Sanogo hit a half-volley when the bounce was high. That tells you he was overthinking. Schmeichel diverted Sanogo’s tame half-volley into the path of Sanchez, who slammed the ball home from eight yards.
The mental game
Sanogo missed another good chance in the 57th when Monreal led a counterattack down the left flank. The Spaniard fed Sanogo, who was denied by an advanced Schmeichel. Sanogo went for power from a tight angle when a chip seemed the better option. Ten minutes later, Sanogo headed a cross from Cazorla over the bar.
What’s really worrying about Sanogo’s performance is the mental aspect. I just hope he won’t walk in the steps of Gervinho and Chamakh, players who lost their self-confidence after a string of poor games.
You could feel Sanogo’s anxiety in the third minute when he took a pass from Cazorla and killed the play with a poor first touch. It was no longer anxiety but fear in the 71st when he failed to finish off a counterattack. Ozil slipped the ball to the Frenchman, who made a dummy instead of taking his chance, and the ball was cleared by a defender.
Chasing a winning goal, the manager replaced Sanogo with Podolski in the 77th. The Germany forward collected a through ball from Sanchez in stoppage time but he was clearly rusty as a poor first touch allowed De Laet to win the ball.
Cazorla was definitely our best player on Sunday. He initiated the opening goal with a chipped pass for Sanogo and provided good service to the Frenchman throughout the game. Another ball over the top from Cazorla nearly gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead in the 56th, but Ramsey’s looping header lacked power to trouble Schmeichel. While his final ball was very good, Cazorla had no success with his goal attempts. He missed the target in the 51st and Schmeichel saved his low drive in the fifth minute.
Dodgy coaching decisions
Somehow, the Gunners could have won the match if the manager had better handled substitutions. Wenger has been in that business for more than 40 years. So it was quite surprising to see him take a gamble with Koscielny, who collided in the air with Schlupp in the 12th.
Chambers was warming up along the touchline while Koscielny was lying flat on his back, holding his head in pain. Wenger said at the post-match news conference that it was not a concussion. The physio also probably told him that Koscielny could continue. Koscielny got back up on his feet in the 15th and briefly talked to the manager before heading back to the dressing room to have a bandage on his head.
Koscielny was back on the pitch in the 18th, just in time to see Sanchez score. But the France defender apparently didn’t get enough time to recover from his head injury. He couldn’t win a routine header in the 22nd when Ulloa scored the equalizer. Koscielny knew Ulloa was behind him and was clearly afraid of another clash of heads. A fully fit Koscielny would have looked for contact and jumped higher. Wenger saw the obvious and finally sent on Chambers in the 27th. Chambers gave Arsenal fans a little scare on the stroke of halftime by dribbling past Ulloa and Nugent inside his own area.
Koscielny was at fault for the equalizer but the way Schlupp went unchallenged on our right flank was ridiculous. The Leicester winger escaped Debuchy’s marking by overlapping with a teammate. Flamini covered Debuchy but left Schlupp too much space for a good cross.
Most of the Foxes’ chances came from Debuchy’s flank. Either it was the right winger who failed to contribute defensively ot it was simply Debuchy who was not up to the task. Nugent headed wide a cross from King in the 46th.
Vulnerable on the fast break
What I didn’t like at King Power Stadium was how the Gunners proved vulnerable on counterattacks. That’s a flaw we had last season and we’d better fix it before hosting Manchester City on Sept. 13. The Foxes capitalized on a sloppy pass from Sanogo in the 45th to hit Arsenal on the fast break. Mahrez dribbled past Chambers but then shot straight at Szczesny from a tight angle. Eight minutes later, Ulloa played a one-two with Mahrez and cut inside Chambers before curling his shot wide of the near post. That was Leicester’s best chance of the second half. The Foxes benefited from two more turnovers, but Debuchy blocked Nugent’s effort in the 61st and Szczesny saved Vardy’s angled shot in the 83rd.
Ozil still lacks match fitness. But the manager did not replace Ozil in the second half even though he was tiring. Why did the manager pull out our best player, Cazorla, instead of replacing Ozil with Rosicky or Wilshere? Sometimes, I just think Wenger is too nice with the Germany playmaker. Ozil is a big investment, but in the end it’s all about winning.
It’s quite a relief to see that Arsenal signed Welbeck on the last day of the transfer market. He’s familiar with the Premier League and should adjust to his new club within a few weeks. At 23, he still has room for improvement. Whether he can improve the way Sturridge did when he left Chelsea is a still a big question mark. But let’s assume Welbeck does not make that big step and ‘only’ scores 10 league goals a year like Podolski, that would still help compensate for Giroud’s absence. Now the question for Wenger is: Where does Sanogo fit? Can Sanogo thrive on competition? Or does he need a loan to build his confidence?